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Hercules

“And as to the [male] loves of Hercules, it is difficult to record them because of their number; but those who think that Iolaos was one of them do to this day worship and honor him, and make their loved ones swear fidelity at his tomb.”

– Plutarch

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby crafted a version of the Greek demi-god that they introduced in 1965. In the American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1960s (1965 – 1969) author John Wells notes in discussing the introduction of Hercules into Marvel Comics that Marvel’s version of the Greek demi god was influenced by the Italian movies starring Hercules and related movies based on Greek myths which often starred Steve Reeves. These movies were a Saturday afternoon rerun staple of the local TV station at one point during my child hood. Actor Reeves in his revealing costume made quite an impression on me though for reasons there weren’t completely clear for some years still. Steve Reeves’ sex appeal was undeniable and became a fantasy for Tim Curry’s Dr Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The Marvel version of Hercules shares much of the same history with his mythical counterpart. He is a demi-god, son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene, who raised him along with her husband Amphitryon, King of Thebes, and also underwent and triumphed in the Twelve Labors, according to the Marvel Encyclopedia (DK, revised 2014). While the exploits of a mythical Hercules ended in Roman antiquity, his Marvel counterpart’s adventures continue in to present time. Good natured as well as a brawler, Hercules has enjoyed a long association with Thor and has had associations with the Champions and the Avengers. This profile will have a narrow focus on Hercules. Check out Marvel’s bio for more detailed information.

The idea that Marvel’s Hercules can be considered bisexual by today’s standards relies to some degree on certain stories Greeks told themselves about the demi-god. Records tell us that among Hercules’ many male lovers to whom Plutach alludes in the quote were Admetos, Iphitos, Euphemos, Elacatas, Abderus, Iolaos, and Hylas. Most important for this profile is Hylas because it is Hylas that writer Greg Pak introduced to readers in Incredible Hercules #118. Three hundred years before Plutarch, the poet Theocritus, who wrote 300 years before Plutarch described the love Hercules had for Hylas: “We are not the first mortals to see beauty in what is beautiful. No, even Amphitryon’s bronze-hearted son [Hercules], who defeated the savage Nemean lion, loved a boy-charming Hylas, whose hair hung down in curls. And like a father with a dear son he taught him all the things which had made him a mighty man, and famous.”

Writer Pak has Hercules and several other god like beings (Snowbird, Ajak, Mikaboshi, Atum) and Amadeus Cho sailing metaphysical space on a quest to reach the Skrull pantheon. Hercules comments to Ajak this undertaking reminds him of his adventure with Jason in the search for the Golden Fleece; an adventure that young Hylas as Hercules’ weapons bearer also went on. In order to expedite their journey, Hercules has decided to solicit help from Nightmare, since as the Lord of Dreams he rules the borderlands between madness and myth. Nightmare agrees to help them and in return demands to know the biggest fears of his visitors. Illustrating Hercules’ greatest fear, Pak recounts the scene of the rowing contest between he and other men aboard the Argo. Being the showoff that he is, Hercules breaks his oar and later after reaching Mysia he goes to look for a tree to turn into a suitable oar while Hylas went to fill a large bronze jug with water from a spring. Hylas is unaware that the spring is the sacred home of nymphs and just after kneeling to fill the jug he’s abducted and pulled under the surface by Dryope. Frantic concern and fear fuels Hercules to search for Hylas before realizing that despite all his great strength he was powerless to protect Hylas. Now Hylas is never openly described as Hercules’ lover in the comic though Pak’s choice to use Hylas’ abduction to illustrate powerlessness seems like glaringly obvious subtext. This may be imagination on my part to think that artist Rafa Sandoval drew Hylas to resemble Amadeus Cho, though Marvel, or any comics publisher, would never consider making a teenage character the love interest of a visibly much older adult character, and rightfully so.

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The two part Hercules: Fall Of An Avenger (March & April 2010) series is the next part of the puzzle. Greg Pak is joined by Fred Van Lente as writer. Heroes gather at a memorial to remember and mourn Hercules who has died, but being a demi-god they should’ve known he’s more than mortal and so he got better. One scene, seen below, in particular is key here. Black Widow, Snowbird, Namora, and Alflyse, the Queen of the Dark Elves, are reminiscing together about something they all have in common with Hercules – each one of them at various times had sex with him. Snowbird says she knows others at the memorial had sex with Hercules and the next panel cuts to a questioning Namor and Northstar making a poor excuse to leave, clearly inferring at some point off panel Northstar and Hercules had sex. A case might be made that the same goes for Namor and Hercules though it seems weaker to me.

The short lived Hercules series that followed was missing Amadeus Cho from the cast and lacked any male male sexual innuendo or inferences. Greg Pak included an alternate version of Hercules in the short lived X-Treme X-Men (vol 2) in which this Hercules and that world’s Wolverine were lovers and teammates in group led by Dazzler. These two deserve a separate entry, so check back!

Editor In Chief Axel Alonso made a number of fans upset when in a CBR interview he announced that Hercules would be portrayed as straight in the series debuting later this year. To quote: “Hercules and James Howlett’s relationship in “X-Treme X-Men” took place in a unique alternate universe, similar to how Colossus was gay in the Ultimate Universe, but is straight in the 616. Same goes for Hercules here.” Alonso’s dismissal shows why LGBT diversity in mainstream comics still can be problematic.

Read the James Howlett and Hercules profile.

Hercules and Noh-Varr (Marvel Boy) are currently in a relationship in the Al Ewing scripted Guardians of the Galaxy (2021).

The Marvel Comics version of Hercules first appeared in Journey Into Mystery annual #1 (1965) and was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

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