By Kiel Phegley
During wartime, stories of people struggling to survive and define themselves often rise to leave a lasting impact. During wartime in space, a similar effect takes place—only with more laser beams.
At the 2009 New York Comic-Con, Marvel announced a new digital comics limited series which deals with these very stories in the form of WAR OF KINGS: WARRIORS. The four-issue series focuses on four separate characters integral to the upcoming space epic: Gladiator, Crystal, Blastaar and Lilandra. Serialized bi-weekly to coincide with the WAR OF KINGS series in eight parts, WARRIORS will be written by Chris Gage (taking the Gladiator and Blastaar chapters) and Jay Faerber (taking Crystal and Lilandra). Art on the four issues will be handled by Mahmud Asrar (Gladiator), Adriana Melo (Crystal), Carlos Magno (Blastaar) and Timothy Green (Lilandra).
"All these stories are set before WAR OF KINGS, and when I say before, it could mean that they're set right before or 1,000 years before," explains series editor Ben Morse. "I came to [WAR OF KINGS editor Bill Rosemann and writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning] and said, 'Who do you think could benefit from a little extra spotlight?' And the rationale we used was that these are four characters who do have important roles in WAR OF KINGS. These are characters important to the main story who don't necessarily need the fleshing out. You can read WAR OF KINGS without reading WARRIORS, but if you do read WARRIORS, it gives you more of a glimpse into these characters' heads that you wouldn't get [otherwise]."
When it came to Gage's inclusion in the action, Morse said the writer's connection to previous space epics and diamond in the rough characters gave him an extra edge:
"I thought it was important that we had someone who had been involved with [previous cosmic events] and someone who had worked with Dan and Andy before. [Christos] knows Dan and Andy. He knows their vision. He knows how to keep in step with them and did so on the QUASAR limited series for Annihilation Conquest. And when you look at stuff he's written whether it's UNION JACK or his Ka-Zar story for MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS, you can tell he has a love of perceived B-list Marvel characters like Gladiator and Blastarr who are right on the edge. He also loves big, larger than life fight stuff."
Larger than life certainly describes the super powered Gladiator, although in WARRIORS, the Shi'Ar loyalist sees his inner character revealed in new ways as the Guardsman's origin will be unveiled for the first time,
"I think he's a fascinating character because, even though he's been around 30 years, he's an enigma," Gage says. "As powerful as he is, why is he so loyal to the Shi'Ar throne, no matter who might be occupying it? We've seen him serve D'Ken, Lilandra, Deathbird, and now Vulcan—some pretty different governing philosophies
there. Obviously, Gladiator has some reason for being so devoted to his ruler. I'm excited to have the chance to answer that question, and hopefully reveal something new about a character I'm very fond of."
As for when the story takes place, Gage notes, "we do have a present-day framing sequence that occurs during War of Kings, but we're going a ways back for the origin itself. Not exactly to childhood, but to when Gladiator was an idealistic young warrior, eager to serve his people, though he couldn't possibly have imagined what he's going to be asked to do."
Blastaar's history stands a bit more well known to fans, but of late a new wrinkle popped up for the Negative Zone pirate in the form of his rise to power between stories in ANNIHILATION CONQUEST and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.
"We'll explore how he became King Blastaar of the Negative Zone—and without spoiling anything, I can tell you it wasn't by making eloquent speeches!" says Gage, who added that the character's more heroic turns in the Annihilation wars may not stuck around too long. "During the wars, Blastaar himself never felt he was changing his role; he was fighting the same kind of battles he always has. Blastaar has been cast out by his own people, and mistreated by the likes of Annihilus and the Phalanx. Now he sees the opportunity to strike back, to unite other outcasts like himself into an unstoppable army. Blastaar's philosophy has never changed; he allied himself with whoever made the most sense at the time, and that will continue. He's kind of a sci-fi barbarian, but that doesn't mean he's stupid. Far from it—he's the kind of guy who is determined to achieve victory by being the last man
standing, and in the Negative Zone, he is just that."
Faerber's return to Marvel comes just in time for the writer to dig into some of his favorite female characters.
"[Jay] had pitched a few characters at me that we might still do something with when WARRIORS came up and I knew that Chris wouldn't be able to handle all four issues," recounts Morse. "I thought Jay would be particularly good for Crystal and to a lesser extent Lilandra because the whole strength of [his creator-owned] Noble Causes was that he knew how to handle strong family dynamics, and that is essentially what Crystal's story is—she's part of a royal family. And Lilandra too is part of a royal family."
For his part, Faerber took right to the story of the Inhuman princess struggling with her people's choice to overtake the Kree Empire.
"Because Crystal's spent so much time on Earth, among groups like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, she has a much easier time putting herself in another person's shoes," Faerber explains. "She has a better sense of empathy than the other Inhumans, in terms of seeing where the other person is coming from. So she has serious reservations about the Inhumans' new hard-line approach. In my story, we'll see how she has to reconcile her views as an individual with her role as a member of the Inhumans Royal Family. Obviously, she wants to present a united front and honor the will of Black Bolt, her leader. But she's having a hard time swallowing that, and the WAR OF KINGS: WARRORS story will bring that conflict front and center, and see how Crystal answers it for herself."
When it came to Lilandra's story, Morse admits part of the fun will come in matching Green's detailed art with Shi'Ar society. "I told Jay to toss tons of crazy space scenery at Tim, and I think he's going to draw really cool space aliens and Shi'Ar."
"I think Vulcan would argue that Lilandra's already lost her right to the Shi'Ar throne," argues Faerber, hinting at some details of the former Empress' story. "After all, he's sitting on it. She's not. Of course, Lilandra doesn't quite see it that way. I don't want to reveal anything about the end result of the upcoming WAR OF KINGS battle. I'm not insane. Abnett and Lanning will send men in black suits to my door, and I'll never be heard from again. But I will say that my Lilandra story will help explain just why her position as Empress is so important to her. Is it just vanity? A sense of entitlement? Or something deeper? I want to explore that."
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