Jason Aaron has introduced (or reintroduced) a lot of great new characters during his time on Wolverine & The X-Men, and perhaps my favourite of these was Kid Gladiator, the over-the-top, cocky son of Gladiator from the Imperial Guard. Kid Gladiator is just hilarious, and I was actually really quite sad when he left the book to go back into space with his dad. But good news! This Annual brings him back, and it is all about him! It is glorious.
The Annual begins with Kubark in Imperial Guard school, giving a report about his time on Earth, where we see him finally admit to actually enjoying his time at the Jean Grey School. Kid Gladiator certainly is not enjoying his new school, everything is very conformist, every student is in training to become one of the regular Imperial Guard members, there are loads of Smashers, loads of Mantas, etc. But he’s the only Strontian, the only Guardian, so he’s all alone. It’s a nice contrast to the JGS, where everyone is different, but that means nobody is alone. So, Kid Gladiator is bummed, until… Infinity begins!
Due to the scale of the battle against The Builders, all of the various Subguardians in-training are called into action, but Gladiator forbids his son from fighting in the war, as he doesn’t think he’s ready. Obviously, Kubark doesn’t take kindly to this, so he takes out the Warbird guard assigned to him, and sneaks off to war, where he gets involved in one of the massive laser battles we’ve seen in the pages of Avengers and Infinity for the last few months, fighting alongside all of the other Superguardians and the Avengers.
After seeing how powerful his son has become, Gladiator allows him to stay and fight, but he still doesn’t agree to allow his son to go back to Earth, that has to wait until the end. After a surprisingly powerful scene where a group of Smashers bow to Kid Gladiator, showing how he’s growing as a leader, we’re back to more laser-montage fun, including Kid Gladiator trying to arm-wrestle Thor, and even the Kid getting a smooch off of a smasher. The capper to this is Kid Gladiator sitting next to the Hulk and just staring at him. Perhaps the proudest moment of Kubark’s life was when he punched Red Hulk during AvX, and getting a call back to that, with him wanting to punch the Green version was absolutely brilliant.
Just before the final push to Earth to stop Thanos, Gladiator finally tells his son that he can stay behind on Earth and go back to the Jean Grey School, and that’s where the issue ends, with Kubark giving another report, this time to the other JGS pupils about his adventures during Infinity. It’s a great character moment that he continues to pretend he hates being on Earth, and that this is a punishment.
This was a very enjoyable annual, featuring one of my favourite new characters, and it did a good job of bridging the separate worlds of Infinity and Wolverine & The X-Men and making it all seem like one cohesive universe, which really, is what we all want.
Nick Bradshaw is pretty much the quintessential W&XM artist, so it was brilliant to see him return here, his cartoon style is a perfect fit for the OTT Kid Gladiator, and since he’s coming onto Guardians Of The Galaxy next year, this cosmic story was damn good preparation.