REVIEW: SWORD #5 Thrives on Murky Questions, New Arrivals and a Whole Naked Man

Magneto dresses down a naked Cortez.

Howdy, folks! I’m taking over as WWAC’s new SWORD writer starting with this issue which, hilariously, is also the end of the first “arc” of the series. Luckily, SWORD #5 continues not just the series’ streak of excellence, it serves as a wholly enjoyable standalone tale that tackles everything from the mess of nation-making on a galactic scale to hiding Fabian Cortez’s junk in as many creative angles as Valerio Schiti could come up with.

SWORD #5

Al Ewing (writer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Ariana Maher (letterer), Valerio Schiti (artist)
Marvel Comics
April 21st, 2021

SWORD #5 Cover
SWORD #5 – Gracia, Schiti – Marvel Comics, April 21, 2021

The bulk of the issue is spent on two plots: Fabian Cortez cashing in what goodwill he earned from helping to save the day in the previous King in Black tie-in arc on a meeting with the Quiet Council, and the conclusion of the simmering Snarkwar plotline that Al Ewing has threaded both in SWORD and its sister cosmic title, Guardians of the Galaxy. Both excel at what they set out to do, but Cortez’s buck-naked address to Krakoa’s elite is easily one of the most memorable and effective analyses of both Krakoa’s outlook towards humanity and Cortez as a character.

Fabian Cortez addresses the Quiet Council
SWORD #5 – Ewing, Gracia, Maher, Schiti – Marvel Comics, April 21, 2021

After the celebratory resurrections seen in books like X-Men and Marauders, Cortez waking up from his temporary demise with only a very annoyed Jean Grey (notably wearing her 90s outfit, thank you for actually diving into her wardrobe, Valerio) to greet him is an incredible gag on its own, but the realization that he’s going to have to make his case for abolishing the First Law of Krakoa with his whole dick-and-balls just hanging out for the world to see is really what seals the punchline for me. That meeting, featuring another delightful guest appearance by Peeper, is far more than extended dunking session on Cortez, however, and initially begins with Cortez becoming the living embodiment of the inescapable “Worst Person You Know Just Made a Great Point” Clickhole headline.

Fabian’s points, grounded in the idea that coddling those who would oppress mutants is a failing rather than a moral high ground, do honestly resonate. As a trans woman in 2021 America, dismissing Charles Xavier attempting to justify irrational human fear of mutants with “Have I not heard all their arguments for my own extinction?” definitely hit home more than a little bit. However, Fabian being Fabian, those salient points quickly shatter under the weight of his own ego. While Peeper’s contributions to Cortez’s public meltdown continue to solidify him as a series MVP, the true shining moment is the full-page monologue from Magneto, a scene that stands tall even now in this golden age of fantastic Magneto Content.

Magneto dresses down a naked Cortez.
SWORD #5 – Ewing, Gracia, Maher, Schiti – Marvel Comics, April 21, 2021

Going back to the secondary plot, the Snarkwar, the chaotic war for succession that occurs whenever the ruler of the Snarks dies, has been something of an oddity in Ewing’s cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe. Treated as an utter disaster on par with most summer crossover events, we have barely even seen the damn thing. It’s an interesting choice, lending a sense of scale and size to the cosmos that you rarely find in the very insular worlds of superhero comics, but it does also make its conclusion here feel a little rushed. Thankfully, through the one-two combination of an absolutely fantastic new addition to the SWORD cast and some deliciously murky morality in Abigail Brand’s leadership decisions help carry it through to a satisfying landing.

The new arrival appears largely off-panel for the bulk of the issue, teleported onto the flagship of two of the last remaining Snark heirs to the throne and murdering her way through them, before arriving at the precise moment to maximize humiliation of Fabian Cortez, the man she is replacing. Khora of the Burning Heart is SWORD’s newest asset, a warrior of Arakko. The first Arraki mutant to join the cast of an ongoing X-Title post X of Swords, her presence alone would be enough to get me excited, but her absolutely jaw-dropping design by Schiti firmly rockets her into New Fav status.

Khora of the Burning Heart arrives.
SWORD #5 – Ewing, Gracia, Maher, Schiti – Marvel Comics, April 21, 2021

An existing fav, Abigail Brand, continues to show why she is maybe the most complicated, and fascinating, woman in the entire X-Line. Ending the Snarkwar is, from a certain perspective, an inherently good thing. The Snarks gleefully ignore all galactic boundaries and treaties in their war of succession and managed to kill millions in the short time this Snarkwar raged, let alone the entire planet’s worth of corpses that occurred in previous instances. One of those dead from a previous Snarkwar is, in fact, Brand’s own father. Was her decision to assassinate potential heirs to the Snark throne driven by vengeance? Even if it wasn’t, what does it say when Krakoa, still a fledgling nation itself, is taking unilateral action to install heads of state over entire civilizations, even if the new leader is a more progressive, modernist one? There isn’t a clear answer to be found, and that level of complexity and willingness to leave messy questions unanswered are some of things that make SWORD one of the best books Marvel has to offer.

Zoe Tunnell

Zoe Tunnell

Zoe is a 28-year-old trans woman who has been reading far too many comics for most of her adult life and can't stop now.

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