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Abigail Brand, Magneto, Cable, Manifold, Whiz Kid, Fabian Cortez, and Frenzy on the cover of SWORD #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Valerio Schiti, Marte Gracia/Marvel Comics

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An exclusive look at Immortal Hulk creator Al Ewing’s new intergalactic take on X-Men

Marvel’s new SWORD series launches on Dec. 9

With the formation of Krakoa, Mutantkind has redefined its place on Earth, and now it’s time for mutants to go intergalactic. Catch a sneak peek at new character designs and pages from Marvel’s SWORD, coming in December.

The new ongoing series, drawn by Valerio Schiti (Empyre) and written by Al Ewing (The Immortal Hulk, Empyre), will introduce Krakoa’s space program, a new incarnation of the Sentient World Observation and Response Department, which once protected Earth from extraterrestrial terrorism.

It’s not surprising that this is the niche Ewing found in the X-Men universe. Outside of his already legendary run on Immortal Hulk, the writer has been using Empyre and his Guardians Of The Galaxy run to make Marvel’s cosmic landscape a more “cohesive zone” for much of 2020. Even though the new series is under the X-Men umbrella, the agents of SWORD stand to play a huge role in the future of the Marvel Universe.

“It’s not a superhero team in the sense of ‘We need to fight crime with six people and we need a super-strength person and a magic person,’” says Ewing. “It’s a team built around roles. There’s an org chart. We have a station to staff, and various employment trees.” Led by Abigail Brand — half mutant, half alien — the new SWORD features six division heads (each a Krakoan citizen), with Magneto serving as the liaison between Krakoa’s ruling Quiet Council and SWORD.

Character designs for Abigail Brand, who wears a tight green an black unitard, with green boots and a black and green jacket and sunglasses. Her hair and lipstick are, likewise, green. Image: Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics

Brand has always been an outspoken character, and the series will explore how she feels about Krakoa, taking into account her full tumultuous history with mutants. “Brand got her start pushing a mutant cure to save Earth as a whole from a giant space bullet,” says Ewing. “But she’s also been 100% into the mutant cause. She’s complicated, and now she’s running the mutant space agency.”

Magneto is the biggest name in the SWORD cast, which otherwise leans into Ewing’s passion for bringing back lesser-known characters with untapped potential. The biggest surprise from the SWORD #1 cover is Takeshi “Wiz-Kid” Matsuya, a teenage technopath who has only made a handful of appearances since debuting in 1988.

Character designs for Wiz-Kid, who wears black and red pants, and a red and black jacket with a high zip collar over a loose white and black t-shirt. He wears classes, earrings, dark blue hair, and uses a red, hovering wheelchair. Image: Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics

SWORD’s wheelchair-using head technologist can transform any piece of machinery with his mind, and Wiz-Kid allows Ewing to show how Krakoa services its differently abled inhabitants: “The human world would require him to adapt himself to it. The mutant world adapts itself to him and responds to his needs without barriers. He’s free to think in directions he hasn’t considered before. We’re going to see some big power feats from him. I see him as this kind of rock star. He knows how cool he is, he knows how powerful he is, he knows he’s awesome.”

The teleporting mutant Eden “Manifold” Fesi will also be pushing his powers beyond their previous limits while serving as SWORD’s head of logistics. “Manifold is in charge of a whole team of teleporters, but he doesn’t just transport stuff. He can manipulate space, and we’ll see him utilize that in a pretty big way. It will be something pretty intense and amazing.”

Character designs for Manifold, in a baggy red and yellow pants and hooded jacket combo. Image: Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics
Character designs for Cable, featuring grey boots and shoulder armor, a black bodysuit with blue details, a black, white, and blue cowl, and, of course, a bigass sword, gun holster, and pouches. Image: Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics

The currently-teenage Cable is head of SWORD’s security team, a sub-group of characters Ewing put together by asking Schiti who he wanted to draw most. “He’s a big fan of Random, so Random is now a security person on the station underneath Cable. We’ll get to see him and his bandana.”

SWORD’s satellite base also houses alien ambassadors, including Paibok the Power Skrull, and human ambassadors from Alpha Flight and Wakanda. The former ambassador for the mutant nation of Genosha, the superstrong Joanna “Frenzy” Cargill, steps back into that role as “ambassador extraordinary” for both Krakoa and mutantdom in space. “A lot of the space cultures that she’s dealing with value combat, so we have a diplomatic meeting room that’s like a Danger Room,” says Ewing. “You can either have a conversation there or you can have a sparring match there.”

Character designs for Frenzy, in a somewhat nautical outfit featuring grey pants, high black boots, and a blue and black jacket. Image: Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics

The character Ewing is most passionate about is the one he knew least about going into this project. He’s also a lightning rod for many of the X-Men: former villain Fabian Cortez, whom Ewing affectionately refers to as “yuppie Iago.”

“We needed someone who would provide a little friction. He exploits energy, and he’s connected to the medical team in that he’s a healer but also an energy manipulator. He’s extremely useful all over the station, and nobody trusts him because he’s Fabian Cortez and he’s terrible. He’s on very thin ice from the start. I love his ponytail, and Valerio draws him as this kind of Patrick Bateman.”

Character designs for Fabian Cortez, featuring a black, yellow, and grey suit and vest, with a large similarly colored overcoat, and asshole sunglasses. Image: Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics

The intensely negative fan reaction to Fabian’s reappearance confirmed Ewing’s instincts that he’d be the perfect antagonistic presence. “In universe and out of universe, everybody hates him. He’s got the perfect power set for the role he’s in but everyone is like, ‘Can we please find someone else? Anybody else.’”

There’s one more division head that Marvel hasn’t revealed yet, but Ewing teases that it’s a telepath tasked with running negotiations and interrogations. “Knowing the way my mind works, it’s going to be some mutant no one has seen since 1964 or one of the Council. Or anywhere in between. People can make their guesses.”

Ewing’s Guardians Of The Galaxy has shown just how well he can infuse big cosmic stories with grounded character work. This gives readers an emotional entry point into the narrative, and the workplace dynamic of SWORD is an opportunity to build relationships readers can latch onto.

“You can read [SWORD] for these vast outer space concepts and gigantic intergalactic empires being dealt with diplomatically—and occasionally undiplomatically—or you can look at it on this organizational level. It’s a space force accelerator, the Next Generation/Deep Space 9 thing where all these divisions and departments are butting heads with each other. Go even further to the ground and it’s characters: Frenzy, Cortez, and Magneto are on the same station and there’s a lot of history there. What happens when Cyclops visits and Frenzy sees this guy that she used to be really into in a very unhealthy way?”

As someone who hasn’t played in Marvel’s mutant sandbox before, Ewing is delighted to dive into the overwhelming history of the franchise. But he says the most exciting aspect of SWORD is the collaboration with both Schiti and the larger group of X-writers. “As a team, the current X-office is incredibly connected. Bouncing off each other and talking to each other and working as a unified writing unit. It’s a bigger operation than I’ve been part of before.”

Ewing is writing parts of SWORD “Marvel style,” giving Schiti a general breakdown of what needs to happen on the page but allowing him flexibility in the execution. “I don’t want to box Valerio in with this. Let him pick his panels and his composition, because I know what I get back will be amazing. I don’t keep a very tight rein on artists. Rather than ask for corrections, I prefer to honor any deviation as hidden intention and write the dialogue around what they do. That’s led to some really organic and interesting stuff over the years.”

Readers can join Ewing, Schiti, and their crew of mutant coworkers on this cosmic journey when S.W.O.R.D. #1 takes off on Dec. 9. Check out the full cover, a variant cover, and three exclusive pages below:

Abigail Brand, Magneto, Cable, Manifold, Whiz Kid, Fabian Cortez, and Frenzy on the cover of SWORD #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Valerio Schiti, Marte Gracia/Marvel Comics
A collage of images: The SWORD space station stabbing the heart of a Knull symbol on the surface of a planet, and Cable, Frenzy, and Abigail Brand on a background of stars and planets. Image: Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics
Magneto arrives on the SWORD station in an unfinished page from SWORD #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Al Ewing, Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics
Abigail Brand greets Magento on the SWORD station in an unfinished page from SWORD #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Al Ewing, Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics
Wiz-Kid meets up with Abigail Brand and Magneto on the SWORD station in SWORD #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Al Ewing, Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics