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Galaxy's Mightiest Heroes: Gladiator

Birdman of Strontia:

He who would be Majestor

(Editor’s note: With the recently released promoimage for Thanos Imperative #3 featuring an assemblage of cosmic heroes, Cosmic Book News’ own Captain Cosmic, Managing Editor Byron Brewer, takes a look at each of the Galaxy's Mightiest Heroes!)

By Byron Brewer

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GLADIATOR

There is no denying that this character, Gladiator, started out as artist Dave Cockrum’s tribute to Superboy as the Imperial Guard were his homage to Legion of Super-Heroes, a book he worked on right before he helped create the “All-New, All-Different” X-Men.

But over the decades, Gladiator (real name Kallark, we get it) has come to be so much more than just your run-of-the-mill Supes knockoff. A lot of time and characterization – by Chris Claremont and most recently by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning – has produced a super-powered alien that went from a cool lad in one of those great Cockrum-designed uniforms to a man who would be king of his empire!

Now Gladiator takes his rightful place alongside other powerhouse cosmic champions in a war against the Cancerverse. His story continues to expand this month in The Thanos Imperative #3.

The two keys to Gladiator that make him so fascinating have always been 1) that his powers really depend on how he feels in the morning, so to speak, since his abilities increase and decrease in accordance with his level of confidence, and 2) that certain spark of romantic interplay between Kallark and Lilandra Neramani, she who would be queen. The tragic death of Lilandra (I am still not sure if Professor X knows about that?) brought to an end the almost fairy tale romance these two aliens shared, but it made War of Kings that much more important -- as a saga and as a growing point for Kallark.

Gladiator is a member of the powerful and honorable Strontian race, and was tested harshly to earn his former place as praetor of the Imperial Guard, an elite military corps of powerful beings from across the Shi’ar Empire that are loyal to whomever sits on the throne, no matter their personal politics. To the best of my knowledge, Kallark and his cousin Xenith, with whom he trained, are the last of their species.

The first time we see Gladiator in the pages of X-Men, he and the Guard are battling the mutants as his crazed majestor, D’Ken, threatens to use the might of the mysterious and powerful M’Kraan Crystal to take over the universe. The effort is thwarted by Xavier’s students, but Gladiator and the Imperial Guard are soon back in perhaps one of the greatest stories in comics history, the death of the Phoenix. As praetor, Gladiator was an obvious choice to be one of eight Guardsmen chosen to battle the X-Men in this tale. The Guard defeated the X-Men on this occasion, but the mutants were allowed to return to Earth after the Phoenix Force (masquerading as Jean Gray) seemingly committed suicide.

When the formerly-exiled Deathbird had usurped the Shi’ar throne from her sister Lilandra in a successful coup, Gladiator was forced to swear fealty to his new majestrix, even though his loyalties still lay with Lilandra. However, Gladiator’s sense of duty saw him continue to serve as the Guard’s praetor, despite his personal feelings about Deathbird’s reign.

Soon after, when a member of an alien race that had been forced to join the Shi’ar Empire came into possession of armor belonging to the Spaceknights of Galador, the Guard mistakenly attacked Rom. After the misunderstanding was made clear, Rom and Gladiator teamed up to face the culprit, and Gladiator came to realize that even though the Shi’ar provide their conquered species with everything, they lack one important thing: freedom!

In recent days, Gladiator and the Imperial Guard stood against the invading Vulcan, brother of X-Men Cyclops and Havok. After a bloody battle during which Vulcan kills several members of the Guard, Gladiator manages to finally defeat him and delivers the mutant to a Shi’ar prison facility. A secret Shi’ar agent wishing a return to the days of D’Ken’s rule frees Vulcan and together with Deathbird the pair stages a coup and usurps Lilandra. After marrying Deathbird, Vulcan murders D’Ken and becomes the next Shi’ar majestor. With Lilandra in hiding, Gladiator and the remainder of the Guard are honor-bound to serve Vulcan.

The mutant king consolidates his rule over the Shi’ar – with Gladiator reluctantly assisting – as their forces destroy a race of ancient enemies, the Scy’ar tal, and capture the Starjammers. Vulcan then embarks on an ambitious plan to conquer the rest of the universe in the mini X-Men: Kingbreaker, prelude to the War of Kings. Vulcan orders Gladiator to capture Lilandra, who has allied herself with the Kree. After battling Lilandra’s allies the Starjammers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Gladiator is swayed by her argument against Vulcan and kills a member of the Imperial Guard loyal to the emperor.

Lilandra is eventually slain by an assassin, and Vulcan and Black Bolt both apparently die in their battle during the explosion of a bomb of Black Bolt’s own design. The explosion also rips apart both space and time. In the one-shot War of Kings: Who Will Rule?, a weary Kallark, in the wake of Lilandra’s death and a certain appointment of an outsider by the ruling Inhumans to the throne, proclaims himself the new Shi’ar majestor, thus avoiding a possible civil war.

Gladiator is now among the cosmic champions fighting to save our universe from the worshippers of the Many-Angled Ones on the other side of the Fault, proving he is still a great character whether solo or with the Eye-Gees!

The Thanos Imperative #3 hits stores August 11! 

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