The Great Disaster” is an epic tale spanning many titles and manu years in the DC Universe. The stories in this volume are presented in chronological order within the DCU’s timeline rather than in the order of the issues’ original release dates. In addition, the stories are organized in five sections:

PRE-DISASTER WARNINGS
THE DAY AFTER DOOMSDAY
TALES OF THE ATOMIC KNIGHTS
THE GODS RETURN
MORE TALES OF THE POST-APOCALYPTIC WORLD
ALTERNATE ENDINGS

Happily for me, the collection includes “Costume, Costume, Who’s got the Costume” from Superman #295, a tie-in to Kamandi #29, often mentioned on this board but which I have never read. The collection highlights the Atomic Knights, but I’m not so hip about that because DC released a hardcover “DC Classics” edition of that material in color a couple of years ago, but I am pleased to see DC entire Hercules series under a single cover and presented in this context. Oddly (I thought), Jack Kirby’s Atlas was included in the “God’s Return” section, but I always imagined that to have taken place in an imaginary past (like Conan), rather than an imaginary future.

Obviously I haven’t read this yet since it shipped only yesterday, but I thought a detailed description of the contents might sway someone on the fence. This will be my weekend project, at least the “Pre-Disaster Warnings” section.

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The only reason I can think of for Marvel to reprint the 11 issue Menace is the last issue had the first Simon Garth story in it. But he's hardly a major figure so that seems an odd choice for a Marvel Masterworks, since other than Strange Tales and Journey into Mystery they haven't reprinted any of their pre-Code horror comics.

Dave Elyea said:

That said, it's still mind-boggling that this collection saw print when so many other series with better known characters remain unseen, or at least unreprinted.

Superboy is by far the biggest omission, in my opinion.

I started this thread to discuss Showcase Presents: The Great Disaster as I read through it, but I got busy and my purpose cooled, and I never finished it. I’ll be in the mood to one of these days, though. Right now I am in the middle of re-reading DC Challenge. (No lie!) “Can you solve it before we do?”

Regarding Atlas, I think it was obviously Kirby’s intention that it be set in a forgotten era of the past, but more recent DC continuity has retconned it to a post-apocalyptic future (as its inclusion in this volume supports). Kirby’s next First Issue Special (Manhunter) would prove more influential. I imagine it would have been quite different in Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson hadn’t recently revamped the Paul Kirk Manhunter.

Regarding whether the collection is strange: I was interested in everything in it before hearing of it except "The Day After Doomsday", which I hadn't heard of, and "Tales of the Great Disaster", which I think I'd heard of and forgotten about.

To me Hercules Unbound is a series I encountered in various ways at different stages growing up. I saw back issues of it in my first comic book store, I read the "Direct Currents" item about Hercules's new costume, I passed on buying an issue at a market. Eventually I read three of the issues in a local comics series. My relationship with a lot of comics is like this. In recent years I've wanted to know what Cary Bates and Walt Simonson did with #11-#12 and Gerry Conway and José Luis García-López did with the opening issues.

Hercules Unbound #1

Gerry Conway, writer; José Luis García-López, penciller; Wally Wood and A.L. Sirois, inkers. (Sirois isn't credited. According to the GCD he did backgrounds.) García-López inked the cover.

The title derives from Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound and Prometheus Unbound - the later only survives in fragments - and/or Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, inspired by them.(1) The story transfers the motif of Prometheus's being bound to a rock for ages to Hercules and opens with his bursting free of his bonds. The splash image of this surprisingly unexciting. Perhaps Conway and García-López should have started with him bound to the rock and then had him burst free.

I think this story was possibly written in some version of the Marvel style. There are a couple of points where the dialogue seems to be responding to the art. In the final panel on p.11 Hercules is pointing some refugees out to his companion, Kevin, who is blind. In the dialogue he says "You should be glad your eyes are dark, Kevin. Some sights are best ...unseen." In p.15 panel 5 Kevin's dog is picking up a slab of meat from the ground and Hercules says "You shouldn't let your dog eat the food in this place, Kevin. It may be poisoned." Kevin responds "Don't worry about it. Basil won't eat anything that isn't cooked." (Well, he's planning to eat that slab of meat!) I suppose how the creators worked would've been up to the editor, Joe Orlando. Writers writing Marvel style sometimes break the action down panel by panel, so it could be Conway worked with García-López this way.

Conway forgot Kevin is blind himself p.7 panel 1: "Their bodies were covered with sores and blisters-- they looked like lepers--"

Anyway, the opening caption declares the events take place "World War Three plus four weeks": but because it starts on Hercules's island, WWIII imagery only starts later. Hercules says he was bound to the rock by Ares and speculates he must be dead. It turns out he isn't, and we don't learn this issue why Hercules was suddenly able to burst free.

Hercules hears a cry. He sees a boy in a small boat with a dog being attacked by a guardian of the island - an octopus monster - and rushes to help him. (He defeats it by shoving its head underwater. "Demons hate water, Lad. Always remember that. You might find the information useful some day." That's a valuable piece of informat- wait a moment! It's a sea monster!) We later learn that the guardians of the island (plural) have killed others who came too close over the centuries.

Hercules realises the boy is blind and the boy tells him his name is Kevin and about the war. He was in Athens when an air raid siren sounded. His brother got him to a shelter but was killed himself. When they emerged the survivors were attacked by deformed survivors who didn't reach shelter and have been reduced to cannibalism. Kevin got away. Hercules doesn't know who Sherlock Holmes is but apparently understands such concepts as nuclear war, air raid sirens, fallout shelters etc, not to mention English. He announces his identity to Kevin. It's the first time his name is used in the story, although the reader already knows it from the title.

This is at the bottom of page 8. At this point DC comics had only 18 pages, but the issue has lots of panels and lots of words and gives readers their money's worth. (Which in this edition works out to roughly A$0.90. Cheap!) I find wordy comics more aesthetically pleasing than decompressed ones. On page one he gets out his gun. On page two he cleans his gun. On page three puts his gun back in his pocket zzzzzzzz.

Hercules and Kevin set off for Rome, in the hope of finding Kevin's father. A caption says Ares in Rome is "over a thousand miles distant", but they'll get there by p.11 in "three days and nights", which means they travel over 300 miles per day and that's partly on horseback.

In Rome Ares is causing two groups of men to fight one another. (The images of this show a mix of men in modern uniforms with modern weapons and men in antique uniforms with antique weapons, but the presence of the latter on the battlefield isn't explained. The commanders on both sides wear modern uniforms.) At one point there's this exchange: "Who is the enemy, Commander?" "The..uh...the ones who attacked us." "And why did they attack you?" "Because they're the enemy!" We're apparently meant to think this is crazy reasoning, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Hercules tells Kevin about how he came to be chained. He was feasting with Ares on Mt Olympus and Ares drugged his wine. The two are attacked by bull-men who Hercules calls "constructs of Ares". Kevin stops a couple with a sling. Hercules secretly reflects there's something odd about him. "I'll have to watch him closely...and carefully, I think."

This brings me to an interesting point about this series. I wrote above (p.4) that I've long associated it with Mighty Samson.(2) This was set generations after a nuclear war, and regularly featured sequences in which Samson fought monsters were the product of mutation. Hercules Unbound opens only four weeks after the war, so there's not enough time for mutation to have produced monsters yet. The fantastic menaces in this issue consequently derive from Hercules's Olympian associations.

[Twist end spoiler warning for next paragraph.]

Now, at this point you're thinking "He's making this sound like a pretty good issue. All it needed was a climactic fight between Hercules and the Incredible Hulk." Well, funnily enough, what happens next is Hercules and Kevin come upon the two forces Ares has set fighting. Hercules breaks the fight up, and spots and challenges Ares. Ares sends against him "his greatest creation-- --the Smasher!" You'll never guess who he resembles. The Smasher gets the better of Herc but Basil distracts him and Kevin kills him with his sling. (Hercules is never actually shown getting a blow in, so I can't carp that the monster must be too tough for that, but I don't buy Basil escaped being seriously injured by the monster's blow.) Kevin realises that the Smasher was - his father! The issue ends.

Joking aside, this is a decent comic but I don't think the premise quite jells. On the one hand you have the gods-return-to-Earth element. On the other, the post-WWIII element. But story's vision of the world after WWIII is a fairly standard one - survivors in the cities fight in the ruins - so they don't coalesce into something different and striking. Its unusual setting immediately after the war - arguably, there should still be very large numbers of survivors outside the destroyed cities, trying to adjust to the new situation - isn't exploited. All of Ares's critters are too easily beaten. The companionship of Hercules and Kevin is a good element.

García-López art is great for its realism and detail. His action scenes are serviceable rather than exciting, and his monsters aren't all that interesting, but his good qualities more than make up for it. There's particularly nice detail in the shot of Athens on p.5 and the Roman fountain on p.9. Wood's style is very evident in the faces and in the figure of Hercules, and is present elsewhere in the inking, but a lot of García-López's look is present. Possibly that's partly due to Sirois's presence on the backgrounds, but it might just be that García-López's pencils were very finished.

(1) Wikipedia tells me Aeschylus's authorship of the Prometheus plays has been strongly questioned. They were ascribed to him in antiquity. There are also Classical Herakles/Hercules plays (one by Euripides and a couple by Seneca, and another play by Euripides called Children of Herakles. I have not read any of these works.

(2) If you've never read this, Google Books currently has a preview of Dark Horse's Mighty Samson Archives Volume 1 with the stories from the first issue. There's also a preview for a volume collecting a modern version written by Jim Shooter and J.C. Vaughn from a few years ago. The script for one of the issues can be found at Shooter's blog.

Hercules Unbound was a bimonthly, so its twelve issue run was a run of two years. According to DC Indexes the first issue went on sale in Jul. 31, 1975. That's about two weeks after The Champions #1 (Jul. 15), and less than a week before Marvel Premiere #26, which starred Hercules (Aug. 5). I can't recall if I've seen it suggested that Marvel did the Marvel Premiere issue to claim a trademark on the "Hercules" title - I think I may have done - but it has to be possible. The Champions outlasted Hercules Unbound by six months, so this was a period where Marvel and DC regularly published comics featuring the same character.

Apparently, García-López had only just started working for DC. A GCD search found one earlier story  in Weird War Tales #41 the previous month. According to DC Indexes the issue went on sale the same day as Detective Comics #452, for which he did a "Hawkman" back-up tale. Hercules Unbound was his first regular DC assignment.

The title was also Conway's first regular assignment at DC when he moved there in 1975. I've long assumed it was his creation. His departure from the title after #6 was probably due to his move back to Marvel in 1976. Before moving to DC he'd been writing Thor, where he'd used Marvel Hercules as a regular cast member for his last year and a half.

The first version of this post displaced the thread New Books I Would Love to See from the homepage.

Is it even possible to trademark a mythological figure...?

I'm no lawyer, but from what I understand one trademarks something on the outside of a product, such as a brand name. Marvel probably has a trademark on Thor, so it would probably be possible to trademark Hercules, but I don't know what kind of resistance companies can get when they try to trademark common or recently-used names. There had been Hercules comics in the 60s from Western (Mighty Hercules, licensed from the cartoon) and Charlton.

Possibly it wasn't not so much that Marvel was hoping to trademark Hercules as that it wanted to protect its ability to perhaps do a Hercules series with his name in the title in the future. It did publish the Bob Layton Hercules minis and graphic novel in the 80s.

The GCD tells me there was a "Hercules" story in the magazine Marvel Preview #10 in 1977. According to DC Indexes it appeared the month after Hercules Unbound ended, but I don't know that can be more than a coincidence: it wasn't cover-mentioned. Modern republished two of the Charlton Hercules issues in 1978.

Marvel's first story starring the Silver Age Hercules appeared in the back of Ka-Zar #1 (1970). It was apparently intended as the start of a series (perhaps for a split-book[1]). It might be this didn't appear because Marvel couldn't get a Hercules trademark, but it might also be the series was dropped because the story wasn't good enough.

Penguin published Hercules Amongst the North Americans by Mark Marek  ("as seen on MTV, in Greek coffee shops, the National Lampoon, High Times, and on the late, late, late movies") in 1986.

Information from the GCD.

(1) Amazing Adventures and Astonishing Tales started around the time it appeared, but their features were 10 pages and it was 11. It can't have been produced a lot earlier as it used the recently-introduced Avengers line-up.

Filmation had two series in the late 70s, Space Sentinels and Freedom Force, which featured a youthful, long blond haired, shirtless, caped version of Hercules.

In Space Sentinels, he was a hero named after Hercules.

In Freedom Force, with the same design, he was Hercules and rode Pegasus!

I'm no lawyer either, but I've been dealing with torts all my adult life in journalism.

Yes, you can copyright/trademark Hercules -- a specific version of Hercules. The question at the heart of all tort laws is "confusion in the marketplace." If your version of Hercules is too much like somebody else's version of Hercules, so much so that someone might buy yours thinking it was somebody else's, a judge might uphold a lawsuit.

That was the case with Eisner's Wonder Man, and the basis of DC's lawsuit against Fawcett and Captain Marvel. Neither character was named "Superman," but DC charged that they copied the concept of Superman, so much so that a kid who wanted to buy Superman might buy Captain Marvel or Wonder Man by mistake.

Speaking of Captain Marvel, when DC was reviving the character, Marvel already had a different Captain Marvel in print. The details of what went on between the two companies isn't available to the public, but it's very likely that Marvel sent DC a cease and desist, and rather than go to court (where they MIGHT lose), DC opted to cut a deal. And the deal was that "Captain Marvel" couldn't be used in the title of any book. (It might also be that the name couldn't be used at all on a cover, but I don't remember.) But it's entirely possible that DC could have ignored Marvel's complaints and gone to court and won -- DC's Captain Marvel was so conceptually different than Marvel's that they probably would have won.

In another words, DC could launch a "Thor" title tomorrow. Marvel would undoubtedly sue, but if DC's concept was such that it was unlikely to cause "confusion in the marketplace" -- Thor is a 98-pound Danish accountant, or something -- then they might very well win. (But they would probably lose, due to Marvel's Thor having such a high profile right now, that it would look like DC was trying to cause confusion in the marketplace.)

Hope that clears it all up.

Thanks, Captain. Brian Cronin has a item here that points out DC did initially use Captain Marvel's name on the Shazam! covers. He says Bob Rozakis confirmed to him DC was told by Marvel to stop doing so.

Thanks, Philip. I didn't know about those.

A couple of years ago, Syfy put out a TV movie titled Almighty Thor which featured the Norse myths though with bad CGI.

In fact, legitimate 7-footer, pro wrestler "Big Sexy" Kevin Nash played Odin! *Yikes!*


Isis was a normal person that turned into Isis in her own live action series but the real Isis in Freedom Force. 
Philip Portelli said:

Filmation had two series in the late 70s, Space Sentinels and Freedom Force, which featured a youthful, long blond haired, shirtless, caped version of Hercules.

In Space Sentinels, he was a hero named after Hercules.

In Freedom Force, with the same design, he was Hercules and rode Pegasus!

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