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Inside the spycraft, the cosmic drama, and the characters of SWORD with Al Ewing

SWORD
(Image credit: Valerio Schiti/Marte Gracia/Ariana Maher (Marvel Comics))

Abigail Brand has rebuilt the Marvel Comics' space agency/mutant space program under her personal supervision SWORD as a response to Marvel heroes keeping too many secrets. But now, several issues in, the SWORD series is more and more about all the secrets Abigail Brand keeps as head of SWORD.

That's not a mistake - that's Abigail Brand's MO as a long-time spymaster.

(Image credit: Valerio Schiti/Marte Gracia/Ariana Maher (Marvel Comics))

Just five issues into this second volume, SWORD has already been pulled into Marvel's latest cosmic calamity (King in Black), and next month will return home for mutantkind's own version of Comic-Con, the 'Hellfire Gala.'

Between all of that and the impending 'Last Annihilation,' Newsarama caught up with series writer Al Ewing to discuss his and artist Valerio Schiti's series leading into June 23's SWORD #6 - from Abigail Brand's issues with secrets, the full cast coming to the fore, and what's coming up in the near future for the mutant space agency.

Newsarama: Al, SWORD seems all about secrets. It was formed by Abigail Brand after she felt Marvel's heroes were keeping too many secrets, but now in action she's keeping secrets of her own relating to the mysterious Protocol V.

What does that dichotomy say about Abigail Brand?

Al Ewing: It's pretty simple - Brand likes secrets as long as she's the one keeping them. She needs to know everything, all the information, in order to do her job, but part of her job as she sees it is keeping some of the same information from getting out into the world. 

(Image credit: Valerio Schiti/Marte Gracia/Ariana Maher (Marvel Comics))

In that sense, she's the classic spymaster, with the same faults and foibles as other fictional spymasters - but it's possible that need to be in control will come back to bite her, at which point all her secrets might just come tumbling out. Including the ones she's kept from the readers.

Nrama: On the topic of secrecy, you've used the tools of euphemism and even redaction in issues of SWORD so far, blocking out the apparent name of the object retrieved in SWORD #1 and other details of Abigail Brand's plans. What's the thought process behind that narrative device? Can we assume we'd recognize some of the terms being censored?

Ewing: Brand's not the only one who likes to stay in control. Some of these redactions are in-world - I thought it'd add a nice touch of mystery if we didn't spell out exactly what was about to happen in the 'Mysterium' sequence before the reader saw it, for example. 

(Image credit: Tom Muller (Marvel Comics))

But some are things we don't want the characters to know about - like, when Manifold gets hold of the ORCHIS org chart, he just gets hints of the larger organization, the same way the readers do. There will come a point - and not necessarily in my book, as ORCHIS has a long reach - where we see more of that chart, and the readers start learning things about ORCHIS the mutants don't know. 

So there are lots of fun things like that which can be done.

Nrama: You're working with Empyre artist Valerio Schiti on SWORD, which has picked up some threads from that crossover. How far into Empyre did you and Valerio know you’d be doing SWORD together? How has it been continuing that partnership?

Ewing: I think towards the end of Empyre, we knew we were moving on to SWORD, and that allowed us to build that scene of connective tissue at the end of the book, and to build that scene with Brand into the Aftermath issue. It gave us a chance to segue very directly from Empyre to SWORD - to say directly to the reader, 'if you've enjoyed this, there's more from the same creators."'

And continuing that partnership has been fantastic - me, Valerio, and colorist Marte Gracia really seem to get along on a level that's hard to replicate. One of those accidents of chemistry that makes the work a really fun experience.

Nrama: One of the highlights of SWORD so far has been the evolution of Manifold, who is becoming the breakout character of the title. But all of the characters you've got on the roster have gotten some attention and development. Who are you looking forward to digging into next?

Ewing: Manifold's great, and very easy to write - his previous appearances gave me a fairly strong sense of the character's voice and nature, and his status as someone with ties to so many non-mutant heroes gives him a wide view that's fun to take a look from. 

(Image credit: Valerio Schiti/Marte Gracia/Ariana Maher (Marvel Comics))

We're also digging into Fabian Cortez - that's probably no surprise if you've seen the solicits - but the character I enjoy writing most at the exact moment of now is... Magneto. I'm far from the only one digging into him, but he is very fun to explore.

(Image credit: Valerio Schiti/Marte Gracia/Ariana Maher (Marvel Comics))

Nrama: We know the ongoing Cable title is ending this summer, with the current teen version facing off against his adult counterpart. How will that affect SWORD, where teen Cable is the head of security?

Ewing: We have some big plans for Cable - and how he fits into the mosaic of the space books - but we'll give readers the chance to see how the Cable saga plays out in his own book before I start blabbing my end of things. Maybe keep an eye on solicits in August...

Nrama: On that note, June also brings the Planet-Size X-Men one-shot as part of the 'Hellfire Gala.' SWORD is also crossing over into that mini-event, and it's hard not to read into what SWORD has been doing alongside the 'Planet-Size' descriptor and the promises of a new direction for mutantkind. Is all this adding up to the obvious equation? What can you tell us about how SWORD plays into the next phase for mutantkind promised in the one-shot?

Ewing: Sorry. Here at the X-Office, we serve no wine before its time - and Planet-SIze X-Men is the finest champagne. You'll just have to wait.

Keep track of this and ALL the new X-Men comics, graphic novels, collections, and more in 2021 and beyond.

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)