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Dames… – Hercules (Charlton) #5

December 6, 2011

The great thing about myths is that they come pre-installed with backstory and dramatis personae, a huge plus for lazy/harried writers who need some fully furnished material to meet a deadline or fill out a proposal. You can drive myths and legends off the lot and go from there, hence comic companies incorporating antiquated gods into their character stables.

The bad part about myths is that you can’t copyright them. They’re the public domainiest of public domain properties. And that’s why the world of comics has roughly 86 Herculeses (or Heracleses) bobbing about, including the title character in this 1960s Charlton series. The more the merrier.

If it lacked the lusty, loutish boasting of the Marvel take on the character, at least “The Adventures of the Man-God” had the merit of following Hercules as he traipsed his way through his legendary twelve labors. Everybody loves a good quest, which is doubly true when the quest fits into a nice round dozen. And this installment is of particular note to our “can’t copyright” theme because it brings an icon associated with the House of Ideas into conflict with a mythical figure linked to said House’s Cain and Abel rival, DC.

Scripted by Denny O’Neil (under his Charlton pen-name of Sergius O’Shaugnessy — what, Chareth Cutestory was taken?) with art by Sam Glanzman, the story opens with Hercules engaging in a very Herculean activity:

It’s like Chris Farley with fish.

Hera and Zeus give Hercules his next mission (should he choose to accept it) before he even has a chance to towel off:

The Golden Girdle of Hippolyta is a belt in these pages. It looks like a belt and they call it a belt. This is a no-girdle zone. I guess girdles belong more on chunky broads and Phil Mickelson.

Off Hercules goes to the land of the Amazons, wearing his trusty cloak skinned from another labor, the Nemean lion. A note on that: It looks as if Hercules is carrying Simba around like a papoose most of the time (or Chewbacca with C-3PO), and Simba’s about to bite his damn head off. Either that or mount him. It reminds me a bit of Hulk and his spiny pal Sym.

In no time Hercules arrives in his Wonder Woman-free realm destination. Hippolyta (a Hippolyta that never squeezed a Diana out of her womb or molded her out of clay or whatever) spreads a, um, feast before him:

Things go sideways fast despite all this luxuriant promise. The Queen is using the belt’s mind-control properties to hold her people in bondage, and she’s not keen on giving it up. Hercules is held as a hostage, and when Zeus is about to send some help by hurling a thunderbolt his way, Hera proves that even Olympus isn’t free of nagging shrews:


Evil step-mother Hera also intervenes in Hercules’ inevitable battle against the queen, rendering him unable to fight back against a woman. (“Do you want this goddamn belt-girdle or not?”) Thank the gods a nubile wench that Hercules had earlier rescued is around to deliver a convenient rock to the skull:

The people are free and Hercules has his belt. And what happens when he presents this hard-won prize to the goddess who’d asked for it?:

I think we’d all forgive Hercules if he threw down the belt and let loose with a “AIN’T GOT NO TIME FO NO HOS!” at this point. And off he tramps to his next labor.

There are several decades of familiarity with Marvel’s Hercules that a reader has to overcome in reading this tale for the first time at such a late date. I see and smell newsprint and read “Hercules” I think of the guy who slams around Avengers Mansion with a wine-filled goblet in his hand. MAKE MERRY. Not the comic’s fault, but nevertheless… Even factoring in that handicap, though, this book could be better. The art is dodgy in parts (Hercules looks too sinister to be a hero) and the script is simple and formulaic (Mr. O’Neil had yet to get into his DC groove). But it’s several orders of magnitude better than contemporaneous material coming out of Charlton, like the unfathomably dreadful Son of Vulcan. And there’s something to be said for a series that follows the most familiar of all demigods as he checks off his various labors.

It’s not the Hercules that we know and love. It’s a middling book. But if a man who wears a lion and rescues babes and kills evil babes for their girdles floats your boat, MY FRIEND, HAVE I GOT A COMIC FOR YOU.

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