X-Men #15 (Chapter 20)
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colors: Sunny Gho
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Design” Tom Muller
Excalibur #15 (Chapter 21)
Writer: Tini Howard
Artists: Mahmud Asrar & Stefano Casselli
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Design: Tom Muller
X of Swords: Destruction (Chapter 22)
Writers: Jonathan Hickman & Tini Howard
Artists: Pepe Larraz
Colors: Marte Gracia
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Design: Tom Muller
Note: There was no way for me to write this weeks installment without Spoilers so readers beware.
For the better part of X of Swords, the ‘A-List’ X-Men have been absent. Yes, Wolverine and Storm are part of the Krakoan contingent to Otherworld but the heroes usually associate with the X-Men have been noticeably absent, that is until now, the final week of this groundbreaking Dawn of X-Event. X-Men #15 begins the final week of X of Swords and it takes the reader, for the most part, back to Krakoa and the decisions that need to be made concerning the tournament in Otherworld and the future of the young mutant nation. In last week’s Cable #6 Jean and Scott were made aware of how badly the Krakoans were faring in the tournament (granted this was before the stunning display of Gorgon vs. the White Sword). Cyclops, as one of the Captains of Krakoa is ready to storm through the External Gate and save not only his family but his fellow mutants from the threat of Arakko and the scheming Saturnyne. Yet the Quiet Council is unimpressed with Cyclops bravado as the thought of invading Otherworld scares many of the council members. While council members like Kate Pryde and Magneto at first seem eager to join Scott on his suicide mission it falls to Sebastian Shaw and Exodus to be the voices of reason. With the Krakoans seemingly on the verge of defeat there is little doubt that the annihilation horde of Amenth could be on their doorstep at any moment and now is not the time to divide their forces and it is especially not the time to let their greatest champions, the X-Men, invade Otherworld. Cyclops is not one to be told what to do and by the end of the issue it’s time for him to collect his sword, or rather SWORD.
Intermingled with the debate of the Quiet Council is Saturnyne’s orchestrated conclusion to the Krakoa-Arakko Tournament, the husband vs. wife battle of Apocalypse against Genisis. With Gorgon’s amazing stand against the White Sword and his one hundred mutants that tied the tournament score it is fitting that the final decisive battle would be between these two ancient mutants. Since the revelation early in X of Swords that the reason Apocalypse did not join his family in their creation of Arakko and the fight against Amenth was because he was not strong enough. For thousands of years and for the duration of his time as an antagonist in the X-Universe Apocalypse’s core belief has been of a Darwinan nature that through struggle the strong will emerge and survive. Now as a fight thousands of years in the making finally arrives we will see if Apocalypse’s struggles have prepared him for this moment… yet he’s not just fighting Genisis, he’s also fighting the Mask of Amenth and it has a different outcome in mind, an outcome even Saturnyne isn’t prepared for. To quote Doctor Strange, “We’re in the Endgame Now.”
By the time we get to Excalibur #15 things have gone south for everyone but the Annihilation Horde. With Apocalypse triumphant over Genisis in X-Men #15 the Mask of Amenth has asserted control of its host and called forth its horde to destroy all of Otherworld on its way to the Krakoan gate. This book begins the culmination of this entire event and there is symmetry to how it all began, with the Krakoans completely and utterly overmatched by the Arakkoans and the Annihilation horde. Yet the remaining Krakoan Champions know that if they fall then not only does Otherworld fall but so do all the kingdoms that comprise Otherworld and then eventually Krakoa. So, the remaining campions… no, heroes do what heroes do and stand against the onslaught to protect those who can’t protect themselves. For an event that revolved around sword fighting and contests it’s nice for the X-Men to be the heroes they are.
While the Krakoans make their stand the remainder of the parties in the Tournament begin to fall apart. The Arakkoans stand divided as they see no honor in Amenth breaking the code of the tournament. While the Horsemen are loyal to their ‘Mother’ the White Sword wants no part of the treachery and takes his 100 swords home. Bei the Blood Moon may be the most conflicted of the Arakkoans as her new husband, Doug Ramsey, stands with his fellow champions and her feelings for him are conflicted. One thing is clear, the Arakko has lost the tournament but they might just win the war between the mutant nations.
Lucky for the Krakoans help arrives in the form of Excalibur member Jubilee and the Priestesses of the Green who help protect Otherworld even as their Queen is absent. Saturnyne has retreated to her Starlight Citadel, as for the first time in the entirety of X of Swords she isn’t in control and she is unable to manipulate either side of this conflict. One thing she is able to is to build, or rather rebuild is what she has broken and what has been taken from her. With some help from the Dragon Shogo what was lost to her might just be the salvation for Otherworld as in the shattered image Betsy Braddock the Captain Britain Corps is Reborn! Yet are they enough to stop what comes next…. Destruction.
X of Swords: Destruction #1 may be one of the greatest X-Books ever created. It is a pitch perfect tour de force and the ultimate wrap up to this stellar X-Event. It begins as everything looks dire for the remaining Krakoans. As Saturnyne describes it “Ash on the wind. Fire in the air.” The Anhillation Horde is cutting a path through Otherworld and the Krakoans look to be on their last leg until the fickle aspect of magic works in their favor and the Captain Britain Corps descends into battle to help turn the tide. The look on Brian Braddock’s face as his beloved Corps returns matched my own smile as I did not know how much I missed the Captain Britain Corps until I saw them beautifully rendered by Pepe Larraz. I hope that this return will be given their own book, but I imagine it will play out in Excalibur in the coming months. The returned Corps gives but a glimmer of hope as Amenth sees this return as an opening to call forth the darkest monsters of Amenth (Darker Amenth), which are monsters of the classic sense with a nod to Lovecraft and ancient myth. It’s a staggering change to the already overwhelmed Krakoans and things look bleak. But when their backs are against the wall is when the X-Men are at their best and it is no different here.
Every plot thread present in X of Swords comes together for the final act. I would love to see Hickman’s famed white board and just how the coordination between the X-Brain Trust worked because the plotting for X of Swords is simply amazing. First plot points from a Cable #5 finally make sense since that issue felt like a departure with Cable and his parents (Cyclops & Marvel Girl) infiltrating an abandoned SWORD space station and coming into conflict with an alternate dimension space horde. Cable’s sword of Galador was used to power the station and once again he is called upon to do so as Cyclops and his invading X-Men force finally arrive, aboard the SWORD space station and carrying a rival horde. It’s an amazing sequence of events and brings together aspects of X of Swords and House of X as the Mutant Captains Cyclops and Magik take charge in times of war and this is war. Again, Larraz’s artwork is the perfect choice for these glorious pages. As the mutants arrive it’s time for the second plot thread to be closed- Apocalypse and whether or not he is finally strong enough; is he worthy? For an event constructed around Swords and a tournament it is time for the final contest, Apocalypse vs. Amenth and to the winner goes the victory. But to defeat Amenth is to become Amenth and so far, no one has been strong enough to completely defeat Amenth… until now. At its heart X of Swords has been an Apocalypse story and as I wrote a few weeks ago somehow Hickman and Company have made Apocalypse sympathetic. Since his inception in the original X-Factor series (X-Factor #3 to be specific) Apocalypse has been about strength, through challenge the strong will rise and rule. We found out early in X of Swords that Apocalypse was not strong enough to go with his family when Okkara was split yet finally, by the end of this event we find out that he is finally strong enough, that he is finally worthy. Apocalypse is the first to become Amenth and surrender to Saturnyne, stopping the Annihilation Horde and ending the contest with Krakoa victorious and Arakko, the vassal of Amenth, yielding to Saturnyne, just as she had planned from the beginning. It’s a magnificent conclusion and one fitting for this near perfect X-Event.
With the contest no longer in question the only thing left is for a brokered peace so that the two factions do not war once again. In a classic medieval ritual a prisoner exchange is negotiated and a warm family reunion for Apocalypse is arranged while the future of Krakoa looks to be the return of Okkara as the island of Arakko is the mutant to be exchanged. This will no doubt be the focal point for many of the X-Books going forward as I think it feels like the Dawn of X draws to a close and we will have to come up with a new moniker for the X books going forward, maybe the Age of X is fitting. While X of Swords draws to a close there are so many potential stories that can be told that the X books will continue to be must reads for me as just like with X of Swords week after week, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
With a wrap on X of Swords I just want to thank Joey, Steve, Aaron, Bob and the entire Talking Comics family for indulging me with my weekly recaps and commentary for this event. 2020 has been anything but an ordinary year and comics have thankfully been a place of joy for me in an otherwise joyless year. With quarantine, young children who miss their normal lives, a new baby, and a completely unexpected new way to teach in my regular job X of Swords could not have come at a more perfect time for my soul and sanity as every Wednesday I looked forward to the next chapter(s) of the story and was often blown away with the incredible writing, beautiful artwork, and an absolutely compelling story. I hope you enjoyed X of Swords as much as I did and if you made it this far thanks for reading my weekly commentary and joining me on this reading adventure.