This issue of HERCULES was another book that I got out of the Modern Comics 3-Bags of comics that I purchased at the local Two Guys discount department store. And like the earlier issue that I spoke about, it wasn’t a comic book that appealed to me, but figuring that Hercules was an Avenger over in Marvel, I kept it anyway. Such oddball analyses and decisions are sometimes the lifeblood of collecting. Like the other books, it was a reissuing of a comic book originally published by Charlton years earlier, but I had no inkling of its pedigree when I first came by it. By this time, I don’t think i even really questioned the fact any longer that the numbering on the Modern books would jump all around–this was issue #10 and I’d earlier gotten #11. Those two were the only issues of HERCULES that Modern saw fit to reissue.
The series was a modernized retelling of the myth of Hercules, specifically his twelve labors, which gave the structure for a continuing narrative across a dozen issues. This issue was devoted to the tenth such labor, being the series’ tenth issue. It was written by Joe Gill, about whom I’ve said a bunch in recent weeks. He was the literary backbone of the Charlton line, often turning out the scripts for the majority of their publishing output. He had to do this in order to make a living, as Charlton’s page rates were notoriously low. But this meant that he clearly didn’t have the time to waste really thinking about the work that he was going to be doing. He composed straight onto the page, one draft, no revising–very much the way this page operates, come to think of it. So while there may have been stories that he was more invested in that others (and this series does seem like it’s getting more of Gill’s attention than most) as a rule he was simply churning through prose for payment, maintaining a very basic level of competency.
But really, the star of the show here was artist Sam Glanzman, who brought a strong influence from the growing world of psychedelic pop art into his pages. They featured exotic designs and strange patterns, often integrating portions of the text into the images. The work is very much of its time, and not terribly action-oriented, but it is lovely nonetheless. A veteran of World War II, Glanzman would later become better known for his war stories and graphic novels which drew upon his own firsthand wartime experiences. But here, he’s doing mythological fantasy, and so he stretches different muscles.
The story concerns what is probably the best-known of Hercules’ many labors, his defeat of the multi-headed Hydra. Dispatched by his father Zeus on his latest mission, Hercules is commanded by King Eurystheus to destroy the monster that lives in a nearby swamp. Herc can even use his weapons in the job, which makes the half-god feel confident indeed. But not so confident that he doesn’t take the time to check in with the Oracle of Plaeceum first to learn about what awaits him. Hercules needs to force his way into an audience, but after trouncing the Oracle’s defenses, she tells him that what he’ll be facing is the Hydra, a snake with nine heads, each of which doubles after it is decapitated. It’s a lot more of a problem than Herc thought he was going to be facing.
Undaunted, Hercules makes his way to the valley and begins his attack on the hydra. And true to the prophesy, each head that he decapitates from the great snake grows back as two more, making his task potentially infinite. Switching tactics, Herc tries to burn the hydra by summoning the aide of an admirer, Iolaus, who carried a torch as protection for himself. This too was not enough–and to make matters worse, Hera introduced a giant crab into the conflict, giving Hercules another element to worry about. Ultimately, though, Hercules slays first the crab and then the hydra, decapitating it and throwing the severed heads into the fire before they can regenerate. Then before the snake’s body could once again regenerate, Hercules buries it under a massive stone, one which even he is hard-pressed to shift. So the victory goes to Hercules, and labor ten is firmly in the win column. I kinda love Mars’ colloquial sentiment in the final panel of the story: “Gee, Ma, I hate that kid!” Godly indeed!
As with the previous issue I had read, this issue of HERCULES is backed up with a tale in the continuing story of the Thane of Bagarth. It’s the real jackpot of the issue, for one reason alone. Arguably, at the time this book was published, the best artist working at Charlton was Jim Aparo, and he tackles the visuals for this episode, to great effect. Aparo wasn’t quite at his peak powers yet, but he was still head and shoulders above most of the journeymen who typically filled Charlton’s ranks (with exceptions such as Steve Ditko, of course.)
The story also provides slightly more context for the oddball time travel element that had turned up in the next issue, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. In this story, we see that an unnamed future historian has been hurled through time, and comes to rest in the material world in the medieval period. So he’s a hidden witness to what transpires in the tale, The warrior Eadstan, loyal council to King Beowulf, had led an attack upon Swedish raiders. Separated from his army, Eadstan survived, and in the company of a captured girl, Freahulf, made his way back to England after his own forces had sounded the retreat. But back at the castle, the treacherous Eowanda, left as the Thane of Bagarth given Eadstan’s departure, sees the defeat of the army led by Eadstan as an opportunity to increase his own standing in the court. To Be Continued! In all honesty, it’s not really much of a story–often, it plays more like an illustrated history book, with huge swaths of text positioned among the visuals. But in Aparo’s hands, at least those pictures looked great.