"X of Swords," the X-Men event by way of epic fantasy saga, concludes in its 22nd chapter, X of Swords: Destruction #1, from writers Jonathan Hickman & Tini Howard, artist Pepe Larraz, and color artist Marte Gracia. While the issue leans a bit too heavily on genre tropes, it still manages to provide an ending that both honors the themes set out initially and provides the bombast one expects after 21 issues of build up. Like the latter issues of "X of Swords," it lets go of some of the earlier structural stability to service emotional beats, but that appears to be the point.
As X of Swords: Destruction begins, the contest of swords has ended, as has the pretext that Annihilation and the forces of Amenth would ever willingly accept defeat. Things are looking grim, but luckily for the Swordbearers of Krakoa, no fewer than three cavalries are waiting for the right moment to charge in. By the last page of the issue, the battle ends, and both the war and Krakoa's estrangement from Arakko are resolved in unexpected ways.
It should be no surprise that the event that began with the mutant version of the Council of Elrond ends with something akin to the Battle of Five Armies (yes, I know the former is from Lord of the Rings and the latter is from The Hobbit, but work with me here). The battle is suitably epic, though three last-minute rescues might be pushing the limit. Still, the excess feels mostly worthwhile since Larraz and Gracia render it all with such startling detail and chaotic beauty.
While reviewing X of Swords: Creation, I pondered whether the notes about family legacy would pay off later in the series. They have, and Hickman and Howard play them in sharp contrast to the rules of the game the mutants have been forced to play. The Krakoans tried to play by the rules Saturnyne set before them, even when they knew she wasn't playing things straight. They assumed, given the opportunity, they'd find a way to win as they always had in the past.
But the game has changed and the Swordbearers of Krakoa never had a fair chance. This week's issue of X-Men, Chapter 20 in "X of Swords," made it clear that Krakoa is not the X-Men. It is a political entity that cannot pursue justice with the same risk and disregard for consequences. That has its place, but for heroes, when you see your friends and family caught in a broken system capable of killing them, you drive a space station straight through that system and do what needs doing to save the people who matter most.
But through Apocalypse's arc, central to the entire conflict, the issue reminds us that doing what is necessary doesn't always mean routing the enemy on your path to a glorious victory. Apocalypse may outrank even Magneto as the haughtiest villain of X-Men lore. With the opportunity to reunite his family on the line, he shows the internal transformation signified by his taking ▪︎-|A|-▪︎ as his new name, swallowing his pride, and surrendering to achieve a more important goal.
For a series that began feeling like a structural homage to another genre, it is interesting to see "X of Swords" end with its heroes refusing to play by rigged rules forced upon them. It works in lockstep with the greater themes of the X-Men line since "Dawn of X" began. The mutants finally have what they've always dreamed of, and they're not going to lose it by allowing anyone else to subjugate them with arbitrary boundaries. X of Swords: Destruction is all about the mutants of Krakoa rewriting rules to save those they love. It's hard to imagine a more fitting end to an X-Men epic at this grandiose scale.
Published by Marvel Comics
On November 25, 2020
Written by Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard
Art by Pepe Larraz
Colors by Marte Gracia
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia