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:
THE DAY AFTER DOOMSDAY
TALES OF THE ATOMIC KNIGHTS
THE GODS RETURN
MORE TALES OF THE POST-APOCALYPTIC WORLD
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.
Hercules Unbound #11
“The Dark Side of the Gods”
Cary Bates, writer; Walt Simonson, artist. Cover by Walt Simonson.
Hercules, Gardner and Douglas have forged armour for Hercules in an abandoned car factory in Detroit. Jennifer and Kevin are with them. The unused metal is too much for the vat and burns through. Hercules’s attempt to prevent the vat overturning backfires and results in the building collapsing. Luckily everyone gets away.
The five return to Lake Ontario in the flying wing, with Kevin piloting. As they near Durvale Kevin’s flying becomes erratic and his eyes start glowing. He fires a blast from his hand that smashes the Knights out through the side of the plane. Hercules saves them by lassoing them with heavy electrical cable and swinging them into the lake. (Wouldn’t their armour make them sink?)
The plane suddenly shifts direction, and Hercules falls out through the hole and plunges to Earth. Kevin still looks like himself but has become a monster. With his power he arms the plane with thunderbolt missiles, apparently calling them into being, and begins strafing Durvale, making repeated passes.
Hercules recovers from his fall and throws a huge boulder into the lake. This splashes the craft and short-circuits Kevin’s power. The plane crash-lands.
The scene switches to Mt Olympus. The Olympians watch as Hercules and Gardner carry Kevin from the plane and speak of Kevin with hatred. They have kept a secret from Hercules involving a threat called the anti-gods. The anti-gods are growing stronger and the gods are unable to act due to a temporal storm that has trapped them on Mt Olympus. By combining their mental forces they send a mystic bolt to warn Hercules.
Kevin wakes up and is distressed to find himself chained to the ground with heavy chains. The location is somewhere away from the town, and it’s night and there’s a campfire. He asks Hercules how he can treat him this way but Gardner and Hercules say he was possessed and must be restrained until they know by what.
The mystic bolt hits Jennifer. Athena speaks through her - Hercules knows right away it’s her - and warns him that Earth is in danger and he must destroy “the deadly scourge” right away. The campfire starts glowing and a dinosaur emerges out of the glow. (Douglas calls it a fire-breathing dragon but it’s clearly a dinosaur.) Hercules and his armour can withstand the flames and he leaps to attack it. His direct attack fails so he creates a dust storm that smothers it. (Isn’t he risking smothering the others? I notice he covers his own mouth.) It dwindles away.(1)
Even as it vanishes Gardner calls Hercules over to Jennifer. She’s died, although her body is unmarked. Douglas says it’s as if the fire-dragon scared her to death. Hercules’s grief is terrible.
Kevin appeals to Hercules. Hercules believes the scourge Athena spoke of has been destroyed and frees him.
The quartet bury Jennifer. Kevin begins glowing again and runs off. The others pursue him but he reaches the flying wing ahead of them (he can run faster than Hercules?) and takes off, with Hercules holding on behind. Gardner expresses the wish that his gods will be with him. This is the last time we see the Knights.
The plane flies all the way to the Mediterranean and crashes. Hercules pulls Kevin from the wreckage. He recognises the island as the one where he was chained.
Hercules turns to look at the rock he was chained to and wonders why Kevin has headed there. When he turns back he finds Kevin his transformed into an inhuman giant in a horned helmet. The giant tells Hercules to call him by his true name, Ares, god of war. He has brought Hercules to the island deliberately, and destroying the rock will unleash the anti-gods.
This issue and the next are closely connected and form a conclusion to the series. In fact, it's only the next issue that explains this one's title. In the era comics often ended in the middle of storylines, so this makes me wonder at what point the creators were told the series would be cancelled. Hercules’s new costume could have been intended to give the series a boost - it was featured in “Direct Currents” - and the opening of #11 is light-hearted. But it turns in the direction it subsequently goes as early as p.4.
For these two issues Simonson took over the inks himself. His art here looks a lot like his Thor work. The change was a leap for the series, as it had previously been drawn in realistic styles. The splash page, showing Hercules's armour, looks great.
#11 has no credits. In #12 they’re on the splash-page banner with the “Hercules Unbound!” logo, so perhaps they were left off the one in #11 by mistake.
Hercules’s and the Knights’ use of a Detroit foundry to create the armour recalls the scene in Journey into Mystery #120 where Thor repairs his hammer in one. Given the things Hercules has withstood by this point he doesn’t seem to need it, but it makes him look more princely and more Roman. Simonson’s design is busy but good. With its Roman look it reminds me of the new costume Charlton’s Son of Vulcan got in Son of Vulcan #49 (which Dave Cockrum designed while still a fan).
In p.2 panel 1 Hercules asks Kevin what he thinks of his armour, and Kevin says it looks super. He’s blind! There’s another possible indication that these issues were dialogued after they were drawn panel 2. Hercules asks Jennifer what she thinks and she seems reluctant to answer. In the art it looks like he’s appealing or apologising to her and she’s being stand-offish. It could be Bates didn’t have something for the characters to say that matched the expressions Simonson had drawn.
Durvale is not named, but Simonson draws it with the Black Baron’s stronghold from the Knights’ introduction in Strange Adventures #117. When Kevin strafes the town one can interpret the art as showing its total destruction, but Gardner and Douglas don’t have a scene in which they show their grief. They must have lost friends. Kevin even starts with an attack on the Knights’ HQ.
The Olympians are brilliantly depicted in a style based on Greek black-figure painting. This makes them seem truly apart from us.
(1) So a caption says, but this isn’t shown in the art.
Hercules Unbound #12
“Chaos Among the Gods”
Cary Bates, writer; Walt Simonson, artist. Cover by Walt Simonson.
Hercules attacks the giant, who now calls himself the anti-Ares. The giant absorbs his attacks, saying that they only increase his size and power, and defeats him by knocking a cliff down on him.
The anti-Ares plunges into the rock to which Hercules was long chained, saying he’s joining his brothers and sisters. It trembles, and then up through it smashes an even bigger giant with five faces and four arms. This is the anti-gods, manifesting as a single being. It flies off.
Hercules smashes his way out from under the rubble, and is pleased to find Basil, looking for him. (Basil is lucky he wasn’t killed.) He and Basil go over to the rock and Hercules picks up the chains while he wonders what to do. There’s a zap, and he finds himself riding bolts of lightning standing, using the chains for balance. They bring him through the cosmic storm to Mt Olympus and the gods.
Zeus explains what’s happening. The gods have always striven for perfection, and they blamed themselves for the fall of Ancient Greece. So they performed a ritual to exorcise the evil in their natures. Unexpectedly, this manifested as an entity of pure evil. They were able to stun the entity, but needed some way to restrain it. The only solution they could come up with was to use Hercules. So they had Ares invite him to a feast and drug him, and bound him to the rock. The chains channelled Hercules’s strength to keep the anti-gods imprisoned.
By coincidence Kevin’s boat brought him to the island just as Hercules’s efforts to free himself finally broke his chains. While he was saving Kevin from the sea monsters, set to guard the island by Poseidon, the anti-Ares took over Kevin’s form, killing him. So the Kevin Hercules has known has always been inwardly the anti-Ares, biding his time while he gained strength.
Hercules says what he’s hearing from Zeus sickens him. He says he would’ve helped restrain the anti-gods willingly if asked, but because of his treachery Zeus isn’t worthy of his help.
The anti-god entity invades Olympus. It easily smashes its way through the defending troops. Then Zeus and the gods challenge it. They fight. Hercules, watching, believes the outcome must be mutual destruction. He gets an idea.
Hercules begins using the chains to smash Olympus, saying he’s going to wreck it all. The gods and anti-gods stop fighting to stop him, the anti-gods because their goal is the conquest of Olympus, not its destruction. The gods and anti-gods are more powerful than Hercules but they can’t get past the whirling chains because they’ve been charged with energy by the cosmic storm.
The common cause of saving Olympus triggers the gods’ reabsorption of their dark sides, and the anti-gods cease to exist as a separate entity. (The captions confusingly refer to them as at last acknowledging the dark sides of their natures, and so gaining the strength to defeat them. How is fighting on the same side acknowledging one’s dark side?) Hercules says this was his plan.
Zeus praises Hercules, but Hercules is still angry with him and says he’d rather dwell with humans than the gods. Zeus returns him to Earth. Hercules is delighted to hear the voice of Jennifer, who has Basil with her. Hercules thanks Zeus for restoring her to life. Zeus expresses the hope that maybe he’ll one day forgive them. Hercules says perhaps.
I thought this story hateful on first reading, as Hercules friendship with Kevin is one of the best things about the series and the two-parter reveals it to have all been a sham. The happy ending doesn’t work at all, for reasons I’ll explain.
On my second reading I dissociated these issues from what had gone before more. #11 has an interesting grimness. It’s as if Kevin were transforming, partly against his will, into the Antichrist. He causes real destruction, and it appears when his transformation is complete he’ll be too powerful to stop. But the issue isn’t emotionally involving because there’s no information about what’s going on and it’s too much of a roller-coaster. In #12 the backstory is hard to buy(1) and makes the gods unlikeable, and Hercules’s solution feels like one that works by author’s fiat rather than something really clever.
Actually, the feet-of-clay-of-the-gods plot makes no sense as in the backstory they performed their discreditable actions after exorcising their dark sides. But I didn’t think of this while reading the instalment.
The problems with the happy ending are twofold. First, Hercules was clearly interested in Jennifer in #2, and reading the middle of the series one supposes she must be his girlfriend, but their relationship has been off the page so as readers we don’t get invested in it. One would rather see him reunited with Kevin. Second, the way it’s handled lays everything on too thick. When Jennifer runs to Hercules it’s like she’s acting in a commercial. Hercules holds her hand and thanks Zeus as he looks down from the sky, and the couple walk off together hand-in-hand with Basil romping around them. (Jennifer, implausibly, doesn’t ask about Kevin.)
The issue credits Bates with the story, but I suspect there was a lot of Walt Simonson in the two-parter as it has what I think are Thor riffs, like #6. The anti-god entity’s assault on Olympus, and the way it smashes through the defending troops, looks modelled after the Mangog story from Thor #154-#157. The anti-Ares has a Marvel Asgard-style fanciful horned helmet and reminds me of the Odin force entity from Thor #262-#263, for which story Simonson did the layouts and which to my surprise overlapped on the stands with the second part of this one. The bit about his absorbing Hercules’s attacks and becoming bigger and stronger reminds me of the Growing Man.
The idea of the gods’ dark sides getting separated off from them possibly came from O’Neil, as it recalls the plot of Justice League of America #75, which he wrote.
The anti-gods entity has a strong resemblance to the Fiend with Five Faces from Justice League of America #156, which came out the next year. The Fiend is a combination of five Oceanic gods. I think this issue must have been that one’s inspiration.
Was the revelation about Kevin in this issue the one planned when Levitz wrote his Amazing World of DC Comics essay, which I discussed when I reviewed #7? I think it can’t have been. The end of #9 implies at that point Kevin was still meant to be who he claimed to be. I suggested the plan was to connect him to the New Gods, but I’ve a better suggestion now: maybe the idea was to connect him to the Project. It was an element in Kirby’s stories that its clones often had E.S.P. They could have run into someone who was planning to repopulate the world with clones and learned Kevin was one.
In Warlord Travis Morgan spent a lot of time travelling somewhere, having his adventure of the week. It managed a long run (although it was briefly cancelled early on). So why didn’t this approach work for Hercules Unbound? My guess is there was just more cheesecake wish-fulfilment in Warlord. Reading Hercules Unbound you neither see Hercules as someone like you nor want to be him. Contrast "Atomic Knights", which makes striving to rebuild civilisation after its destruction by atomic war look like fun. And the best part is it's fun we can all imagine ourselves having.
(1) If they had to chain Hercules to a rock on an island for eternity to keep their dark sides from escaping, couldn’t they at least have piped in muzak?
I was just reading the Sheldon Mayer/Alfredo Alcala three-parter with which the volume opens. Travis suggested (p.4) it was commissioned earlier than the other “The Day After Doomsday” stories. According to the GCD it was written for the “Adventurers Club” series in Adventure Comics.
(Conclusion spoiler warning.) A man dressed in medieval garb is spotted wandering in a department store called Lacy’s. When questioned by the security head he says he’s Barry of Bleeker Street and from 700 years in the future. In his day there will be medieval-style kingdoms where the north-eastern US is, and food will be scarce. He was brought to the present by a slow-acting spell that a witch cast on him in exchange for some cheese. Before it acted he met a boy who was living in the remains of Lacy’s who turned out to be really a woman. He rescued her after she was taken captive by Manhattan’s recent conqueror using artefacts from the store. The security head derisively suggests Barry prove the story true by speaking the spell backwards and returning to his own time. Barry tries it, and disappears.
Sheldon Mayer was the writer/artist of “Scribbly” and Sugar and Spike. In the 70s he also created Black Orchid and wrote about half her stories. Like the present tale they were drawn by Filipino artists. Mayer's were drawn by Tony DeZuniga. This story is goofier. In fact, in its plot it's exactly like a Richard Hughes ACG story. In my mind’s eye I can see a Kurt Schaffenberger cover showing Barry in his Robin Hood-like outfit in the ruins of New York.
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Funny you should bump this thread back to the top just now. I was considering re-reading Hercules Unbound after having just read Charlton's Hercules: Adventures of the Man-God this past weekend. (I like to think all Hercules comics are part of the same continuity.) On second thought, nah. Why punish myself like that two weekends in a row?
Also funny is how I found my notes trying to connect Hercules Unbound with Marvel's Hercules!
Trying to connect all the Hercules comics is easy: Just assume they're all true! That's how they did it in the (very) old days. There are different versions of all the Hercules stories, as different areas and bards and storytellers invented their own versions.
So assume a general timeline, with the caveat that "regional differences" -- i.e., things that don't fit -- can be edited out.
But getting all of the DC disaster stories to fit together is a chore, since there is generally only one "canon" version of each, and Kamandi and Atomic Knights and Day After Tomorrow and so forth don't match up at all. And to get from there to Space Cabbie and Legion of Super-Heroes and Space Ranger and Tommy Tomorrow is just impossible. The only answer is alternate timelines, and I'm OK with that.
Who's to say that Tommy Tomorrow and Kamandi aren't the same person, only on alternate Earths?