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Dec 5

The Year Of Our War

Posted on Saturday, December 5, 2009 by Al in reviews

My books for this week have arrived, but total a mighty three comics, two of which we’re going to be covering on the podcast, so I don’t think it’s necessarily worth my putting together a separate post just for them. Instead, I’d like to have a look at a weighty tome that landed with a resounding thud on my doorstep two weeks back.

War of Kings, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Paul Pelletier, is the recent event series that played out in Marvel’s ‘cosmic’ books – Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy and the War of Kings miniseries itself, which was preceded by a one-shot called Secret Invasion: War of Kings, titled as such for seemingly no reason beyond the presence of Skrulls, and followed by another one-shot called War of Kings: Who Will Rule?. There were also two tie-in Darkhawk minis, one simply called War of Kings: Darkhawk and one called War of Kings: Ascension for some reason, and a loosely connected one-shot entitled War of Kings: Savage World of Skaar, which, as you can imagine, features the Hulk’s hilariously-named son. This was supplemented with four shorter online comics, which were eventually released in print form as War of Kings: Warriors, and an issue of Marvel Spotlight. That’s a lot of comics, and aside from the Nova and GotG issues, which are collected in the current (and, in GotG‘s case, imminent) volumes of their series, the War of Kings hardcover contains all of them.

The basic premise of War of Kings, in case you don’t know, is relatively simple. During events taking place prior to Secret Invasion, Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans, was kidnapped and replaced with an undercover agent by the Skrulls. Having been recovered in Secret Invasion: Inhumans, he and the rest of the royal family decide to wipe every last stinking Skrull out of the sky. In doing so, they are faced with a choice – let the escaping Skrull fleet go, or chase them into Shi’ar territory, taking out Shi’ar ships as they go and generally provoking an interstellar war with the barking mad Shi’ar emperor, Gabriel Summers aka Vulcan. No prizes for guessing which they choose, and when the Shi’ar Imperial Guard strike at the Inhumans during the wedding of Crystal and Ronan the Accuser (a symbolic marriage designed to link the Inhumans with their new subjects the Kree, whom Black Bolt decided also needed to learn a lesson at the Inhumans’ hands) it is, as they say, on like Donkey Kong.

Abnett and Lanning have carved themselves out a niche at Marvel over the last few years, launching the Nova ongoing, guiding the second Annihilation crossover, writing the Guardians of the Galaxy series that span out of that, and now running their own little star empire in the form of the cosmic books and their various spin-offs. They’ve assembled a fairly motley bunch of characters, from ex-Infinity Watch, Avengers and New Warriors members to one-time Atlas monsters and raccoons with guns and managed to use them to populate compelling books that use cliffhangers to great effect to bring readers back month on month. It seems that Marvel trusts them enough to take up plot threads from the X-books too, as Havok’s Starjammers and Vulcan play central roles in War of Kings.

War of Kings is the natural next step for Abnett and Lanning – they haven’t had the opportunity to do a properly big crossover since the second Annihilation, and with two ongoing series under their belts they have the ability to spread their wings a bit with this story. This is a big plus for the crossover, with the widespread nature of the war playing out on different fronts in the different books involved, giving the conflict a scope and scale which is much broader than most recent events (where the central story happens in one miniseries and the reader gets the feeling that everything else is that most dreaded of non-essential purchases, the ‘tie-in’). With War of Kings, there may be different strands of the story playing out in different locations, but the whole thing hangs together as a multi-faceted huge story.

It would be easy for Abnett & Lanning to draw up battle lines with ‘good guys’ on one side and ‘bad guys’ on the other, the noble Black Bolt facing down that monster Vulcan, but to their credit they take the harder road and muddy the waters a little. Black Bolt’s the one who starts the war, with his zealous pursuit of the Skrulls, and it’s hard not to wonder if he’s gone off the deep end when he starts invading the Kree empire and prosecuting war with the Shi’ar. Likewise, Vulcan may be madder than the night porter in Scooby Doo’s Nutjob Motel, but the Inhumans do pose a clear threat to his people, and let’s not forget, Black Bolt shot first. The reader gets to see both of these perspectives through the use of alternating narrators who are each one step removed from the key decision-makers – Gladiator on the Shi’ar side, who narrates the odd-numbered issues, and Crystal on the Inhumans’ side, who does the rest. This isn’t just a clever technique to allow us to effectively follow the events taking place in both camps, but a way of showing the moral complexity of war by removing the main players from the expected positions as the readers’ POV characters. Between the sure writing hand of Abnett & Lanning and the never-more-polished artwork of Paul Pelletier, the War of Kings series is one of the highlights of Marvel’s cosmic books since the launch of the first Annihilation.

The main series aside, though, the rest of the collection is something of a mixed bag. C.B. Cebulski co-pens the first of the two Darkhawk series, with Abnett & Lanning handling the follow-up, and while the two series do set up plot points in the main mini, the core story can be read and understood perfectly well without them. The repercussions are felt more in current issues of Nova, and one may wonder in an idle moment whether six issues of Darkhawk comics were necessary for the crossover at all or whether they’re just there to bulk the event out a bit. The Warriors stories are a little more worthwhile, adding a bit of flesh to the characters of Gladiator, Crystal, Blastaar and Lilandra (surely the dullest character ever to appear in the X-mythos), but in the end are just mildly diverting fluff. The Skaar one-shot, on the other hand, is pure filler, and completely inessential stuff seemingly just there to shoehorn the character into a spare crevice in the story. None of these stories are offensively bad, though, and aside from Skaar they all add in their own way to the package so long as you treat them as ‘extra’ stories rather than as part of the core series.

The War of Kings story is being followed up right now with the Realm of Kings, which appears to be more along the lines of the Initiative banner post-Civil War than a separate event per se. Happily, there’s not a lot you need to know about War to follow Realm that isn’t set out in the titular one-shot, but if the idea of Marvel’s cosmic side floats your boat and you’re interested in seeing exactly how the cosmic books got to this point, you could do far worse than pick up this shelf-bending tome.

Bring on the comments

  1. D. says:

    I’ve never read any of Marvel’s “Cosmic” titles. I’m a displaced X-Axis fan who rarely ventured outside of the X-realm. Nonetheless, your review made this story sound like a lot of fun, and very well written. It made me wonder, though, is this really a Marvel Cosmic story without the Silver Surfer?

  2. Tim O'Neil says:

    The Surfer was prominently featured in the first Annihilation series but has showed up infrequently since then. The logic behind the move is sound: for so long, the Surfer and his supporting cast was the keystone of Marvel’s cosmic stories, so putting the Surfer to the side enabled them to establish and re-establish a whole pile of characters and settings, some of which hadn’t been seen since the 70s or 80s.

    The Surfer did appear in a few other places, like the Son of Hulk series and the awesome Beta Ray Bill mini that just wrapped up a couple months back. And I’m guessing he’ll probably show up in Realm of Kings, simply because it promises to be much bigger in scope even than WoK.

  3. Rich Larson says:

    I’m another displaced X-Axis reader now coming by the House To Astonish. Paul was right, this does look much better than If Destroyed!

    I liked your review too Al. I agree that having most of the stars with some moral ambiguity made for a much better story.

    It also had an actual ending. All of the Emperor Vulcan and Inhumans stories that led into this seemed to resolve very little and make you come back for the next mini-series. While I have no one to blame but myself for not being able to stop the compulsion for buying the next part, I was starting to feel like a bit of a chump. This actually had changes and an ending. It did set up future stories too which is fine by me. I’ll see where Realm of Kings takes me, but with a sense that I want to find out what happens next rather than that I might as well find out what happens next.

  4. D. says:

    On a lark, I got from the library “The New Fantastic Four” featuring Storm & Black Panther. Apparently, SS is back to being the herald of Galactus. My last check-in with the Silver Surfer was circa. 1978 (When Reed Richards saves Galactus’ life). From my point of view, this change sort of takes the Surfer out of useful circulation, doesn’t it? He’s got a job to do; any superheroing would have to be brief or really important to distract him from his mission. And often his mission would place him in conflict with the heroes.

    Aside: the writer of New Fantastic Four got Storm’s character all wrong. She’s cracking jokes and being insecure about her hair. That’s just not consistent with Storm from Claremont through, well, any writer since Claremont.

  5. My copy of WoK finally arrived today and I managed to read it all this evening (who needs to bother with dinner or anything when they’ve got new comics?)

    Overall, I quite liked the main mini. The use of Crystal and Gladiator as PoV characters was really good, as you said, but I especially liked the way that the Inhumans are slowly built into this Nazi parallel, with their superiority complex and desire for a single intergalactic race almost punishing the reader for assuming they were the ‘right’ side in the war.

    I liked the Ascension mini, but the first two Darkhawk titled issues were pretty rubbish. Would have been a lot better if those two issues had been folded into the first issue of Ascension itself. I still can’t see Darkhawk becoming much of a compelling character though. The set-up at the end of his mini felt an awful lot like a pilot that is never going to get picked up.

  6. Reboot says:

    Well, WoK:Darkhawk was written by CB Cebulski, who I have yet to see write anything worthwhile (remember how horrIbly Loners just fell apart as it went wrong?), so that being crap and then things picking up for the DnA-written Ascension was no surprise,

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