If you haven’t been reading Excalibur, you’re likely going to be out of the loop come X of Swords next week. It has become more apparent in this issue that Apocalypse’s scheming is going to get people killed — in this very comic book, in fact! Tini Howard and Marcus To have worked wonders to turn the usually sci-fi focused X-Men into a fantasy series, and this issue is proof of that.
This issue opens with Externals joining together for a meeting with Apocalypse. We saw them pop up in a Prelude to X of Swords teaser a few weeks ago, and if you’re in the dark on who they are, fear not — Howard does a great job explaining their abilities and why they were once special mutants. The keyword there is “once”, as this issue reveals there is a new need for them. These scenes feel otherworldly, highly important, and dangerous in more ways than one. If you’re not curious about what Apocalypse is up to, you haven’t been paying attention.
This issue is also plotted well, focusing on the heady opening scene, cutting to Gambit and Rogue’s antics, and weaving it all together nicely by the end. The scenes with Rogue and Gambit add some context as to what is going on and Howard smartly integrates some marital/relationship scuffles of a sort. Fans of the X-Men will enjoy these little beats that enhance the scenes and help pull along the personal relationships of the characters into the main narrative. This is also important as far as knowing who may have beef with Apocalypse, and since X of Swords: Creation #1 is out next week, this is a must-read to prepare yourself for the event.
This is also the kind of book you need to be paying attention to fully gather what is going on. I mean that in a good way, since it adds layers to the experience after you put the book down and think it over. Interestingly, it’s still unclear how this gets us to X of Swords, and yet there are buds of ideas at work here, like Betsy discussing alternate reality heroes, that are bound to have implications in the event itself.
Art by To and colors by Erick Arciniega continue to move characters around in interesting and helpful ways. Much like at the beginning of the run, To is exceptional at placing the viewer at the right angle while characters stand around and talk. There’s an art in that — so easily characters can look two-dimensional and boring as they wax poetic, but here you’ll be waiting to the very last period of every Apocalypse proclamation.
While reading this, I kept thinking about how Apocalypse is a kind of wizard, but in many ways, he’s working magic is if it were science. His actions have mystical qualities, but there are also rules that are helpfully laid out in data pages. As we all know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The events of Excalibur #12 commit to an action, and so it appears X of Swords is that reaction. Nothing is wasted and, much like reading this series, you’ll be hanging on every word curious about what the new dawn brings.