Turkey Day Hercules Style!!

Hello again!  Looking back on when I was young, I used to love watching old sword and sandal films.  They had a charm, much like the giant monster films of Japan, with the bad dubbing and pan scan presentations on afternoon cable and cheap VHS releases. For you readers that don’t know what sword and sandal films are, I will give you a quick crash course: sword and sandal films, also known as Peplum films, were mostly made in Italy and were based on Biblical, historical and Greek mythological figures.  They were mostly popular from 1958 to 1965 and spawned many series based on the likes of Samson, Macuste, Ursus and of course Hercules. This time also launched the cult careers of Steve Reeves, Brad Harris, Ed Fury, Reg Park, Alan Steel to name a few. Films like Hercules in The Haunted World, The Witch’s Curse, Samson and the Sea Beast, Hercules Against The Moon Men and many more thrilled fans and were hits at the theaters. The genre was huge business for Italian cinema but lost steam and gave way to Spaghetti Westerns in 1965. Sword And Sandal films mostly dealt with muscle bound heros fighting the odds and helping people who were down and out against cheaply made monsters and armies of untrained soldiers. These films were cheaply made and were standard stuff for double feature movie theater experiences and later on midday cable filler and horror hosting comedy material. I remember watching many of these films on VHS that I would buy for cheap at dollar stores, Replay Media or mark down bins at Hearts.  I also watched many on cable, mostly TBS. But the ones that got my attention the most were based on Hercules, and my favorites were the two in which Steve Reeves played the Greek hero.  So you can imagine how happy I was in 2013 when I found out that DELL Comics did comic adaptations of those films! And now on Rotten Ink I can talk about the amazing adventures of Steve Reeves as Hercules and other Hercules thoughts.

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Steve L. Reeves was born on January 21st 1926 in Montana, moved to California and was into bodybuilding from a young age.  He had a herculean body by the age of 17, and after high school he enlisted in the army and served during World War II. After the service, Steve became a pro body builder winning such titles as Mr. Universe and AAU Mr. America and became an actor in American films like musical Athena and Ed Woood Jr.’s Jail Bait. But his big break in acting came in 1957 when he went to Italy and played the role of Hercules and its sequel Hercules Unchained.  He only played Hercules in those two films but went onto star in many other sword and sandal films like The White Warrior, Morgan The Pirate, The Trojan Horse and The Avenger. During this time he became the biggest star and highest paid actors in Europe and even turned down the starring role of The Man With No Name in A Fistful Of Dollars that later went to Clint Eastwood. Reeves did end up doing a Western when in 1967 he stared in A Long Ride From Hell. As quick as Reeves became a star, he also quickly lost it and went back to promoting body building and bred horses later in his life.  Sadly in 2000 Reeves died of complications of lymphoma at the age of 74. To me Reeves is an action star that rates up there with the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Segal and Dolph Lundgren, and if was still alive, he could have been an amazing addition to The Expendables film series. Steve Reeves is an icon in the world of bodybuilding and Italian cinema, and I grew up watching his films and loving every over the top second.

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Le Fatiche Di Ercole aka Hercules (in the USA) is a 1958 Italian film directed by Pietro Francisci and starring Steve Reeves as Hercules and Sylva Koscina as Princess Iole. The film is very loosely based on The Labors of Hercules and The Quest For The Golden Fleece of Greek folklore, but much like most film adaptions of such things, many elements are added to spice it up. The film’s plot has Hercules trying to help Jason, who is the rightful king of Iolcus, complete quests to win his throne back, as Hercules also falls in love with the lovely Princess Iole. When the new king’s men steal the Fleece and rob Jason of his kingdom, it’s up to Hercules to get it back. The film was a major box office hit and made a star of Steve Reeves and sparked the huge boom of Sword and Sandal films.

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In 1959 Hercules got a sequel called Ercole E La Regina Di Lidia aka Hercules Unchained, and this one was also directed by Pietro Francisci and also starred Steve Reeves and Sylva Koscina in their respected roles. This time around Hercules is trying to help with two feuding brothers and becomes a slave of a queen.  He must remember who he is and save the kingdom of Thebes before it’s too late. The film marked the last time Steve Reeves would play Hercules, and while it was a hit, it failed to become as big as the original. The film did however get the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment and has become a kind of cult classic of Sword and Sandal Cinema. This film as well as the original are slated to be shown at some point on an episode of Terrifying Tales of the Macabre.

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We talked Steve Reeves, now let’s talk about the very lovely Sylva Koscina! She was born on August 22nd 1933 in Zagreb. During World War II, she moved to Italy with her sister who married an Italian man.  Sylva, with her stunning looks, became an actress and had a long a great career starring in such films as He and She, Lisa and The Devil, The Iron Mask, Hornets Nest and of course the Hercules films. She also was very smart and studied physics, was a super model and even posed topless for Playboy in Italy. Sadly at the age of 61 in 1994, she passed away from breast cancer. In America Sylva is not only known for her roles in the Hercules films, but mostly to horror fans for her role in the 1974 Mario Bava film Lisa and the Devil, also known as House of Exorcism in which she played Sophia Lehar. One thing is for sure, Sylva was one great looking woman and not a bad actress at all.

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Kids of the 1960’s were also treated to a low budget animated show called “The Mighty Hercules” that started airing in 1963 as 5 minute short cartoons, but most stations would string together many episodes to make it into a 30 minute program. The cartoon would follow Hercules and his centaur friend Newton, his girlfriend Helena, his winged horse Pegasus and a few others as they save Greece from the likes of Murtis, the wizard Daedalus and the sea witch Wilhemine. The series took many liberties with the Greek mythology even having Hercules get his power from a ring that when he puts it on, lighting from Zeus would hit it and give him power.  In this cartoon he had many friends and was more of a jolly kind of hero. The cartoon had a total of 128 episodes and is fondly looked at by people who grew up watching it on TV. I first saw this show many years ago when my girlfriend at the time’s dad had a VHS copy of some TV shows he watched as a kid and on the tape was not only Mighty Hercules but also Diver Dan and Clutch Cargo. And I must say all those shows were great! Mighty Hercules has a few episodes out on DVD but true fans are waiting for the complete series to come out. I should also throw in that the cartoon has one amazing theme that you should hear.  So if you get a chance look up this show’s theme on YouTube.

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One other old school thing I remember that had the Hercules name was the 80’s WWF wrestler Hercules Hernandez whose real name was Raymond Fernandez. Hercules began his wrestler career in 1981, wrestling in Florida and Texas mostly, and in 1982 toured around after joining the NWA. He also did a short run in WWC in Puerto Rico. In 1985 he was signed onto WWF and was quickly managed by Classy Freddie Blassie and later Bobby The Brain Heenan and was a heel (bad guy) who feuded with the likes of Billy Jack Haynes, Ultimate Warrior and Ricky Steamboat. Hercules would wear a long metal chain around his neck and use the full nelson to beat his opponents. In 1988 Hercules was sold to “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase as a slave by Bobby Heenan, turning Hercules into a good guy (face) who feuded with DiBiase, Haku and Earthquake. While a good guy Hercules’s career took a stall as he lost traction and quickly became a stepping stone for newer wrestlers coming in. In 1990 he turned heel again and teamed with Paul Roma and managed by Slick, they called themselves Power & Glory and went for tag team gold and went up against such teams as The Hart Foundation, The Rockers and The Road Warriors. In 1991 Roma left, and Hercules was once again on his own and losing match after match and this lead to him leaving the company in 1992. Fernandez then went to WCW and wrestled under a mask as Super Invader and quickly grew tired of this gimmick and quit.  He later spent his time wrestling for indpendents, New Japan and AWF. He retired in 1999 from wrestling and sadly died of heart disease in 2004 at the age of 48. Hercules is one of those 80’s wrestlers that I remember for two things: one, he looked kind of like Steve Reeves and the second was because when I was a kid I use to cut up old wrestling magazines and would have the paper wrestlers fight each other in a shoe box lid by shaking them back and fourth.  For some reason my brother Bryan used to harass me about Hercules and even would make up rules to help the paper version win. He even had this stupid song parady of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance that would go Give Herc a Chance. While he never was a amazing wrestler, Hercules will always be in my memory as one of the top wrestlers I remember watching in the 80’s.

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Terrifying Tales of the Macabre has a son of the Greek Hero with The Son of Hercules.  The powerhouse of a man is close friends to the Porkchops. In the first episode he is in, he gets the help of Baron, Baroness and Bean to go inside a haunted college and get a golden apple from a witch. In another episode, he is a dinner guest at a party to celebrate the life of horror host icon Dr. Creep. And yet again he makes an appearance at a chili cook off contest as a guest in the crowd. He also had his own one off show called Son of Hercules Power Hours where he hosted the film Samson and gave viewers work out tips, arm wrestled a space alien, wrestled a luchador and delivers goofy jokes. The Son of Hercules is part of the show’s family now and is always a welcome edition to any episode.

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With all this talk of Italian Cinema, I need to talk about my love for Italian women! I am a fan of many types of girls from Goth to Latina, but near the top of my list of my “type” are women from Italy. I mean look at girls like Asia Argento, Rosalba Neri, Nathalie Rapti Gomez and many more lovely Italian actresses. I mean even cooking show host Rachel Ray is part Italian, and we know most people find her hot. But before I ramble on, just take a quick look at these attractive ladies, and then we will go onto the comic review.

Asia ArgentoRosalba NeriValentina GioiaHotItalianEvaRachael Ray

Not much came out in the way of merchandise for the Steve Reeves Hercules films, besides the two Dell movie adaptation comics.  We had VHS and Beta releases and later DVD. We had vinyl releases of the soundtracks for both films, and at some point some company made a model/statue of it. While the film is in cult status, it just never had the merchandise push that other fantasy films got. I for one would have loved to have had a 3 3/4″ inch figure of Hercules based on Steve Reeves that would have been in scale with my Star Wars, G.I. Joes, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Dukes of Hazard figures! Hercules could have helped tip the tide in my all out toy wars, and he would have been a massive foe for the likes of Imperial Godzilla! I am surprised that Mego or even Remco didn’t make such toys, and for the most part that is a missed opportunity to cash in on the fame of the character.

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So I am ready now to tackle DELL’s comic adaptations of the Steve Reeves Hercules films, and I just want you all to remember I grade these on a standard 1-4 star rating and base it on entertainment value, quality of the story, the art and how true it stays to the source martial.  So with that, let’s get onto the reviews. Before I do, I should let you know that these comics are from a series that DELL did called FOUR COLOR that covered movies, TV shows, cartoons and so much more. I should also thank Ebay for having both issues up as buy it nows via our pals at Lone Star Comics.

Hercules # 1

Hercules  ***
Released in 1959   Cover Price .10   DELL Comics   #1006 of 1354

Hercules is on his way to the city of Jolco to help the acting King Pelias who has taken the throne after his brother was murdered.  Both his son Jason and the Golden Fleece are missing as is the leader of the soldiers, Chiron, who is being blamed for the murder and kidnapping. On his way Hercules meets and falls in love with Princess Iole whose father is the one who called for his help. Unbeknownst to Hercules, he is really there not to find the king’s killer but to make Iole’s brother Iphitus more of a man. Hercules goes after the Nemean Lion and during his hunt for the beast, Iphitus is killed, and now in order to please the King Hercules must kill the Cretan Bull and has lost the love of his darling Iole! Hercules curses the gods and in doing so loses his god-like power and even without, it he kills the bull.

This comic is a pretty good adaption of the film and helps speed up the pace by cutting out some of the long drawn out talkie scenes. Hercules comes off as a proud and powerful hero who also has a heart of gold and who falls in love and hates the curse of being a demigod. The best battles in the comic have Hercules fighting the Nemean Lion and the Creatan Bull.  The only down side is the fights are also heavily trimmed down and while cool, lack the full powerful adventure feel. Princess Iole is a wave of emotion in the comic as she falls in love, finds heartache with her brother’s death and even anger at Hercules for allowing her brother to die.  She’s a good character and a great love interest, the only downside is she feels like a second thought for most of the issue. Jason and Ulysses, while young, are great additions to the comic cast. The bad guys King Pelias and Eurysteus while mean and self serving buttholes, are never fully a threat for Hercules. The artwork in the issue is well done, and Hercules looks like Steve Reeves for the most part.  Fans of Charlton Comics version of Hercules will enjoy this comics art. The cover is great and is one of the better “Four Color” issues cover. Over all fans of the film, the myth and the greek hero will love this issue, and it makes me hyped to see what the comic based on the sequel will bring. Oh I should also say the issue I have is a prime example of the term “rotten ink,” and the issue smelled of classic comic ink rotting.

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Now let’s take a look at the comic version of the sequel and see how it holds up in ink.

Hercules Unchained # 1

Hercules Unchained  **1/2
Released in 1959   Cover Price .10   DELL Comics   #1121 of 1354

Hercules has returned from sea and is going back home to Thebes alongside Ulysses and his lovely bride Jole (Iole).  On the ride, they meet Antaeus, the son of the Earth, and Hercules shows off his strength and defeats the brute. After a storm hits, Hercules and company hide in a cave and meet the one time King of Thebes who tells Hercules that his sons are feuding over the throne and that they are suppose to rotate year to year. War is about to destroy his homeland so Hercules makes a deal with the acting King Eteocles to prove peace as his brother Polynices and his army are ready for the attack. Hercules sets sail with Ulysses as Jole stays at the castle.  The plan is to get the Kingdom right again, but things go wrong as Hercules drinks water that makes him forget, and they both become the slaves of Queen Omphale, where Ulysses becomes a servant boy and acts as if he is mute and Hercules becomes the Queen’s lover! Now Eteocles thinks Hercules and his brother are just playing mind games and holds Jole as a prisoner! All the while as weeks pass, Ulysses tries to snap Hercules out of his trance and figures out that it’s the water he is drinking that holds the power.  He also discovers that Omphale has a cave full of ex-lovers that have been turned to stone! Hercules’ friends come looking for him and he snaps to and leaves the island behind only to find that the brothers are gearing up for war.  During a duel both brothers are killed and it’s up to Hercules to save his wife from man eating tigers as well as keep peace in the kingdom!

The first thing that caught my eye in this issue is that Hercules, while looking like Steve Reeves in the face, has the body of a normal man and seems out of place as they speak of how strong he is.  To me the artist seemed not to understand that Herc needs to be a muscle powerhouse. The issue follows the film pretty closely, and the only major changes I noticed is Princess Iole’s name changed to Jole.  The musical numbers are cut out as is the suicide death of Queen Omphale, and I am sure the suicide was cut because it was not kid -friendly as DELL prided itself on being. The story moves along pretty well and has a nice blend of fantasy drama and over the top action. One thing that more lacking in this issue than the first is the lack of beasts.  While he fights Antaeus and some tigers, there is no major fight to get your blood and excitement level pumping. Hercules comes off fun loving but also a little bit of an ego driven a-hole, and this is one thing I think is done right. A lot of the issue is wasted with Ulysses trying to help get Hercules to remember who he is while he is prisoner and slave to Queen Omphale, and while fun, this is a little over done in the comic and the film alike. This adaptation is well done but just seems to be slightly lacking.  Where the first one was super fun with well done art, this one is okay and has all right art. The cover is well done tho and to sum this one up, its okay and was worth the read for sure. 

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So it’s Thanksgiving Day, and I hope this fun little review of Dells Hercules Comic Adaptations of the Steve Reeves films made your holiday a little more fun. While many people think the films are golden turkeys, I for one enjoy them and had a lot of fun reading and reviewing these comics. So here is to hoping you had a great feast on this day with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and stuffing, and enjoyed the company of your family and friends while chatting over dinner or watching football/TV shows or a movie! So in closing: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and we will see you in December for some fun a joyful updates beginning with Marvel’s one issue run based on the build a robot toy line Robotix.  Until then, be safe and read a comic and enjoy your holiday.

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