Al Ewing has made himself known among Marvel fans as a writer who is deftly able to weave pieces of continuity and crossover elements into his stories without his books feeling saddled with an unnecessary detour. This reputation is mostly validated in S.W.O.R.D. #2 as the fledgling series ties into the 'King in Black' event without abandoning the mission statement put forth in the debut. S.W.O.R.D. is a planetary defense organization, and Earth is under attack by an alien god. What else is new?
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Valerio Schiti and Marte Gracia
Letters by Ariana Maher
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Appropriately, the issue opens up with a single page, showing New York City covered in darkness. Artist Valerio Schiti shows the buildings covered in symbiote goo, with a silhouetted figure ominously telling a joke. Marte Gracia's colors really sell the atmosphere, bathing the skyline with this aqua-blue color, and a hint of red for the New Yorker sign that hints at a liveliness that the city has now lost. It's creepy and eerie and helps set the tone for the crossover. Even if this is your only encounter with the 'King in Black' story, the severity of the situation hits you with this first image.
From there, the story shifts inside S.W.O.R.D.'s space station the Peak. Ewing reintroduces readers to the cast members, highlighting their divisions and function within the team. Fabian Cortez and Mentallo both play larger roles here than they did in the debut, as S.W.O.R.D. director Abigail Brand tasks them with helping Frenzy and Skrull emissary, Paibok, in securing the island nation of Krakoa in the wake of the attack on Earth. Ewing works in some nice humor here as neither Cortez nor Mentallo are particularly excited about their assignments. Valerio Schiti's artwork really helps sell their displeasure in different ways, with Cortez nonchalantly suggesting other options and Mentallo trying to worm his way out. When the mission gets underway, both Schiti and Gracia take the issue to another level.
The remainder of the issue is the defense/rescue operation itself. Valerio Schiti's framing and dynamic poses make for beautiful imagery, especially with Marte Gracia's colors adding even more dynamism. In particular, a sequence in which Cortez boosts the powers of an X-Man character results in a gorgeous image of superhero vs. monster action. Al Ewing's script emphasizes the character interactions more than the plot or nature of the threat, which keeps the issue focused on the team's actions rather than the crossover event aspects of the narrative. It's this ease of connection to the 'King in Black' event that draws out the issue's one real flaw – it feels disconnected from the previous chapter. There's no real follow-up to the events at the end of the series debut, and so while the nature of the tie-in fits the way the team is supposed to operate in-universe, the transition from S.W.O.R.D. #1 to this issue really does feel like more of an interruption.
On its own, however, S.W.O.R.D. #2 is a really good superhero book. Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti deliver interesting characters and deliver on the 'King in Black' plot without making the reader feel like they're missing part of the story. The humor is nicely balanced, allowing for the story to keep its stakes without feeling overly grim. The artwork by Schiti and Marte Gracia is some of the best you'll find in a superhero book. If issue three can better connect the stories of the first two chapters, the series will feel like a more coherent whole.
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