S.W.O.R.D. is one of those ideas where it’s kind of astonishing that it took so long for it to appear. Of course there should be a super-spy agency to deal with stuff in space! Of course it should be named S.W.O.R.D., if the terrestrial one is named S.H.I.E.L.D.! And of course they should have their own very cool strangely-clothed super-agent commander! I don’t think it’s any secret that I love Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury stories in the titular series and as backups in Strange Tales. It’s very much an idea in that style.
Honestly, of all the things that Joss Whedon has contributed to comics, S.W.O.R.D. might be the best one. But it took Kieron Gillen and Steve Sanders to transform S.W.O.R.D. from being a great idea to being a great story – a story with solid character work, great science fiction concepts, and some relevant themes to our own times.
S.W.O.R.D. is the story, essentially, of Commander Abigail Brand. Brand is the leader of S.W.O.R.D., and a hard-ass leader that combines the emotional openness of Cyclops with the lackadaisical laziness of Nick Fury – that is, she’s very insular, very very good at her job, and kind of mean. I love her. Gillen, however, makes the masterful decision to have her with the Beast – just to emphasize the fact that the best Beast stories are not in the X-Men – and the Beast is wonderful.
S.W.O.R.D.’s Hank McCoy is still undoubtedly the genius scientist who is just a little too self-confident, but he’s also the sorely missed Bouncing Blue Beast who is just funny. Obviously, this volume of S.W.O.R.D. is nearly a decade old at this point, but I genuinely cannot think of more than a handful of similar characterizations of Hank since then. With nearly every Beast these days being ultra-grim, it’s a delightful change of pace.
And Gillen then goes to play Beast and Brand off Henry Peter Gyrich, a character who is just a bit too like Brand and who has too deep of a history with the Avengers, Thunderbolts, and the broader Marvel Universe to just be ignored, but is still this just vile bureaucrat.
This is a familiar theme. S.W.O.R.D.’s main plot was about H.A.M.M.E.R. working with the titular agency to arrest and deport every alien on Earth. In 2010, the year this book launched, the Obama administration was deporting about 350,000 people a year. The Trump administration continued doing so, according to Axios. The book, more or less, is Abby Brand and the Beast changing the space immigration laws. And fighting robots, aliens, and robot aliens.
And, on a brighter note, there are a dozen more just delightful things in the series. Adam-X the X-Treme shows up! Beta Ray Bill is in it! Alcoholic Lockheed! Death’s Head – you know, the giant robot originally built to fight the Transformers and the Doctor – is around in it! Jaime McKelvie does a backup!
The fact that this series only lasted a half-dozen issues is a travesty. That’s really the biggest downside. Gillen clearly has enough ideas to last many, many more issues, and while some got folded into his later writing – in Uncanny X-Men and Siege – I can’t help but wonder what a S.W.O.R.D. that ran for five years would have looked like.
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