Strong Stuff: Herakles and His Labors

John Harris, Author, Gary Baseman, Illustrator , illus. by Gary Baseman. Getty $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-89236-784-9

Greek hero Herakles (aka Hercules) "made the world a more livable place by removing terrifying creatures and major nuisances," but this jokey cartoon retelling doesn't do justice to his blood-and-guts battles. Herakles is the illegitimate son of Zeus, tormented by Zeus's wife Hera, and he serves King Eurystheus of Mycenae, who sends him on 12 dangerous missions. His first duty involves "The Nemean Lion. Assignment: Kill it." According to Harris's (Greece! Rome! Monsters! ) slangy text, the lion's "skin was so thick, no arrow could pierce it. Ditto spears. Ditto Herakles' trusty sword." So the hero strangles the lion and takes its skin ("a kind of gross souvenir") to wear as armor and "because—let's face it—it looked so good on his extremely athletic body." Graphic artist Baseman (Dumb Luck ) paints Herakles as a muscular lummox in lace-up sandals. With his saucer eyes, pompadour and crosshatched five o'clock shadow, Herakles doesn't look like the sharpest tack, but he survives a pecking by the metal-beaked Stymphalian Birds and tames the man-eating Horses of Diomedes, with their blue fur and bloodshot eyes. Helpful "How's That Again?" footnotes supply pronunciation hints and the endpapers map the homes of creatures such as the Lernaean Hydra and the Cretan Bull (although smallish print undermines the readability). Harris's chuckling banter and Baseman's crudely painted images (dead things have X's for eyes) inject a wan comedy lacking in the original myths, but fail to make Herakles likable; in this rendition, he's just a dopey hunk doing odd jobs. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/29/2005
Release date: 09/01/2005
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