Marvel's reinvented X-Men franchise reaches for the stars in S.W.O.R.D. #1, the new series from writer Al Ewing, artist Valerio Schti, and colorist Marte Gracia. The comic hinges on Krakoa throwing its support behind Abigail Brand's reimagining of S.W.O.R.D.—previously S.H.I.E.L.D.'s interstellar counterpart—as a new space program staffed by mutants. The first issue shows that S.W.O.R.D. occupies a unique and exciting space in Marvel's current vision for mutants, both in terms of the in-universe organization's relationship with Krakoa and the new series itself.
In the wake of X of Swords, during which the Summers family reclaimed S.W.O.R.D.'s abandoned space station, the Peak, in the name of mutantkind, the Krakoan government decided to get in touch with former S.W.O.R.D. director Abigail Brand to discuss what to do with it. Luckily for Krakoa, Brand recently quit her job as director of Alpha Flight, the human government-sponsored space defense organization. The stars aligned for her to relaunch S.W.O.R.D. under Krakoa's banner.
Alpha Flight is still around, and this issue contrasts it with S.W.O.R.D. as one might contrast NASA and SpaceX. One infographic page, a staple of the current X-Men line, presents a log entry in which Brand bemoans the bureaucracy, budget cuts, and lack of consideration that hamstrung efforts for Alpha Flight to do anything meaningful. To punctuate the allegory, Brand notes that Alpha Flight is now under the control of Henry Gyrich, Marvel Comics' avatar of malignant governance. However, Brand has traded one set of complications for another. She exchanged a legion of bureaucrats for a single powerful benefactor with a significant stake in her organization. Krakoa sending Magneto—as powerful a symbol of mutant authority as there's ever been—to inspect the Peak speaks to that power balance.
It's through Magneto's conversation with Brand that readers come to understand the unique relationship between S.W.O.R.D. and Krakoa. Brand insists she doesn't work for Krakoa, and Magneto doesn't argue the point. She is a mutant, and Krakoa serves all mutants. However, he points out that Krakoan mutants serve as her security, diplomatic core, and science team. He does this while using his mutant power to move the station they stand on into geosynchronous orbit over Krakoa without blinking an eye. Krakoa remains invested in mutants' future, but Brand counters by reminding Magneto that invading aliens don't often care about national borders, even those of an island nation. She can't stand for Krakoa alone, but must represent the same world that fears and hates them. In House of X, Magneto declared to humans that the mutants that live among them are gods. Brand reminds Magneto that all things, even divinity, are relative, and being gods to humans doesn't make them gods to everything else in the universe.
S.W.O.R.D. #1 is light on plot with Magneto's inspection serving as an excuse for Ewing to introduce the band of b-list mutants staffing the Peak and explain what they each do to Brand (and thus the reader). Young Cable is head of security. Frenzy is the chief diplomat. Wiz Kid heads up the science department, and Manifold and Fabian Cortez are primarily involved in a secret project. They only receive brief opportunities to make first impressions here, but Ewing makes each one count. There isn't much time to dig deep, but every character leaves a lasting impression about what they will bring to the series' dynamic.
The way Ewing writes Magneto can seem scattershot. Early in the issue, he's a hip, flippant grandpa to young Cable, and there's an entire panel dedicated to him mugging for the "camera." Later, upon reuniting with a member of his mostly forgotten second Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Magneto appears as an older man catching up with an old friend. In between, Magneto encounters some of his former Acolytes, who once worshipped him as a god. Frenzy notes that she's since moved on with her life, reminding readers again of Magneto's arguably outdated claims to divinity.
Readers soon discover what S.W.O.R.D. is doing aboard the Peak is a unique form of scientific research. As Excalibur discovered the existence of mutant magic, S.W.O.R.D. is pioneering a new kind of mutant science—the discipline of combining individual mutant powers into something beyond their given abilities. The Five remains the most notable "mutant circuit," but S.W.O.R.D. has the Six: a group of mutants whose combined capabilities facilitate a form of interstellar research that cannot anywhere on Earth. And they're answering a philosophical question: If mutants have conquered death, then what's next? What are they to do with seemingly infinite timelines? Readers get a taste of that here, and without spoiling much, mutants appear ready to steal fire from the gods.
All of this looks gorgeous, as anyone who read Empyre would expect. Schti and Gracia worked together there, and whatever the event's failings may have been, visual flair was never one of them. Schti's resume includes runs on Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. He's honed his skills working on super technology and alien beings. His lush, loose linework fits in well with the other premier artists of the current X-line, who all fall into the Stuart Immonen school of superhero storytelling. Gracia does an impressive job of blending the natural green hues of Krakoa with the Peak's metallic shades, just as the Krakoan biotech combines with the space station itself. The characters are expressive, the colors are vibrant, and when things get wild at the end of the issue, Schti and Gracia bring the appropriate cosmic dread.
S.W.O.R.D. #1 is a lot of setup and introduction, which will frustrate some, but it's rich beneath that expository surface. The issue subtly layers ideas and questions about what's next for mutants, what being on the final frontier should mean, and what holds humanity back from achieving the next evolutionary benchmark. It's full of big ideas wrapped up in fascinating characters, and it occupies a unique space in the current X-Men landscape. With Schti and Gracia providing stunning artwork and Ewing plotting the course, S.W.O.R.D. promises to be a cosmic victory for Marvel's X-Men line.
Published by Marvel Comics
On December 9, 2020
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Valerio Schti
Colors by Marte Gracia0comments
Letters by Ariana Maher
Cover by Valerio Schti & Marte Gracia