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Banshee, Angel, Rogue, Blob Herman, Beast, Havok, Apocalypse and more on a “The Hanged Man” tarot card representing sacrifice and suspension for X- of Swords, in Free Comic Book Day X-Men, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Pepe Larraz/Marvel Comics

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X of Swords sends the X-Men into an epic battle for all of reality

The first Dawn of X crossover is sharp enough to cut

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Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Last summer, the fractured and combative world of superhero comics united in rapt attention (and some combativeness) for one series. Writer Jonathan Hickman, with artists Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, and Marte Gracia and designer Tom Muller, conceived of House of X/Powers of X, a futurist’s reshaping of Marvel’s X-Men line from the ground up. Literally.

Now, with roughly a year of X-Men stories set in the new status quo under their belt, Hickman and Larraz, along with writer Tini Howard, have returned to kick off the first crossover event of the Dawn of X: X of Swords, pronounced “ten of swords.”

Can X of Swords possibly measure up to HoX/PoX? What is it even about? Are there literally 10 swords in it? Let’s dive in.

What is X of Swords: Creation #1?

X of Swords: Creation #1 is a one-shot issue — there will be no X of Swords: Creation #2. It’s a jolt of story that sets the basic stakes of the X of Swords event, which, over the next month, will wind its way through one issue of every ongoing series in the X-Men line, before the whole thing concludes with another one-shot issue, X of Swords: Stasis #1.

Update: Actually, I was mistaken. X of Swords: Stasis #1 is merely the midpoint of X of Swords. The crossover will continue throughout November, as it works its way through all the ongoing X-Men series a second time, and conclude on Nov. 25 with X of Swords: Destruction #1.

The X of Swords checklist, from the back of X of Swords: Creation #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Tom Muller/Marvel Comics

Hickman and Larraz formed half the backbone of House of X/Powers of X, and they’re joined by Howard (Thanos), current writer of Excalibur, the X-Men line’s magic-focused book, which has been laying a lot of groundwork for X of Swords main plot.

What is X of Swords: Creation #1 about?

Creation picks up several dangling threads from Hickman’s X-Men series and Howard’s Excalibur to weave them into one new saving-the-world mission for the X-Men. First, there’s Summoner, a mysterious mutant refugee from Arakko, a missing fragment of the sentient island of Krakoa — a place that all Mutants are now welcome to live — that was splintered off into another dimension in an ancient cataclysm. The immortal X-Men villain Apocalypse, now a major force in Krakoa’s new government thanks to a pan-mutant amnesty, was around for that cataclysm. Though his true motivations remain as murky as ever, he seems to feel responsible for Arakko and its people.

Second, there’s Opal Luna Saturnyne, the Omniversal Majestrix and guardian of the Starlight Citadel, a waypoint between all of the Marvel universe’s infinite parallel realities. Normally, there’s a Captain Britain to guard each reality, but the Captain Britain Corps was destroyed during Hickman’s Avengers run several years ago, so the Majestrix is all that stands between the multiverse and chaos.

To say anything more would be some Big Spoilers.

Why is X of Swords: Creation #1 happening now?

After the Diamond Comics shutdown rocked the American comics industry this spring, X of Swords was pushed from Marvel’s July schedule to September. As Marvel slowly came back from the shutdown, the publisher had to work its way through its first summer crossover of 2020, Empyre, before XoS could debut.

New X-Men series Children of the Atom and SWORD were also put on hold or simply held until X of Swords was firmly on the scene. So for X-Men fans, it’s not just that they’ve had to wait two extra months for a mysterious crossover event — X of Swords is the starting gun for the next stage of X-Men books as well.

Is there any required reading?

“Would you care to join in?”, the pale faced and dark eyed Summoner asks an implacable Apocalypse. “Do I look like a player of games,” the immortal mutant asks in return. “Yes,” Summoner smiles, “Very much so.” In X-Men #12, Marvel Comics (2020).
Summoner and Apocalypse in X-Men #12.
Image: Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu/Marvel Comics

Yes, but the good news is, the backlog are some of the best sci-fi comics of the last few years.

If you’re reading any X-Men book right now, you should have read House of X/Powers of X. The refinements it made to the concept of the X-Men in Marvel Comics are complicated and wide ranging — mutants all live on a living island that makes drugs and they can’t die! — but the book is also just frightfully good.

Then, read X-Men. The flagship title of the Dawn of X line, it’s done the most hinting and ground-laying for X of Swords. And, again, it’s just a great comic. You could also read Excalibur if you want to. It’ll add some context, but I don’t think you’d be lost without it.

Is X of Swords: Creation #1 a great comic?

X of Swords: Creation is a great beginning. Larraz and colorist Marte Gracia are a great team — the colors were one of the things that kept HoX/PoX looking effortlessly cohesive from issue to issue, despite alternating artists. The new X of Swords character designs are stunning, Larraz’s character acting and Gracia’s lighting are superb as always, and if Marvel doesn’t put out a licensed X of Swords tarot deck they’re leaving money on the table.

X of Swords introduces a lot: A star dies. There’s a map, and tarot cards, and swords, and portals. Somebody rides a flying dinosaur in another dimension. It’s is very emblematic of Hickman’s vibe, introducing new concepts, characters, and world building at a rate that can feel overwhelming.

If you can learn to go with the flow on a Hickman book, it’s likely you’ll be rewarded, but it can be an acquired taste. He’s the rare superhero comics writer who can consistently inject new, gonzo ideas into his books without actually overwhelming the reader. That experience is bolstered in Creation by Howard’s affection for the arcane side of the Marvel universe, as well as for the human side of one of the X-Men’s most stoic villains, the big blue-lipped Egyptian-sorta, Apocalypse.

Emma Frost and Professor X ask Apocalypse if there is anything more he can tell them about the threat they’re facing. “Thousands of years ago,” he replies with bowed head, “I gave up half the world to stop these monsters. All that cost was... my wife, my children and scores of god-like mutants whose names you have never heard,” in X of Swords: Creation #1, Marvel Comics (2020).
Emma Frost, Charles Xavier, and Apocalypse in X of Swords: Creation #1.
Image: Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Pepe Larraz/Marvel Comics

X of Swords: Creation doesn’t shake the mutant world like every issue of Hox/Pox seemed to. We’re not reaching back into the foundations of X-Men continuity to pull the whole thing inside out, killing entire X-Men teams to bring them back an issue later, or shattering the international political status quo of the Marvel Universe.

Instead, Hickman, Howard, and Larraz are doing the basic work of any crossover: Assembling a combination of story beats and ideas from the canon into a writing prompt. The prompt is both silly and ambitious, and in a very comics way, stronger because it’s both ambitious and a little bit silly. Now it’s up to everyone else on the X-Men line to make the best of the opportunity.

One panel that popped

We see Krakoa’s External Gate from above, as Beast steps into its black nothingness and Apocalypse stands just outside it. Close to the “camera,” Angel executes a perfect loop-the-loop, in X of Swords: Creation #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Pepe Larraz/Marvel Comics

It’s not the flashiest or funniest panel in the issue, but I love this brief establishing shot of Apocalypse and his team going down into the External Gate, framed in Angel’s wings. Larraz plucks a single moment of his graceful and completely unnecessary loop-the-loop out of time for the viewer. An inventive framing and beautiful execution for a totally un-splashy moment.

Hey wait you said you’d say whether there are literally 10 swords

There are either 10 swords, 20 swords, or 19 swords. I cannot tell you more at this time.

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