Pitting Thor against Hercules has always been a crowd pleaser, two gods from different mythical pantheons of roughly equal stature, but completely contrasting characters. Nine stories take us from Thor’s first clash with Hercules in 1966 to the 21st century, and while the premise has an allure, it’s inherently limited, because the essence of Thor meeting Hercules is a mighty battle. As the circumstances are by and large irrelevant, there’s considerable repetition, and not all creators involved are the most imaginative.

Jack Kirby’s first battle between Thor and Hercules is the most fondly remembered, Kirby and collaborator Stan Lee setting it in the past, but while Kirby’s art retains its power, the story loses some thrill via the subsequent familiarity of Hercules. The second Lee and Kirby collaboration is the better one, set in the present day of the 1960s, contrasting the virtues of the two characters, although it would have been improved for the presence of the previous issue’s set-up. Still, just look at the Kirby art.

Marvel will surely get around to reprinting every superhero comic they’ve ever published, but at the time of publication Thor versus Hercules included a few stories unavailable in other collections. Particularly welcome is the tremendous art of John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga on Steve Englehart’s retelling of the first Thor/Hercules clash followed by a sequel that was new in 1975. Buscema loved drawing this, and it shows. Similarly Bob Layton’s funny Hercules story is absent from collections of the surrounding Walter Simonson material. Layton’s comedy touch has Hercules exaggerating about unlikely circumstances. Tom De Falco and Ron Frenz also go for a comedy approach, complete with their own dialogue. Those creators then reprise by adding an enchanted Quasar to the mix in a subsequent tale. These have their moments, but lack the polish of the earlier material.

Michael Avon Oeming and Scott Kolins (sample art right) set their battle in the past, with Thor and the Warriors Three mid-quest, with a petulant Hercules in the way, his ego affronted. After the Kirby material this is the most visceral Thor and Hercules set-to, and Kolins rises to the occasion with some suitably brutal pin-ups and spreads. The entire story can be found as Thor: Blood Oath.

Layton’s comedy Hercules is good, but it’s topped by Rodney Buchemi drawing Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente’s story of Hercules disguised as Thor and Thor disguised as Hercules. Again, it’s better experienced with the previous chapters providing a full explanation (see The Mighty Thorcules), but this gives a flavour of a ridiculous situation, althought it pays to know that Zeus has been reverted to a child.

As noted, there is considerable repetition, but the premise alone would be enough to reveal that. Read Thor vs. Hercules a couple of chapters at a time, and it’s more fun than not.