Marvel’s star-bound debut might be the best issue they’ve put out all year.
It’s not often to run into a series that’s so perfectly formed from its first issue that even the design work is absolutely breathtaking. SWORD is that first issue.
The first completely new debut of Reign of X hits this week and it’s an absolutely fantastic debut issue. It’s full of awe, fantasy and promise, pointing towards the next phase of not just X-Men but Marvel Universe as a whole. It’s created by Al Ewing, Valerio Schiti, Marte Gracia, Ariana Maher, and Tom Muller.
Alpha Flight has failed. Its mission was to protect Earth from extraterrestrial threats, yet time and time again, the world has been invaded, or worse. Now Abigail Brand leads the new incarnation of SWORD- this time, a mutant organization working closely with the nation of Krakoa- to be Earth’s greatest defense. And if they can pull it off, they’re about to be something more.
Ewing crafts an issue here that’s both easily accessible and a rewarding read for longtime fans. He takes the common trope of the rookie’s or observer’s tour (in this case Brand giving Magneto a tour), and twists it slowly until it takes a new shape. First, the tour reveals several things about Magneto that we may not know or remember- he’s clearly conflicted about Scarlet Witch’s status as a mutant pariah, he has some incredible disdain for Fabian Cortez, and so on. We next get to learn about mutant technology, systems by which mutants combine their powers to becomes something more than they already are. Then…
Then we get the White Hot Room sequence. This handful of pages is one of the greatest creative locksteps I’ve ever seen in a single sequence. While Ewing steps back with gleeful bombast (which Maher letters beautifully), the art team takes over. Schiti conveys a sense of chaos and claustrophobia while still giving the characters a big hero moment which is outside the norm. Gracia colors it all with a blind sense of light- it feels like there’s an actual white hot light source the entire time, which informs every one of his coloring decisions.
And it’s great. Even if you don’t quite get any part of what just happened (like I didn’t) you understand the scope and grandeur of what they just did. Then it’s followed by one of the best final lines I think I’ve seen, something on the scale of Magneto saying “You have new gods now” at the end of House of X #1 that just took my breath away.
Schiti and Gracia do great work through the entire issue, not just the White Hot Room scene. Their characters are designed incredibly well, both from a sense of visual continuity and also some amazing color theory (which evokes Star Trek and Stargate SG-1). But Schiti also makes the characters act.
Readers need to keep their eyes on Magneto’s face the entire issue, because the emotional range he displays in these pages, thanks to Schiti’s lines, is so human and so relatable. Gracia fills the pages with light and color, giving the story a sci-fi shine that evokes modern Star Trek (I’m thinking Discovery and Picard, not Abrams). It’s meant to give readers a sense of awe, and it succeeds.
I genuinely cannot think of a flaw in this issue. It’s a perfect comic book, from Muller’s designs (particularly on the opening page), to Maher’s letters, to every choice the art team makes. Clearly Ewing is using this series as an opportunity to bring his past decade of Marvel work all together, and I cannot wait to see where it goes.
SWORD #1 is available now from Marvel Comics.