Tie-ins to King in Black have, for the most part, been a venture in trying to make the best out of a sub-par event. Despite the chronology of King in Black taking place over a couple of days, the event itself has been going on for almost six months now. The fact that Marvel writers have managed to pull off successful corresponding issues is an achievement in and of itself. Last month, Jed MacKay’s, C.F Villa’s, and Brian Reber’s Black Cat #3 showed that an indistinct event can, at the very least, be used as an opportunity to pause for a deeper character study. Al Ewing seems to have done the very same thing with S.W.O.R.D. In the series’ previous issue, Ewing presented a masterful exploration of Eden Fesi/Manifold. Issue #4 continues this more intimate, character-based narrative, as it broadens it out to the rest of the S.W.O.R.D line-up.
This week’s installment sees our interplanetary X-team rescue Krakoa from the gooey grips of Knull. With the symbiotic villain in control of Cable, and much of the island well and truly gunked, it is up to S.W.O.R.D to try and outsmart Knull in order to overpower him. By favoring dialogue and slowed-down story progression over all-out action, Ewing (quite rightly) gives himself greater freedom to use King in Black for his own agenda. As such, S.W.O.R.D. #4 is as little a diversion from its main plot as it could possibly be under the circumstances.
The insightful exploration of Manifold’s character continues in this issue. Indeed, under Ewing, Eden is quickly becoming one of the most interesting X-Men in the Dawn of X era. His one-on-one teleporting battle with Knull is truly enthralling, as readers get to see the creative potential of his power. Moreover, the analytical, focused personality of Manifold is expertly depicted through Valerio Schiti’s visuals. The narrative importance of the artwork in this issue should not be understated — Schiti, along with colorist Marte Garcia, works wonders in S.W.O.R.D. #4, as they coordinate the wildly different colors and textures of Krakoa, outer-space and the symbiote monsters together. Where Ewing’s text is introspective and precise, Schiti’s and Garcia’s art is dynamic and explosive. Together, script and visuals coalesce to make a fantastically paced comic.
The expert pacing of this issue means that Manifold is not the only S.W.O.R.D. member to have a place in the spotlight. Powerhouse Frenzy/Jo Cargill takes the “hell yeah” moment of S.W.O.R.D. #4, and Wizkid/Takeshi Matsuya continues his role as a delightful, yet crucial, part of the team. As the resident “little stinker” of S.W.O.R.D. HQ, Fabian Cortez also manages to be a foreboding source of trouble, despite having little to do in this case.
Possibly the most interesting developments, however, come from team leader Abigail Brand. After seemingly cutting ties with Carol Danvers and the rest of the Avengers, it would be easy to assume that Brand’s loyalty now stands with her fellow mutants. Yet this does not seem to be the case, as she remains characteristically ruthless and independent in her decision-making. Given the X-Men’s communal structure, this will surely cause problems in issues to come.
What hurts S.W.O.R.D. #4 the most is inevitably King in Black. Whilst the creative team have done their absolute best to work with what they have got, the character advancements would have likely worked even better under their own underlying plot. I know I am repeating myself when I stress that this event has gone on for almost half a year, but it is rather boggling why Marvel has let King in Black go on for as long as has — or at least why they have let it impact so many titles. After WandaVision, it is likely that S.W.O.R.D. may be getting a good few readers this week. It is a shame that their first introduction to the title is through the utterly underwhelming presence of Knull.
Regardless of the context, S.W.O.R.D. #4 is ridiculously good. The sheer skill of the creative team comes out in this issue’s pitch-perfect plot and fascinating character work. With King in Black ending next month, this series will inevitably begin to grow into one of the best Marvel titles out there.
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