Inside the 'War of Kings' Room with Abnett & Lanning

As Marvel's cosmic universe is embroiled in the War of Kings, one thing has remained clear. Here, anything can happen.

Because writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning control this corner of the Marvel Universe, they seem to have an almost unlimited ability to change the course of the characters that populate the cosmic landscape. Like generals playing with tiny toy soldiers, Abnett and Lanning have constructed in War of Kings an epic story driven by intrigue, political power -- and constant surprises.

At the conclusion of War of Kings #4, the story saw one of those surprising twists as diplomatic channels died, quite literally, with the assassination of Lilandra Neramani. Now everything's building toward a showdown between the sides supporting Vulcan and Black Bolt, although several characters have yet to clarify their allegiances and could still turn the tide of war.

At this breaking point in the battle, we sat down for a military briefing with commanders Abnett and Lanning to ask about what comes next in War of Kings.

Newsarama: In the last issue, the big shocker was the death of Lilandra. While we talked a little about it before, how is Lilandra's death going to affect the next issues of War of Kings?

Dan Abnett: It's going to cause enormous shock waves through both sides of the war. Lilandra's reappearance has already divided the Shi'Ar on the home world, and their attitude toward the war. It's such a shockwave that it may weaken Vulcan's position. As far as the Kree and Inhumans are concerned, Lilandra was their great hope and brought a possible solution to the war. So that's a terrible blow to them as well.

Andy Lanning: In one of the issues, Crystal was saying that Black Bolt had been kind of holding off going for the jugular because he was waiting to see if the Starjammers mission with Lilandra would play out, because if it did, then they would have a sympathetic character on the throne of the Shi'Ar, which would have ended the war there and then.

NRAMA: Yeah, that was when Crystal and Ronan were talking. Originally, these two characters were wed as more of a symbolic union. Has their relationship grown over the last few issues, and will we see more of that development?

DA: I think Crystal has been the sympathetic heart of the story. And I think what started out as an entirely symbolic union between the Inhumans through Crystal and Ronan is actually becoming something else. And it's interesting because it parallels the Shi'Ar way of doing things. Their entire empire is based on the idea of marriage, although a forced marriage in a political sense.

AL: And from our point of view, it's a nice a little subplot between Crystal and Ronan as the heart of the story, and it's become quite popular with readers. People seem taken with the idea of Crystal and Ronan's romance, which we think there is definitely more to be played out there. And that is definitely a pivotal point, and because we're doing this story from her point of view, Crystal will be a pivotal part of the way things pan out.

DA: I think people like the relationship because it's so unexpected, yet it seems to make the most sense as well.

NRAMA: Now that we have Crystal and Ronan coming to an understanding and developing their relationship, and we have the death of Lilandra signaling the failure of the Starjammers' mission, will we see more of the Inhumans/Kree strategy?

DA: Yes. The remainder of this story is about what happens when the Inhumans have to switch to their contingency plan, which is not going to be pretty.

AL: As we said, Black Bolt's been staying his hand up until now, hoping things would play out in a diplomatic style. But now his hand has been forced, and we're back to the more vengeful Black Bolt. Remember, that the whole starting point was Black Bolt taking the gloves off and not taking it anymore. And now we'll get to see the more vengeful side of Black Bolt come forth.

NRAMA: Are we going to see more of Maximus?

DA: Maximus does play a part in the climax of the story. We're also trying to show Maximus with some degree of sympathy because he's not just stark-raving mad all the time. He's a very complicated character.

NRAMA: It seems like he's taken on the role of mad scientist, which is really fun.

DA: Yes, he absolutely has.

AL: Even he himself doesn't know what he's going to do next, which makes him a very interesting character to play with. I think with Maximus, we're hoping there will be more room to develop that character even beyond War of Kings.

NRAMA: Let's talk about Gladiator, who is in a very odd position because he switched sides to follow Lilandra. It looked like an upcoming cover had him fighting on the side of the Shi'Ar. Does he have a choice to make now?

AL: I think Gladiator put all of his eggs in one basket, then the basket caught fire and burned. [laughs] And then the eggs fell out and broke on the floor.

DA: Yes, Gladiator's in a terrible situation. He made this decision that he can't go back from. And it didn't work out the way he hoped it would. So he's lost his own confidence, his own moral sense and his faith in the world. And I think he's going to be in a very, very dark place for the foreseeable future. He's crossed a line that he can't really uncross.

AL: He's not going to be a happy camper. He's covered in egg! [laughs]

NRAMA: In Issue #4, some of the lines from Vulcan as he's losing patience are so sarcastic and biting that he comes across as strangely humorous. Yet he can be really scary too. What has it been like to write this character?

DA: Vulcan was probably one of the more challenging characters to write because he hadn't been evolved as far as some of the other characters. We tried to broaden his personality out with a touch of madness every now and then, as well as extraordinary moments of pragmatic clarity where he just tries to get on and do it because no one else is going to do it for him. And I think that sort of makes him a more rounded and interesting person. We didn't want him to be a figure that you just simply booed every time he came on. Otherwise it just sort of makes the dynamic very one-sided.

AL: You could definitely write the whole series about Vulcan and try to get into his head and develop him as a character, but it's such a sweeping story we're doing, we could do another six issues just exploring that side of things. I remember we said to you before that we were greatly inspired by thinking of this in terms of I, Claudius, the great Roman saga of the political intrigues behind the empire. And Vulcan really is very much a Caligula type of character. He is as mad as a bag of spanners. And writing those sort of characters is always great, and Vulcan sort of reminds me very much of the Alan Rickman character in Robin Hood as the Sheriff of Nottingham. He's chewing up the scenery, I think is what they say.

NRAMA: Let's talk about the way you've written some of these scenes. One thing that's noticeable is that even when characters are merely talking, there's often a certain level of action going on around them. In the last issue, Vulcan's discussions were surrounded by fighting, and Lilandra's appearances caused a lot of tension around her. While the beach scene was the one respite from activity, everything seems to be very heightened and action-oriented. Was that a conscious choice on your part as writers?

AL: Absolutely. In fact, the beach scene wasn't originally a beach scene. It was almost an action scene as well. [laughs] We had originally come up with the idea of them sort of walking through a holographic battlefield. But we ended up kind of throwing the reader a bone in that scene to give things a short rest because we'd been kind of cranking the dials up a bit. So it was nice to throw that in.

But whenever we've got lots of exposition, we're always trying to set that up against something visually interesting that's happening. Otherwise there will just be these great big swathes of dialogue with people just standing around looking at each other. If you can set it against something that's particularly grand and epic, and also the chaotic nature of that whole thing, it adds to the feeling of a cosmic sized battle and the sense that this is a giant war.

DA: I think, comparatively speaking, this is a comic that has a lot of intrigue and it's quite political. It's not hideously complicated, but there's quite a lot going on, with different parties and interests on each side. And I think if we simply got into that with expositional material, people would find it very dull from the start. So not only do we try to deliver the exposition in terms of sequences where other things are happening, but we also have an obligation to fit everything into the story seamlessly. For example, the bit you mentioned where Lilandra was talking as she's going through a crowd made sense for the space we had. This is a story with a lot going on, and if we can find a way to sort of have two things happening at the same time -- a bit of action and a bit of exposition -- it's just more economical in terms of storytelling.

AL: And in fact the Lilandra scene was a deliberate move on our part. When we were writing it, Dan and I had talked about how that whole sequence should have the feel of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, because that's exactly what she did. And there are other examples in real life where leaders take great chances showing that they are part of the public, and they want to show their connection with the public and actually put their lives on the line. The whole point of the Lilandra sequence was to get that sort of chaotic feel of somebody doing that. It gets quite scary quite quickly. So that was deliberate on our part, to sort of ramp up the tension.

NRAMA: In that scene, Rachel talks about something that happened awhile ago in Uncanny X-Men, when she mentions that the Death Commandos are the ones who took her family. Will we see more of the Starjammers?

DA: Yes, we will. The Death Commandos were a very useful group of characters to have in that role. Andy and I both felt that it seemed right to have these characters placed there. And since we had the Starjammers and the Death Commandos together, it would have been odd not to have Rachel acknowledge them. And that is something that we'll be touching on again before that part of the story goes on.

NRAMA: Have we seen the last of Guardians of the Galaxy in War of Kings?

AL: Yes, in the actual main book. But War of Kings plays a bigger part in the Guardians book as opposed to the Guardians being in the War of Kings story.

DA: There will be two of three issues coming up where significant things from War of Kings will be driving the next chunk of stories in Guardians of the Galaxy. So you'll actually see a lot of the Inhumans and the Shi'Ar Imperial Guard showing up in Guardians of the Galaxy.

NRAMA: And what about the Nova Corps? Will they be getting involved?

AL: In terms of Nova's book, we've got what I think is a terrific story planned to run on from Issue #25, which concentrates on the Nova Corps' involvement in this absolutely brutal war. And I think we've been quite candid with it in terms of the way the Nova story is separate, as opposed to the way the Guardians are involved with the main book. Yet the Nova story is just as significant. It's definitely taking place against the same backdrop. If you imagine the War of Kings being like the second World War, then the Guardians of the Galaxy are in Normandy, and the Nova Corps are fighting in the Pacific, but they're still fighting the same war. And there are strategic connections between both of them.

NRAMA: One of the more interesting things we've seen develop in War of Kings: Ascension is the Fraternity of Raptors. And now we've seen Talon coming to meet with Vulcan. When he talks about how their mission is this great purpose, can you reveal whether he's being at all honest?

AL: I don't think anyone can trust anything that any of the Raptors -- apart from Darkhawk himself -- say. You can never take what they're saying at face value, because they are manipulators. But I think some of the things he's saying there are real. They have this drive to protect the Imperium. That's what they were created to do long ago. And exactly how nicely and clearly and morally they protect the Imperium is quite another question.

DA: And the other things is that the whole idea of the Raptors is that they are an enigma wrapped in a mystery, and they've been swallowed by intrigue.

AL: Yeah, I mean the idea is that every time you think you've got them figured out, something else happens that changes what you thought all along.

AL: There are many layers. Like an onion. [laughs]

NRAMA: There's talk here of them bringing in Blaastar, king of the Negative Zone. Is that going to play a big part going forward?

DA: It is. It plays a significant part in the war, particularly in the events that play out in Nova's book. I think we're not giving away too much there. And as these players move about the chess board, we're easing things into the next level of political geography that will play out after War of Kings. There are new stories and new possibilities ahead, and what we're seeing here is Blaastar's ascent as a major player. And it will have some very interesting repercussions.

NRAMA: Is it tough to juggle all these players in one series?

AL: It's a challenge, but right now we're planning out the Who Will Rule? issue, which is essentially like the seventh issue of the series, as it examines the consequences of the terrible things that have happened in the Marvel Universe. And we're sitting here with notepaper all around us where we've written down all the names of people we could put in there. We've talked about most of the major players in this interview, but there are more surprises to come.

NRAMA: I think what's fun about this series is that there are so many question marks about whose loyalties lie where. Was the idea here to make it less about cliffhangers involved actual battles and more about cliffhangers involving character choices and alliances in the face of the changing landscape of war?

DA: Definitely. I mean, the idea of telling this story of a major cosmic war between two established empires was interesting by itself. But we both thought that, from the word go, it shouldn't be a story where the only question mark was going to be who would win. There should be all kinds of question marks connected to individual characters or parties or factions within both sides. Those were the things that really interested us. Not everyone on one "side" is going to see the war in the same way. Crystal and Ronan see the war in a very different way from Black Bolt and Medusa, for example.

And what we really wanted to do with this, without breaking everything -- including the eggs in the basket -- what we really wanted to do with War of Kings was tell a story that ended in a completely different place from where it began. We didn't want to tell a story where we put everyone into play, but by the end of it, we put everything back into the boxes that they came from. We wanted to play something out where people go, "My God! Look where we got to! Look at the conclusion we've reached!" And I think we're in a very lucky position to be able to do that because we're the caretakers of Marvel's cosmic characters. We're actually writing all the books that this affects, so we knew where we wanted to end up. And that gives us the ability to move things forward. By the end of this story, we'll have a lot of opportunity to tell new stories with things in a different way.

The next major storylines that will be coming up after War of Kings in both Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy will be entirely determined by what happened in War of Kings. So there are real consequences.

NRAMA: We've already talked about the possibility of more stories from you two during our Who Will Rule discussion, and we look forward to hearing more about what other stories might arise after War of Kings. But to finish this interview, what can readers expect from the rest of War of Kings?

DA: Well, you know, one thing I've been struck by is the very positive reaction of the readership. And the thing they seem to like is that this is a series where significant things happen. And we can absolutely guarantee that in what remains in War of Kings, that will continue to happen. This is a story that is going to go through several big, explosive twists and turns and developments. If readers have enjoyed what we've done up until now, they're going to be pleased with our end.

AL: And one thing we can say without spoiling anything is that you'll get to see Black Bolt and Vulcan throw it down big time.

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