X of Swords #1 Came Out Swinging and Got Right to the Point

Between House of X, Powers of X, and the X-Men-focused comics that have followed those limited series, Marvel’s Dawn of X event has more than delivered on its promise of ushering in a new age of mutant ascendency that would fundamentally reshape the larger world — even as the Avengers and co. ended up plunging the world into yet another catastrophic, alien-related conflict.

Illustration: Jim Cooke

But after creating a paradisiac sovereign nation for all mutantkind and establishing a means through which to ensure virtual immortality for any and all mutants, the X-Men have been inching toward the first real test of their newfound might. The exact specifics of what was going to thrust the core team of X-Men and the members of Excalibur into an epic, reality-bending battle were purposefully shrouded in mystery in the buildup to X of Swords, Marvel’s new event being helmed by writers Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard.

“Creation,” illustrated by artist Pepe Larraz with colours from Marte Gracia and letters by Clayton Cowles, establishes X of Swords’ power players, its stakes, and the true motivations of some of the X-Men’s stranger new characters. In doing so, though, the comic also suggests that while the Dawn of X might not be coming to an end per se, the mutants’ futures are going to be plagued by the kinds of strife and battle that only the strongest of them will survive — resurrection or otherwise.

The most important thing to bear in mind going into X of Swords is that its story is one that gives equal power and weight to both mutant genetics and the ancient, Arthurian magic coursing through the world that connects it and all things to a multitude of other realities. In becoming the latest Captain Britain and gaining a new kind of power and authority in Otherworld, Betsy Braddock — a mutant, so she’s also a Krakoan citizen — came to provide the X-Men with a unique relationship with Otherworld that Apocalypse, also a Krakoan citizen, has had designs on for some time now in the pages of Excalibur.

For reasons that the ancient blue mutant has kept to himself, Apocalypse has been chiefly concerned with creating an interdimensional gate into Otherworld, similar to the kinds of gates used to connect various points throughout the galaxy to Krakoa. Because Otherworld is a realm of pure magic, Apocalypse has needed to supplement his science with a strange kind of mutant-centric magic involving the use of crystals infused with the essence of long-dead mutants. Through a variety of deceptive tactics and outright lies to those foolish enough to trust him, Apocalypse has achieved his goal and built his gate, and as X of Swords opens, we’re presented with just what it is that awaits him in Otherworld: a horde of vicious demons led by four powerful beings as they launch an attack on the the Del Di’Lorr, a watchtower located in the Kingdom of Dryador in Otherworld.

Though Dryador’s king knows that his domain will fall to the four beings and their army, he resolves to send word of their approach to Opal Luna Saturnye, the Omniversal Majestrix who resides in the Starlight Citadel that houses doors that act as passageways to all known realities. This all sounds completely ridiculous (in a good way), and it is, but it’s also key to understanding just how the X-Men become involved and why what’s happening in Otherworld will effect their fate, and not just because of its connections to Apocalypse’s plans.

Understanding that whatever the future holds is certain to be dire, Saturnye quickly sets to work fetching some form of powerful tarot cards that require a series of complex rituals just to get ahold of — including the death of a star. Once she’s actually got the deck in hand, she shuffles it and begins to give herself a reading, and Larraz and Gracia kick into overdrive with a lush series of the five cards that all seemingly tell the story of what’s to come. The cards’ messages aren’t explicit, but they speak of old familial drama coming to a head, the very concept of death itself coming to an end, and there being a response from the Earth when death ceases to function the way it’s meant to. Though the cards primarily feature Apocalypse, the Summoner, and the mysterious Swordbearers of Arakko, they also depict the X-Men taking up swords seemingly readying themselves for a coming great battle.

Image: Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracie, Clayton Cowles, Marvel

X of Swords follows in Dawn of X’s style of breaking up major beats with related dossiers related to the issue’s main events, here with a curious missive from Marie-Ange Colbert, the mutant Tarot. Much to Tarot’s surprise, she explains, a recent evening spent with her own deck resulted in her drawing the same five cards as Saturnyne: Judgment, the Four of Wands, the Hanged Man, the Eight of Cups, and Ten of Swords, over and over again. And even with her specific mutant power, she was unable to deduce exactly what the cards meant. Even stranger, Tarot explains that other tarot practitioners like herself reported drawing the same cards in the same order that very night, indicating to her that something portentous is coming.

The portentous thing, at least at first glance, seemingly makes its entrance on Krakoa by way of Apocalypse’s gate, through which Summoner returns with a badly wounded Banshee and having lost Unus the Untouchable after attempting to enter Otherworld. As Banshee’s rushed off for medical treatment and Summoner explains to the Krakoan Quiet Council that Otherworld has been overrun with demons, the Council is generally split as to how it should proceed. While there’s debate about whether to abandon Unus and the citadel in order to close the gate down and protect Earth’s home reality, both Apocalypse and the sentient Krakoa are resolute that the gate remain open.

Seeing Krakoa assert its personhood and declare that it has the ultimate say in what happens on Krakoan land because that land is Krakoa’s self is fascinating, because of the way it really embodies how Dawn of X has focused on mutants becoming more powerful, self-actualized versions of themselves who understand the power of collaboration, but don’t necessarily worship at the altar of it. Apocalypse’s motives are clearly personal, and are going to end up getting other people hurt, but by knowingly making sure that he and Krakoa would ultimately end upon the same side of this debate ensures that he’s able to carry out his grand scheme largely unchallenged — after all, one of Council’s ruling tenets is to respect the sacred land they have found their new Dawn on.

Apocalypse doesn’t have the authority to compel other mutants to join him on his journey to Otherworld, but there are just enough heavy hitters itching for a fight to assemble a formidable team as X of Swords builds to its first dramatic battle. Polaris, Havok, Siryn, Beast, Angel, Rictor, Rockslide, Summoner, and Monet all have different reasons for following Apocalypse into another dimension, and mostly, they’re centered around saving reality from destruction. For Angel, though, things are somewhat complicated, as it’s difficult for him to be around Apocalypse, but you can tell that he feels compelled to see what the man who gave him metal wings is up to, almost out of a morbid curiosity. Angel’s apprehension about Apocalypse’s motives contrast sharply with the way Rictor, newly stable and far more skilled with his powers, is devout in his belief that Apocalypse truly does want to push for mutant advancement.

Apocalypse’s dreams of a mutant-dominated future are dismissed, however, as he and the other X-Men arrive in Otherworld to see the demon horde and their four leaders, people that Apocalypse knows all too well — and who actually represent a major part of his history.

Apocalypse seeing his children for the first time in ages. (Image: Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracie, Clayton Cowles, Marvel)

It isn’t exactly surprising to learn that Apocalypse’s original four Horsemen were his children, but it does cast his whole “I need an entourage” schtick into a different light that makes you consider whether, over his long fight to take over the world for…various reasons, he’s always empowered four mutants because he wanted to conquer alongside his family. As Apocalypse tearfully reunites with his family and attempts to catch up after having not seen them in multiple lifetimes after they were lost in a hell dimension, Rachel Summers and Kid Cable pay Banshee a visit in the infirmary, both being able to hear the psychic screams emanating from his mind.

When the pair of psychics probe into Banshee’s mind to see what happened in the moments leading up to his being wounded in Otherworld, they’re dismayed to learn that Summoner actually turned on Banshee and Unus with Apocalypse’s children in a ploy to lure him to Otherworld. Strangely, Saturyne is able to perceive Rachel in Banshee’s mind and warns her that what’s about to happen is bigger than Apocalypse’s family squabble. Said squabble in Otherworld specifically features Apocalypse’s children ganging up on him to stab him through the chest, prompting the X-Men to spring into action and try to fend off the monsters’ attacks.

Some heroes, like Rockslide, are seemingly killed, while others like Rictor and Apocalypse are dragged back to the gate in order to get them to Krakoa where they can be reborn. The rest, though, stay in Otherworld to fight because why the hell not — and while they’re able to put up a very solid offence considering their team’s small size compared to the horde of demons, the X-Men can’thelp but wonder why Saturyne, who’s watching all of this happen, doesn’t do something. Epic and sweeping as X of Swords is aiming to be, it’s in the comic’s final few pages that the event reveals its true form: as Saturnye bats one of Monet’s psychic projects away and, in a huff, beams herself down onto the battlefield similarly to the way Marvel’s heroes recently got zapped into Fortnite.

Tragic as Dryador’s fall may have been, according to Otherworld’s laws, the land does belong to the Anubis-like Death who led the attack, Saturyne points out, after freezing the entire battle and demonstrating the vast magical power she wields within Otherworld. What Saturyne doesn’t initially grasp is that the Horsemen’s march through Otherworld has less to do with their desire to gain control of realities or magic and more to do with the fact that Otherworld is the most direct route to gain access to Krakoa.

Chaotic as magic is, there are rules to Otherworld, and as the rightful regent of Dryador, Death and by extension its siblings have claim to at least some of the realm’s lands. But those very same rules allow for Saturyne to call for a lawful battle in which the regents of all Otherworld’s kingdoms enter into a contest (of champions, one might say) in which the participants have to use one of 10 magical swords, potent with the kinds of power that Otherworld’s realms represent. Death, surprisingly, agrees to Saturyne’s offer, reasoning that following protocol would ultimately lead to a speedier invasion of Krakoa as opposed to brute forcing their way through, and the X-Men agree because they’ve really got no other options at this point. There will be a clashing of swords between mutants ancient and new in a magical land that will define the future of reality, and it’s all very…well, fantastical for an X-Men story.

After watching the first stages of Dawn of X really lean into the X-Men’s potential for eerie sci-fi, it’s refreshing to see X of Swords skew more magical and complicate the mutants’ legacy with a historical import that goes beyond them simply being the next step in human evolution. This new age of mutantkind has so far been rooted in an almost explicit science, exploring the truly alien genetic differences that make Mutants what they are. But all the science in the world can’t help them in a realm where magic (and copious amounts of swords) will decide the fate of not just Krakoa, but the multiverse itself.