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Hercules: Layton’s futuristic Prince of Power returns!

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HERCULES TWILIGHT OF A GOD #1

By Byron Brewer

Amadeus Cho? Nice kid and smart, but give me Rigellian Recorder #417 anytime. And comic book creator Bob Layton is about to do just that in the long-awaited sequel to his famed mini-series of the early 1980s.

HERCULES: TWILIGHT OF A GOD is a four-part limited that launches in June and features everyone’s favorite Prince of Power in the 24th century. But this is not the same Lion of Olympus who has recently been hanging out with Hank Pym & Co. in Mighty Avengers. No, this is a demi-god residing in an alternate universe whose adventures have mostly been on the cosmic side of the scale since being banished from Olympus by his father, Zeus.

Bob Layton, like Jim Starlin a master of both plotting and art, first came to my attention during his first run with writer David Michelinie on Iron Man in 1978. Tony Stark’s private life as well as the various armors of Shellhead became much more interesting around the time of their coming, issue #116. Layton and Michelinie stayed with the now-best seller until #154 and then returned for a second lengthy run from #215-#250.

It was in September 1982, during his first run on Iron Man, that Layton created one of the first mini-series ever by writing, penciling and inking the four-issue Hercules: Prince of Power. I had been a fan of the blustery strongman since Roy Thomas brought him into his Avengers run in the 1960s, but the Hercules to whom Layton introduced us had taken the character’s side rife with comedy and turned it on its ear.

In an era of Marvel where many titles were cosmic, this little book still shined!

In this alternate universe, Herk is banished from Olympus by Zeus in order to learn humility. (Virtually the same action All-Father Odin took against Thor by creating his life as lame physician Don Blake on Earth. Ever find it byronic that two of the most haughty entities in the Marvel U. are trying to teach their sons that which they have not learned?) Instead of Earth and Avengers Mansion (if it is there in the 24th century), the Prince of Power opts instead to travel into deep space and hobnob with a great mix of alien races. A beautiful human female eventually finds the romantic’s eye but turns out instead to be a Skrull named Skyppi – typical of the book’s humor.

Herk also takes as his sidekick Recorder #417, whom way back when I mistook for the original Recorder from Thor. No mere Uatu like the Kirby-corder, #417 becomes a loyal companion and trusted friend to the Prince of Power and is critical in the plot of the mini.

Even the Big G himself, Galactus, makes a rare comedic cameo.

I think it was Jim Shooter in Avengers (I may be mistaken, but it was the first time I noticed it) who first had Hercules offer up a mighty punch as a “well met” greeting to beings of great power, calling it “The Gift.” In Hercules: Prince of Power, Herk gives a powerful “howdy” punch to a big, muscular alien who then -- sobs uncontrollably! He is a member of one of the gentlest races in the universe and this action earns Hercules the ire of his bar compatriots. The tone is set for his adventure in space.

The popularity of the limited series spawned a four-issue sequel in 1984, also wholly created by Layton. This series, not as enjoyable as the first (IMO) and with a darker tone, pits Herk and his allies against a cosmic version of Red Wolf. In the book, villains turn grave robbers, violating the final resting place of Captain Marvel by stealing his Nega-Bands. This all leads to a showdown between the Lion of Olympus and his father (apparently gone daft after murdering the other Olympians). But by sparing Zeus’ life, Hercules demonstrates that he has learned the lesson of humility after all.

In one of those hated cosmic rubber band endings, Zeus reveals the other gods are not dead but now existing on a higher plane where Zeus will soon take up residence. Herk is advised that he is now free of his past and can create his own destiny separate from that of the pantheon.

Eh … not so good.

But I do have high hopes for Layton’s June offering, Twilight of a God. In the alternate universe continuity, Hercules has been champion of the Andromeda galaxy for 75 years but is incapacitated during an attempt to save a city. In need of care by his Olympian offspring but suddenly twisted up in a sinister plot against his son’s government (and the apparent return of Galactus, no less), once again the Prince of Power – like Obi-Wan Kenobi – is the galaxy’s only hope.

Some of us have been waiting over a quarter-century for this book, and it is good news to hear both Marvel and Layton are ready to blast off.

And I ain’t lion!

Hercules: Twilight of a God hits stores in June.