Let's get something out of the way up front - to a large degree, 'X of Swords' has been a big, dumb, fun fight comic that has largely been about how imaginative the various creative teams could be in pitting the mutants of Krakoa against a seemingly unstoppable threat that they never even heard of before this event began. And with that understanding, the finale in X of Swords: Destruction delivers on the spectacle of those fights. Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, and Pepe Larraz pretty much give us in this last issue what most of our expectations probably were going into this; an all-out battle for the future of Krakoa and the survival of mutants. You know, basically the final fate of the X-Men that all of these kinds of stories promise to deliver.
Written by Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard
Art by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The cute diversionary contests of the previous crossover issues fall to the wayside as this finale turns into a bloody war, complete with Cyclops and Jean Grey's cavalry riding in to turn the tides of the battle. If the contests of the previous chapters tried to play against the type of these kinds of large events, this issue serves as a reminder of the only way that these things can go; another big battle-to-end-all-battles conclusion.
Because of that, Larraz's art and Gracia's colors become this big, calamitous affair that offers no breathing room for the characters or for the reader. When this cycle of X books began over a year ago with Powers of X and House of X, Larraz and Gracia established a look and feel that grounded itself in traditional super-hero art but also gave that tradition a contemporary energy boost that felt fresh and exciting. That groundwork informed almost every X book leading up to here. Now that they get to do a big battle, with more mutants, Captain Britains, and alien creatures, the artwork feels overstuffed with characters and monsters that haven't been part of this story up until now.
A lot of that is because of the nature of Hickman and Howard's story. 22 parts is a fairly huge story and they (as well as the other X writers) plotted this twisty-turny path that has had more surprises and delights than disappointments. But Hickman and Howard also did a lot of the emotional heavy lifting in the two penultimate issues of this story, X-Men #15 and Excalibur #15. Those issues moved plots forward, had revelations about what has been happening, and set up the final battle.
So that's all this issue gets to be; the big, loud, chaotic conclusion to the story that everything has been leading to. It's really kind of predictable in an all too obvious way. Hickman and Howard navigated the hard and emotionally messy parts to get here in other comic books so this issue drops a lot of the conceits and crazy notions that have gotten us invested in the story up to this point and just give in to the baser instincts of these kinds of stories.
With all of these characters running around, screaming, and punching at nameless and anonymous hordes, there's only one character who really matters in this issue: Apocalypse. Hickman and Howard have taken their post-House of X/Powers of X stories and founds ways to shift the focus of this character to the point where we can now view Apocalypse as a tragic hero. So his battle in this conclusion becomes a battle of the heart between the mutant race that he's sworn to see survive and thrive versus the woman he loves and the family that they had together.
'X of Swords' is an Apocalypse story, building on his history but it actually gives him something to lose. They create stakes for this character who has been a stereotypical villain for ages so that he has to make choices that feel meaningful and even surprisingly relatable. It's been such a subtle transformation for the character even if his first appearance in the Hickman era featured him as a hero in the future, fighting alongside Wolverine and Xorn.
So all of the noise of challenges and battles fall to the wayside when it comes to the climax of Apocalypse's journey. In the end, even Apocalypse brushes aside all of the distractions of everything else happening around him, of all of the distracting filler that Hickman, Howard, and Larraz crowd this book with. The nature of these kinds of stories demand that spectacle and importance but rarely earn it. In hindsight of this event and this issue, 'X of Swords' feels full of the empty and needless superhero trappings that move the plot along but do not contribute to the spirit or character of the story itself. There is a lot in this story and this issue that you could strip away and yet still find a meaningful and even moving story at its core.
Without a lot of those distractions though, 'X of Swords' wouldn't have been as fun or as light as it often was but this issue doesn't have room for 'light' or 'fun.' It needs to be 'weighty' and 'important' and ends up losing some of the charms that this story built up. Hickman, Howard, and Larraz find their hero in Apocalypse only to abandon all of the other characters who have been a part of this story. There's just simply not enough room for them here even if most of them show up in a background of a panel or two. It's not that this is a disappointing end to the larger story but it is disappointing that they had to sacrifice so many of the elements and characters that sustained the previous 21 issues of this event.