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The SWORD space station floats, its knife-like structure pointed down towards the earth, vegetation sprouting from its surface into stellar vaccum, as it moves in geosynchronous orbit with Krakoa in SWORD #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Al Ewing, Valeria Schiti/Marvel Comics

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SWORD #1 asks cosmic questions about the future of X-Men

It’s the X-Men, but it’s also Contact

Earth is too small for mutantkind. The past year and a half of X-Men comics — released under the Dawn of X banner — have significantly grown the property by resurrecting dead mutants, unifying all of the warring factions, and introducing an entire world of new characters.

Now it’s time to go even bigger, and that starts with S.W.O.R.D., a new series establishing the mutant space program.

Who is making S.W.O.R.D.?

The current king of Cosmic Marvel, Al Ewing, reunites with his Empyre collaborators: artist Valerio Schiti and colorist Marte Gracia. That summer event highlighted this team’s ability to deliver big spectacle, but S.W.O.R.D. taps deeper into Ewing’s skill for writing structured superhero ensembles (see: various Avengers series, Guardians Of The Galaxy, and Immortal Hulk).

S.W.O.R.D. pushes Schiti’s character work, both in terms of expression and design, and Gracia’s colors give the series extra gravitas by visually tying it to his previous work on the X-line. Gracia has colored some of the most important comics of the Krakoa era (House Of X/Powers Of X and the X Of Swords one-shots), and his specific coloring aesthetic has become an indicator that something big is happening. Letterer Ariana Maher and designer Tom Muller round out the creative team, and everyone gets an opportunity to show off in this first issue.

What is S.W.O.R.D. about?

The X-Men are going to space. Mutants have made their island nation, Krakoa, a political superpower on Earth, and now they’re expanding out into the stars by reviving the Sentient World Observation and Response Department (S.W.O.R.D.). The Peak, S.W.O.R.D.’s satellite base of operations, is back online and run by its original director, the half-mutant half-alien Abigail Brand, who works with a staff of mutants to expand Krakoa’s presence in the known universe while also charting a path into the great unknown.

Why is it happening now?

The Dawn of X is over. Despite an onslaught of threats from different sides, mutants have emerged triumphant, and the recent X Of Swords crossover marked a turning point in the Krakoa era. Welcome to the Reign of X, when mutants stop playing defense and start making moves to gain power on a cosmic scale. S.W.O.R.D. was introduced in Astonishing X-Men, so it makes sense for the organization to represent mutantkind as it ventures off-world, but as this first issue makes clear, S.W.O.R.D. remains an independent entity with the top priority of protecting the larger solar system.

A Marvel promotional collage of dozens of X-Men heroes and villains, from Storm and Mr. Patch to Nimrod and Cyclops, for Reign of X (2020).
SWORD #1 has already revealed some of the teases in the Reign of X teaser collage.
Image: Mahmud Asrar/Marvel Comics

And who better to write S.W.O.R.D. than the person currently overseeing Marvel’s cosmic landscape. This has been a landmark year for Al Ewing at Marvel: writing his first summer event with Empyre, launching an outstanding new Guardians Of The Galaxy ongoing, and continuing his groundbreaking run on Immortal Hulk. Given his passion for Marvel continuity, it was only a matter of time before he got a crack at the dense mythology of the X-Men, and S.W.O.R.D. is the perfect title for him to make his merry mutant debut. It ties into the work he’s doing in his other series while giving him a gigantic new sandbox to play with, and one of the big thrills of S.W.O.R.D. #1 is seeing which toys Ewing digs up.

Is there any required reading?

You’ll definitely want to know the current state of mutants to jump into S.W.O.R.D. #1. Reading the 12-part House Of X/Powers Of X miniseries is the best place to start, but these are the essential pieces of information: mutants have their own sovereign nation, Krakoa, and they can’t die. This issue also makes reference to “The Five”, a quintet of mutants who function as Krakoa’s resurrection engine, and “The Council,” the 12-person group that leads the mutant nation.

Empyre: Aftermath Avengers features the first appearance of the new S.W.O.R.D., and that issue provides a lot of context for what’s happening in the larger Marvel Universe, along with a recent Ewing-penned two-parter in Guardians Of The Galaxy #7-8. Cable #5, an X Of Swords tie-in, explains what happened in the final days of S.W.O.R.D.’s old iteration, but all of this is recapped in S.W.O.R.D. #1.

Is S.W.O.R.D. good?

S.W.O.R.D. #1 begins with a bold proclamation: “This is what comes next.” And if this first issue is any indication of what the X-line’s future holds, readers have a lot to look forward to. This opening hits on so much of what makes the Krakoa era exciting, assembling a deep bench of characters and putting them in situations that take full advantage of both their interpersonal relationships and mutant superpowers. The majority of this chapter follows S.W.O.R.D.’s Council liaison, Magneto, as he tours the Peak space station, introducing him and readers to the organization, its base, and its staff.

What grounds S.W.O.R.D. is a workplace dynamic, and even with all of the fantastic trappings, it’s a story about a group of people trying to keep a giant security facility running smoothly. Everyone has their specific roles, which gives the narrative a strong sense of purpose. Humor is key to making this workplace come to life, whether it’s Wiz-Kid’s snarky swagger or the universal hatred of S.W.O.R.D.’s “that guy:” Fabian Cortez. A stand-out scene between Magneto, Fabian, and Peeper (a deep-cut Jack Kirby creation from the ’70s) shows how much fun Ewing is having with the intertwining histories of these characters, and Schiti uses these comedic beats to heighten character expressions and distinguish their personalities. Schiti’s costume designs are functional and fashionable, and giving each division a uniform aesthetic strengthens the organizational structure and brings team members together.

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
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

It’s been interesting seeing how different series use the data pages that are now standard across the X-line, and S.W.O.R.D.’s three data pages showcase the versatility of this storytelling device. The first is the S.W.O.R.D. organizational chart, breaking down different divisions and their key staff members. There’s a small but important visual shift here as the typically black-and-white data pages welcome color, with each division assigned a different shade. This aesthetic progression subtly reinforces the book’s role in driving the entire line forward. The other two data pages offer insight in very different ways: Agent Brand’s personal log clarifies her motivation and expectations for the new S.W.O.R.D., and a Mutant Technology section provides an overview of a mysterious new configuration of mutants.

That final data page sets up the issue’s spectacular setpiece, a moment when every person on the creative team flexes hard. The data page presents a lot of information (and teases) in a concise, visually striking way, and Ewing puts his own twist on the device by having the final sentence of the data page carry on directly into the narration of the following sequence. Maher’s lettering switches into an all-caps block typeface, the letters outlined in colors that shift through the rainbow spectrum as the characters go on their own multihued space odyssey.

Schiti’s layouts break away from straight rectangular boxes to dynamic arrangements of diagonal panels, and Gracia pumps up the intensity of the color to depict a true journey into mystery. The acceleration of the action paired with the extravagant narration gives this sequence a completely different tone than the pages that came before, reminding readers that this isn’t your typical workplace. After providing a very pragmatic introduction to the organization, S.W.O.R.D. #1 ends with a wave of questions about what exactly the organization is doing and what this means for the future of mutants, building a lot of anticipation for not just the next chapter of this series, but the next phase of this entire line.

One panel that popped

(LtR) Risque, Fabian Cortez, Peeper, Manifold, Wiz-Kid, and Armor collapse. “Sooo... we... ...we just broke some laws. Cosmic ones...” groans Wiz-Kid. “Yeah,” grouses Manifold, in SWORD #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Al Ewing, Valerio Schiti/Marvel Comics

Breaking cosmic law is certainly one way for mutants to announce themselves to the rest of the universe. It’s probably going to end up just fine for everyone involved.