Comics ASSEMBLE!: War of Kings

Continuing my series of reviews of the Marvel Cosmic titles, I come at last to the event I’ve been building up to in all my reading – the War of Kings. I knew the main players going into this – the space-bound X-Men and the Inhumans – but how much involvement would there be of the other cosmic heroes (such as Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy)? And ultimately, how would this “Clash of Civilizations…Collision of Empires” play out in the end. A number of books have been building up to this for years, and now you can hear all about it…

Vulcan, the mad brother of X-Man Havok, has become Emperor of the Shi’ar Imperium – one of the greatest and most expansive cosmic empires. He has set them on the course of expansion, ceding territories, destroying those who resist, enslaving whole populaces to glorify himself. And yet, HE was not the aggressor at the start of this war.

The Inhumans, humans who gained superpowers through genetic experimentation by the alien Kree race, have taken on the mantle of leading the Kree – as Black Bolt forcibly takes the reins of power. Along the way he destroys a Shi’ar Starfleet – giving Vulcan all the reason he needs to defend his empire from the Kree.

Meanwhile, to consolidate their power, Black Bolt decides his sister Crystal will marry the former regent of the Kree, Ronin. But this marriage of political alliance is interrupted when Vulcan’s Imperial Guard – the greatest warriors of the empire – attack the Kree homeworld during the ceremony. This leads to an escalation on both sides, as the war begins to rage on multiple planets – and both sides begin to look for a way out of a war that neither can long support. Havok and his Starjammers take former Empress Lillandra back to the Shi’ar homeworld – convincing her former Imperial Guard (who have sworn loyalty to the one who sits on the throne) to help her regain her title, a shocking move that is unprecedented for them. Crystal meanwhile is attempting to find a solution that will keep her brother and king from using a final solution weapon – one which might end the war, but would ultimately rob them of any true victory.

The twists and turns of this story are great, with unexpected touching moments between characters, downright shocking deaths, some surprise guest stars – ultimately this is a tragedy, a story that cannot end well. But I was enthralled, though not always by the characters that I thought I would be interested in. Vulcan comes off much stronger in this series than possibly in any prior appearance. Yes he’s mad, but he’s also in some ways relatable, and ultimately when he’s facing off against Black Bolt who’s trying to use a weapon of mass destruction – and Black Bolt is supposed to be the hero – the reader begins to question who’s on the ‘right’ side here.

War of Kings picks up right after Road to War of Kings, one of the previous TPBs I reviewed – but it can be read on its own. War of Kings even reprints Secret Invasion: War of Kings (which was also in Road to) which acts as a prologue and sets up the main event – just to ensure that this hardcover takes care of the entire story. Beyond the War of Kings miniseries, it also includes a necessary epilogue – as well as a number of concurrent series that tell stories which take place at the same time as the War itself (or just prior to it). These vary in quality and I had mixed feelings on their inclusion – for instance the DarkHawk story, which completely retcons this character’s prior history (not that I cared really, because this was not a character I ever followed) – the art in the first two-part series featuring him was just an incoherent babble to me. The art improves in the next four issue series, but the story doesn’t really get going until the last two issues. Skaar, son of Hulk, and the other stories suffer from not being really necessary to the main story.

My only other gripe is with the Inhumans themselves. These are supposed to be the protagonists – Vulcan is supposed to be on the ‘wrong’ side of this war – and yet, I found it hard to empathize with them. Crystal was really the only one who comes off looking good, and that’s only because she’s trying to stop them from going down the crazy path they’ve set themselves upon. Now, that’s probably part of the point of the story – but the lack of Nova (and with only a small cameo by the Guardians) the reader doesn’t have too many heroic characters to cling to in this story – and Havok and his band are regulated to minor roles as well, which was one of the few things I thought they would focus in on more (since this was really the culmination or last act of a X-Men story arc begun in Deadly Genesis, continued in Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, Emperor Vulcan, and Road to War of Kings/Kingbreaker).

But despite all that, I can’t help but say I really enjoyed War of Kings. I’m not sure that it’s convinced me that I’d want to pick up the follow up stories (Realm of Kings starring the Inhumans and the Imperial Guard) – but I’m glad I read this book, it really tied up a lot of cosmic loose ends – and set up a brand new cosmic story for the heroes to deal with in their own books. War of Kings is an epic story, fulfilling what it was billed to do, and an enjoyable read for this fan. I’m not sure that it would work well on its own – it’s really the kind of story that’s best read as a build up from the many previous volumes I’ve mentioned (and reviewed), but for those who’ve been reading all along and waiting for this – it does an excellent job of providing an exciting resolution. My only real question remaining afterwards was, what happened to Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy during the War of Kings – which is what I expect to find out in the next couple of volumes of each of those books that I’ll be reviewing for this column in upcoming weeks.

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