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Panel Mania: From Zero to ‘The Hero’ with David Rubin

A super exclusive preview at Publisher's Weekly from the highly anticipated English language edition of David Rubin's masterpiece!

I really enjoyed this, and I'm looking forward to seeing the concluding volume later this year. I'll confess, I was singing Disney Hercules songs in my head for most of my read, but that's a good thing :)

The Hero’s journey is where it all begins, with the mighty Heracles and his twelve labours brought into our contemporary age by the critically acclaimed artist of The Rise of Aurora West, David Rubin.

Translated into English by Dark Horse, The Hero marks the beginning of a run of success for the Spanish creator. Told in two books, The Hero was originally published in 2011-12, followed by the beautiful (and yet to be translated) Beowulf a year later. This year sees the publication of The Fall of the House of West, Paul Pope and Rubin’s follow-up to last year’s first Aurora West title.

Heracles, known better perhaps by his adapted Roman name, Hercules, is a familiar mythical figure to many, yet The Hero is something very new indeed. A celebration of pop-bright superheroes catapults Greek mythology into our society of cell phones and iPods, subverted now by magic, gods, and fantastical beasts.

The bastard son of Zeus, Heracles has his birth sabotaged by a vengeful Hera, angered at her philandering husband. The good, strong, and just Heracles is born after the spoilt, vicious, and vile Eurystheus, thus destined to forever obey the young tyrant. As Hera further manipulates the favoured child, Heracles is plunged into a sequence of deadly tasks, with seemingly no agency of his own.

While the labours in name reflect their legendary ancestors – the Nemean Lion, the Hydra, the Mares of Diomedes – Rubin extracts new truths from old tales, showing a progression within Heracles’ self, and a slow awakening of an inner strength that chafes at his bonds of fate. The presence of a certain Diana in her star-spangled shorts amongst the Amazons is a clear signal that some of the tasks are very different indeed from their old girdle-demanding ways.

Yet this is no straightforward adaptation brought into modernity, as through gloriously rambunctious colours – absent in the Aurora West spin-off from Paul Pope’s Battling Boy - Rubin pays tribute to the masters of the Silver Age of comics, from Jack Kirby to Gil Kane, and all the sense of fun, imagination and action those artists were revered for. The cohesion of famed mythology and modern life is flawless and helped by an aesthetic reminiscent of manga; the book is anchored by a universal understanding of the very superhero stories that Heracles himself inspired.

Comics today are littered with heroes but heroic tales remain somewhat of a rare occurrence in a medium where the anti-hero looms large. As Heracles realises the dangers in acting before thinking, and the real cost of his blind obedience, he is left to overcome a sense of powerlessness within a corrupt establishment. Revolution, perhaps, is in the air and Heracles’ lack of control over a destiny ruled by an untouchable class is entirely relatable.

A familiar face or two makes an appearance alongside the legendary names of old, toy heroes as the playthings of the gods. An early sequence features the instantly recognisable and heroic face of Superman juxtaposed against a senseless background murder, his figure toppled from his Justice League line-up by a carefully flicked Batman toy. Superman, once the people’s hero of the working class and disenfranchised, always with a smile and a feeling of safety has been displaced by the dark, rich, broody anti-hero of the night.

The Superman depiction appears again later, en masse, demanding a truth of Heracles. The Hero joyfully embraces the sunny days of superheroes, when the villains were bad and the heroes were good and overcame their troubles. Before our man of steel became a tortured soul, and our caped crusader a troubling metaphor.

Heracles is our original hero, a real hero and a real human being.

This is book one of two, focusing on a young Heracles and his growth towards adulthood in a burst of action and colour at a relentless pace. The 288 pages disappear beneath eager fingers and hungry eyes, and thankfully the second book is published later this year.

Read the full preview here: From Zero to 'The Hero' with David Rubin

The Hero

The Hero

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