Here you have Marvel’s Legend Hercules as (in descending order) a statue, lead figurine (2x), mass-market action figure, customized action figure, and adorning a Slurpee cup. This reminds me of how Hercules popularity is lampooned in a section of the Disney animated movie based on his legend (Disney’s “Hercules”, of course). Something new containing the legendary figure pops up every few years. Such as the recently released film starring Dwayne Johnson as the hero. Nobody owns the rights to a character that existed in lore before Jesus was a pup. So you can basically write your own rendition of the fabled fellow and ride with it. That gives him staying power few other popular literary, historical or fabled figures posses.
If you want to redo Tarzan then the greenbacks have to fly over to the E. R. Burroughs Estate. Or Sherlock Holmes, maybe? Arthur Conan Doyle’s descendents expect a payday. Peter Pan? James Barrie deeded the rights to a London hospital on his death. So they profit from every new play or movie featuring the boy who refuses to grow up. A new film about Peter Pan is set to arrive in theaters shortly. Ca-ching!
Not so with Hercules. You can no more own him than you can Christ or Buddha or George Washington. So Marvel followed Disney’s lead and made an end run around that by signifying that their version of the wall of super-strong muscle is called “Marvel’s Hercules” or “Marvel’s Legend Hercules”. Now, with that distinction in place, the character is copyrighted. But only for Marvel’s purposes and exactly as written. Marvel would have difficulty suing anyone for using the hero of Greco-Roman mythology as long as they stuck to the original myth’s parameters and didn’t overtly copy the character’s design. They did the same thing with Thor. With a great deal more success because someone had the bright idea of putting the God of Thunder in the Avengers team. Why Hercules is relegated to the sidelines is beyond me. Maybe he just isn’t magical or powerful enough to be an A-List player for Marvel. Demigods just can’t get any respect.
I have a soft spot for the hero because of watching those old Italian cheapo productions featuring the incomparably beautiful Steve Reeves as Herc as a pre-teen. Reeves was one of my first real unobtainable fantasy crushes. The British strongman Reg Park also appears in some equally poorly produced films from around the same time, but he makes a poor second to Reeves. IMHO, Steve Reeves will always be the embodiment of what I would hope Hercules might have been like. Though I have a strong feeling the “real” Hercules was insanely strong, but not necessarily the possessor of prodigious pulchritude, too.
A side note: Unfortunately, the mythical legend spent entirely too much time harassing and killing centaurs in his exploits. As if he had singled the Half-horses out for huge amounts of abuse. As legend has it, the acts against centaurs came back to bite him badly. The vitriolic blood of Nessus, the centaur ferryman who tried to abduct Herc’s wife, Deianira, and have his beastly way with her, poisoned him so badly he committed suicide to escape the pain. In another legend with many of the same attributes, Hercules mistakenly hit the wise mentor centaur Chiron with an arrow that had been dipped in hydra blood (from one of his famous Twelve Labors enacted for the atonement of murdering his first wife and children in a drunken rage that was actually caused by his father Zeus’s wife, the vindictive and hyper-petty goddess Hera. I have always found it rather odd that the hero’s real name is “Herakles”. Was he named so to appease her? If true, the gesture failed considerably). That poison wouldn’t kill the victim, but bring them ceaseless unbearable pain. Chiron traded his life for the release of the Titan Prometheus, he who had pitied mankind and gave them the gift of fire he’d stolen from the gods on Mount Olympus and was hideously punished for the crime (a whole ‘nutha and equally fascinating story. By all means, look it up). For his final compassionate act, pity was taken on the plight of the ever-pained Chiron and he was transformed into an astronomical constellation. (I believe it is the one called “Centaurus”.)
A second side note: Carl Jung coined the term “wounded healer” to describe the adherents of psychiatry as those people gave service through the intent of healing their own emotional and psychic wounds while they, in turn, healed others. Chiron is the first real Wounded Healer. The irony in his story is that his wound was so incurable that all his gifts as a healer were for naught. Another astrological body was named in his honor. An asteroid, it is really just a large chunk of rock floating in space but, since it is large enough to be noticed through the use of sophisticated observation tools, the body merits an initial numerical designation and was later presented with the centaur mentor’s name. The “astrobody” now appears in the natal charts astrologer’s create for their clients.
So Chiron has received his due as a mythical creature. I don’t believe there is anything astronomical yet named for Hercules (I could be wrong), but he is a real star in his own right.
Addenda: Here are two images of a 4″ figure made for the True Legends series of toys available at Toys R Us (exclusively). He comes in a set with a nice and altogether rare figure of the Minotaur’s slayer, Theseus (also famous for slaying centaurs in Greek legends) and Medusa, too.
I wish this figure were the standard 6″ kind as he would instantly become my favorite take on Hercules. That the designer made the hero a ginger (as Disney had done back in 1996) is a really nice touch. Otherwise, the figure is fetching just for his case of the “cutes”.
Here are two more images of a custom action figure of Hercules:
This is a particularly well done figure. He kind of defies the standard template for masculine beauty in American action figures. Notice his body hair as well as the fact that, like the above figure of Hercules, this one is also a ginger. Perhaps, there has been a sea change in acceptance of red haired and pale skinned men as role models or interpretations of heroes. I like to think that, in the general British Isles populations where there has been considerable prejudice levied against gingers, Prince Harry’s popularity has caused a significant change in the social climate. However, I do not believe that has had any influence on these toy designs.
I purchased this used 8″ figure of Disney’s Hercules from the late Nineties because he is quite unlike most of the models produced of that animated movie character which I found lacking any real appeal for me. However, this figure is more prominently muscled and has better designed armor than the standard issued models, IMHO. The hair, however, is just a tad bit ridiculous. Though it is orange. Gingers Rule!
One more image I mistakenly kept from posting. This is probably, to my mind, the most unusual interpretation of Hercules in this lot of figures: