Part of the meta-fun of reading “Realm of Kings Imperial Guard” #1 (of a planned 5-issues) comes from seeing what Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning do with Marvel’s version of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Abnett and Lanning revitalized DC’s Legion back in the 1990s for a short time, with the events of “Legion Lost” and the series that followed, and here they are with a spotlight series on the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, the Legion analogues created back in the Claremont/Cockrum “Uncanny X-Men” days.
The Imperial Guard has mostly been used as characterless muscle over the decades, as practically faceless minions who serve the Shi’ar throne, no matter who sits on it. They may have colorful costumes and powers, but they end up being little more than fodder for whatever protagonists come their way.
This first issue changes that a bit, by putting the Imperial Guard at the forefront and showing what happens when they cut loose and actually win a few battles. They are an effective strike team against rebellious forces, particularly when Gladiator (the Superman analogue) steps into the fray. Gladiator (aka Kallark — Kal-Clark, get it?) has become the new majestor of the Shi’ar Imperium at the tail end of the space opera “War of Kings” stuff that recently concluded. Actually, I don’t know when it happened, because I didn’t read “War of Kings,” but this series doesn’t rely on any knowledge of that event. It gets you up to speed pretty quickly, no matter how little you know about its context.
Essentially, this is a “weight of the crown” meets “impossible mission” kind of story, with Gladiator facing the burdens of intergalactic leadership and sending his team on a mission to explore a “tear in time and space.” Sounds like a perfect opportunity for Marvel’s Legion analogues to shine, doesn’t it?
And before I completely neglect to mention it, Kev Walker’s art looks tighter here than it has on recent projects. I’ve enjoyed his expressive, Simon Bisley-lite stylings on “Marvel Zombies” and other projects, but here he does more fully-rendered figures and it works to the advantage of the story. The storytelling is clear, the character’s look grizzled, and the action is explosive.
Yeah, this isn’t really the Legion, it’s their darker, potentially villainous counterparts playing the roles of heroes in their own stories. But it’s not too shabby, and out of all the “Realm of Kings” stuff coming out this season, this looks like the series I might stick with until the end.