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Jan 16

S.W.O.R.D. #7-11

Posted on Sunday, January 16, 2022 by Paul in x-axis

S.W.O.R.D. #7-11
by Al Ewing, Stefano Caselli, Guiu Vilanova, Jacopo Camagni & Fernando Sifuentes

The period between “Hellfire Gala” and “Inferno” has been a mixed bag for the X-books. Several books feel like they’ve lost their way, or are marking time waiting for the new season to start. S.W.O.R.D. is the one that goes the other way, with its own stories and its future direction coming to the fore.

Up to this point, S.W.O.R.D. has been remarkably heavy on the crossovers. Its first seven issues include three tie-ins to King in Black, one to “Hellfire Gala”, and one to “Last Annihilation”. That’s over 70% crossover, which is a bit much. But with these five issues – yes, we’ve got a “Last Annihilation” tie-in in issue #7, okay. After that, though, the focus is squarely on Storm establishing her authority on Arakko, Abigail Brand’s inveterate scheming, and Henry Gyrich’s hamfisted attempts to outwit her. The direction of the book becomes clear, and it’s set up for next season’s X-Men Red.

Issue #7, admittedly, devotes a lot of time to “Last Annihilation” material that, with hindsight, isn’t all that important to the book. I do get the desire to ground S.W.O.R.D. in the Marvel Universe, and in particular in the cosmic events that Abigail wants to interact with – in a sense, her priorities lead S.W.O.R.D. to get involved in this stuff – but there’s a lot of Hulkling in that issue, and relatively little of Abigail’s manipulations at the end. Still, Al Ewing is really good at sketching out some of these characters we’ve never seen (in this book) before, and getting the point of someone like Captain Glory across quickly.

What issue #7 does have, of course, is dinner with Storm and Dr Doom, which is a great little scene. Doom’s role in S.W.O.R.D. is to be the human egomaniac who warns the mutants that they don’t know what they’re doing, and gets shouted down. The fact remains, though, that Doom might yet be right. Even if the mutants should be running a mile from his help, they’re surely rookies when it comes to cosmic and magical matters, and there’s a definite element of mutant nationalism in their insistence that they know what they’re doing. Do they really? It’s that undercurrent that maybe Doom has a point, and maybe the mutants are showing the same hubris as him, that adds a dimension to Storm showing him up.

At the same time, Doom and Storm are engaged in a display of posturing between human and mutants, when the ultimate focus of this series seems to be more on Abigail Brand and her rejection of the entire Krakoan philosophy. At this point she’s not exactly a villain, but she’s getting pretty darned close. She’s certainly scheming, lying, and generally rejecting the whole premise of mutant-centric Krakoan society, all of which would seem to make her as the bad guy in the logic of the current X-books. As she explained fairly directly back in issue #1, her focus is on the relationship between all of Earth and the wider cosmos, and she doesn’t care about the difference between humans and mutants. So far as she’s concerned, all this stuff about a mutant planet declaring itself the capital of the solar system is a load of nonsense to indulge the mutants, and while Gyrich is clearly there to be exposed as out of his depth, Brand’s wheels-within-wheels scheming hardly generates the same result.

Which begs the question – what is she trying to achieve with her cosmic diplomacy? She’s certainly not trying to represent the agenda of anyone but herself. What stops her from being an outright villain, at this stage, is that her motivations appear to be limited to the genuine protection of the Earth, albeit filtered through an alarming dose of realpolitik. She thinks she knows better than everyone else what’s good for them, and in the sense that she’s the only one with any relevant experience, she might actually be right. None of this is especially novel for her character, by the way – she’s been cheerfully scheming for the claimed greater good since she debuted in Astonishing X-Men – but it really does put her at odds with the mutants in a way that they don’t yet seem to fully realise.

There’s some inconsistency in the art in this run, with three different artists over three stories (issues #9-11 are a three-parter). It works well enough, though. Jacopo Camagni’s art on #9-11 is clean and easy to follow, though it feels a little bland at times. Sometimes that plays to its advantage, though, since it sets a baseline that Camagni sometimes manages to take advantage of. The sudden mid-sentence death of a smiling Titan is beautifully done, and works all the better because it’s so understated. That final scene of Brand giving her big speech to Gyrich before killing him is very nicely delivered too, with a bit of informality in her body language. On the other hand, issue #8 – the Storm/Tarn issue – probably benefits from having Guiu Vilanova, who isn’t quite so polished, but feels more comfortable with the grotesquerie of the final fight.

There are downsides. The book doesn’t really have something for all its characters to do – Cable doesn’t contribute all that much, and Manifold is down to a scene in the final issue. And then there’s Arakko as a setting.

Do we actually care about Arakko? Right now, it all feels terribly samey to me. Everyone we meet there seems to be a big fighter with a fun character design – and sure, the volcano guy in issue #8 is neat – whose hobbies are violence, yelling about honour, and Klingon promotions. Tarn stands out from the pack, but mostly by being a hyper-sadistic version of Mr Sinister. There are hints at a bit more range in the various members of the Great Ring when we see them in issue #8, but only Tarn and Isca have really had a chance to do much, and Isca’s still pretty generic when you look past her powers.

Now, again, Arakko is kind of a fantasy trope and I’m not really all that interested in that sort of thing to begin with, so maybe I’m not the best person to judge. But it still feels to me like it’s just a fantasy trope. If anything, putting it on Mars makes it less interesting to me. On Earth, you’ve got a conflict with the Krakoan mutants and with modern Earth and you can play off the contrast. In space… I mean, I guess you can play them against Marvel’s space empires, but those are all basically fantasy tropes with spaceships too, so it doesn’t feel that interesting to me. Arakko’s been around a while now and I’m still waiting to be persuaded that it’s a particularly strong idea.

Still, these last few issues have largely worked for me despite being built heavily around Arakko, which makes me interested enough in where we’re going next with X-Men Red. But Arakko’s going to need a second dimension pretty quickly if it’s going to be the focus of the next season.

Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    I love Al Ewing. I’ve read everything he’s written for Marvel.
    Having said that, even Ewing writing a book based around Arakko can’t get me to read X-Men: Red.

    Still waiting for Arakko to receive the Neo treatment after the next big X-relaunch.

  2. Si says:

    The problem of the scene between Storm and Doom for me was that yes there probably is a deliberate undercurrent of hubris, but it comes after a couple of years’ worth of mutants being supremacist with everything suggesting that yes they are the master race and our betters, and they’re always right. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth of this old egalitarian. It may yet lead to a great comeuppance, eventually, but at this point I’m far more interested in the take we see from Brand and a couple of other places like the Right AIs, that the difference is so small as to be irrelevant.

    And anyway, Doom was being nothing but polite, and Storm threatened violence just because she could. Not cool.

    And yeah, Arrako is not very interesting right now. It’s just a whole planet of freaks with bulging neck veins screaming “EXTREEEEME!” in each other’s faces. What would be interesting is if we saw the fractures caused by this behaviour, the PTSD, the terrified children, the mass starvation after the farmers punched all the chickens to death for being cowards, and then got punched to death by the egg retailers. But I suspect that’s not on the cards.

  3. Miyamoris says:

    I have been very fascinated with this book since I started reading it – which it’s funny cause I was hesitant to pick it up due to the space crossover book stigma (and I’m not very well-versed into marvel cosmic stuff), but it ended up being super enjoyable and doing the exact kind of things I wish other books in the line did.

    In all fairness, the whole thing is a bit too heavy with crossovers, but I did not find it hard to follow and I’d argue only king in black taking up three issues was a real problem – but even under these unfortunate conditions I’d say Ewing manages to extract good character moments, like the Manifold-centric issue and the ethical argument between Hope and Brand.

    What I enjoyed the most was how the book engaged with krakoan imperialist practices portrayed different perspectives on the whole Krakoa and mutant culture affair and how different identities interact with mutant identity – from Cortez attachment to his colonizer roots, to Wiz-kid highlighting the uncomfortable engenist undercurrent of krakoan society and their treatment of disabled people, to Brand’s detachment of human vs. mutant conflict in favor of broader cosmic politics etc. There’s a lot of well-written different perspectives and it impresses me that so much was done on a short run.

    As for X-Men Red, if it was anoher writer I’d be much less confident in this Arakko-centric premise but Ewing has really earned my trust. I’ll eat my hand if this book end up being bad.

  4. Josie says:

    “it’s set up for next season’s X-Men Red”

    In Marvel time, I guess one season = 2.5 years?

  5. Luis Dantas says:

    About 2.5 years of real time.

    Perhaps two months of Marvel time.

    One reason why so many children in the Marvel Universe end up time-traveling is so that we can actually see them grow up. By that timescale the average pregnancy would last about eleven years. After that, we would wait about thirth years until they began to speak.

    Franklin Richards was born in 1969. He would actually be 4 1/2 years old around 2036 or so.

    Not really workable…

  6. Si says:

    Usually I can gauge how good a series is by how many comments are in Paul’s summaries. I’m not sure what this case means though.

  7. Jerry Ray says:

    Since nobody’s talking about SWORD, I guess I’ll bring up (throwing back to the Trial of Magneto discussion) that the recent Darkhold mini ended up being yet another “rehabilitate/reinvent the Scarlet Witch” story. It must be the 5th or 6th such story they’ve published. Makes you wonder if anybody is paying attention to the big picture at Marvel anymore.

  8. Adam Farrar says:

    I didn’t mind all the crossovers. While I wasn’t reading most of Hellfire Gala or the vast majority of King in Black, I was also reading the Al Ewing-written Guardians of the Galaxy. And while both of these now-ended books were being published, there was a lot of overlap. Ewing tends to write in his own little corner and continue his threads from one book to another. In this case there were things shared between these books like the Snark War, mytherium, Dr. Doom, Gyrich (actually coming from Immortal Hulk).

    I’m similarly disinterested in Arakko in part because Marvel never tried to make them interesting or unique. It’s surprising that when they had a book titled “New Mutants” and then millions of new mutants, the book wasn’t retooled to focus on these new characters. But like most things with the Krakoa age, in hindsight, it’s just a series of missed opportunities and half-measures.

    That said, I’m looking forward to whatever Ewing does with his next book simply because it will be an Al Ewing book, rather than it being related to any other X-comic.

    Also, it hasn’t really been remarked upon but I really liked that Paibok the Power Skrull was in these books. It’s never really been talked about at any point but like how K’lrt the Super Skrull has the Fantastic Four’s powers, Paibok was the first Power Skrull and has X-Men powers. In his original appearances in Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan’s Fantastic Four, he’s got Iceman’s ice blasts, Colossus’s metal form and Storm’s lightning. So of course he’d show up here as the Skrull ambassador to the mutants.

  9. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Si- I think the lack of response is because we all kinda have our final thoughts in the comments for the last couple issues.

  10. Miyamoris says:

    @Si: I think the general opinion on the book improved substantially with the final issues, but twitter for example seems to like it more than the readership here

  11. Skippy says:

    SWORD was my favourite of the Krakoa-era X-books. It is true that it spent more or less its entire run tying in to crossovers, but it actually felt very organic; obviously an organisation like this would deal with e.g. a symbiote invasion, and I thought Ewing sold the notion that everyone else’s crisis is Brand’s day job very well.

    It reminded me a lot of Ewing’s New Avengers run. Some definite repeated themes – secret traitor, a protagonist secretly one step ahead of everyone the whole time, and of course existing in a perpetual state of crossover. But I think those themes worked better here.

    I get the impression that there are a lot of readers who wanted to see more from the specific cast of characters who were introduced in the first issue? And that is fair, there are many characters who never did much more than stand around.

    I agree with Paul that there’s not much hook to Arrako yet (and with other commenters who expect it to get wiped in a crossover at some point). I think there was a missed opportunity to define the Arrakoans a bit better in the gap between X of Swords and the Gala, when they were on Earth apparently causing trouble off-panel.

  12. Allan M says:

    Aside from Tarn in Hellions, where he served as an alright counterpart to Sinister, I don’t like anything about Arrako or any stories involving it. The Dark Riders are richer and more engaging than the Arrakans. The Neo were more compelling, even. Just make X-Men Red a six-issue miniseries where Arrako gets nuked at the end and be done with it.

    Ewing returning to Sunspot is potentially promising, but then again, I could’ve said that him handling Wiz Kid or Cortez or Kid Cable or whoever was promising, and nothing much came of nearly anyone who showed up in SWORD except Brand, so I’m pretty skeptical that X-Men Red will be any good.

  13. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    I was excited for Frenzy as Ambassador of Punching and she barely spoke.

    Huge bummer.

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