In recent years, readers have seen the surge of efforts that Marvel has been making to increase representation of oppressed peoples in their books.

Their most recent grand effort of inclusion was the launch of the All-New, All-Different post-SECRET WARS lineup. At first glance, the All-New, All-Different lineup as it was launched seems to be taking a step in the right direction. Of the sixty-seven announced titles, twelve of them are headlined by people of color and thirteen of them are headlined by women, not including members of a handful of team-titles. The All-New, All-Different Marvel is also not without its queer characters. One of the inaugural issues of the new run of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN featured Max Modell, founder of Horizon Labs, marrying another man. A gay couple, comprised of Hulkling and Wiccan, is present in the current run of NEW AVENGERS, and THE ULTIMATES features Ms. America, a queer woman of color.

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The lineup features two queer leads. Naturally, the new lineup includes the pansexual, gender-fluid mercenary, Deadpool. In addition to this, the first issue of ANGELA: QUEEN OF HEL featured a passionate kiss between the titular Angela and longtime sidekick Sera, which is, in my opinion, a pretty good indication that we’ve got ourselves a queer character.

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It would seem, though, that the initial surge in representation in Marvel’s All-New, All-Different lineup is sputtering out. Recently, it was announced that Steve Rogers will be making his comeback as Captain America in a Marvel event titled “Dead No More” that is set to debut on Free Comic Book Day. This inevitably led to backlash from more progressive fans, outraged by the pitifully short seven-issue run of CAPTAIN AMERICA that Marvel awarded Sam Wilson. Despite efforts at inclusiveness and equal representation, it is through the new HERCULES series that Marvel’s shortcomings become most clear.

READ: Interested in Marvel’s LGBTQ leads? Check out our review of ANGELA: QUEEN OF HEL #1!

Hercules is no stranger to fighting monsters. He’s been doing it since the dark ages. Despite a relevance that has spanned thousands of years, recent history represents a divot in the popularity of Earth’s first superhero. In the new run of HERCULES, writer Dan Abnett and artist Luke Ross seek to change that.

The series opens on a Hercules who is no longer content with relative obscurity. This is a Hercules whose name appears not on the front page but rather in the tabloids. In Marvel’s canon, to those outside of the superhero community, Hercules’ notoriety stems from his debauchery rather than his feats. Abnett’s Hercules is in the process of reform. His is a journey of atonement. In just a few short issues, we are reminded of the feats a hero must accomplish to become an adjective.

I would like to begin by saying that the first four issues of HERCULES have been absolutely phenomenal. Make no mistake: Objectively, this is one of the best titles to have been launched under the All-New, All-Different Marvel lineup. Abnett is able to seamlessly transition between the modern American vernacular and a dialect reminiscent of Old English without either seeming anachronistic in the slightest. In addition to this, he provides a compelling narrative formed around a threat dire enough to make a demigod sweat. Artist Luke Ross’s modern Hercules is the other Hemsworth brother, complete with rippling muscles and a man-bun. The juxtaposition of the mythical creatures of old with New York’s skyscrapers provides a stellar environment in which not only do fantastic fight scenes unfold, but Hercules also channels his inner Dark Knight with some old-fashioned detective work.

Hercules and Gilgamesh at home.

That said, I do have some qualms with the series. Marvel straight-washed Hercules, plain and simple. This is an instance of bi-erasure. With a rich history spanning multiple centuries, as a character, Hercules has endured addenda by many orators. However, it was not until very recently that this included his presentation as heterosexual.

READ: For more on queer characters in the Marvel Universe, check out our article on Iceman!

Historically, Hercules has been depicted as bisexual. However, due to recent interpretations of Hercules—namely the animated Disney film and 2014’s HERCULES, in which Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson portrayed the titular role—readers fairly new to the character will see nothing amiss with the hyper-masculine heterosexual hero Marvel presents here. Seasoned readers may be upset to learn of the apparent erasure of an entire aspect of the character’s being. In spite of an alternate universe in which Hercules kindles a steamy romance with Wolverine, and a heavily implied sexual encounter within the Marvel canon with Northstar (a homosexual Canadian superhero) in 2010’s HERCULES: FALL OF AN AVENGER #1, Marvel’s current editor-in-chief, Axel Alonso, felt the need to state that the Hercules of the mainstream Marvel Universe is straight. Alonso justified this by saying that the relationship with Wolverine “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.” He also, of course, made sure to say, “Marvel has absolutely no issue with LGBT characters.” I believe it is important to note that when pressed further, Marvel declined a follow up question on the subject.

Hercules and Wolverine

I do not doubt that Marvel has no issue with LGBT characters, and I am not calling Alonso homophobic. I am saying that regardless of intent, Marvel’s decision to create a heterosexual Hercules comes across as an action against the LGBT community. The Hercules that is present in the Marvel Universe is not merely a man who adopted the moniker of the legendary son of Zeus; he is the same being. Given that he is supposed to be the Hercules of old, Marvel’s choice to portray their Hercules as a heterosexual man was not a passive omission in the interest of conserving resources. It required action.

In short, Marvel is retconning entire centuries of Hercules’ past. A character’s sexuality is not always integral to a story. As of HERCULES #4, it has not come up. Alonso’s statement contributes nothing to the narrative but rather serves to antagonize Marvel’s readership in an increasingly progressive era. I am certainly not the first reader to call attention to the intense homoeroticism present in superhero comics, nor will I be the last. It goes without saying that it isn’t very subtle. Then again, neither are Herc’s chaps and metal codpiece.

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  1. […] READ: Like Greek mythology? Check out our analysis of bi-erasure in Marvel’s HERCULES! […]

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