Interview: Bob Layton on Hercules: Twilight of a God

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.

Over the next few years, Layton would drop mentions of the project and his desire to see it come to fruition, but it wasn’t until 2009 that Layton was ready to announce that the project, now titled Hercules: Twilight of a God, was underway, and treated fans to some preview art for the series, illustrated by Layton and longtime collaborator Ron Lim. Now the series has been solicited for a June 2010 release, so I spoke with Bob Layton to get the inside story on the series’ arduous journey to publication, and what lies in store for Hercules in his final adventure.

Matt Adler: It’s been a pretty long road to getting Hercules: Twilight of a God published; can you describe the journey for us, and how it finally wound up coming together?
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.
MA: Your initial Hercules miniseries was one of the first miniseries Marvel ever published. What drew you to the character initially?
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.
Additionally, I had always wanted to try my hand at writing comedy and Herc seemed to be a perfect foil for my particular brand of humor. At the time that I was working on Iron Man, I used the experience to learn as much about writing as possible from my creative partner, David Michelinie. I had set a goal for myself to work as a writer/artist at some point in my career. So, when the opportunity arose to do the Hercules mini-series, I jumped at the chance of fulfilling that career goal. The most memorable consequence of working on the Hercules mini-series is that it truly launched my career as a writer in the comics industry.  Thanks to the success of the two volumes, and the subsequent graphic novel Full Circle, I was able to fulfill my career goal of becoming a mainstream writer/artist.  And after Hercules, I was very fortunate to have had many great opportunities offered to me, as a result.
MA: How does this Hercules differ from the Hercules of the mainstream Marvel Universe?
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.
At that period of time in Marvel’s history, I felt that their books, as terrific as they were at that particular period, took themselves WAY too serious with stuff like Frank Miller’s Daredevil, Claremont’s X-Men and even David Michelinie and my Iron Man, for that matter.  I wanted to do something to lighten things up in the “House of Ideas” a bit.
The biggest problem was convincing the editorial ‘powers-that-be’ that poking fun at the Marvel Universe wouldn't do permanent damage to the comic company as a whole.  It took a bit of pushing to have a finite series about a drunken super-hero published at Marvel in that era, but they were totally willing to do it once they understood the context of what I was planning.
MA: Where do we find Hercules as this latest miniseries begins?
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.
The story concerns the Prince of Power’s last days.
Although immortal, Hercules’ half-human side is still prone to some mortal maladies. After suffering a catastrophic head trauma in the line of duty, Herc begins to display Alzheimer-like symptoms…becoming extremely forgetful and prone to fits of unprovoked rage. All this will be leading to comic results, of course.
In this mini-series, the ruler of the Wilamean Galactic Empire, Arimathes (the son of Herc and the evil wench, Layana Sweetwater) has married and spawned three children. The triplet godlings have inherited much of Hercules’ power, but display more refined personality traits than their legendary Grandfather. Imagine Herc with social skills. Each godling has acquired different Olympian traits from Hercules. One is very strong (Juno), another is incredibly swift (Antonitus) and the third is practically invulnerable (Ursus).

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!
In this mini-series, Galactus (who by Marvel’s own definition is the embodiment of “The Big Bang”) has been expanding exponentially—just like our own universe.  Godlike as Galactus is, he is still bound by the same laws of physics that govern us all and his stature has become so massive that now it poses a danger. 
Yes…Galactus has developed… a weight problem. 
So much so that “Fat Galactus” has begun warping Space/Time around him and has created a super-massive Black Hole that traps him and threatens to devour all the surrounding systems—including Herc’s own beloved Wilamean star group.
The Devourer of Worlds is trapped by cosmic forces of his own doing and sends his new herald out amongst the stars to find a means of salvation—which will cause his path to cross that of Hercules: The Prince of Power!
MA: Will readers need to catch up by reading the previous stories?
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!)
MA: Hercules is only half-immortal, and in the earliest preview image we saw (back when the series was still titled "Hercules: The End") Hercules actually looks quite aged. Is that going to be the case in this series?
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. 
MA: Beyond age and infirmity, is Herc facing any other challenges?
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.
MA: Who will be among Herc's supporting cast? Any plans for special guest-stars?
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.
MA: How did Ron Lim come on board?
BL: Ron is my good friend and frequent collaborator since the days of Metallix at Future Comics. He was also a huge fan of my original run on Herc.  I promised him a while back that, if I ever got a chance to do another series, I’d get him to pencil it. When you see those pages, you’ll see why I jumped at the chance. Ron is a natural for this brand of tongue-in-cheek story.  Because of his massive work schedule, we would-up having him do blue pencil breakdowns.  I preferred that anyway, because it allows my own artistic style shine through, as well.
MA: Can you tell us a little about the collaborative process between the two of you?
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!
MA: You've mentioned that this series will be somewhat of a humorous take on death and dying; what gave you the idea to tackle that subject? And how do you manage to balance humor with the pathos that such a subject brings?
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.
There’s humor in everything…including death. Besides—who says I kill Herc off?
MA: What other projects are you working on these days?
BL: Working with my long-time writing partner David Michelinie, we’re collaborating on the development of several properties for major motion pictures and television, including a television series based on my highly successful web comic–Colony and our upcoming horror/comedy film Shambler, produced by Anne Marie Gillen and Maury Rogow.
There’s a development project in the works with British writer/producer Andy Briggs for our Future Comics property Deathmask.
I’ve also written a feature film entitled Encounter at Amalthea which may have recently found a home.
As far as comics work, I will be completing Dick Giordano's last pencilling project, the graphic novel version of our web comic Colony. (Probably to be published sometime around Sept.) Thankfully, Dick was able to get the book laid-out before he became ill. So, I'm determined to see the project through as a final tribute to his stellar career. There have been 105 pages of the saga published on my website ( and another 40 pages of pencils currently being written and inked by me currently.
Additionally, David Michelinie and I have been approached by Marvel to pitch two new Iron Man projects. Our proposals are on the desks to the editors now—so we’ll see how that pans out down the road.

Matt Adler is brand-new to the site. Please, be gentle.


  1. Hmm. I wonder if I’d enjoy his work. After the Incredible Hercules ongoing, I’ve found every previous iteration of Herc I’ve read a bit dull.

  2. One thing I can say is that Layton’s Hercules is NOT dull… if anything, it’s at the other extreme. If you like balls-to-the-wall action and comedy (as I do) you’ll probably dig his take on Herc.

  3. Ug.  Why has Marvel chosen to portray Hercules as a buffoon in the mainstream universe?  Thor is a kickass god, but Hercules has been relegated to "comedic" schtick.  I’ll read Hercules again when there is a serious, thoughtful take on the character.  Disclaimer – Despite this post I do not hate fun.

  4. But this isn’t the mainstream universe– it takes place in a possible future. And Hercules has never been taken completely seriously in the MU; as Bob mentioned, Stan Lee portrayed him as an arrogant jerk who was eager to pick a fight for any reason. He serves as a good counterpoint to Thor who tends to take himself a bit too seriously.

  5. A character can be a belligerent, arrogant jerk and still be serious (instead of a stooge like charicature).  These are not mutually exclusive.  Hercules has been given more serious treatment by Marvel in the past, at times (e.g., cerca the short lived "Champions" to date myself).  Thor already has a nice counterpoint for his seriousness (his name is Volstagg).

    However, I do understand your point, and I acknowledge that I’m most likely in the minority in my view.  I know there was a hardcore, vocal fanbase for the most recent Hercules series which was also in the dramedy genre (a very difficult genre to pull off well).  No need for debate.  Like all things, tastes will differ, and this portrayal is just not my goblet of grog.

  6. Fair enough; I’ll just leave you with this bit of dialogue from Thor #126, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby:

    Movie Agent: Hercules– remember me? I’m the one who offered you a movie contract before! The offer still goes, handsome! We’ll make you famous!

    Hercules: YOU will make HERCULES famous??!

    Movie Agent: Think of it big fella! Your own swimming pool! Beautiful starlets! Fan clubs! TV residuals!

    Hercules: I accept! The world must not be deprived of my great talent!

  7. That is a great exchange.  Yes, most of Stan Lee’s dialogue back in the golden days retrospectively looks somewhat "campy" (silly) to us today (irrespective of character).  By the by, (1) I did enjoy reading your interview with Mr. Layton and (2) welcome aboard my friend.  I look forward to reading more of your interviews/articles in the future.

  8. Matt,

    As a fellow iFanboy newbie, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this interview. The original Herc mini-series imprinted in me (and many other Marvel Zombies) a fondness for the character that I think played a huge role in the success of Incredible Hercules of late. I for one can’t wait to check this book out, and your interview set the stage for a fun experience.

  9. Thanks guys.

    I’m pretty excited to see this project come out too (you can’t do much better in pure storytelling excitement than Bob Layton and Ron Lim), and I’m glad my enthusiasm for it comes across here.

  10. I am a newer reader to comics (about 2yrs now) and I’m always looking for new books to read. This interview really showed me a new side of the Marvel universe I didn’t know even exsited. I would of never even have considered picking up this book before this interview. Now I can’t wait for it to come out. Thanks Matt!!

  11. I am so so so so so soooooo excited for this!

    Everyone should read the original Layton run on Hercules. Especially if you loved the current run with Pak/Van Lente. I cannot wait to get my hands on this mini because it will be sweet.

    Great review Matt! 

  12. Bob Laytons first Hercules Mini is one of my fondest childhood comic book moments… I can’t wait for this thing!!!!

  13. Another new guy setting the bar intimidatingly high. Big shoes to fill, Matt.