The majority of webcomics I read are ongoing stories, most with fantasy elements, that focus on character development and plot and world building. Happletea is the only gag strip in my feed, and while it doesn’t have those other elements, it brings both humor and insight in spades. Created by Scott Maynard, the strip has been going since 2008 with some regularity (though not consistent updates), and it is, according to Maynard, “the only comic that excoriates religion, pop culture, and politics while, at the same time, lauding the world of cryptozoology.” I use Maynard’s own description here because it’s not only accurate (I can’t think of another comparable comic, except very possibly Sinfest, which I read only on occasion), but because it captures Maynard’s sense of humor.
In Maynard’s strip, recurring characters include:
Lil K, whose misadventures have included pre-looting for the Mayan apocalypse, starting a revolution in Latin America upon misunderstanding what New Year’s Resolutions were for, and coping with the chaos of New York
Sasquatch, Lil K’s foster father, who packs wormy lunches and occasionally has bizarre fashion sense
God, who takes the form of a cat living at Lil K’s house
Allev, Lil K’s blond friend who is often the voice of reason against Lil K’s antics
Joe Gill modified Denny O’Neil’s take on the Labors of Hercules when he succeeded him as scriptwriter on Charlton Comics’ Adventures of the Man-God, Hercules in 1968. Gill took the character of Eurystheus that O’Neil referred to as a judiciary member of the pantheon of gods on Mount Olympus and developed the character as a mortal king who is Hercules’ cousin on his mother’s side (Gill actually referred to him as Hercules’ uncle in his first appearance). By Issue #8, it was established that Hercules turns to King Eurystheus to receive each assignment in the remaining five labors he must complete before he is accepted among the gods of Olympus. Eurystheus is portrayed as a mortal puppet of Hercules’ vindictive stepmother Hera, the queen of the gods.
Issue #8, “The Boar” sees Eurystheus set Hercules the seemingly impossible task of capturing the Great Boar of Eurymanthus without injuring the beast. Upon scaling Mount Eurymanthus, Hercules is set upon by yet another pteranodon (a favorite of artist Sam Glanzman, apparently). Perhaps cognizant of the winged reptile’s repetition, Joe Gill provides the explanation that the pteranodons are conjured up from Earth’s prehistoric past by Hera. Zeus berates his wife for this unnecessary persecution of his son. Hercules is warned off his quest by the nearby villagers, but ignores their caution and scales to the top of the mountain and encounters the great boar itself. The man-god tames the beast with relative ease and rides it down the mountain (admittedly, a great visual) to present it to King Eurystheus. The storyline is very slight compared to the previous labors (clocking in at only 12 pages).
The rest of the issue is taken up with a supporting feature, “The Legend of Hercules,” which depicts the man-god’s childhood in the home of his mortal mother, Alcmena. The story opens on the domestic life of the infant Hercules and his mortal half-brother, Iphicles. The child Hercules first shows his incredible strength when he slays a pair of serpents that crawl into the toddlers’ crib one night. The script reveals that the serpents were sent by Hera in her jealousy. While closer to the mythological depiction of Hercules’ origin, the incident contradicts the code-approved storyline from previous issues that Alcmena and Zeus were married before Zeus and Hera wed. This was not, of course, Denny O’Neil’s original intent, but Dick Giordano enforced the Charlton Comics editorial policy which prevented dealing with out of wedlock pregnancy as much as it limited any sexual suggestion. This certainly made the faithful depiction of a series inspired by Greek mythology capitalizing on the booming sword & sorcery market challenging to say the least.
Charlton Comics’ Adventures of the Man-God, Hercules is unique in actually making a credible stab at being faithful to Greek mythology. The Twelve Labors of Hercules form the backbone of the thirteen issues published between October 1967 and September 1969. Denny O’Neil scripted the first five issues under the unlikely pseudonym of Sergius O’Shaugnessy with Dick Giordano editing the first four issues. When Giordano left Charlton Comics for DC, he took O’Neil with him. Giordano’s successor Sal Gentile soon replaced O’Neil with Joe Gill, who scripted the final eight issues of the series. The entire run was illustrated by Sam Glanzman, a house regular at Charlton. I first discovered the series via Charlton’s short-lived reprint series of the early 1980s. Sadly, the entire run was never reprinted and all thirteen issues can be rather difficult to track down.
The self-titled first issue features an amusing error in which the gods of Mount Olympus set Hercules with nine, rather than twelve labors to prove his worth so that he may take his rightful place among them. This mistake was quickly corrected with the second issue. As the series begins, Hercules’ mortal mother Alcmene has died and her son is frustrated he cannot join his divine father on Mount Olympus. Eurystheus decrees the man-god must perform nine labors before he will be recognized by his fellow gods. The first labor he is assigned is to slay the Nemean Lion. There is a nice twist where his fellow Spartans do not believe Hercules’ claims of being the son of Zeus. King Philip of Sparta puts a price on the man-god’s head for deserting the Olympics to go off on his quest.
When Hercules arrives in Nemea, he rescues Princess Helen from Argive invaders who sought to hold her hostage to force Alexander the Great to abdicate. Princess Helen falls for Hercules. Despite their rivalry for Helen’s love, Hercules and her betrothed Alexander fight side-by-side during the dual invasion of the Argive and Corinthian armies and force the invaders to retreat. Helen is prepared to leave Alexander for Hercules until she learns the secret of his divine heritage when she witnesses a conversation between him and Zeus. Hercules sends her back to Alexander, choosing eternity over mortal love. He battles and defeats the Nemean Lion barehanded and claims its skin as his prize. Hercules forms a strong bond with Alexander the Great, but takes his leave to return home to Sparta.