Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Dojo Classics - Hercules #3

I continue with my review of Charlton's Hercules series from the late 60's.

Hercules #3 dated February 1968, offers up a striking change in the series after only two issues. Hercules is given a more vivid and distinctive visual appearance by the addition of the skin of the Nemean Lion and a beard. This issue's cover was drawn by Sam Glanzman as have been all of them. He also is the artist on the lead story written by Sergius O'Shaugnessy (Denny O'Neil). The editor is Dick Giordano.

The Hercules adventure this time is titled "Netherworld" and opens with a wonderful splash page of Hercules battling Cerberus. The story begins with Hercules seeking human companionship and being rebuffed first by a mother who fears for her child and later by soldiers who consider him a wandering oaf. He quickly proves his strength with the latter but his anger is quelled when his friend King Admetus shows up. The procession is a funeral but Admetus tells Hercules it is only for a favored servant girl. Later while enjoying the hospitality of Admetus Herucles finds out the funeral was for Queen Alcestis and he pledges to go to Hades and rescue her. He calls to Zeus who arranges with Hercules that if he defeats Cerberus the three-headed hound which guards Hades he will have completed the third of his twelve required tasks to become a full-fledged god. Hera still wants to defeat the Man-God so she arranges with Hefestus to make a million spear points to rain down on Hercules. But Aphrodite sees this and goes to Zeus who is polishing up his thunderbolts (which are dingy) and he arranges for Aeoulus to blow the spear points away from Hercules and they become a defacto ladder for him to use to climb up to the cave which is the door to Hades. There he encounters Pluto who sends him into Hades unarmed. Then quickly Hercules finds Death and Alcestis. He battles death and makes off with the grateful Queen, but sadly has to leave others behind in the land of the dead. Then Cerberus shows up and he and Hercules battle. Hercules defeats the beast and drags him up out of Hades as he and Alcestis escape. Pluto indicates he's impressed with Hercules. Alcesits and Admetus are reunited and Hercules goes off to face for challenges.

"Letters to the Editor -- Hercules" returns with three letters, another one from Klaus Janson. The letters seem to recognize the similarity between Glanzman and Joe Kubert, and all are complimentary. One letter writer asks if Charlton might adapt Conan, but the answer is that it's too expensive. I'd have loved to see that adaptation personally.

The text story this time is "The Story of Momotaro" and it appears to be the retelling of a Japanese myth about Momotaro who is born out of the center of a peach and goes to battle evil spirts on Devil's Island aided by three helpers-- a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant. Momotaro also has magic dumplings.

The Thane of Bagarth story this time is titled "Chaper Three: Banishment". In this story written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Aparo, the Thane of Bagarth Hrothelac has been betrayed by his brother Eowanda and the Thane of Rothfor who deliver forged documents to King Beowulf indicating that Hrothelac has conspired with the hated Swedes. Beowulf demands the traitor be brought before him and dispatches men to accomplish that. Meanwhile Hrothelac wakes up in the cabin of Daeghred the Scholar where he'd been brought by the Scholar's daughter Freahulf after she found Hrothelac unconscious. He finds wax on his signet ring and wrongly suspects Daeghred of having betrayed him. He leaves only to be immediately captured by Beowulf's men and brought to the King. The King banishes Hrothelac who assumes Daeghred is the culprit. He leaves but is waylaid by Vikings and taken aboard their ship as a slave. Beowulf plans to give the title of Bagarth to the Thane of Rothfor frustrating Eowanda's plans.

There's another entertaining House Ad in which they ask for money. This features the cover for Hercules #3.

And that's it. It's a really good issue, the first in which you feel the elements of the comic book have come together. Hercules looks exactly right, echoing not only the classic film versions but also the classic look of old Greece. The stories feature the Gods of Olympus who offer a range of distinctive and very human personalities. There's humor in the Hercules story, nicely meshed with the adventure. The Thane of Bagarth story is picking up steam nicely, though it looks at this point more like a standard comic than a Prince Valiant clone.

All in all this is now a solid comic book package. The lead Hercules story was reprinted in Charlton Classics #3.

The Thane of Bagarth story has been reprinted several times, but most prominently in Thane of Bagarth #25.

More to come.

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