Friday, May 13, 2016

The Power And The Pride!

In a very clever and fun Mighty Thor tale from 1985, you won't find the hero of the hour to be the God of Thunder, but rather the Prince of Power--Hercules, out for a stroll in the park with the Avengers' faithful retainer, Edwin Jarvis, as they plan a lavish feast for the Assemblers worthy of (who else?) the gods. The story briefly interrupts the very successful run on the book by writer/artist Walt Simonson, with Bob Harras, Jackson Guice, and Bob Layton combining their talents to create a splendid interim tale to tide us over while Simonson pivots to begin work on an unnamed limited series (likely Balder The Brave).

And while Thor is indeed present in this issue, let's just say that Hercules will have a different idea of how the Thunder God should be portrayed to those he encounters in the park.

(Heh heh--"leg warmers." Remember those?)

First, we can probably all agree on one thing up front: a story can only benefit by the addition of Jarvis. Edwin Jarvis has a knack for conveying such a strong presence among the likes of super-beings, even as he maintains decorum. He strikes the perfect balance--flustered at times by the behavior of those he tends to, yet totally at ease in their presence, relying on his training and instincts to walk among them while at the same time earning their complete respect. He's one of my favorite comic book characters ever, and he doesn't even wear a costume.

If anyone would tax Jarvis's patience and abilities to the limit, it would be the boisterous Hercules, who in his immortal life must have befriended and enjoyed the company of many mortals and who obviously has taken a liking to Jarvis. Just watch how well they complement each other throughout this story, even given how different they are as individuals. For now, we'll start with their rather challenging grocery list--which, somehow, we know that Jarvis will find a way to accommodate.

The other central character in this story is a young boy named Matthew, a budding sketch artist who is taking flak from a group of other kids for isolating himself and not joining in on the others' activities. Today, he's focused his sketching on the figure of Thor, a super-being he idolizes but whom the others make fun of--and when Matthew sticks up for his hero, the group's head jerk, Tony, spots the approaching Hercules and sees an opportunity to humiliate Matthew even further.

To Hercules, Matthew's innocent question provides no short supply of amusement, allowing Hercules to have a little harmless fun at Thor's expense. What follows is a "tall tale" to say the least, with these children a captured, and enraptured, audience hanging on his every word. Hercules' portrayal of Thor is skewed, to put it mildly--a somewhat clueless aspirant to the strength and glory that the Thunder God admittedly knows only Hercules can lay claim to, with Hercules tolerant of Thor's shortcomings and frustrations at being an also-ran. The recollections of Jarvis, of course, threaten to discredit Hercules' creative revisions--but, thinking from the hip, Hercules manages to eject Jarvis out of the picture, literally.

So far, Thor has been shown to be petulant, envious, and having an inferiority complex, all of which force Jarvis to take issue with this story, if diplomatically. Yet Hercules is, as they say, "on a roll," and he gently chastises his companion so that he may continue recounting Thor's rash behavior to his young audience.

The "battle" between Hercules and Thor plays out throughout the city, finally culminating in serious damage to the Empire State Building. Yet, after taking a moment to stack the deck, demonstrating his gallantry toward the mortals of Earth while asking nothing in return, Hercules puts an end to his conflict with Thor as he would have us believe only he can: spectacularly. Only this time, he may have finally pushed the limits of the imagination for these youngsters.

Unfortunately, not being willing to leave well enough alone, Tony and his friends egg Hercules on, wanting further details of Hercules teaching Thor a well-deserved lesson. But as Hercules complies and continues to embellish, the sharp-eyed Jarvis puts two and two together and realizes that the blows that Hercules is raining down on Thor are also being felt by young Matthew. Thanks to Jarvis's observation, the magnanimous Hercules is able to adjust his story at the last minute to favor the Thunder God, and in a most believable way--salvaging Matthew's feelings on the subject, while sending Tony and his friends on their way with a friendly warning.

The touching way that Harras concludes this story caps it perfectly, and speaks very well of Hercules while keeping with the overall theme of the tale. Jarvis may have a few items yet to cross off his list before that night's dinner--but he'll likely consider the effort involved time well spent.

Following the presumed death of Odin and the nicely handled story by Simonson of Thor coming to terms with the loss, Harras' light-hearted story here, though commissioned by a prior editor of the book (Mark Gruenwald), appears to be well-timed in terms of allowing the book to move on--for the benefit of Asgard, for Thor, and for the readers. The only loose end might be whether or not the state of New Jersey will overlook Hercules' slight against it--though it would be understandable if they choose to decline to pursue the matter with him.

Mighty Thor #356

Script: Bob Harras
Pencils: Jackson Guice
Inks: Bob Layton
Letterer: John Workman


Anonymous said...

It's just about impossible not to like Hercules.

Anonymous said...

Strictly speaking he should be called Heracles, not Hercules which was the Roman version of his name. And he was a demi-god (with a human mother) not a god as Marvel portrayed him. But Greek or Roman, god or demi-god verily doth he still speakest in the same daft way as Thor :D

Comicsfan said...

Good observations all around, Colin; in fact, if you'll check out Avengers #100, you'll find two Olympian titans who were only too happy to remind Hercules of his lineage!

Gordy said...

He was a raised to godhood and the Roman name is fine.

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