Writers: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Artist: Paul Pelletier
Collects: Secret Invasion: War of Kings, War of Kings #1-6, War of Kings: Who Will Rule?
While the long running cosmic saga penned by DnA is undoubtedly a critical darling, it's no secret that cosmic stories don't sell all that well. I personally like a good space story now and then, but I admit I've mostly passed up on Marvels cosmic books, despite the insistence from reviewers and a small number of folks on the internet that it's one of the best things going. I picked up War of Kings because, by all rights, it seemed like it it ran with elements from Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi'ar Empire, which you may recall as one of the very few X-Men related arcs post-Morrison that I actually liked.
It's fairly good, but a bit tough to get into.
The story goes that Vulcan - the third Summers brother and current emperor of the Shi'ar - decides his kingdom is not big enough. Now, the Inhumans have returned to the Kree to lead them to greater glory. Vulcan, being an egotistical, impulsive shoot-first-shoot-again-and-shoot-some-more style imbecile, decides crashing an important Kree wedding and killing several of the guests would be a bitchin' idea. You can probably guess what the reaction was. If you need to be told war immediately followed, you probably weren't very good at connecting dots.
A fair bit of background is at least somewhat necessary. I got by all right with just Rise and Fall as my most recent foray into the realm of "cosmic", but unless you're familiar with that or just the general goings on in Marvel space, a lot of this comic is probably going to go over your head. It relies a lot on long established rivalries and interplanetary relationships introduced in countless other stories and while that's not necessarily a problem, they don't go far enough up front in summing up the important material up front to help the book read well on its own.
Despite the fact that this whole thing sort of picks up right after it, Secret Invasion is not at all necessary; and frankly you should avoid that story anyways, because it kind of sucks.
While we're on the subject of Secret Invasion, I'd like to say this event does what Secret Invasion never could; while both could be read sans tie-ins, War of Kings did it without cutting out the interesting bits and relegating them elsewhere, like, you know, Secret Invasion. Everything you need to know is in this book. On top of that, aside from a sequence involving the Guardians of the Galaxy, the characters from tie-ins are kept out of the proceedings. If it weren't for said cameo, you could have read this series without even knowing there were tie-ins. The rest of Marvel really ought to take notes.
Despite the backstory and history behind the cosmic side of Marvel, it's fairly easy to get swept up in this. DnA do a good job of selling the fact that this conflict, is a pretty big deal. Things escalate quickly and it doesn't have the tidy end many Shi-ar related stories do. For a bit, it seems like DnA is going down a familiar road before that notion is shattered. Some pretty big things happen here for most of the space faring races and it ably sets up some nasty consequences to play out in future stories. If nothing else, the Inhumans have certainly changed; I don't think I've ever seen Black Bolt - whose mere whisper can shatter mountains - use the full force of his voice as much as he has in this one story.
The art holds up rather well and does its job. There isn't much to really point out as particularly great or anything all that terrible. It won't blow you away, but it's not going to tear you out of the story either, so for all intents and purposes that can be classified as something of a win in itself.
The Score: 7.5 out of 10
It can seem a bit tough to get into at first, but once you start rolling with the punches it will grab hold of you quickly. Probably best if you start earlier in the space timeline though, like somewhere around Annihilation. But even if you don't this is a good time in outer space.