Continuing my series of reviews of the Marvel Cosmic titles, I come to the first lead-in to the War of Kings event. It was actually War of Kings that finally tipped the scales and got me to start picking up the cosmic trade stories that had already been collected. I had heard lots of good things about Annihilation, and my library had a copy of X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire (which was a cosmic story) that I had read and enjoyed – so the idea of these two cosmic stories coming together was enough to get me to track down the cosmic stories that led up to this War of Kings. I’ve obviously loved the Annihilation: Conquest event (and I also really enjoyed the original Annihilation as well – though perhaps not as much as it’s sequel) and it’s successor book Guardians of the Galaxy – though the most recent Nova volume didn’t quite do it for me. So, I was slightly anxious going into Road to War of Kings – would I enjoy it, or would this signify trouble ahead for me. Read on to see what I ultimately thought.
Road to War of Kings collects a few different stories together. First up is Secret Invasion: War of Kings. I’ve already mentioned Secret Invasion though the slight references in Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova – here the reader is witness to the aftermath of the Skrull’s failed invasion of Earth. The Skrull fleet is in retreat, when they are destroyed by the Inhumans. The Inhumans are earthlings who have been genetically altered by the Kree ages ago – an attempt by the Kree to make advanced/perfect superbeings. I enjoyed the connection this has to the Kree work that was being done by the High Evolutionary in Annihilation: Conquest – it all feels like the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Anyway, the Inhumans leader, Black Bolt had been replaced by a Skrull – but now the original is back, and he’s pissed off. Black Bolt’s voice is so powerful, a mere whisper destroys the entire Skrull fleet. But he’s not content with just their destruction – he also decides it is time for the Inhumans to take their proper place in Kree society, as their new rulers. The art for this section is done by the one of the same pencilers from Guardians of the Galaxy (as I’ve mentioned before – very reminiscent of Alan Davis, which for me is a very good thing), and it appears that the decisions made by the characters here will have far reaching consequences, as Black Bolt’s sister Crystal looks to be forced into marriage with Ronan (to secure the Kree throne) and the Inhumans in their pursuit of the Skrull fleet, impinge upon Shi’ar Space – and destroy the Shi’ar vessels that are patrolling in the area. As Emperor Vulcan is appraised about this event in the last few pages, you can see that this event will spark the war.
There’s a small interlude at this point, called The Hole which is only one story from the X-Men comic Divided We Stand. It’s really just to set up the story that Havok – a powerful X-Man who is leading a rebel group called the Starjammers in opposition to his brother, Emperor Vulcan – has been captured and is being tortured by his brother, made to listen as his teammates suffer. But Havok learns from his brother what’s happened on Earth (in the Messiah CompleX story) – that a new mutant has been born, and that sparks hope in Havok that he will be able to escape and one day make his brother pay for his crimes.
Which brings us to the bulk of this book, which is the 4 issue series called Kingbreaker. This is like a continuation of the Rise and Fall X-Men story I mentioned earlier – with the Starjammers who are still free (but on the run from the Empire) trying to determine the location of their captured teammates, while the ones who are imprisoned try to find a way to break out. Meanwhile, the mad Vulcan is leading the Shi’ar Empire into a new period of aggressive expansion, invading and subjugating entire civilizations. This has caught the attention of a galactic council, who try to step in and make Vulcan see reason – only to result in their deaths at his hands. Meanwhile, Lilandra (former Empress of the Shi’ar, working with the Starjammers to win back her throne) Korvus (wielder of the Phoenix Blade) and Rachael Grey/Summers (who wields the Phoenix power itself) contact the Imperial Guard of the Emperor to see if they will help restore the Empress to power. Though Gladiator (their leader) refuses to betray his Emperor, Vulcan himself feels the Imperial Guard has been compromised – so he decides to form a new unit, made up of criminals and deadly beings – to track down the remaining Starjammers and capture them – or destroy them completely. They’ll all meet at the prison facility, deep beneath the water of an ocean world, where Havok is leading the captured Starjammers in a prison break that’s about to go horribly wrong. The artwork is stellar in this part, I loved the looks of the ship designs and especially Havok when he is finally freed and begins to tear through his jailors. The story a very personal one between Havok and Vulcan, and that undercurrent runs through the entire book as the reader waits for that confrontation to take place. Perhaps my only disappointment is that the story saves the true climax for War of Kings itself – there is no complete resolution here, only placing all the appropriate pieces on the board for the real game yet to be played. Still, I loved this story – it really got me back into the cosmic mode after my disappointment with Nova vol 3, and renewed my interest in getting to the conclusion.
And for the uninitiated, Road to War of Kings also includes War of Kings Saga – a summary of all the events that have led up to War of Kings, including Annihilation, Conquest, the Inhumans, Secret Invasion and more. So, Marvel has made every attempt to accommodate those who might just be joining this story for the first time. One of the things that I think makes this a great jumping on point is the use of X-Men characters. They’ve been popular for decades (and have long been one of my favorite comics) and by using them in this series (as opposed to the cosmic characters I’ve been introduced to through Annihilation – whom I really wasn’t aware of) it serves as a lifeline of some familiar faces to bridge fans of the Earth-bound superheroes to this cosmic event. If you’re a former fan of the X-Men, during their former hey-day and enjoyed those characters but just can’t be bothered with today’s X-Men comics (like me), this is a refreshing change of pace. It feels a lot like the X-Men of old; cosmic adventures but with betrayals and twists. Road to War of Kings is fun, and I highly recommend it.