Marvel's new X-Men crossover event "X of Swords" has turned out to be a surprisingly good fantasy story. Few fans saw it coming when the event was first announced, as the premise of the crossover - the X-Men having to go to war for their new homeland, using ten mystical swords - seemed like the average comic book gimmick. The "House of X" reboot that Jonathan Hickman and the X-Men creative team put together seemed more sci-fi-heavy than anything - with the sole exception of Excalibur, which hasn't been the most popular book in the new "Dawn of X" line. But the fantasy elements that grew out of Excalibur have flourished in "X of Swords."
The first thing that X of Swords has done is transforming its primary setting of Marvel's Otherworld into a much more rich and interesting realm of the Marvel Universe. Otherworld (or Avalon) has been around since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee first built the fantastical realms of the Marvel Universe - but it's hard to argue that the realm itself has ever been more interesting than what X of Swords has done with it.
X of Swords has invested a lot of time, panels, and chart work to establish the larger layout of Otherworld, its various kingdoms, various species, and their socio-political order. Some X-Men fans definitely have a problem with that, as they feel the world-building is a bait-and-switch on the big battle event that X of Swords promised. That question aside, Otherworld now has a much more interesting place to occupy in future Marvel stories. The Crooked Market alone could keep us happy for years...
A Proper Evil Witch
Every story needs a good villain, and this may be a hot take, but X of Swords has introduced one in Lady Saturnyne. Again, Saturnyne has been in the Marvel Universe for a while (since the 1980s), but she's never felt more interesting or relevant than she has in this new Dawn of X version of the Excalibur mythos. X of Swords has taken Saturnyne to a new level with her tournament and god-like control over it and the various X-Men combatants.
There's also been a slow peeling of layers to reveal the more twisted and nefarious mastermind scheming that Saturnyne is doing, making her a more interesting antagonist than the evil army of Arakko and their Medusa-masked general, Annihilation. They looked cool as generic villains, but have proven more interesting as more layered characters, while Saturnyne is a fantasy-style threat that could ultimately bring all these mutants together.
The first half of X of Swords seemed like every fantasy-genre epic or Game of Thrones season, with major characters out questing to obtain some all-important MacGuffins - in this case, the various swords. However, the second half, the actual tournament, has been something much wilder: full-on fantasy fun.
Saturnyne's tournament has been a smorgasbord of fantasy-genre tropes, that are often hilariously fun in an X-Men setting. There's been feasting (and dinner party intrigue); torture chambers; foot races through a magical market; visits to all kinds of fantastical realms and dimensions - the works. There's even been a couple of actual sword fights if you can believe it. It's absurd in the best kind of way - especially if you're a longtime fantasy fan.
Larger X-Men Mythos
Crossovers are good (if only temporary) fun events - but the real test of X of Words is what kind of impact it will have on the larger X-Men mythos. X of Swords has, as stated, invested a lot of time and effort in building out the mythos of Otherworld and its dark half, Amenth, and the intersecting history with the X-Men's Krakoa and its lost half, Arakko. Given how the tournament has been more absurdist fun, we should hope that all the world-building and charts were an investment in a larger X-Men mythos.0comments
Arakko and its mutants hopefully don't just disappear after X of Swords, because their mythos is interesting, as is their dynamic with the X-Men. The fantasy influences of Otherworld, Saturnyne, and what dying in the realm now means for the X-Men's resurrection process is also rich material to carry the franchise forward. X-Men could finally add a bigger, better fantasy element to its sci-fi and pulp-comic tropes, and we are here for it.
X of Swords concludes in X of Swords: Destruction.