Review by Frank Plowright
Spanish artist David Rubín has brought his considerable cartooning talents to several American projects, most published by Dark Horse, who’ve issued his solo magnum opus The Hero in English over two hardcover volumes. It deals with the myth of Heracles, that Greek name used to instantly distance the lead character from the numerous versions familiar under the Latin sounding of his name, Hercules.
In Greek mythology Heracles had to undertake twelve almost impossible tasks as atonement. Rubín saves the nastiness prompting them for Book Two, and drops Heracles and older brother Eurystheus into a world ruled by the latter as in the myths, but a fusion of the ancient and modern, where swords are the weapon of choice when video feeds and vehicles co-exist. We see Heracles completing the tasks, in the original order, but over the course of his lifetime rather than in quick succession.
Such is the strength of the stories adapted that a creator would have to be spectacularly incompetent to mess them up. Rubín was never going to head down that route to failure, but even with expectations set high he’s spectacularly impressive. He reduces the plots to their heroic essence, then lays them out with kinetic action intensity as seen with the sample page of Heracles tackling the boar laying waste to the Arcadian forest. There’s a lightning pace to every adventure, Rubín delivering a headrush each time, the stories wonderfully told, yet with a brilliant fake authenticity. These may follow the pattern and order of the Heracles myth, but Rubín has a reason for setting them in a technological world, and he tinkers with the myths. Anyone who doesn’t know the original tales isn’t going to care too much, as Rubín’s updates all hit the spot, creative, but true to the essence of showing Heracles as being more than just muscle.
One puzzling aspect is the specific inclusion of adult content when Rubín’s art and the stories themselves could have been interpreted for all ages, or young adult without toning down the violence so much. The adult inclusions are largely in passing, and add little, so why make that choice?
For the plot beyond the labours of Heracles, Rubín also examines the myths. Fate has decreed the eldest born son will rule over the other, and we see a regretful Hera pull a switch in the opening pages ensuring Euystheus, who she knows will be cruel, is born first. Must Heracles ever follow a subservient path despite his better nature just because it has been decreed by fate?
That remains to be discovered in Book Two, but this has been a rollicking selection of uplifting adventures, smartly updating the legends into something new and exciting.