In my childhood, there was a figure that competed for my love alongside Godzilla, and that was Hercules! The Roman, the OG, the Bactrian Buddha buddy, however you sculpt your lion-pelted demigod, I was a fan! With my cartoon-drenched childhood in mind, I present to you some of my favourite portrayals as a child, along with some interesting traditional versions that I encountered as an adult.
Kevin Sorbo first Hercules I ever knew. I got the gist of the myth from the intro to the show and the first few episodes, but (it was) these shows (and the similar live-action Sinbad) that got me all gung-ho about ancient superheroes and their big bads.
I was able to rewatch the whole main series in 2015 before it became unavailable to me on Netflix. It absolutely holds up. That isn’t saying it’s a remotely accurate historical or mythological viewing of events, but the way it smashes up everything from contemporary pop references to Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain (played by one Karl “Dredd” Urban!) is just absolutely fucking delightful. This show carries all the whimsy and fantasy of a child’s imagination (or in this case, the wonderful Sam Raimi’s) with the unmistakable awkwardness of 90s live-action TV.
As for Xena, well, it’s just another top-notch 90s live-action masterpiece. Young Hercules, on the other hand is a little weaker: it’s basically Roar but Hercules. *cough*BuffyTheCrowTheHighlanderAngelCharmedLois&ClarkBeastMaster*cough*. I have predilections.
This coming out amidst the live-action show was an absolute blessing. By the Gods, I was elated! Not only was the movie great, but at the time we were able to get American satellite channels, so I got to watch the animated series alongside the Aladdin series! It was wonderful! It was all much the same as the totally unrelated live-action series from above: loose relation to mythology and history to enable contemporary references, things like using Philip of Macedon to reference backwater “hicks” and “be a Gyro” puns. What a wonderful God damned time for Hercules-based media!
Now, this may have come out in 2014, but it was as mythologically confused as anything the 90s gave us! There’s nothing like watching a beefy dude smash a bunch of other dudes into the ground. Hallelujah, the Rockules hath saved us!
The thing I enjoyed the most about this movie, and I can’t speak to how this went in the comic as I never read it, was the “falsehood” of Hercules. Hercules is just a man in this, at least that’s what he considers himself, seeing nothing divine in his life. Here Hercules is just a real big dude that is good at smashing other dudes with a bunch of mercenary-buddies keeping his PTSD in check. Spoiler: Until the ending when it goes beautifully off the rails and seems to “become” the Hercules of legend!
As an adult, I really enjoyed this version of Heracles that I encountered during a course at UofT (Intro to Classical Mythology.) I had never really delved into the actual created mythos of Heracles as much as I had just been ambiently aware of the myth without having had read particular takes on it*.
Being introduced to this comedic take on Heracles, as a foil to the bumbling Dionysus, was a pleasure. I was really taken with the ancient, Golden Age recasting of characters. It was nice to see ostensibly pious people treating their myths as playthings and using them almost lightly, instead of the typically associated tragedy of the era.
Age of Mythology (totally cheating, it’s a back-door plug for how great this game is)
This is… absolutely cheating. Heracles just technically shows up, but the actual strongman-badboy of the game is Ajax in the campaign. Age of Mythology was an early 2000s RTS, the first 3D game by the makers of Age of Empires (Ensemble Studios) and it absolutely stole my fucking heart. I was obsessed with this game, playing it hour after hour, running around at times with my laser bears, but mostly just swapping out my god powers over and over to make ents show up. The game is straightforward, it’s an Age of Empires game with monsters, it was to that series was Total War: Warhammer is to Total War. Here’s your cavalry, here’s your archers, and here’s a minotaur’s horn in your guts!
The semi-reason it’s here is that the game actually had an in-game encyclopedia, which I would spend as much time in as I did the actual game. I learned a lot of really digestible, simply laid out myths from Norse, Egyptian and Greek legend thanks to this game. This is a game I will always treasure, and it even saw a remaster within the last couple of years. They added in an extra Hellenic-esque Atlantean culture with The Titans expansion, and a Chinese culture via a DLC for the remaster. Unfortunately I know nothing of the latter, but the reviews are very poor, which is disappointing.
*I believe as a kid I used this website quite a bit to get the gist of myths: http://www.pantheon.org/
(Header image taken from Theoi.)