The first "Dawn of X" era line-wide X-Men crossover begins in X of Swords: Creation #1. The issue is written by "Head of X" Jonathan Hickman and Excalibur writer Tini Howard, with art by Pepe Larraz and colorist Marte Gracia, who both worked on House of X. It's an all-star creative team for an issue that blends epic fantasy with the X-Men mythology. The issue rewards patience and an understanding of X-Men stories, past and present alike, in equal measure, while doing its best to keep those reading less than the entire "Dawn of X" line in the know and foreshadowing events to come in exciting ways with near-perfect execution.
While X of Swords draws on characters and follows from plot beats from across the X-Men line, it is primarily the culmination of Excalibur's story and the fruit of seeds planted in X-Men. Apocalypse has been acting unilaterally to reunify Krakoa with its other half, the mutant land of Arrako that was lost a generation ago in a struggle against an army from another plane, ever since a portion of Arakko returned to Karkoa bearing Apocalypse's grandson, Summoner. To accomplish this task, Apocalypse has manipulated Excalibur into establishing new portals between Krakoa and the multidimensional realm of Otherworld. At the same time, he was finessing the island's political situation so the Quiet Council no longer has any choice but to go along with his machinations. A team of volunteers ventures through Apocalypse's gate to make contact with the mutants from Arakko, but things do not go as Apocalypse plans. Soon Krakoa is roped by Opal Luna Saturnyne—Otherworld's ruler who is playing her own game of intrigue—into taking part in a ceremonial battle to avoid full-scale, multidimensional warfare.
Creation begins with a stutter-step in two distinct prologues that set the stage for what's to come. One exists primarily to establish the story's antagonists' threat level, and the other foreshadows things to come.
These prologues may be a little off-putting for anyone who wants to jump straight into the X-Men action, but they speak to the worldbuilding that Hickman and Howard have been doing in their respective ongoing series. Introducing the threat by way of the prologue is a common enough trope in epic fantasy, and it matches the scale of the story at hand. It's a natural progression from X-Men and Excalibur establishing that there was more than one "generation" of mutants, with the previous age populated by godlike beings such as Apocalypse. It's something akin to the ages of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. Taken together, it's a signal that we are dealing with material that is epic in the literary sense of the term. The tropes follow from there, with the Quiet Council acting as an ersatz Council of Elrond allowing Apocalypse forming a Fellowship to cross the border into the hostile magical realm and face the ravenous enemy horde, leading to a tournament of champions involving ten powerful swords.
If you're aiming for epic fantasy as your baseline, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better art team to bring it to life than Larraz and Gracia. Their talents have attracted new attention since House of X and it's well-deserved. Larraz excels at conveying a sense of scale in pivotal moments and adds a sense of mystery and drama to the quieter ones, such as a single panel of Apocalypse smiling(?) in shadow in Creation #1. Gracia's acute coloring improves those moments, and there's no one better than him at breathing life into the lush gardens of Krakoa. Here, he proves equally capable of bringing a sense of dread and desolation to the scourged and blackened realm of Otherworld.
All of this could be nothing more than grafting the tropes of one genre onto the bones of another if not for the story's richness. X of Swords forces the mutants of Krakoa to confront the fact that it is not the first unified mutant society to exist. That society fell to Otherworld, where—if the suggestion by one of Apocalypse's original Horsemen that the vassal states of Otherworld ignored the mutants' plea for help is truthful—it faced much of the same prejudice as modern mutants. Now Krakoa will have to reckon with the darkness that consumed its predecessor, this mutant Atlantis that sank beneath the earth, as it returns like the mutants Krakoa has been resurrecting from the dead. The grand, mythic fantasy tone also reads as an organic extension of Hickman's focus on the creation of a new mutant culture, including folklore, in X-Men.
The theme of ages, of generations, is hinted at here as well, though subtly. Apocalypse reunites with the family he left behind and does so alongside one of his surrogate children: Archangel. Cyclops and Jean Grey's children play key roles here, as well. Magneto insists that his daughter, Polaris, partake in events to represent the House of M. Perhaps these characters were chosen for other reasons. Or, perhaps, Hickman and Howard are showing an interest in society as a generational endeavor. With 21 chapters to go, we'll see as the story unfolds.
The issue could be more upfront about the threat at hand. It refuses to name the enemy that consumed Arakko, preserving a future reveal. It's a minor thing, but not even having a term like "demon" to throw around feels oddly distracting. Similarly, Saturnyne is built effectively as a force of power, the boogeyman looming over all of Otherworld, but is less well characterized. Her ability is shown, but less-so her motivation or personality. Perhaps it is intentional that she remains as mysterious as a wizard in her tower, but if she's to play a significant role in "X of Swords," she would benefit from a better introduction.
If Creation #1 is anything to go by, X of Swords could prove to be a polarizing event. If you come to X-Men comics for character-centric melodrama and superhero adventures, that isn't what's at the forefront of this story. Instead, the mutants are put into the epic fantasy wringer, something the X-Men dabbled in before but never on a scale like this. X of Swords: Creation #1 couples beautiful visuals with a dense and grandiose tale of mythological proportions. If X-Men by way of Lord of the Rings sounds like a good idea to you, then this is a must-read event.
Published by Marvel Comics
On September 23, 2020
Written by Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard
Art by Pepe Larraz
Colors by Marte Gracia0comments
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Pepe Larraz