Friday, August 22, 2008

The Incredible Hercules #120 Review

Writers: Greg Pak and Fred van Lente
Penciller: Rafa Sandoval

Incredible Hercules breaks one of the fundamental rules of crossovers, and is all the better for it: tie-in titles cannot be directly relevant to the main story. In fact, Secret Invasion held to this rule so strictly, that it was hamstringing its tie-ins completely. The main story had so little development that absolutely nothing could develop in any of the other titles. For example, Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four did not even include the rescue of Reed Richards, as that had to occur in the main title. This issue of Incredible Hercules smashes that rule by killing Kly'bn, the Skrull god of stability. Kly'bn is the "He" of "He loves you", the catch-phrase of the Skrull invasion. Their purpose in invading Earth was to absorb Earth into Kly'bn's empire, thereby "saving" it. Now Kly'bn is dead, and the Skrull invasion has thereby lost its purpose. The effect this will (or at least should) have on the Skrull invasion is massive, as it will have completely lost its motivation. Instead, the Skrulls are now fighting for nothing, and their invasion cannot help but fail.

This is a very interesting editorial decision, and I believe a very good one. The Incredible Hercules has set a tone along with Thor as being a story that is really about the gods, treated as mythological characters rather than as simply prehistoric superheroes. As Kly'bn was a god, Incredible Hercules was the perfect place for his demise. Pak handles the Skrull pantheon extremely well, and seems to be very interested in establishing a meaningful if fictitious pantheon. It seems that the Skrull pantheon includes two gods, Kly'bn and Sl'gur't, who represent stability and change, respectively. Kly'bn is the last of a race of Skrulls who were unable to change shape and thereby lost the evolutionary battle with the shape-changing Skrulls who currently run the empire. However, he manages to persuade Sl'gur't, the head of the shape-shifters, that he is necessary in order for the Skrull to maintain their sense of identity. His spouse, Sl'gur't, never maintains the same shape for more than a few minutes. This has the effect of making them gods of what it means to be a nation or even a person, as our ability to change threatens our identity, while our desire to stay the same threatens our growth. As the god of stability, Kly'bn is by nature intolerant, seeking to conform the entire galaxy to his own way of life, nicely tying together mythological reasoning with a comic book narrative.

While there are some very nice mythological elements to this book, other parts could be very confusing. This book seems to forget that, when you tell a shapeshifting story in a visual medium, you have to hold the readers' hand so they can figure out who is who. After a couple reads, I'd say I'm about seventy per cent sure of what happened, but I still feel like I could be wrong. It appears that Mikaboshi pretended to be Sl'gur't and killed her while she was pretending to be Mikaboshi. As such, both of the Skrull gods are now dead, and Mikaboshi will return in a later story to fight Hercules. That could be the case. Perhaps, though, Mikaboshi was always a Skrull? Hrm...maybe. I'm not entirely sure. A couple other scenes that could have used some clarification include Cho looking like he was impaled by a bone, when he was really just hit by it, and an odd scene where Atum eats Sl'gur't who is simultaneously transformed into a creature that looks a lot like Atum. At the end of the day, I think I figured everything out, but a little extra narrative would have gone a long way in clarifying what was going on in a few of these scenes.

However, the mythological story here is a great deal of fun. Atum doesn't seem aware that, when you have a being that embodies change, eating it whole is probably a very bad idea. For some reason, Kly'bn needs to be stabbed with the bone of an elder god, which reminds us that gods usually need to be stabbed by something strange and random (remember Baldur and the mistletoe?). No explanation is given, which would normally be annoying, but it makes sense in a typical myth. Another nice element to the mythological reasoning is the way that the gods see just how much the current battle threatens their own myths and powers. Atum was supposed to consume the gods, but is now dead. Something is "off" about the myths, and the gods are aware of it, bringing an extra sense of dread to the current "God Squad" story arc. Somehow, the conflict between pantheons constitutes a unique kind of threat, one in which the very narratives themselves are in danger.

Overall, then, this is a very good book. Pak does a very good job of telling stories with a mythological framework, rather than a standard superhero one. There are some problems with clarity, but other than that, this is a very well-crafted issue.



Anonymous said...

Good review and highlighting the tensions present between the two Skrull gods themselves and what they represent.

I think Atum is one of the more difficult characters to grasp, but does make sense. As a god-eater and an elder godhe surpassesis other gods in power, but Sl'gur't's nature made her too much for even him to eat.

As for Kly'bn's death. Whether he be Eternal or god he was nearly impossible to kill due to his immortality. About the only way to truly kill a being like him is to tear them to pieces so they cannot regenerate. But in the past the Skrulls killed the near-immortal Skrull Eternals with products of both science and magic to preven them from simply healing an continuing to live. Atum's spear was a "blessed lance" like those ancient spears that was imbued with enough power to pierece Kly'bn's immortality and kill him.

Daniel said...

Aha! Thank you for explaining the spear.

crouchingmonkey said...

I thoroughly enjoyed 'Godsquad' probably because i'm a huge fan of mythology. Just a shame that the scenes where the godsquad fought against the slave gods of the skkull pantheon were not longer.
Very good review by the way.