Writer/artist Bob Layton has had a long and varied career in comics, and is probably best known for his character-defining run on Iron Man alongside co-writer David Michelinie. But fans of Layton’s work also know him for the series of stories he wrote and drew in the 1980s featuring the adventures of Hercules, the Greek god of strength, set in a distant galaxy of the 24th century. Readers have long clamored for Layton’s return to the character, and several years ago, visitors to Layton’s website were treated to a vision of an aged Hercules, along with a note explaining that the image was part of a pitch for a Hercules: The End series, which would chronicle the final adventure of the Prince of Power. Unfortunately, as Layton explained, Marvel chose not to go with the pitch, and the idea remained dormant.
Bob Layton: A few years back, I was asked to create two interior pages for Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak on Hulk vs. Hercules #1. That turned out to be extremely fortuitous. Shortly after completing that assignment, I was contacted by Herc editor Mark Paniccia who asked me to do some covers and to submit my Hercules: The End mini-series proposal, that I had originally pitched to Marvel a decade before. In no small part, this is all thanks to Greg and Fred and their boundless enthusiasm for my past contributions. I give them full credit for lobbying to get this last mini-series a “green light” at Marvel.
BL: I always had a soft spot for secondary characters. Keep in mind that the Star Wars craze was in full swing in the early eighties and it got me thinking about creating a similar venue for Hercules to romp in. Since Hercules was an immortal, I decided to take the character out of the current continuity and place him in a time and place that wouldn’t have immediate repercussion to the monthly books or his appearances in the Avengers. At that particular time, Marvel was looking to experiment with concepts that had a finite beginning and end. When I heard that, the notion of doing Hercules as that limited series popped into my head. I’ve always loved tongue-in-cheek adventure movies like the The Three Musketeers or The Adventures of Robin Hood. My take was to place him in a galactic environment, where there were powerful beings and looming situations that were far greater than the comfort zone of his own earthly confines. In that context, he would have to face his own shortcomings and grow-up as a consequence. However, I tried to make it abundantly clear in the series that he would resist that growth at every opportunity. So, I put together a proposal and pitched it to the Powers-That-Be.
BL: In the Marvel universe, prior to my first mini-series, Herc had been portrayed by Stan Lee as a conceited, arrogant, but likable jerk. My childhood memories were of Hercules bashing people just for the sport of it! That became the genesis of “The Gift” in my stories. Hercules was comfortable getting his own way by using his godlike might. He was an adolescent bully, in a fashion. Not that he had a mean streak or was a cruel person, but merely someone who was not experienced in hearing the word, ”No”. I set out to refine his character in my stories.
BL: The new Hercules mini-series will take place hundreds of years in the far distant future and some 75 years after my last story–the Hercules Graphic Novel, Full Circle.
When the apocalyptic menace of Galactus rears its ugly head once again, Herc and the three grand-godlings rush headlong into danger as they attempt to thwart the Devourer of Worlds from destroying the Wilamean system. Not only that, but the initial battle will be between Herc and the new herald of Galactus!
BL: Probably not. But if they do, here’s a shameless plug: Marvel has just released all of my future Hercules material in two, beautiful hardback editions: Hercules: Prince of Power and Hercules: Full Circle (available at a comic shop near you!)
BL: No. That was a presentation piece I drew for the original pitch back in 1999. The story evolved considerably since that initial draft. In this saga, Herc is suffering from irreparable brain damage. But, he’s okay…as long as he takes his meds.
BL: There are two major problems with the cure. One: If he takes too many blows to the head, it could kill him and Two: HE CAN’T DRINK ALCOHOL while being on the medication. In other words, his life has become a boring, living hell.
BL: Skyppi [the Skrull], the Recorder and Arimathes all return in this adventure and there is a new supporting cast of characters, as well—like Prime Minister Sphincter, Dr. Blophish, the new Colonizers of Rigel and the Herc triplets. As far as guest stars, Galactus makes a comeback in this limited series, as well as the introduction of a new, bad-ass alien-version Silver Surfer. We will also have a guest appearance by the Watcher towards the conclusion.
BL: Fun—mutual respect—fun! Ron is one of the best storytellers in the biz, and if I want something changed, he jumps in without argument and makes the adjustment. I’d be perfectly content working with only Ron for the rest of my career. And, he is always a whirling typhoon of boundless enthusiasm! He has never lost his sense of wonder about his chosen profession!
BL: Why not a take on death? I just lost one of my best friends when Dick Giordano passed away last week. And, I’ll tell you a secret: he was probably the bravest man I’ve ever met, who faced his own demise– with great humor. My last memory of him, the last time we ever spoke from his hospital bed, he broke-up laughing at a get-well card that was laced with horribly misspellings. His being amused at this illiterate card was the positive memory I took away from that horrible experience.
Matt Adler is brand-new to the site. Please, be gentle.