Welcome to another edition of the Marvel Rundown! We’ve got a special edition of the Rundown, as the massive mutant crossover “X of Swords” reaches its stunning conclusion this week. We’ll be taking a quick look at the final three chapters of the story and will also delve into the crossover as a whole, where I hope to understand what makes this story stand out among the current crop of Marvel events. We’ve also got a Rapid Rundown of other releases from this week, all ahead on this edition of the Marvel Rundown!
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Mahmud Asrar
Colouring by Sunny Gho
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Leinil Francis Yu and Sunny Gho
Written by Tini Howard
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Stefano Caselli
Colouring by Sunny Gho and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Mahmud Asrar and Matthew Wilson
X of Swords: Destruction #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard
Art by Pepe Larraz
Colouring by Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia
These last three issues are a pretty precise portrait of “X of Swords” as a whole. It’s got characters making deep, personal decisions about themselves, but it also delivers on the action front. It lulls you into thinking it’s going to go one way before it wildly diverges from where you think it’s going, and you may just experience whiplash. Well, the good kind.
If you were at all annoyed or confused about the general tone of “X of Swords” following the Stasis one-shot, then these issues are for you. X-Men #15 is all about the personal choices that these characters are making (or not making), mainly Cyclops and Apocalypse. Excalibur #15 is the gathering of the storm, setting the pieces in place for the final confrontation in Destruction where… well, read it and find out.
These issues are much more connected and intertwined than previous installments of the event. These are just right on the heels of each other, creating such a tension and excitement that you can’t help but feel the writers have been so excited to get to this point of the story. There’s a lot of artistic consistency here, with Clayton Cowles even lettering all three issues! Mahmud Asrar and Pepe Larraz do the bulk of the world with a few pages by Stefano Caselli in Excalibur. Asrar’s really great but in all honestly I’d prefer if someone else coloured his work, like Matt Wilson for example. Asrar’s pages have never looked better in that Conan the Barbarian series they did together, as Asrar’s work as colored by Sunny Gho just isn’t as sharp here. On the other hand, Larraz is doing wonderful, imaginatively stunning work here. There’s a “wow” moment on every page, and his take on every character could be that character’s definitive look. Has Marvel Girl ever looked better than on that page? I really don’t think so.
This crossover, or rather the then-approaching debut of it, was something I was genuinely dreading. I haven’t been reading the X-Men for a long time and so this was the first event from that particular side of the Marvel universe that I was going to read in real-time, as the issues came out. I automatically lumped this in with the other weird X-Men crossovers I’d heard so much about but never dared to read, like one of those weird ones from the nineties. So, what did I think after finishing the last three installments of this crossover event? Honestly, I hate myself for not getting excited about it earlier. This was a fun, swashbuckling, sexy, massive story that definitely subverted my expectations but also managed to deliver on some of the things I expected to see.
My biggest criticism of the event is ironically also its biggest strength for me. I love the build-up of the first ten issues, where our characters gather their swords and prepare for death. I also love how the next eight or nine issues are essentially a farce, a whimsical and frustratingly fun romp as Krakoa and Arrako fight at the mercy of Saturnyne and her weird challenges. I’m also a fan of today’s three issues and how they just get right to the action that everybody’s been wanting to see, and delivering so well on that front.
But this is also a case of “X of Swords” having its cake and eating it too. It wants to be everything. It wanted to build up to something that got everybody excited only for the writers to pull the rug out from under you and deny you the personal confrontations they teased. It wanted to be a zany, no-holds barred showcase of characters interacting together and playing weird games. But then they go ahead and ignore that and let loose with these three fun, action-packed issues that were a perfect emotional and visual capstone to this great story.
To its detractors, this would be considered sloppy, uneven. Tonally inconsistent. But to me, someone who has learned to love the X-Men ever since Jonathan Hickman shook things up last year, it’s the perfect distillation of the X-Men. There are highs and lows, solid build-ups and disappointing let-downs, but most importantly there are characters that you care about. Characters who have to come to grip with themselves and the choices they must make, who do what’s right for the people they love no matter the cost. There are the characters you know and love on the centre stage, but the writers know the heart of the X-Men are the more esoteric characters, mutants who don’t really have the spotlight shined on them, like Cypher for example. I hadn’t even heard of him before House of X and he’s now one of my favourite characters.
For all the praise I’m throwing out here, I’m curious as to the reception of the collected edition of this story. When it came to House/Powers of X, Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva’s art styles were similar enough that reading the trade was more or less a seamless experience. Here there are a multitude of artists, all with diverging tones and styles. The jump from someone like Phil Noto or Rod Reis to Joshua Cassara to Larraz will certainly be interesting. So much of this event’s strength was in how the tones and styles of each individual book were left intact, mostly through the beginning of the event, and I think reading this collected will rob the story of that strength. But again, I think the story is strong enough that that might not be a concern.
Another thought I had about the story after finishing it was the twenty-two part-ness of it all. This is a pretty big story and has been running weekly ever since the end of September.
In COVID time, that’s eight years ago.
As for whether or not the average joe needed to read the whole story… I’m not entirely sure as there are a lot of factors to be considered. Firstly, I think at the minimum you should have been reading both X-Men and Excalibur from the beginning. You’d be pretty lost without all that information in your back pocket, from the origins of Arrako to Apocalypse’s journey in building the external gate.
When it comes to the event itself, so many of the smaller moments and smaller chapters have some of the best moments of the story. Take Hellions for example. Hilariously, nothing gets accomplished in those issues but they’re such damn fun and literally made me laugh out loud multiple times. Did you need to read that issue of Marauders where Storm got her sword? Probably not, but it helped inform so much about her journey in this story, and gave Storm her best moments in the Dawn of X so far. Personally, I’ve read every issue and was able to savour every call-back, every small reference, and enjoyed the story as a whole.
Final Verdict: In case you couldn’t tell, this is a BUY. Make it a BUY BUY BUY. “X of Swords” is a watershed moment for the X-Men, an anchor point much like HoXPoX was. It’s big, beautiful, and messy in all the right ways. It stands out from more recent events because its more personal, intimate moments are just as explosive and fun as its action scenes.
- Daredevil #24
- Everything writer Chip Zdarsky has been building since his run on this series began comes to a head perfectly in this issue. Things never go exactly the way Matt Murdock expects them to, and the confluence of forces around him – from Fisk and Typhoid Mary, to Elektra, to his ex, Kristen McDuffie, and his own brother – may end up being more than he can handle. Artist Mike Hawthorne delivers decent work on this issue, though I look forward to Marco Checchetto’s return to the series. —JG
- Power Pack #1
- It’s so refreshing to have Ryan North back in the Marvel Universe. He and Nico Leon introduce the Power Pack to new readers in a way that sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the issue. It’s a relatively light story that takes a more serious turn at the end, and I would be a little concerned about tonal whiplash if I didn’t have so much faith in the creative team. I instantly want this to be an ongoing series. —JG
- Shang-Chi #3
- Shang-Chi #3 rebounds from the slight misfire of the miniseries’ sophomore issue. Gene Luen Yang gives Shang more time with his extended family, giving his siblings more personality and allowing some of the charm showcased in #1 to shine through. While the overarching threat of Sister Hammer remains pretty stock standard, the incorporation of the events of the Boxer Rebellion (though a valuable non-Western perspective) and Dike Ruan’s consistently stellar artwork on the main story help push the issue into more exciting territory. —ZT
Next week, Knull finally pulls up in King in Black #1!