With the newest volume in the Reign of X line, Marvel appropriately collects horror-minded issues from this summer and throws in a few canon-dense Excalibur issues to boot. Occasionally, the scattershot issues collected in these trades may demonstrate the variety in the current X-line, but fail to capture a single theme or direction. By making most of this book King in Black tie-ins, it gives it a fitting purpose while celebrating Al Ewing and Gerry Duggan’s scripting.
This trade features Excalibur #18-19, S.W.O.R.D. #2-3 and King in Black: Marauders #1. The King in Black event from a few months back was perfectly serviceable as a big cosmic horror event focusing on Venom and Knull, king of the symbiotes. Like with all these considerable events, multiple books across the Marvel spectrum were pulled into the conflict, with variable levels of appropriateness. Thankfully, both the X-books represented here did something with the premise of this monster invasion and incorporated it relevantly into existing plots and conflicts.
Al Ewing’s S.W.O.R.D. has been a surprise hit in the X-line, and these early issues showcase just why there has been such love for this title. With the cast of the book stationed on a space station to protect Earth, it’s fitting that they would encounter Knull’s interstellar offensive and work to combat it. The sign of a great comic writer is the ability to take throwaway characters and give them distinctiveness and narrative purpose. With its main cast consisting of Wiz-Kid, Manifold and Frenzy, the book may lack recognizable staples in the X-world, but Ewing’s characterization gives these individuals vivacity and purposefulness. Valerio Schitti’s pencils complement the space-centered action, expressively communicating the plots action and drive.
The Marauders issue reeks of forced tie-in, but ends up being a serviceable adventure well in line with what we have come to expect from the swashbuckling mutants. Fighting back Knull’s dragon invasion on the high seas, the title’s core cast gets plenty of interaction, demonstrating why Gerry Duggan was promoted to head-scribe on the current X-Men title. This series has always been about the quality character interactions, so even a ham-fisted crossover issue like this ends up being a worthwhile addition to the line. Luke Ross provides the guest pencils on this issue, and they are a serviceable additive to Duggan’s script. Fittingly, Kitty’s dragon Lockheed gets room to sparkle in this story.
The Excalibur issues are dense on X-Men/Captain Britain lore and may be difficult issues to appreciate if you haven’t had a steady diet of X-Men over the last few decades. Betsy is confronted by Psylocke, as Marvel continues to come to terms with the character’s complicated relationship. I’m not sure Howard’s approach to resolving this conflict has worked, and I generally found my interest in this title waning as I re-read these issues. The Captain Britain Corps have only intermittently fumbled through my comic reading over the years, but I find Alexandra Iciek’s critique of the way these figures are represented in issue #19 compelling. Howard is a good writer, and one must appreciate any writer trying to work through the convoluted background of these figures, but these issues simply don’t stick the landing. The art by Marcus To is beautiful, however, and I hope to see him stick around after this series comes to an end in later this year.
The book concludes with a few variant covers and a handful of inked pages from some of the artists represented throughout the trade. These were a worthwhile addition to this collection, and something I wish Marvel included in every collection of this type. Overall, it’s a fine assortment of issues that have a purposeful theme, making this a thoughtful addition to the Reign of X collections.
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