Dragon Ball Z features some of the most overtly powerful figures in modern fiction. Even the less powerful figures have proven to be surprisingly capable in battles of multiversal importance. But there’s one character in the franchise, nominally just an average human, who deserves more recognition for being a genuinely complex character.
Hercule is a deceptively complex character, similar to how J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man comics is more than just a comically bombastic figure.
Originally known as Mr. Satan, Hercule is a strong warrior by most metrics. He was proved strong enough to win the World Martial Arts Championship — albeit while all of the Z-Warriors were distracted and training for their upcoming confrontation with the Androids. This status has given him an incredible ego, convincing him he’s one of the most powerful figures on the planet. The problem is Hercule lives in the Dragon Ball universe, where multiple characters by this point have proven strong enough to destroy entire planets with one attack. Hercule is just outclassed by almost every other named character in the franchise, something that was on full display during his fight with Cell, where he did no damage to the creature and was defeated with one hit.
After being introduced as almost a joke-character during the Cell Saga, Hercule steadily proved to be more important to the overarching story of Dragon Ball Z. Hercule was credited with saving the world from Cell and turned into a hero. Hercule’s daughter Videl eventually met Gohan when they were teenagers, setting the pair up to begin a romance that would even eventually lead to a daughter, Pan. Hercule is later sent to kill the newly awakened Majin Buu. Although Hercule initially tries to pose as a servant to Buu to lull him into a false sense of security, the two develop a genuine friendship.
Hercule even teaches Buu that killing is wrong, and instills some humanity in the villain. After Hercule is shot, however, Majin Buu heals him before splitting into Fat Buu and Evil Buu, who absorbs Fat Buu to make Super Buu. Hercule ends up being one of the only survivors of Earth when Kid Buu destroys it, and while he doesn’t actively participate in the final battle he does save Vegeta and even inspires all of the restored humanity to lend their power to Goku for his final Spirit Bomb against Kid Buu.
Hercule is bombastic in a way that other Dragon Ball characters have been, although they’ve been typically been shown to be villains. But Hercule, while selfish and a liar isn’t usually portrayed as malicious. Instead, he’s the kind of opportunistic and crafty character who usually can’t reach their goals in this franchise. But as Hercule’s genuine humanity is revealed behind all that bombast, there turns out to be merit to the character and his actions. Hercule actually found a way to reach through to Majin Buu, convincing him that his more violent and unpredictable ways weren’t necessary for the world around them.
It’s this surprising empathy that can turn an enemy into an ally and that can be found at the core of much of Dragon Ball. Characters like Krillin, Vegeta, Piccolo and others all started as villains before learning that they don’t have to be the people they are and can become someone better. Hercule understands that from the get-go, even defending his newfound friend from a gunman and showing off that he actually can be brave when he has the right cause. Some of this love comes up when considering his daughter, who Hercule prizes above everything else in his life. His belief in the strength of humanity even plays into him helping Goku summon enough energy for the Spirit Bomb.
Dragon Ball Super hasn’t utilized Hercule in many ways, although he does still make an occasional comic appearance. But almost of these times on screen have become about his relationships — to Videl, to Buu, and especially to his grandaughter Pan, who he fully intends to spoil with love and affection. It’s notable that even despite his lack of strength, Goku and Hercule even have a strange respect for one another, appreciating the inner strength of the other. That empathy that is at Hercule’s core is similar to the one present in J. Jonah Jameson from Spider-Man. He’s loud and abrasive and even a little comically over-the-top, but there’s a genuinely strong core at the center of the character, transforming the potential punchline of a role into a surprisingly shaded and complex one.
Hercule might not have terribly much to contribute to Dragon Ball overall, but the bombastic character is surprisingly complex.