- Name: Kallark
- Code Names: Gladiator
- First Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #107 (Oct’77)
- Powers: All of the ones Superman has but powered by his confidence and will
- Teams Affiliation: Shi’ar Imperial Guard, Annihilators
Beyond anything else, Superheroes are unified by willpower. It is the most important weapon in any hero’s arsenal. It is what gives Spider-Man to lift a really heavy thing when all hope seems lost. It, not courage, or purity, or anything else is what powers Green Lanterns. It is what turns a man like Bruce Wayne into a godlike Batman. Superheroes have an unmatched drive that inspires and gives hope. Dave Cockrum understood that idea and distilled it into a brilliant concept, what if Superman’s only limit was his belief in himself? What if the only cap on power was will?
Kallark had but one goal in his life, to be a Strontian Gladiator. They were elite warriors, gods among a race of gods, and he was determined to be counted among their numbers. He was raised by the Strontian council of elders and proved that he was truly the greatest among his people. The elders presented him among others as a candidate for the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, a unit made up of the best warriors from all worlds in the Shi’ar Empire. The Empire, among all else, wanted unwavering loyalty and set out to test Kallark’s. The Shi’ar officer T’Korr threatened to send the Strontian sun supernova if the elders were not killed. Others wavered, hesitated in their mission, but not Kallark. He saved his world and proved his loyalty, which the Shi’ar rewarded. He was not only the sole Strontian Gladiator but named Praetor of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard.
Gladiator led the Imperial Guard with pride and an unwavering sense of purpose. The was composed of the greatest warriors in the Shi’ar empire, and Gladiator developed a deep kinship with them. From the mighty Smasher to the wise Mentor, the cunning Oracle to the devastating Fang, Gladiator had found his people. They stood victorious against threats as overwhelming as Rook’shir, a Phoenix empowered Shi’ar rebel. Through is awe-inspiring belief that his work was for the good of the Shi’ar, Gladiator could not fail. Any reservations he had about Shi’ar leadership were repressed, his loyalty was all that mattered.
That loyalty was tested, but for a moment, when Kallark faced the end of all there is. The mad emperor D’Ken sought the power of the M’Kraan Crystal, either unaware or uncaring that it would destroy the all of existence. His sister Lilandra brought the X-Men to stop him. Kallark had a fondness for the exiled Shi’ar princess but he duty was to the throne and he ordered the Imperial Guard to attack. Lilandra pleaded to Kallark, begged him to reconsider his course of action, and though he felt sure of himself, his will faltered just enough for the Starjammers to knock him unconscious. When he awoke, D’Ken was catatonic and Gladiator was confident that Lilandra’s command was the one he should follow.
That confidence would put him at odds with the X-Men yet again after the Phoenix destroyed the D’Bari star. The Shi’ar took it upon themselves to destroy the Phoenix and rid the galaxy of its menace. Instead of an execution, Professor X advocated for Arin’nn Haelar, a duel of honor for Jean Grey’s life. Gladiator did not want to fight the X-Men, they had proven themselves to be worthy allies and valiant warriors, but his resolve was firm. The Imperial Guard made quick work of the X-Men, and you already know this doesn’t have a happy ending.
The Shi’ar remained allies to the X-Men and Gladiator’s respect grew and grew. He hunted Skrulls throughout the galaxy and worked to prevent the reemergence of the Phoenix. One such mission took him to Earth where he believed the Fantastic Four to be Skrull impostors, his admiration of the X-Men clouding the truth that they were the aliens. The Fantastic Four seemed powerless to stop him until Mr. Fantastic discovered the truth behind Kallark’s power. He made Kallark doubt that he could succeed and through trickery and the FF overpowered the superman.
Gladiator served the will of the Shi’ar Imperium, even if he didn’t always like it. He battled Spaceknights, Asgardians, and Kree, and did so with great valor. He tried enlisting the X-Men in a battle against the Phalanx but ended up fighting Cannonball over New York City. The youth’s ability to be nigh-invulnerable when blastin’ shook Kallark to his core and left him venerable to the Kentucky born mutant.
He served the Shi’ar, even going undercover to the galactic prison known as the Kyln, but his loyalty would be tested as the throne passed to a crazed ruler. His name was Vulcan, he resurrected D’Ken only to kill him and take his throne, and he was a monster. Gladiator was forced to put his own feelings aside and protect the Emperor of the Shi’ar, no matter who that may be. He was forced to hunt down his beloved Lilandra and carry out Vulcan’s will. But slowly, his resolve began to crack.
Lilandra knew that Kallark was a good man, she knew that his loyalty was to the empire, not to any one man. She advocated, pleaded with him to change his mind, to fight Vulcan, but Kallark was torn. When Vulcan released Kallark’s maniacal cousin Xenith, he was enraged. When Vulcan captured Lilandra and planned to execute her, Gladiator was sure of his loyalty, and it wasn’t with Vulcan. He escorted Lilandra to Chandilar, the Shi’ar homeworld, and lead a coup to deliver the thrown to her. Sadly, Lilandra was murdered but a third party, leaving Gladiator to lead the charge against Vulcan. He helped end the War of Kings and was chosen as the new reluctant Majestor of the Shi’ar Empire.
Gladiator’s rule was tough but fair. In the aftermath of the War of Kings, the Shi’ar empire was being overseen by the Kree and Gladiator worked to rebuild his people while preventing other empires from taking advantage of them. He took a larger role in the protection of the universe after the invasion from the Cancerverse, joining the cosmic taskforce known as The Annihilators. He also sent his son Kubark (whose mother remains a mystery) to the Jean Grey School to train under the X-Men. Kubark loved it there but Gladiator was forced to pull him from the school when the X-Men channeled the power of the Phoenix. When the Builders began their assault on the galaxy, Gladiator was pleased to be able to fight alongside his son, even if he feared for the boy.
More than anything else, the return of The Phoenix terrified Gladiator and he took it upon himself to ensure it would never return. When he heard that a young Jean Grey had appeared, he captured her and put her on trial for her older self’s crimes. His peers made him realize that he had gone mad in his quest to stop the Phoenix and Gladiator relented to their wisdom. It would not be the last time he encountered the firebird as the returning Shi’ar gods K’ythri and Sharra challenged Thor to a test of godhood and threw the Shi’ar into war with the Asgardians. They unleashed a portion of the Phoenix Force and Gladiator turned on the gods of his people to help Thor stop the Phoenix’s destruction. Gladiator rules the Shi’ar empire to this day.
Guys, I’m gonna keep it quick today because this article is already late but go pick up that issue of Uncanny where Cannonball fights Gladiator. It’s got that good good Joe Mad art and it is a ton of fun to read.
Here’s the tough part about ranking Gladiator, he is a fantastic idea who is always fun when he shows up in a book. He’s also just a bit player. People have tried to give him more depth but he works best when he is just Shi’ar Mohawk Superman. He needs to be impossible to beat but always beatable. I love it when he appears but I’m not at all interested in a Gladiator mini-series. He is pretty comparable to Skullfire from X-Men 2099 in that I mostly just think he is cool regardless of how deep a character he is (or isn’t). I think he has more depth than Toad, who has never had any consistency, but Senator Kelly is a more developed overall character. That squarely puts Gladiator in as the new number 82 in the Xavier Files.
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Make sure you check out my podcast BATTLE OF THE ATOM. It’s where Bish & Jubez creator Adam Reck and I talk about every single X-Men story that ever existed and rank them from best to worst. Episode 27 is up and we team up with Charlie Davis to talk about Shatterstar. Make sure you subscribe to any of the following platforms (or others, I’m not picky) Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS.
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