Known as the "King's Game," chess is a centuries old game that's been used to teach military strategy. This March, Black Bolt and Vulcan, two of the most powerful rulers in the Marvel Universe, will turn the cosmos into their own personal chessboard in "War of Kings," a six-issue miniseries by writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning and artist Paul Pelletier.
"War of Kings" is not just a personal contest between Black Bolt and Vulcan; it's a clash between Marvel last two great intergalactic cultures: Vulcan's Shi'ar Empire and Black Bolt's subjects, which now include both the Kree and the Inhumans. A clash of such magnitude won't involve only the forces loyal to each king; all the major players in the cosmic Marvel U are going to have to get in the game.
In anticipation of "War of Kings," CBR kicks off this new multi-part feature, ALL THE KING'S MEN. In each installment, writers Abnett and Lanning - better known to their fans as DnA - will join us to reveal where the various cosmic Marvel characters belong in the chess game that is "War of Kings," and examine how they might affect the ultimate outcome of the conflict.
We begin today a look at the Kings and Queens.
WHITE KING: BLACK BOLT
Part of the reason why the Inhumans and the Shi'ar are on a collision course with each other is that Black Bolt recently came to the conclusion that his people's years of isolationism have not protected them at all. Instead, the Inhumans have been targets in the schemes of several intergalactic cultures, most notably the Kree and the Skull Empires. In the recent "Secret Invasion: War of Kings" one-shot, Black Bolt decided he'd had enough. If he can't make the other galactic great powers respect his people; Black Bolt will make them fear the Inhumans instead.
"Black Bolt is entirely committed to his course of action," DnA told CBR News. "The Inhuman people are amazingly potent, but they have always tried to avoid confrontation, and thus have ended up being victimized and downtrodden. That ends now. He's not going to take it anymore. His main motivation is the security and prosperity of his people. That is fundamental. He's not interested in conquest or domination--except that he will do both of those things and more to anybody who gets in his way or tries to thwart his ambitions for his people."
To show the galaxy he meant business, Black Bolt armed his people with devastating weapons and technology invented by his brother, Maximus. Then he used those weapons and technology on the remnants of the Skrull invasion force, which recently attacked Earth in Secret Invasion. Finally, Black Bolt turned the might of the Inhuman war machine against his people's biggest tormentors, the Kree, a move that ended with the Kree's leader, Ronan the Accuser, turning leadership of the empire over to Black Bolt.
While the Kree have been responsible for much of his people's suffering, Black Bolt is much too smart to bear any sort of real ill will towards his new subjects. "He loves them!" DnA laughed. "Actually, he sees them as kin, though he nurses much of the ancient bad-blood about what the Kree did to the Inhumans originally. He is also pragmatic - he sees them as a resource, an army. They don't love him--yet, but the Kree admire great warriors, and they can't fail to be impressed by his sheer power."
The Kree that haven't been won over by Black Bolt's sheer power will certainly come around once their new ruler gets a chance to demonstrate his combat and leadership skills. "Black Bolt is an extremely intelligent and inventive leader. His current agenda isn't about war, it's about development," DnA explained. "But if conflict erupts, he knows he has extraordinary weapons - Maximus's echo-tech, the Kree warrior cadres and the Inhumans themselves, for example - that he can unleash. He's tactical, not hot-blooded. But if needs be, he will be right in the front line to bring the fight to a personal level."
Black Bolt truly wants the best for his subjects and is committed to giving them that, but he's by no means the perfect King. "He's wise, patient and loyal. He's experienced and compassionate," DnA said. "But he's also remote and aloof. He's hard to bond with."
Compounding this difficulty is Black Bolt's superpower, which allows him to generate immense waves of destruction with his voice, but precludes him from speaking directly to his subjects. "It seems trite to say it, but he doesn't speak. Medusa is his voice. Does anyone really know what he means?" DnA remarked. "And could that compassion be his greatest flaw?"
BLACK KING : VULCAN
Though born on Earth, Vulcan gained the Shi'ar crown by marrying Deathbird and then slaying her brother, the former Shi'ar emperor D'Ken. Vulcan has held on to power by giving his subjects what they want -- or at least what they think they want. "He has huge charisma, huge force. He is truly imperial, a giant who acts with passion and fury," DnA said. "That makes him very easy for the common Shi'ar citizens to rally behind and adore. No one will mess with them while they've got a Majestor like that."
Recently, the Shi'ar people have rallied even more behind Vulcan because he's embarked upon a path of aggressive expansionism. His subjects think Vulcan is acting in their own best interests, but he's really just using his military might as a way to fulfill his own insane and destructive desires. "Vulcan is a tough read because he seems too cut-and-dried psychotic. There is depth there, but it's hard to find because he's so damaged," the writers explained. "He's a crowd pleaser, but he's also a self-pleaser. Ultimately, he doesn't give a about the Shi'ar.
"Vulcan wants it all. He wants to crush anything and anyone that remotely rivals him in power. The Kree have been on his list for a long time. Now he's got to go through the Inhumans too. He doesn't care. He doesn't think it's going to be that hard."
When the "War of Kings" does break out, the Shi'ar Emperor is committed to doing whatever it takes to win. "Vulcan's a bit of a brute force kind of guy, and he can afford to be when he's got that much personal power, plus the backing of the Imperial Guard and the biggest fleet/army in known space," DnA stated. "But he's not without guile, in terms of strategy. He's very sneaky. He often fights dirty. The slyest thing about him is his willingness to outplay or outfight the opposition by doing things so unexpected or despicable that no one would even dream of doing them."
Vulcan's Omega Level mutant ability to absorb energy combined with the entire military might of the Shi'ar Empire makes the King an incredible foe, but Vulcan isn't invincible. One of the most dangerous members of Black Bolt's Royal family is Karnak, an Inhuman with the ability detect weaknesses. Abnett and Lanning believe Karnak would recommend two possible attacks to bring down Vulcan: attacking him via his attachment to his wife Deathbird, or exploiting the Shi'ar Emperor's childhood, which saw him abused and tortured by his imperial predecessor, D'Ken.
WHITE QUEEN: MEDUSA
As the Queen of the Inhumans and the Kree, Medusa is one of the most important figures in both cultures. "She's the voice of Black Bolt, literally," DnA said. "She has immense power and authority. However, as 'WOK' gets going, she may be a little too regal, and lack 'the common touch.'"
Medusa's ability to telekinetically manipulate her long hair may seem laughable to some, but she's capable of accomplishing great feats of strength with her crimson locks, like crushing the life out of her foes. On top of that, Medusa has combat experience as both a member of the Fantastic Four and their opposite number, the Frightful Four, which means when war does break out between the Shi'ar and the Inhumans, Medusa will be a particularly valuable player. "You've seen how she multi-tasks with her hair," DnA said. "She's formidable at fighting on the battlefield, devising military strategy, and conducting diplomacy-- ALL AT THE SAME TIME!"
A canny adversary could neutralize Medusa's effectiveness in "War of Kings" in several different ways. "She's perhaps a little overconfident, and that lack of sentimentality or compassion could be a real weakness," DnA explained.
The writers also noted that as part of their Secret Invasion, the Skrulls kidnapped Black Bolt and replaced him with a Skrull doppelganger. "Don't forget that. For all her composure, Medusa's hiding the pain of the very personal way the Skrulls betrayed her too."
BLACK QUEEN: DEATHBIRD
In Deathbird, Vulcan found a wife with psychoses that rival his own. "She's a bit of an enabler. She's pretty damaged too, and he's pretty obsessed with her. It's a very intense and not entirely healthy relationship," DnA agreed. "It's very passionate, but it's also very needy. It's not really love in either direction, its obsession and need and facilitation. There's also fear too. They're afraid of each other and she's really afraid of him. It's not pretty."
Deathbird is infamous among the Shi'ar for her savagery and combat prowess, but since marrying Vulcan she hasn't had much cause to exercise those traits. Of course, with a war looming, that will soon change. "She misses it and she will take the earliest opportunity to get her claws dirty again," DnA confirmed. "Especially if her sister Lilandra turns up."
Deathbird's passion makes her a dangerous fighter, but it's also a weakness that can be used against her. Said Abnett and Lanning, "She's surprisingly tactical in her thinking, but her temper quickly gets away from her if things go wrong."
Stay with CBR for more of ALL THE KINGS MEN in the weeks leading up to "War of Kings!"