Hercules: The Thracian Wars
Graphic Novel Review by Rick Pipito
I’m sure many of you have heard by now that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be starring as Hercules in a movie directed by Brett Ratner. This graphic novel is the story that will be portrayed. Written by Steve Moore, with Chris Bolsin on art, this is perhaps the most unique telling of a Hercules tale that I have ever seen. I mean that in a positive way. My brother had handed me this hardback awhile back, and I shelved it with the many others I have wanted to read. It always looked interesting to me from the artwork alone, but I never had a reason to begin reading until I heard about the coming movie. A warning now… There are many spoilers ahead.
The story is told by Hercules’ nephew, Iolaus. He is joined by Hercules, Meneus (a nobleman), Autolycus (the theiving and deceiving son of Hermes), Amphiaraus (a seer from Argos), Tydeus of Calydon (a brutal cannibal), Meleager (an Aetolian huntsman), and Atalanta from Arcadia (a swift footed female warrior). This band of mercenaries is hired by the King of Thrace to train his troops. Thrace is a land full of barbarians and cretins, but they are united nonetheless.
Greek and Barbarian tension is high in these first few pages and you can feel it as the reader. It is portrayed quite nicely. There is a brief history of Hercules’ twelve labors as well. Although it is done only in a page, the collage of images are familiar to anyone who knows the Greek myths. As the Thracians see the Greeks for the first time, they don’t believe that these are the real men of legend. They also mock Atalanta, because a woman was never meant to fight in their eyes. That is the way people thought back then, and the whole barbaric feel is spot on.
To add to their mockery, Amphiaraus has a vision and begins foaming at the mouth. His eyes roll back in his head as though a seizure is happening. Everyone around him believes he is spouting nonsense, but the Greek mercenaries trust his ramblings. This scene is in a royal tavern of some sort. The king’s throne is there, but there are plenty of shady characters sitting around drunk. One of these men questions the ability of Hercules, and makes a negative comment about placing poison on the tips of his arrows.
Here is where all hell breaks loose. Hercules fires an arrow right through the man and roars, “You don’t need poison venom if the arrow is shot with enough venom!” The royal room erupts in an all out deathmatch. At the end of the battle, the mercenaries exit to the outside. They are the only survivors of over fifty people. They soon learn that this was all a test by the true King of Thrace, Cotys.
After months of the mercs training the thousands of Thracians, the new army marches out on a mission of destruction. I don’t want to spoil some of the ways that are shown here in how they train the troops. All I can say is that Tydeus is one crazy and demented S.O.B.; so much so that Hannibal Lecter would be put to shame. The next few pages are descriptions of this barbaric army raping and pilaging villages and slaughtering children in order to send a message to the enemy. There are no heroes in this story. The mercenaries may only be swords for hire, but they are watching all of this happen and are joining in on the bloodshed.
Four more months pass, and just as they think that the war is won, they are bombarded by a barrage of arrows. Finally, after so many pages, we get to see Hercules in action the way he is best known. A chariot races by and son of Zeus literally stops it from moving with his bare hands. To me, this is where the story gets really interesting. Tydeus’ brutality grows exponentially, and though you never actually see him eating people, the dialogue describes it well. He and Hercules begin to drift from each other and no longer see eye to eye.
The funny thing that happens is just after Herc is disgusted at Tydeus’ actions, the half god literally tears a man to pieces for killing the youngest member of their team, Meneus. Afterwards, King Cotys has a celebration of their victory, and Hercules beds the King’s daughter. He is still distraught over the loss of his friend and goes to tell the King that they are going to leave. On the way, he discovers a plot to attack his homeland, Greece. The seer stops Hercules from making a mistake of attacking, but they are all imprisoned for spying.
Autolycus shines here. He has been deceiving the group for selfish reasons the whole time, but he has a plan to escape. Though even that plan had a few left out facts. Hercules literally punches through the roof of the prison to escape. He believes he can trust the King’s daughter, Ergenia, but soon finds out that is not the case. As the guards whip and torture him, he waits til the opportune moment to retaliate. The whole time here I was wondering why he was taking a beating so badly after showing some other feats of strength. Then my question was answered as he tears free and exacts his revenge.
A battle with the guards is followed by the chasing of Cotys through his underground vault. There is a very Indiana Jones feel here. Traps, ancient structures and treasure are all included. My favorite quote from this story is when Hercules impales Ergenia with a spear. She has whored herself to betray him, and he makes it a point to state that. “You die the way you lived… on a man’s shaft.”
The King gets his due, and the guards who surrender, don’t live another second. Something else happens that I don’t want to entirely spoil, so I won’t mention the twist at the end. But know this… the Greeks leave. Tydeus separates from the group, and they get away with enough gold to enjoy the boat ride to their next adventure.
I was happy to learn that there is indeed a follow up to this graphic novel, and I plan on checking it out. I think the Rock is the perfect person to portray this character, and if the direction stays true to the novel, then this could perhaps be the most violent film in this genre ever made. I give this a very bloody and savage 8 out of 10.