First introduced in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, S.W.O.R.D. was created as an outer space counterpart to S.H.I.E.L.D., led by the mutant-alien hybrid Abigail Brand. The last several years of continuity have left the organization defunct, essentially being absorbed by Captain Marvel’s Alpha Flight, thereby demoting Brand to a lesser role. After this year’s Empyre event, however, Brand announced her resignation after being left out of the loop with the Cotati invasion. A cryptic teaser left readers wondering what Brand’s next move would be, and now we have the answer: S.W.O.R.D. #1, the first issue of Al Ewing’s relaunch.
Written by Empyre’s Ewing, his new iteration of S.W.O.R.D. reframes the organization as a Krakoa-adjacent outfit for the “Reign of X” era. Most recently appearing as a major plot device in X of Swords, the S.W.O.R.D. station has been refitted with Krakoan tech and filled with a staff of mutants, while Brand now works with (not for) the Quiet Council to help fight extraterrestrial threats. In terms of concept, it’s a logical extension of Jonathan Hickman’s X-Saga. Creating a nation on Earth was one thing, and now Krakoa looks to the stars to establish a presence in the final frontier.
This issue is most definitely a primer for what’s to come later, establishing the status quo aboard S.W.O.R.D. Station One and explaining the premise, rather than thrusting readers straight into action. This doesn’t make for an exciting read necessarily, but thankfully, Ewing’s deft touch makes it entertaining and worthwhile. (My new gold standard for a #1 issue is Leah Williams X-Factor #1, which I maintain was a fabulously underrated starter.) It also features a cast of underused—and in some cases, long unseen—characters who should be of interest to more seasoned X-Fans (e.g. Wiz Kid is back!). I’m a little concerned about this title already getting pulled into being an event tie-in starting with next issue’s King in Black crossover, but to the creative team’s credit, there’s a bit of foreshadowing that hints at what’s to come soon, so perhaps it won’t feel too forced.
Ewing’s Empyre collaborator Valerio Schiti re-teams with him to draw S.W.O.R.D., and it looks as great as you’d expect from him. Schiti is among the current class of newer Marvel talent whose work you see with increasing frequency and prominence, and there’s lots in this issue to prove his clout. There’s a fantastic sequence of double page splashes towards the end, following “The Six” in one of their cosmic journeys, that is trippy and grand in a way that Ewing’s scripts often call for, but his new character designs are also very distinct and fashionable. (Special mention to color artist Marte Gracia, who is quickly becoming one of my favorites in that field.) Whatever Brand and her revived S.W.O.R.D. team get up to in this new series, they’re sure to look real cool doing it.