Editor's Note: S.W.O.R.D. #2 arrives in stores tomorrow, December 9.
As a Marvel Comics concept, S.W.O.R.D. is a pretty cool one, an organization dedicated to defending Earth from any sort of extra-terrestrial threats, and it seems like a great generator for story ideas; there must be no end of weird aliens that could cause trouble for the planet, as long as the imagination doesn't run out. The first issue of this new series following various members of the space-bound defenders certainly pointed in that direction, moving at a frenetic pace as the green-haired Abigail Brand solved problems, dealt with alien politics, and got involved in the rescue of her kidnapped half-brother, never stopping to take a breath. It was enjoyable and funny, with lots of witty banter and cool sci-fi technology in the midst of a plot that seemed like it could go in any direction.
Unfortunately, the second issue doesn't quite stay at that high point, spending almost its entire length on that rescue operation without seeming to maintain the high stakes that were previously established. Or rather, the Brand half of the story does, as she and her boyfriend, the X-Men's Beast, have a fight with the giant robot bounty hunter Death's Head, wasting time while other, more important matters happen in their absence. Henry Gyrich, Norman Osborn's appointee to S.W.O.R.D., takes the opportunity to initiate an expulsion of all aliens from Earth, leading to several pages of various characters like Beta Ray Bill, Adam-X (the X-Treme!), and the Runaways' Karolina Dean get rounded up and deported. It's an odd shift in priority, making Brand's mission seem like a frivolity, and worse, it's deadly serious, clashing with the lighthearted tone of the main plot. Does Marvel's "Dark Reign" mega-plot have to corrupt everything they publish?
That said, there's still plenty to enjoy here, with the action being exciting and fun and the dialogue, especially between Beast and Brand, often being very funny. And artist Steven Sanders delivers some great visuals, full of cool technology, laser beams, and explosions. His depiction of Beast is a bit weird, giving him a long snout that seems more dog-like than he usually appears, but it does allow for some decent cartoony expressiveness. Sanders also gives Brand and her kangaroo-ish half brother plenty of good facial expressions, emphasizing the human(oid) element in what could be a bunch of spaceships and speed lines. It's definitely a nice-looking comic.
Tiresome Dark Reign nonsense aside, this is certainly an enjoyable series, full of neat ideas and potential for good stories. Maybe Kieron Gillen will be able to move into his own territory once the "event" is over, but even until then, he'll probably be able to fit in plenty of wackiness and crazy action, doing the best that he can to play the cards he's been dealt and still hit the jackpot. I'll be pulling for him.
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