Top critical review
Some Good Elements, But Also Needlessly Long and Bloated
Reviewed in the United States on July 5, 2021
Jonathan Hickman, head of all-things X these days, leads Marvel's merry mutants on an epic quest to determine the fate of the mutant island-nation Krakoa, as well as it splintered sibling island, Arakko, the whole of planet Earth, and the multiverse itself. Drawn into a massive Olympics-styled game of challenges, the various X-teams must compete against Apocalypse's wife, Genesis, and their offspring - the original Four Horsemen - as well as the whims of Saturnyne, the ruler of Otherworld, a planetary hub straight out of a bad fantasy novel situated at the center of the multiverse.
It is, safe to say, a lot. Sometimes overwhelmingly so, as Hickman and the various writers attempt to tell a cohesive, and very large, narrative that reaches back thousands of years, to a time when Krakoa and Arakko formed a single island, and into the distant lands of Otherworld that have fallen beneath the rule Genesis and her children. The result is a 700+ page, 22-part crossover that encompasses the entirety of Marvel's X-line, plus a couple X of Swords one-shots for good measure.
While I felt a lot of X of Swords was good, it's also downright excessive. You can feel the weight of this whole endeavor bogging down the middle chapters, where Hickman's writers struggle to come up with enough filler to keep things running, but it's evident they feel the exhausting slog of it all just as much as the reader. The event starts off well-enough as Krakoa's ten defenders seek to claim their mystical swords, which will grant them access to Saturnyne's challenges, but the actual contest itself is... well, kinda lame. There's the requisite duels to the death - a thorny game made thornier by the knowledge that those X-folks who die in Otherworld cannot be resurrected as they once were - but also arm wrestling, drinking games, and eating contests. It's hard to maintain interest when the writer's are phoning it in and stuffing the premise with every outlandish conceit they can come up to meet their monthly page counts, and I found myself wishing a number of times that this book wasn't so ludicrously, and needlessly, long.
By the time the grand finale comes along, it's a relief to know the end is in sight for this overstuffed, 22-parts-because-WE-CAN! event. To their credit, Hickman and co-writer Tini Howard, do write the hell out of this massive, extended war scene in the aptly named X of Swords: Destruction one-shot that caps off the story. Unfortunately, so much of X of Swords is still built off Excalibur, the weakest book in the Dawn of X line-up, and it hardly makes that series tolerable even in hindsight. And, given the state of comics, X of Swords fails to provide any real sort of closure, even as it hints at events yet to come. Doubtless, a number of story threads still left dangling will be start to be woven together in the Reign of X that follows, but to go through all 22 issues collected here and have so little resolution to show for it all is a frustrating point of contention.
Despite the story itself feeling hollow and, ultimately, disappointing, it sure does look pretty thanks to a lineup of artists that include Pepe Larraz, Lenil Yu, Mahmud Asrar, and Viktor Bogdanovic, to name a few. Larraz's pencils in particular strike a strong note for me, and coupled with Marte Garcia's colors, we get a number of eye-catching panels that positively pop. On the Bogdanovic front...yeah, the dude is very obviously inspired by Greg Capullo, to the point that when I first confronted his work in Wolverine I had to check the credits page to verify it wasn't Capullo, but, hey, if you're gonna imitate a big-name artist, Capullo's a damn good penciler to model yourself after.
X of Swords marks the first big crossover between the various X-books under Hickman's watch, and, unfortunately, it tackles some of the least interesting elements of this corner of the Marvel Universe. (If I never have to read another issue of Excalibur or step foot in Otherworld ever again, I'll be OK.) Even though it misses the mark in a number of important areas, and frustratingly avoids a number of bigger issues introduced in House of X and Powers of X, it does leave a few tantalizing trail of breadcrumbs to lead into the Reign of X segment of Hickman's grand opus.