Whoosh! Issue 22 - July 1998


IAXS project #398
By Zlatko Spralja
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1390 words

Introduction (01)
Similarities (02-03)
Darkness (04-09)
Characterization (10-12)
Subtext (13-15)
Romance (16-17)
Viewing Audience (18-19)
Conclusion (20-21)

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
Xena: Warrior Princess

Behind me? I'm NOT falling for THAT again, Iolaus!

Herc and Xena, together in THE WARRIOR PRINCESS.


[1] This article will discuss the stylistic differences and similarities between the action series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess. As a regular viewer of both series, it soon became clear that there were differences, apart from the obvious ones. This paper will primarily address these differences.


[2] Of course, Hercules and Xena are more alike than they are different. Both are series about warriors who travel around the country (Ancient Greece) fighting for justice. Both heroes sport a more-or-less regular sidekick (Iolaus or Gabrielle respectively). Both series feature the main characters from its sibling series guest star at least once a season. Both series make liberal (ab)use of mythology. The credits are almost identical. In short, the shows complement each other.

[3] However, upon watching at least a season of each show, some differences start to manifest themselves.


[4] Xena: Warrior Princess is darker than Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Xena, for example, kills people almost indiscriminately, while Hercules has never killed a human, and, on the whole, avoids killing giants, Cyclops, and other such nuisances.

[5] Additionally, Xena has a wide range of emotion between one episode and the next, while Hercules episodes tend to stay more neutral. For example, Xena episodes such as WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206) and HERE SHE COMES... MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211) have a definite light-hearted feel to them, while episodes such as CALLISTO (22/122) and RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205) are so dark that the viewer may actually feel depressed after the episode is finished.

[6] Hercules, while showing a similar pattern, does not polarize the viewer's emotions to the extent that Xena does. The closest Hercules comes to a truly depressing episode is JUDGMENT DAY (H52/315) [Editor's Note: Which featured Xena as a character, ironically].

[7] Xena is more concerned with the dark side of humanity, while Hercules is more "ethereal". The series' darkness may be attributed to the principal character, Xena's, inherent darkness. Xena, occasionally, has encounters with Ares or Hades, but, by and large, other humans cause her problems. Human greed is responsible for the mayhem in HERE SHE COMES... MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211). In DESTINY (36/212) and THE QUEST (37/213), human selfishness, mistrust and the insatiable desire for power set into motion a chain of events culminating in Xena's death and the corruption of the Amazons.

[8] Hercules, on the other hand, as a demi-god, is always encountering his father Zeus or battling his stepmother, Hera. His problems very frequently arise from direct godly interference. In HERO'S HEART (H61/402), everything would have been peachy if Fortune had not interfered with Iolaus. In STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD (64/405), Zeus' lightning bolt causes more trouble than it is worth.

[9] Both characters, however, are perceptive enough to know that the gods could not care less about humanity.


Smooth as a baby's bottom.

Xena looks after Herc in JUDGEMENT DAY.

[10] The characterization of the protagonists in Xena and Hercules is different. If the movies are ignored (for the sake of argument), Hercules shows very little character development. Throughout the series, Hercules has remained a symbol of strength and incorruptibility. He rarely has ethical problems and he does not debate about what is good or evil. He is static, but that is not to say he is flat. Hercules can harbor grudges and exhibits some false modesty. But, the bottom line is that Hercules has never been tempted (or at least he has not succumbed to the temptation) to use his strength to the detriment of others and to benefit himself alone.

[11] Xena, of course, is multi-faceted. Introduced to us in Hercules as a warlord bent on revenge and hatred, Xena has evolved to become a character who tries to use her strength and cunning for good rather than evil. But even when on the side of "good", Xena shows disturbing signs that she is on the brink still, and could fall either way. Sometimes, when killing people, she has a smile on her face ala the character, Callisto, and episodes like TIES THAT BIND (20/120) confirm the audience's belief about her dubious morality.

[12] In short, Hercules is a storybook hero, while Xena is a heroine with a dash of evil brewed in.


Hold your breath as long as you like, Iolaus...I'm NOT giving you my godhood.

Herc and Iolaus -- just good friends.

[13] Homosexuality in Hercules and Xena is another point of difference. Xena, generally, has attacked the issues of homosexuality and trans-sexuality with sensitivity, and, often, with humor. Hercules has almost completely avoided these issues (again, barring Cupid's unfortunate aim).

[14] If there are hints of homosexual contact between Hercules and Iolaus, they are so subtle that you would have to look for them to recognize them. The Xena/Gabrielle relationship, on the other hand, could be construed as a lesbian bond with no sexual contact -- the start of ALTARED STATES (19/119) has many implications. Xena has also dealt with trans-sexuality rather humorously, in HERE SHE COMES... MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211).

[15] The Hercules episode ...AND FANCY FREE (H67/408) shows Michael Hurst in drag as the Widow Twanky, but the character is not meant to be a man, so the issue of cross-dressing and transexuality is, for the most part, not relevant in this episode.


What was your name again?

Xena's first hot tub scene was with Iolaus in THE WARRIOR PRINCESS.

[16] Xena, on the whole, makes greater use of romance plots and sub-plots. Xena's old beaus have a tendency to turn up unexpectedly, while Gabrielle shows interest in nearly every other young male that the duo encounters.

[17] Hercules, having been married at least twice, rarely gets involved with anyone, unless Cupid, with an unsteady hand, accidentally shoots him. This may be a reflection of audience, discussed below.

Viewing Audience

[18] This is the most difficult aspect to assess. Whether Hercules appeals more to men than women, and whether Xena is more oriented to a female audience, is impossible to assess without demographic data (to which I do not have access). Both are action series and they would typically be aimed at a predominantly male audience. It is also difficult to tell whether a male audience would be made a little insecure by Xena's awesome prowess. (Yes, I am a white heterosexual male; no, I do not find Xena a challenge to my masculinity).

[19] Unfortunately for demographic assessment, Xena has also acquired many "closet watchers" who, for one reason or another, do not wish others to know that they watch and enjoy the show. However, it is fair to say that many people watch both series (unlike Baywatch [1989- ] and Baywatch Nights [1995-1997], for example), because they are similar enough to compliment each other, yet they offer enough differences so that one is not simply a rehash of the other.


[20] In conclusion, Hercules is a series about a legendary hero and his adventures. It has definite "goodies" and "baddies", making classic use of the "good" vs. "evil" theme. This hero is not "grayscale", he is very black and white. Xena, on the other hand, is a contemporary tale set in Ancient Greece, with dubious heroes, outcomes, and anachronisms. The writers, producers, and directors have been more liberal with their spin-off.

[21] Hercules also appeals to an audience who wants things to be wrapped up at the end of an episode, and who can walk away knowing Hercules has done and will continue to do the right thing. Xena, on the other hand, appeals to a slightly different set. Xena audiences question the morality and ethical behavior of their heroine, and walk away from most episodes wondering whether Xena could have handled the situation better. In short, the audience wants to worry.


Zlatko Spralja Zlatko Spralja
17 year old white male (oops, sounds a little criminal...) I live in Australia (eek!) and am currently being treated to season 2. Loved the previous Raimi/Tapert venture American Gothic. Starting university this year (Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws) and have a five year slog ahead of me.
Favorite episode: Hard one. Most probably HERE SHE COMES... MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211)
Favorite line: Xena: "Don't hate me 'cos I'm beautiful!" HERE SHE COMES... MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211)
First episode seen: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110)
Least favorite episode: THE TITANS (07/107)

Return to Top Return to Index