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The Untold Truth Of Marvel's Hercules

The mid-credits scene of "Thor: Love And Thunder" featured a bitter Zeus nursing his wounds after Thor attacked him. Tired of mortals being more interested in super-heroes than gods, he charged his son Hercules to kill Thor Odinson, with the intention of putting fear back into mortals. The scene then cut to the Greek demi-god in his original costume from the comics, armed with a mace. 

For die-hard Marvel fans, it was cause for celebration. After all, the Prince of Power dates all the way back to "Journey Into Mystery Annual" #1 from 1965, making him one of Marvel's oldest characters in more ways than one. 

In the comics, Hercules provides muscle for the Avengers when Thor is away from the team, though he rarely stay with them for long. In the Marvel Universe, Hercules is powerful and noble, but he is also arrogant, boastful, and frequently foolish. Short-tempered and violent, he often delights in good-naturedly giving his opponents "the gift" of battle. 

Hercules is Thor's natural rival, and they've battled as often as they've teamed up. Over his many years on Earth, Hercules has been part of countless teams of heroes, lost his powers, regained his powers, died several times, and saved the world (and the universe) more than once. Below is an examination of this noble hero — who's been played for laughs more than once, but has also been a powerful leading man. 

Rivalry with Thor

In their first comic book encounter, Thor accidentally crashes into Olympus and is set to cross a bridge, with Hercules at the other end. They get into a fistfight and destroy the bridge because they won't let the other cross first, which speaks to the absurd, frequently petty nature of their rivalry. After pummeling each other for a while, Zeus shows up and has them shake hands.

In their next encounter, Thor finally returns to Earth to reunite with Jane Foster, only to find her meeting a besotted Hercules. This starts another fistfight, only this time a changed Thor realizes that Hercules is fighting for fun and pride, and he's past that. Neither are willing to surrender, however. Hercules only wins because an angry Odin strips Thor of much of his strength.

However, one of Hercules' greatest feats is how he answers the question of a bullied kid. The eternal, "Who's stronger: Hercules or Thor?" is forced upon a boy who was being bullied for liking Thor. His tormentors see Hercules in a park and make the kid ask. Hercules being Hercules, he makes up a ridiculous story about Thor being no match for him and lifting up Manhattan to dump Thor in the river. Jarvis notices the kid getting upset and clues Hercules in. Hercules changes his story, makes Thor the winner, admonishes the bullies, and invites the kid over to Avengers Mansion for dinner. Even Hercules is self-aware ... sometimes.

The Laytonverse

The artist Bob Layton imagined Hercules being banished from Olympus in the 24th century by Zeus, in order to discover humility. This is the Hercules of Earth-829, who has many adventures in space. Accompanied by a Recorder of Rigel, he saves a world from death cultists, challenges Galactus and makes him laugh, and has a romantic encounter with Galactus' herald, Nova. Layton uses Hercules as a comedic character here, albeit one who learns important lessons about the follies of godhood.

In the second miniseries, things get a little more serious, as Zeus decides to kill the gods while Herc continues his adventures. Herc meets a Skrull posing as a fashion model named Skyppi, a Skrull-hunting cosmic Red Wolf, and the last follower of Thanos. The latter steals Mar-Vell's Nega-Bands and tries to kill everyone on Titan, but Hercules stops him. Zeus reveals that the time of the gods is over, but Hercules has his own destiny to fulfill as the leader of a new race of gods.

Years later, Hercules learns he has a son named Arimathes, a cruel emperor manipulated by his bitter and vengeful mother, Layana Sweetwater. Hercules eventually battles him one-on-one and knocks some sense into him. Years after that, a fragile Hercules has to deal with an uprising and Galactus turning into a black hole and threatening the universe. A dying Hercules delivers a device to "cure" Galactus and, in the wake of this cosmic event, is transformed into Cosmos, the life-bringer. 

The meathead Avenger

Depending how you count it, Hercules is either the 10th or 12th person to become an Avenger, back in 1967's "The Avengers" #45. After being exiled on Earth, the Enchantress bewitches him and sets him on the Avengers. Hawkeye helps him snap out of it, and he decides to hang out with his new friends. He fights bad guys like Dragon Man, Whirlwind, and the Red Guardian until he encounters the Titan Typhon. Beating him and freeing the gods allows him to go back to Olympus. 

Hercules is a fight-first, ask questions later kind of guy, and this sometimes makes his time as an Avenger tempestuous. Given his sexism, he rankles the Wasp when she's the team leader; he hates her giving him orders. Zemo and his Masters of Evil are aware of this and exploit it after they take over Avengers Mansion. They drug him before he walks back to the Mansion from a bar, and despite the Wasp urging him not to go in, he walks into a trap. Goliath and many others beat him into unconsciousness and eventually into a coma. Zeus is displeased by this and later kidnaps the Avengers to punish him, but Dr. Druid and Prometheus restore Hercules to health. 

Hercules returns to join the Avengers later, including the Secret Avengers during "Civil War" and the Mighty Avengers in the "Chaos Cascade." Being humbled multiple times through and losing his powers, ultimately, makes him a better teammate.

The deaths of Hercules

The first time Hercules dies, it's in 1246 B.C. His wife catches him with another woman and thinks she's giving Hercules a love charm. Instead, it's poison, and Hercules goes insane with pain. He throws himself on a funeral pyre and dies. His father Zeus takes pity and separates his immortal half from his mortal half, returning him to life. Of course, Hera puts a curse on any mortal woman who falls for him, so it's not all good news. 

Centuries later, Hercules hears an emergency call for the Avengers, whose main team is disbanded at the time. A random team is put together via computer against the threat of the High Evolutionary, who is planning to detonate a genetic bomb to jumpstart humanity's ultimate evolution. These makeshift Avengers track him down and he easily deals with the Hulk and Jocasta. The Beast realizes they don't have the power to take on the High Evolutionary, so Herc agrees to have the Beast turn the villain's genetic accelerator on him. Now in super god form, he forces the High Evolutionary to dissipate, but Hercules also disappears. As it turns out, he would be kidnapped by curious Celestials and taken to the Black Galaxy, to be rescued by Thor

Athena apparently kills him a third time, shunting him off to a pocket universe so he can't interfere with her scheme to manipulate Herc's pal Amadeus Cho. Cho obtains godhood and rescues Hercules, even as everyone thinks he's dead. 

The God Squad(s)

Hercules has led two different groups of disparate gods into battle. The first was part of Secret Invasion, with Athena scheming to defeat the renegade Skrull gods Kly'bn and his wife Sl'gur't. Killing the Skrull gods, who themselves had killed hundreds of gods of the worlds they conquered, would take away the power from the Skrulls trying to conquer Earth. Herc's team consists of Ajak of the Eternals, Snowbird of the Northern Gods, Atum the God-Eater of Egypt, and the Japanese god of evil, Amatsu-Mikaboshi. Along the way, they tussle with Nightmare to get a map to the Skrull god realm, Hercules and Snowbird hook up, and Amadeus Cho's dog Kirby is revealed to be a Skrull. Hercules and Snowbird team up to kill Kly'bn, but Amatsu-Mikaboshi kills Sl'gur't, then uses his own shape-changing ability to take her place, vowing revenge on everyone. 

That leads to the second God Squad. Amatsu-Mikaboshi becomes the Chaos King and destroys Nightmare's realm. Hercules once more is called upon to lead a group of gods. This is a group of demi-gods and near-gods, however. It includes the Silver Surfer, Sersi the Eternal, Venus the demi-goddess, and Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. The Panther God of Wakanda also joins in as they seek to stop the Chaos King when he kills all of his cousins in his pantheon. They eventually help Hercules defeat the Chaos King through trickery. 

Best buddies with Amadeus Cho

Hercules' best mortal friend is Amadeus Cho, the boy genius who later inherits Hercules' role as Prince of Power. Hercules befriends him helping out the Hulk during the World War Hulk event, because he relates to the Hulk losing his family. They form a team called the Renegades, along with the Angel and Namora, to aid the Hulk. Cho and Herc make a funny pair, as Hercules tends to think with his fists and Cho doesn't always have the confidence he needs to back up his brains. 

In their adventures, they attack S.H.I.E.L.D., are part of the God Squad (which Cho names), fight Amazons who wield a reality-warping device, form a new Mighty Avengers team to battle the elder demon Chthon, and battle various members of Hercules' family, especially his mother Hera and uncle Pluto. Hercules apparently dies for a while, but it's all due to machinations from his sister Athena to push Cho into a larger role. 

The two are instrumental in bringing an end to the Chaos King. Cho's brains are at least fully backed by his courage, and Hercules' indomitable fighting spirit is tempered by learning how to beat an enemy without using pure force. They parted ways when Hercules became a mortal, but Hercules nonetheless loves Cho like his own son. 

Family squabbles

Hercules' father is Zeus, but his mother is the mortal woman Alcmena. Zeus impregnates her disguised as her husband, Amphitryon. This is one infidelity too many for Zeus' wife, Hera, who is convinced by Athena to breastfeed him to increase his power. Baby Herc clamps down too hard and Hera not only flings him against a wall, she sends two snakes to kill him. The infant demigod kills them both in his crib with his bare hands.

Centuries later, Hera hatches the ultimate revenge scheme. Ruling Olympus after Zeus is reduced to being a child, she works with gods like Eris and Ares, and most especially the dread Titan Typhon. They and her modern-day Olympus Group develop a technology called Continuum. Her plan is to create a new reality where people worship her and plans to destroy the old one. Young Zeus talks her out of it before Typhon betrays her. 

Ares being the God of War, he and Hercules tussle countless times over the centuries. In Greece, Hercules encounters Ares' son Kyknos, and Ares tries to interfere in the fight before Athena saves Hercules. Centuries later, Ares transforms the Olympians into crystal while fomenting war on Earth. Hercules, being half-god, manages to avoid this fate, but he's beaten into an amnesiac state until Hawkeye finds him. 

The gods are destroyed and return as the murderous Dark Olympians, and it's up to Herc and the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop them. Families can be a chore. 

Rich god, poor god

When Hercules roams the Earth and goes from bar to bar looking for a good time, one never sees him take out his wallet. However, after he seems to die saving the world against the threat of Typhon, Hercules' mortal affairs must be tended to. Namora and Venus are tasked with touring his holdings, and what they find is astonishing. Hercules has amassed such a huge fortune that he essentially forgot how much of it he actually owns. He invested $100,000 in Stark Industries when it went public, for instance, a move that alone is worth millions. While he spends lots of money buying taverns, wineries, and nude beaches, he also buys houses for friends and lovers. Most poignantly, he founds a special community for children of monsters, spurred by finding an orphan centaur girl. Herc's generosity knows no bounds.

That is, unless someone makes him mad. When the Constrictor sues him for damages after a battle, he hires the She-Hulk's firm to defend him. At one point, the Constrictor agrees to drop the suit if Hercules pays for his hospital bills. Herc agrees, playfully slapping the serpentine super-villain on the back, which only aggravates his injuries and puts the case back into court. While mulling over defenses, including insanity, Hercules refuses to say that he's anyone other than the son of Zeus. Jennifer Walters tells him to pay every penny of the $18 million dollar lawsuit, because Hercules isn't above the law. Hercules agrees, doing the honorable thing.

Hero of the Chaos War

Amatsu-Mikaboshi is the Shinto pantheon god of evil, imprisoned by his cousins. He's freed to help defeat the Skrull gods, but he uses this as a platform to destroy all of reality. Bit by bit, he starts killing gods and absorbing their power, becoming the Chaos King. Hercules is charged to stop him, but his direct conflict strategy leads to a series of humiliating defeats that simply make the Chaos King stronger. Hercules eventually accepts power-ups from Gaea and Amadeus Cho to make him nearly omnipotent, making him just barely able to hang with the Chaos King. 

The problem is that Cho, one of the smartest people in the world, runs the numbers and realizes there's no way to defeat the Chaos King. Hercules and Gaea come up with a back-up plan to move the remaining population of the universe in the Continuum, the pocket dimension created by Hera. The answer to the problem then becomes obvious. Just as Amatsu-Mikaboshi's cousins tricked him into his prison, so too does Herc trick the Chaos King into thinking he wins by punching him into the Continuum. The Chaos King thinks he wins in the real universe, but can't tell the difference. Athena reappears and tells Hercules she foresaw most of this and pushed things to make him the new all-father, but Herc says no and uses up his power to restore everything, making him mortal. He and Cho both save the day, because Hercules listens for once.

A real Champion

The Champions, also known as the Champions of Los Angeles, were Marvel's first west coast-based team. 

Most super-teams need a good reason to exist; the Fantastic Four are a family, the X-Men are all mutants, the Avengers are Earth's Mightiest Heroes, banding together against the toughest foes. The Champions, however, existed as part of an editorial edict. The series' creator, writer Tony Isabella, said in "Back Issue" #65 that he originally wanted to write a book featuring Iceman and Angel, the former X-Men, hanging out on the road together. He then planned to add Bill "Black Goliath" Foster to the mix on occasion. 

However, editorial said the team had to have at least five members, including a woman, a strong guy, and someone with his own title. That turned out to be the Black Widow, Hercules, and Ghost Rider. This group of characters made absolutely no sense working together, however, and their theme ("the superhero team for the common man") was as uninspired as their partnership. 

They got together fighting Pluto, a Hercules villain, as a callback to the Avengers forming because of Loki. Hercules and the Widow had an extremely brief romance. They did fight Swarm, a Nazi scientist whose body was made of bees (in #15,) but their foes were mostly retreads from others. The team broke up in a different comic, as only the Angel was left in the building he owned. Hercules said he just got bored and wanted to roam the Earth.  

Stripped of his powers

People tend to think of Hercules as relying too much on his raw strength, but he's had trials in his life that have proven his cunning. He's lost his powers twice and managed to regain them both times.

The first came when Hercules was in one of his longer stints with the Avengers, with Zeus calls him out on preferring Earth to Olympus. After they argue, Zeus strips him of his immortality and halves his strength. Hercules is still tough but no longer nearly invulnerable. This changes his overall mood drastically, as he becomes much more serious. He becomes close to the Shi'ar exile Deathcry and travels with her to space for a while. He's further depressed when he discovers the Avengers are apparently dead and takes a long time to recover. 

He gains near-infinite power thanks to Amadeus Cho and later Gaea, and he uses it to take on the Chaos King and other threats. After finally winning the Chaos War, Hercules uses all of his godly might to restore the universe instead of choosing to rule his own pantheon. He even briefly becomes a humble bartender. However, he's not without his own resources. He steals a bunch of weapons from Ares' arsenal, including a magic sword, helmet, shield, and arrows. He slowly gets his powers back from a doctor who reconnects the conduits that direct his godly abilities. 

Herc loves a good team

While Hercules isn't necessarily a good team player, he certainly does love to join up. Early in his life, Hercules joins Jason and his Argonauts on the quest for the Golden Fleece. He only leaves when his young friend Hylas (whose father Hercules killed) is kidnapped by nymphs, and Hercules can't abandon the search. 

When Hercules sees a documentary about a then-unknown superhero team called the Defenders, he and eighteen other heroes show up at Nighthawk's doorstep to join. The only problem is that the documentary was made by a grifter hanger-on named Dollar Bill, who wants to make money off the team. Declaring it to be a day that will be the "Defenders' finest," Hercules gets elected as the new leader of the non-team. They learn a group of villains are calling themselves Defenders, so this mob heads off to fight them. Hellcat joins with Hercules, but when she uses her latent psychic abilities to take out friend and foe alike, Hercules calls it quits. 

After the attack of Onslaught and the seeming deaths of the Avengers, Hercules joins Heroes For Hire, led by Iron Fist. The team's aim is to do good for a charitable fee. A reckless Hercules happens upon their first battle, but it becomes increasingly apparent that he's constantly drunk. He reveals that he feels survivor's guilt regarding the Avengers and quits to deal with it. 

Hercules was also in the Renegades and the Guardians of the Galaxy