Herc does stuff that only he can do. Artist: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

HERCULES

Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: Ambiguous
Creators: Several
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DC Comics not only led the industry in the creation and production of superheroes (literally — DC's Superman was the first in comic books) — it also acquired them from a wide variety of other publishers. First those of All American Publications (The Flash) and later those of Quality Comics (Plastic Man), Fawcett Publications (Captain Marvel) and more came to swell the ranks of DC's properties, to the point where if you name any …

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… non-Marvel 1940s superhero that modern comics readers have heard of at all, chances are, he now belongs to DC. As for superheroes they don't even have to pay for, like Hercules — you bet they had a version of Hercules!

In fact, they had more than one. Unlike Marvel, which introduced their version of Hercules in 1965 as a Thor supporting character and kept him more-or-less consistent for decades, DC used him as simply an occasional adjunct to the regular characters (especially early '40s Wonder Woman, where Greek/Roman dieties were commonplace; and late '50s/early '60s Superman, where super-strong guys from history and legend would turn up from time to time) and, as was the custom back then, scarcely worried about keeping him consistent from one appearance to the next, let alone between series.

But for a while at least, Herc was actually a minor star at DC, with a title of his own. Hercules Unbound #1 was dated November, 1975. It was written by Gerry Conway (Firestorm) and drawn by the team of José Luis Garcia-Lopez (Atari Force) and Wallace Wood (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents). In this series, Hercules was, indeed, the still-surving immortal Greek deity of myth — tho, as is frequently the case, he eschewed the Greek form of his name, Heracles, in favor of the Roman Hercules even tho the rest were Greek.

In this version, Herc had a long-standing adversarial relationship with Ares, the god of war, that had led Ares to chain him to a small island in the Mediterranean, where he languished for centuries until freed as an accidental by-product of the onset of World War III.

The recent nuclear war in the backdrop of this series was the start of an event known as "The Great Disaster", part of an alternate future in which several DC series, over a period of years, were set. In The Atomic Knights, which had appeared a dozen or so years before Hercules, it was established that the exchange of nukes took place in 1986, which still had Herc set comfortably far in the future. In case there was any doubt the two were connected, some of the Knights themselves guest-starred in Hercules Unbound #10 (May, 1977) — the only crossover The Atomic Knights ever made.

With the assistance of his young mortal friend, Kevin, who helped him get off the island in #1, Herc thwarted the evil schemes of Ares on a bimonthly basis until #12 (September, 1977). That issue ended with all outstanding issues resolved and Hercules facing an uncertain future in a devastated land.

The "Great Disaster" scenario flourished for a time, with series like Kamandi and Omac providing glimpses into it. But by the time 1986 had come and gone without ushering in anything of world-shattering importance, it had largely been forgotten.

As for Hercules, he's mentioned occasionally as a guy the Amazons of Wonder Woman used to know, but that's about it.

— DDM

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Text ©2009-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.