The X-Men have always been made for high stakes drama. Since Chris Claremont and John Byrne delivered ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ back in the early ‘80s, the best X-stories have always been ones that run for multiple issues, involved myriad characters, and ultimately deliver some sort of new challenge or status quo for the mutants.
My favourite crossover from my youth was ’Inferno’, in which Hell descends upon New York City and it’s up to multiple X-teams to save the proverbial day. The main ‘Inferno’ narratives ran through the New Mutants, X-Factor, and the Uncanny X-Men, with the latter two’s storylines significantly intertwined. The conclusion featured significant reunions and deaths, paying off the investment readers had devoted to the series’ over the years.
There have been many, many more X-crossovers since ’Inferno’, some that I’ve read, some that I haven’t. Like a soap opera you weave in and out of depending on the characters and stories being crafted at a given time, that’s been my love affair with the X-Men. However, over the last few years, with writer Jonathan Hickman steering the storytelling ship as the Head of X (working with great writers like Tini Howard, Benjamin Percy, Zeb Wells, Leah Williams, Ed Brisson, Gerry Duggan and Vita Ayla), there’s been a level of consistency and intrigue to the multiple X-books that have delivered at a near unparalleled level. I’ve been reading every X-book coming out of Marvel and while I certainly like some titles more than others, there’s no question that all of them are working in a symbiotic nature that compliments and adds to the larger X-whole.
Interestingly, the first major X-crossover of the Hickman era, ‘X of Swords’, is the exact sort of story I typically wouldn’t have much interest in. As I’ve written previously, the more fantasy-driven aspect of the story, which finds the X-Men taking part in a tournament in a place called Otherworld, didn’t initially hold much appeal to me. I’d been loving the repercussions that the new mutant nation of Krakoa was having on the extended Marvel Universe, the political intrigue of a mutant government, and the interactions between mutants both good and bad were having with one another. A sword and sorcery-type epic was going to upend that storytelling for me; or so I thought.
‘X of Swords’ came to its conclusion this past week with the final three issues of its 22-issue run, and happily I was can say that I enjoyed most of them. As E.A. Henson mentioned in his latest Heroes and Villains, the series subverted expectations of how the conflict between the swordbearers of Arrako and Krakoa would play out, often in humourous ways; meanwhile, the stuff I’ve been enjoying about the Hickman-led larger story, the politics and relationships, manages to come to the forefront in these final issues. While the larger status quo remains the same – Krakoa is for all mutants – decisions made by both the island’s governing body AND Cyclops, the definitive X-Man, ratchets up the intrigue and possibilities for the future. Meanwhile, at least one significant player in the current X-stories is taken off the board, which means when he returns (of course he’ll return), it could very well be…apocalyptic.
Pleasing comic readers can be tricky business, but ‘X of Swords’ managed to deliver a good, epic story, while ultimately setting up the next run of X-stories in a manner that makes you want to find out what happens next, making it a worthy addition to the long list of X-crossovers.