To tell the truth, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the first couple of issues of “S.W.O.R.D.” I read reviews by my fellow critics praising the book and, while I didn’t dislike it, I couldn’t quite see how they were jumping from my view that it was a good, solid book to it being one of the best comics to launch in recent months. But, as the series continued, each issue impressed me more and more, leading to the very good final issue, which wraps up the book’s first (and only) story arc and the series itself, making me wish that there was an issue six shipping next month.
Over the last four issues, things have gotten progressively worse with Henry Gyrich’s attempted coup of S.W.O.R.D. resulting in every alien on Earth being imprisoned and an alien race, the Drenx, taking over the Peak, ready to attack Earth next. Luckily, Agent Brand, Beast, and Death’s Head have a plan to save the day. This final issue is an exercise in watching that plan play itself out, but given the amount of set-up in the previous issues, everything feels organic and flows strongly rather than simply a mechanical walk-through of the good guys winning.
A big part of the heroes taking back the Peak and defeating the Drenx is Kieron Gillen’s dialogue skills and ability to throw little character moments into the big action scenes. Death’s Head, in particular, has a few killer lines like reminding himself to “think of the bonus” when overwhelmed by the Drenx or yelling “I’m the King Kong who shoots back” while standing atop the Peak, hitting spaceships with his hands. Or, there’s the cute banter between Brand and Beast, which has been building over the course of the story.
The final showdown with the Drenx is handled particularly well by Gillen as he uses the most logical argument to repeal an alien invasion that one could use in the Marvel universe. Clever and written with the right amount of humor and bombast. Steven Sanders also plays up the visual humor somewhat in that scene, adding to Gillen’s writing.
Sanders’ work has improved over the course of the five issues as he begins this one by drawing a great action intro with Beast and Brand rushing past Drenx, leaving Death’s Head to take care of the dirty business. While much of this issue is action-based, where it works best, like the writing, is in the character moments. Sanders illustrates those with a necessary lightness. The look of joy on Beast’s face while he leaps through the air, or the odd humanity in Unit’s face as he explains himself make the issue that much more readable and play off of the attachment to the characters gained over the past four issues. Add to that a stunning double-page spread partway through the comic and Sanders has definitely shown himself a capable artist on “S.W.O.R.D.”
Though it’s run was brief, “S.W.O.R.D.” told a very entertaining story with the space version of S.H.I.E.L.D., firmly establishing the group within the Marvel Universe and setting up future appearances. The end of this issue features the perfect callback to the first issue and concludes the story (and series) on a sweet moment. If you haven’t, you should pick up the complete series at your first chance.