Cosmic KING Makers: Abnett & Lanning Go From WAR to REALM

Abnett & Lanning Talk REALM OF KINGS

Nova #31

As War of Kings ends, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are taking the Marvel cosmic world into its next chapter: Realm of Kings.

When Black Bolt and Vulcan were apparently killed in a massive explosion in War of Kings #6, the great eruption of energy ripped a giant hole in the fabric of space and time, creating what is now known as the "Fault."

After September's War of Kings: Who Will Rule?, the one-shot that serves as an epilogue to the event, the nature of the Fault will serve as a backdrop for the stories that follow in all the cosmic books, including two new mini-series. The whole thing kicks off in November with Realm of Kings #1, a one-shot by Abnett and Lanning with art by Leonardo Manco.

"It’s not a crossover with numbered chapters, but rather the new environment for stories that Dan and Andy have created," explained Marvel editor Bill Rosemann. "Much like the Initiative stories which followed Civil War, or the Dark Reign stories that followed Secret Invasion, we are now seeing how our heroes and villains react and maneuver in this new wild playground."

After the Realm of Kings one-shot, the story spins into two separate five-issue mini-series from Abnett and Lanning: Realm of Kings: Inhumans with art by Pablo Raimondi, and Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard, with art by Kev Walker.

The Realm of Kings will also affect Abnett and Lanning's other ongoing titles, with Realm of Kings tie-ins scheduled for Nova #31-35 and Guardians of the Galaxy #20-24.

"On one side we have the political intrigue of the Inhumans as they attempt to rule the Kree in the wake of War of Kings #6," Rosemann said. "On the other we have the mud-and-blood-splattered battlefield drama of the Imperial Guard as they respond to the defeat of the Shi’Ar and elevation of Gladiator, and in the middle we have the horrors unleashed by The Fault. They are three deadly environments which Nova, The Guardians, the Inhumans and the Guard will all have to attempt to survive as they explore the Realm of Kings."

Guardians of the Galaxy #20

Looking back at what happened in War of Kings and forward to what's coming in Realm of Kings, we called up Abnett and Lanning to talk more about the Marvel cosmic universe and how these two writers put it all together.

Newsarama: Dan and Andy, just up front, how would you describe Realm of Kings and the stories you'll be telling within this framework?

Dan Abnett: Realm of Kings will be dealing with the fallout after War of Kings, but also a new development in the cosmic universe -- this big hole, which has been dubbed the "Fault" that is the anchor for all these stories. It's a strange and dangerous area of space that has all sorts of wild possibilities. What's on the other side of it? What's in it? What is coming through the hole? And we'll find out more about that as we get into the Realm of Kings.

Andy Lanning: Rather than using the cosmic books as a device for war stories across a universe or stage, we're focusing in a slightly different direction with the creation of the Fault. It's like we've created a no-man's land, a bizarre new region of space. And that now becomes our connecting backdrop through which we're going to tell all these different stories and continue the stories of the characters we've been having so much fun with. It's always good to have something very interesting, a canvas, on which to play out these great characters. Writing these characters is such fun and we've developed them and want to develop them further. But if we always set that in the middle of war and battle, that can get a little bit boring. So we're trying to keep things fresh and interesting.

Nrama: What's behind the decision to have something like Realm of Kings follow up War of Kings?

Abnett: What [War of Kings] does, as you'll see, is literally change the landscape of the Marvel cosmic books. So Realm of Kings is really a sort of badge identifying the stories that flow out of that. So it's a changing situation as opposed to another specific event. There are several different storylines running in Realm of Kings. But it's a way of flagging it and badging it so people understand these are things that are flowing out the War of Kings event.

Lanning: I think also, what we did with the War of Kings stuff, in terms of the Inhumans and Shi'Ar, was we really did expand our cast of characters and the amount of story content we could do. So rather than do another ongoing book, we were able to do more by adding these two mini-series, badged as Dan said, because then we get to continue showing how the effects and aftermath of War of Kings plays out of the Shi'Ar side of the coin as well as the Inhumans. I don't think if we had a single ongoing we would have been able to cover all that ground.

Realm of Kings #1

Abnett: That's the thing, with War of Kings, because it was a war between two sides and we deliberately picked on Crystal and Gladiator as our narrating characters, to then run that out into two limited series which follow those two strands is a much more satisfying and more convenient way of doing it rather than have one ongoing book.

Lanning: And we'll actually have four books playing against the backdrop of Realm of Kings, with the Inhumans and Imperial Guard books as well as Guardians and Nova. It offers us a much, much larger canvas and gives a nice, epic feel to the whole thing.

Nrama: Will the Imperial Guard and Inhumans books continue to focus on Crystal and Gladiator?

Lanning: In the Inhumans book, we will pick up Crystal's narrative. And in the Imperial Guard, it will have Gladiator's narrative. But we've expanded it so it's not purely going to be like the War of Kings. We've increased the characters and the voices in there. Though Crystal and Gladiator are the touchtone for those stories, we'll get to see many other characters.

With the Imperial Guard book, we're going to focus in on the members of the guard and seeing them operating and understanding a bit more about them as characters as well. They've been around for such a long time, even having their own mini-series here and there, but we've never really examined how the Imperial Guard operates and what their extent is.

Nrama: So is Realm of Kings exploring more of the military side of the Shi'Ar and the traditions of the Imperial Guard?

Abnett: Yes. We were very struck when writing the Imperial Guard during War of Kings that they were a really functioning and interesting military unit. And rather than thinking of them as superheroes, that is to say costumed super-powered individuals, we thought of them as being elite soldiers with particular individual tailored talents and abilities and techniques. So the Imperial Guard book will be exploring that. It will be quite militaristic. We want to look at them as a military unit, how they function, how they operate. I think that was one of the fun things about War of Kings for us, was to see them going into action and play with them like that in a very different way. And that's something we wanted to explore a little more.

Nrama: And what will the Inhumans focus upon?

Realm of Kings: Inhumans #1

Lanning: The Inhumans is a lot more about courtly intrigue. We'll be picking up where we were at the end of War of Kings and there is a lot of fallout that's got to resonate down through the royal family of the Inhumans. They now find themselves without their center of focus, Black Bolt, again, but also adrift in space ruling the Kree Empire. So it's a lot more Machiavellian, with intrigues between the members of the royal family, obviously set against threats from the outside, not the least of which could come from within the Kree itself. They're unhappy with the war and various aspects within the empire. And there will also be trouble from within their own ranks.

Abnett: Yeah, I think that's how the two books work in contrast to each other. The Imperial Guard book is very much like a frontline, special forces story detailing sort of the business end of an official government trying to get on with its life work. The Inhumans book is more, as Andy said, is a story of courtly intrigue, very Elizabethan complex, cunning, back-stabbing and out-maneuvering. It's quite a tight character thing where people are playing against each other for all kinds of interesting political motives.

Nrama: And how will Nova and Guardians and the Galaxy tie into all of this?

Abnett: Those two books will be dealing directly with the Fault. The Guardians book will be very much driven by circumstances that occur toward the end of their part in the War of Kings. There are some very significant twists that haven't happened yet. That leads directly into a storyline where they are actively trying to close the Fault and bring the situation under control, which I think is a strong storyline, tied into their own particular activities and threads.

Nova, on the other hand, as befits his state as a sort of a lone ranger or frontier Marshall, is one of the few law enforcement officers in this new no-man's-land in between the Shi'Ar and the Kree. So his stories will be very driven by the physical change in circumstances in the universe, as he confronts head-on some of the threats and problems and strangeness that are coming through the hole.

Nrama: You two are juggling so many characters within this cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe. Do you have a huge wall dedicated to what character is where?

Lanning: I wish we did have room on my wall to put all that stuff, but I'm looking at it now and it's covered in toys and bits of artwork. But we have massive Post-It notes and notebooks, and every once in awhile we'll panic because we come to something and say, "Did we write that down? I know we discussed it..." Then we start telling past versions of ourselves off for not having written stuff down. If we could go back in time and kick ourselves several times, we would have done it. It's like, "I'm sure we worked all that out," and then we'll suddenly remember what we were going on about or find a little scrap of paper with a note on it that will job our memory. We're not quite as much of a smooth, well-oiled machine as we might seem. But that makes it more fun, I think.

Realm of Kings: Inhumans #1

Abnett: With each book and each thread of the story, we have ongoing documents that we update. And these have to go back and forth with [editor] Bill Rosemann at Marvel. And they are always expanding as we add to it. But as Andy said, there are those times where we say, "Oh, we had a great idea for that. What was it?" And we look for it furiously. And it's the sort of thing where we discover it in a lone paragraph that we tacked onto the end of a script just to see if Bill thinks it's a good idea. But it takes us ages to find it. We've got to get better at keeping these things filed as we go along.

Nrama: Looking back at War of Kings, I think most readers knew Vulcan was going to have to go, but it was a surprise to see Black Bolt gone. From the point of view of the Inhumans, as we pick up their story, do they assume he's dead or is there a hope that he'll return?

Lanning: From both the Inhuman side of things and the Shi'Ar side of things, that question is in their minds. You've got the Shi'Ar Empire with Gladiator implied as a new ruler, and that will have to be legitimized. It's about needing to find the body of Vulcan to at least say, look, he's dead, and now we can get on with things. From the Inhumans side of things, yes, there is obviously doubt. It seems like he's dead, but again, with no body, they need closure on that as well. So that's going to drive certain elements of both those stories.

Abnett: In comics, no character dies forever. We wanted, in the War of Kings, we wanted to tell a story that really moved from one place to another place and didn't just put all the toys back into the box at the end of it. We wanted to have a story that had a shocking or at least unsuspected conclusion. We played around with a lot of different variables on how we could end the story. And we wanted something that was the least expected yet was the most satisfyingly logical of all the possible outcomes. As Andy said, given that neither of them exists in a form that can be recovered nor can be proven alive or dead, they're very absence galvanizes storylines in our books at the moment. Just because Black Bolt and Vulcan don't appear doesn't mean they're not being mentioned all the time and their presence, or lack of it, is what is driving some people along, particularly Medusa, obviously. She's grieving hugely and determined to prove that her husband hasn't actually perished.

Lanning: And I've seen this on a few message boards while I've been trolling the internet, shamelessly looking for self-congratulations [laughs], so I just want to address it. There's this thought that Black Bolt's plan with the bomb wasn't particularly clever given that the Inhumans are brilliant strategists, but I don't think those who are commenting are seeing the point. The attempt to turn everyone into Inhumans was at its very basics a bomb. It's no less ridiculous than nuking Japan at the end of the Second World War. If it didn't change everybody into Inhumans, it would just nuke everything anyway and unleash a giant wave of mutating energy. In the Inhumans' point of view, they'd either blow the crap out of everybody or change a substantial amount of the enemy into Inhumans so they can come along afterwards and cherry pick what they need for themselves.

Abnett: The thing is that there is this idea that the Inhumans don't fight themselves. So the idea was to make everybody the same culture and give everyone the same challenges to face, so in this case it would be that everybody being different means that no ones different.

Nrama: Is there still a possibility after these mini-series that there could be an ongoing?

Lanning: I think with War of Kings, as well as with the Realm of Kings mini-series, this is an ongoing process. War of Kings, although it ended and then has the epilogue, it's still part of an ongoing process. I know people might think it didn't resolve enough at the end of War of Kings, but these characters are part of an ongoing story. The Marvel Universe is an ongoing beast. And the whole point was to change the status quo and shake things up to then lead to more stories.

And in the same way, the goal of Realm of Kings is to resolve whatever conflict the characters face in those issues, but to also put in place the next adventure. And we know definitely what we want to do next after that. But the exact form of how that's told, whether it's an ongoing or it's through just the Nova and Guardians books, that is Marvel's call at the end of the day. They would have to figure out if it would justify having another ongoing book.

Abnett: Also, an ongoing is a serious commitment. You can do a limited series to accomplish something and tell a story, or to see whether the characters have the sustainability to make an ongoing work. And quite often, it doesn't necessarily go the way you expect it. We could, for instance, have looked through War of Kings and picked a character or characters we though were particularly strong in terms of the story we wanted to tell and the fun we had in writing those characters as the next book, only to find that whilst that character played an important part in the story, it's a completely different character that actually captured the readers' imagination, and that's the one they was to see the next series based upon. So you've got to do a balancing act as you go along. It's not only what stories do you want to tell? But what characters do people want to see?

Lanning: And what characters Marvel wants us to concentrate on as well.

Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell people as you look back on War of Kings, or looking forward at Who Will Rule and Realm of Kings?

Abnett: I'm delighted with the way War of Kings has come out. We really enjoyed telling a solid story, and I certainly would like to have the opportunity to praise to the skies Paul's artwork. I think Paul did a fantastic job on it. It's so lovely to see an event where you've got an artist on it from beginning to end and doesn't make a book run late or any of those things. He's completely professional and absolutely brilliant.

Lanning: As well as Rick [Magyar] and Wil [Quintana] on the inking and coloring. I agree with Dan, to have seven solid issues of stuff to collect by the same artist that all came out in time, and an artist at the top of his game, it's such a pleasure to see it all come together. More than anything, I personally cannot wait until the collection comes out.

Abnett: Like Andy said before, we've had an awful lot of war in the cosmic universe. And although there will be conflict, because conflict is what drives stories, we're moving into what we see as a period of stories that are much more about wonder and excitement and adventure and character and speculation and shocks and surprises and bold new things rather than that war-related focus on courage and fortitude and sacrifice. I'm not saying there won't be any of that, but this is more like, rather than being in an age of warfare, we're entering an age of exploration.

And looking ahead, we're very excited about the stories we've still got to tell. I think we've both got the opportunity to do some interesting things that we're relishing the prospect of. Between us, we know where we're going with some of these things. We know about the extremely exciting things we've got just over the horizon that these stories are going to lead to, and I think it's all going to please cosmic fans enormously.

But I think in the moment, we're in this rare situation where Andy and I are keeping on top of four books coming out simultaneously that inter-relate. And I think it's a comparatively rare thing where you get this sort of breadth of canvas. It's not just the scope and scale we can do in the cosmic books, in say Nova or Guardians or even in the way those two books inter-relate, but the fact that we can, not all the time, but we can cross-refer across all books set within the Marvel Universe is exciting. And some of it can be about political machinations, some of it about frontline troops, some of it about superheroes or a superhero team. There are so many different perspectives. And there's this real sense of Marvel space being a real three-dimensional thing that can be explored, with places and people involved in it. I think that's quite rare. We're enjoying it, and I think that offers something to the readers that is comparatively unusual.

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