One of the more unexpected announcements of this year was the announcement of S.W.O.R.D. While it is an idea that’s always found purchase in the Marvel Universe since it was introduced in Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men run, it aside from one brilliant mini-series by Kieron Gillen and Steve Sanders never really progressed beyond being a space knock-off of SHIELD and was even replaced by a newly minted Alpha Flight in the “Who’s dealing with space stuff?” department. This being comics of course, ideas don’t die, they merely sleep. At first blush, it would seem somewhat weird that Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti having just come off of Empyre would jump onto an X-Men book, but as it turns out it’s the perfect intersection of everything that’s been building both in Marvel’s cosmic books and with Al Ewing’s own oeuvre over the last few years.
The premise is fairly simple and builds off of both X of Swords and Empyre. Resigning from the now useless Alpha Flight program after it failed to stop the Cotati invasion, Abigail Brand who was S.W.O.R.D.’s previous leader hooks up with the mutant nation of Krakoa to launch a new space diplomacy program staffed by mutants. Where the brilliance of the book’s setting kicks in is that it’s not a supporting player in other character’s stories, it’s allowed to sit in the nexus of everything that’s happened in Marvel’s stories the last few years from earthbound events like X of Swords, as well as Empyre, and even events that would normally be a nuisance like The King in Black feed into its ability to be centrally poised and establish the importance of the nascent agency.
S.W.O.R.D. like all the other books since Hickman’s relaunch has the usual infographic and text boxes that identify it as part of the overall X-Men universe. But it has an extremely distinct visual identity thanks to Valerio Schiti’s art and Marte Gracia’s lush colors. While a lot of books have played with the unique fusion of futuristic technology and Krakoan biotech that’s been seen throughout this run of X-Men, the Schiti and Gracia just make it look beautiful, it’s altogether different from the presentation of the Cotati in Empyre. The redesigns of everyone who shows up gives both a sense of uniformity given that they’re a formal organization and not a superhero team, while still allowing for them to look cool.
Normally introducing a cast that spans over a dozen characters would be daunting, but Ewing makes it really effortless. While Brand is indeed a center of the series, Ewing as with previous series like Immortal Hulk and Ultimates does a lot to show S.W.O.R.D. as a organization with numerous contributors and important figures.These range from the large and familiar characters like Cable and Magneto, to characters that haven’t been seen in some time like Frenzy or Wiz-Kid, and this being an Ewing book to the hilariously obscure like Peeper and Fabian Cortez. While it’s always nice to see a dive into the toy chest with a book like this, it also helps with one particular aspect of S.W.O.R.D. I can’t help but ignore. It actually meets the promise of Hickman’s X-Men: a world beyond death, where everyone has something to offer to the greater whole. Where everyone regardless of their ethnicity, whether they’re differently abled, have an unsexy talent, or are just a jerk (that’s Fabian Cortez) have something to offer for the greater good. It’s a utopian vision that while usually gestured at in comics, doesn’t tend to be followed through because of the cyclical nature of comics and its need to try and broadly resemble our world. While the current lineup of X-Men books has kinda sorta tried to defy that, this is the first book to really defy physics and go beyond the limitations of our world in promise of a better one.
If Ewing’s Immortal Hulk is about the end of the world and the decline of civilization and empire, this is the opposite of that. Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti’s S.W.O.R.D. isn’t just about one agency, or one nation: it’s a book about renewal, where dreams can be achieved and creation can be touched. This first issue was nothing short of a masterpiece and I’m looking forward to the next issue by the entire team.
5 SWORDs out of 5