Following a major reset of their status quo last year in the twin blockbuster limited series House of X and Powers of X, the 'Dawn of X 'era X-Men are now going full swing with an epic crossover that touches the entire mutant milieu called 'X of Swords.'
Pronounced 'Ten of Swords,' as in the Roman numeral X like its predecessor Powers of X, the 24-part crossover (don't worry, we have a checklist!) pits ten mutants wielding ten powerful blades from around the Marvel Universe against the Swordbearers of Arakko, mysterious enemies from the ancient past, with ties to the X-Men's one-time foe/current uneasy ally Apocalypse.
How did we get here? What do swords and X-Men have to do with each other? How does the old fortune-telling tradition of Tarot and Tarot cards fit in with Marvel Comics?
We're about to break it all down and provide you everything you need to know to jump into 'X of Swords,' now that the crossover is over half-finished, with 19 chapters released so far - X of Swords: Creation #1, X-Factor #4, Wolverine #6, X-Force #13, Marauders #13, Hellions #5, New Mutants #13, Cable #5, Excalibur #13, X-Men #13, X of Swords: Stasis #1, X-Men #14, Marauders #14, Marauders #15, Excalibur #14, Wolverine #7, X-Force #14, Hellions #6, and Cable #6.
What is 'X of Swords'?
The 'Dawn of X' era, as the current X-Men status quo is called, kicked off with the X-Men inviting all of mutantkind, friend and foe alike, to the island of Krakoa to forge a new nation focused on elevating mutants to their rightful place in society and protecting mutantkind from threats of extermination. Itself a mutant, Krakoa is a living island with whom the X-Men and mutantkind have formed a partnership, resulting in a highly advanced society partially powered by mutant plant technology.
But Krakoa isn't the only living island – there is also Arakko (notice 'Arakko' is an anagram of 'Krakoa'). Eons ago, Krakoa and Arakko were both part of one continent called Okkara, a living entity unto itself. But an unknown enemy wielding the Twilight Sword (a devastating cosmic weapon created by Thor's ancient foe Surtur the Fire Giant) split Okkara in two – and Apocalypse, an ally of the living continent Okkara, was forced to lock Arakko away along with thousands of mutants, including his own family, to await his chance to reunite the two islands while building his immense power.
For centuries, the mutants of Arakko waged a seemingly unending war against the enemies who poured forth from the chasm between Krakoa and Arakko, the the latter island accessible only through the mysterious Otherworld, an ethereal realm beyond our own dimension where the magic that powers Captain Britain - ancient protector of the British Isles whose mantle has been passed down for ages - originates.
Otherworld sits in a key position in Marvel's multiverse, including empowering magical heroes and artifacts swords such as Captain Britain's Sword of Might and even Excalibur, the fabled blade of King Arthur, whose kingdom of Camelot also now exists in the Otherworld. Otherworld also bridges the gap between Krakoa and its lost half Okkara.
In Excalibur #12, Apocalypse manages to complete his ancient ritual, sacrificing the strength of several immortal mutants known as Externals to open a gate to the Otherworld, which will allow him to access Arakko and bring his armies through to save its mutant population - or potentially allowing the evil warriors of Arakko to march through Otherworld to Krakoa.
The gate opens in X of Swords: Creation #1, with the two armies amassing: Apocalypse and the X-Men on one side, and the mutants of Arakko, who have forged an alliance with their ancient enemy, on the other. To determine who gets passage through the Otherworld, its leader Saturnyne has declared a contest in which the X-Men will face the Swordbearers of Arakko in combat, with each force using ten magical blades from their world - the conflict at the heart of 'X of Swords.'
Who are the mutants involved in 'X of Swords'?
As the name might imply, 'X of Swords' focuses on nine mutants who will wield ten swords of significant power from around the Marvel Universe – some of which already regularly appear in the X-Men's adventures.
In X-Factor #4, Polaris recites a series of verses that seem to solidify the mutants and pairings involved - though they're presented as riddles, which even the characters must decipher. The ten specific swords - Muramasa, the Sword of Might, the Starlight Sword, Godkiller, Grasscutter, Warlock, The Soul Sword, the Light of Galador, Skybreaker, and Scarab - were named in X of Swords: Creation #1. Three swords, Skybreaker, Scarab, and the Starlight Sword, are brand new to Marvel Comics.
X-Men #13 reveals 'Scarab' as a sword Apocalypse once wielded as one of the lords of Okkara, which he reassembled in that issue, while Marauders #13 introduced Skybreaker, an ancestral Wakandan sword to be wielded by Storm. Meanwhile, Excalibur #13 introduced the Starlight Sword as a weapon forged of the same material as the Starlight Citadel, Saturnyne's seat of power in the Otherworld.
Here's a rundown of the mutants involved in the fight - both those chosen for the tournament and those not, as seen in the poster above - along with which sword they're wielding.
From the top left corner, they are:
- Eye Boy, who wields an unnamed sword covered in eyes, much like his own body, which allow him to see in many different spectrums of light and more.
- Gorgon, a deadly mutant warrior who wields the blade Godkiller – known to live up to its name. He also carries its twin blade Grasscutter, seemingly wielding two swords himself.
- Scalphunter, one of Mr. Sinister's villainous mutant-hunting Marauders now a member of the Hellions, wielding an unnamed, somewhat technologically advanced sword.
- Rachel Grey, Cyclops and Jean Grey's powerful psychic daughter from an alternate timeline, wielding the Phoenix Blade, a Shi'Ar artifact that channels the Phoenix Force.
- Professor X, wielding the Cerebro Sword, part of the codex of mutant identity that allows mutantkind to be resurrected after being killed.
- Cypher, the mutant whose power involves understanding and speaking any language or form of communication, who wields a blade made of his techno-organic pal/sorta symbiote Warlock.
- Captain Britain/Betsy Braddock, wielding the psychic blade of her telekinetic power - though in the crossover she'll wield the Starlight Sword, a magic blade of Otherworld.
- An unnamed member of the Children of the Atom, wielding an angelic sword of some kind.
- Domino, wearing what appears to be the Satan Claw, a Hydra artifact that drains lifeforce from both its wielder and victims.
- Apocalypse, wielding an ancient Egyptian khopesh blade - likely the sword known as 'Scarab' which was named in X of Swords: Creation #1.
- Captain Avalon/Brian Braddock, Betsy's brother, wielding the Sword of Might.
- Psylocke/Kwannon wielding a katana.
- Cable, wielding the Light of Galador, an ancient weapon of the SpaceKnights. There's evidence he'll also pilot the SWORD base in the story.
- Cyclops, wielding what could be the neuro-disrupting Photon Blade which was used by Black Knight for a time in the 90s.
- Iceman, wielding a blade apparently made of his own ice form.
- Storm, wielding Skybreaker, the first Wakandan weapon ever forged of Vibranium.
- Wolverine, wielding a newly forged Muramasa blade, which he retrieved from Hell itself.
- Nightcrawler, wielding a traditional fencing rapier, which he's often carried into battle – though this might be a specific sword.
- Magik, wielding her Soul Sword, though it looks a bit different than usual.
- And Armor, whose sword appears to be made of the same mystic energy as the armor she manifests with her mutant power.
Going up against the X-Men are the Swordbearers of Arakko – ten mysterious enemies, most of whom are newly created for this story (and who you can learn more about right here), but at least one of whom, whose name is still classified, appears to be a character known as Genesis, introduced in 'X of Swords' as Apocalypse's long-lost wife - though there could be a remaining twist in the reveal.
As it turns out, that last Swordbearer of Arakko goes by the name Annihilation - which is actually the name of the golden helmet she wears which possesses its bearer. What this means is, even if that's Genesis under the helmet now, any of the X-Men could potentially be subverted by putting on the helmet.
In fact, in X of Swords: Stasis #1, Apocalypse confronts Annihilation (whose identity is still classified through the issue), who removes her helmet to reveal she is indeed Genesis - for now.
Meanwhile, Mister Sinister and his Hellions' led a secret mission into the Otherworld, to attempt to steal the Swordbearers' weapons before the fight even started - but they arrived too late, and Sinister betrayed his Hellions, revealing his plan was all a ploy to enter Arakko and take genetic samples of its mutants.
Now, the tournament is heading into its final battle after a long series of bizarre, deadly contests in which both X-Men and Swordbearers have lost their lives. With the scores tied at 19-19, the final battle will pit Apocalypse against Genesis.
At the same time, Jean Grey and Cyclops seem to have resolved to enter Otherworld and find the remaining X-Men.
How does Tarot factor into 'X of Swords'?
Tarot is a centuries-old fortune telling practice that involves interpreting symbols from a set of specially designed cards based on the order in which they are drawn from a deck. A traditional tarot deck contains 78 cards, broken into Major Arcana and Minor Arcana – suits and face cards, to compare Tarot to a traditional playing card deck.
'X of Swords' gets its name directly from Tarot. Writer Tini Howard, who is one of the architects of the event and the ongoing writer of Excalibur, is herself a Tarot reader, and suggested the name of the Ten of Swords card, which represents great conflict and strife, for the event.
In the lead up to 'X of Swords,' advance solicitations for the issues involved have often mentioned the name of Tarot cards such as "The Tower" and "The Lovers," and the prelude stories have used some Tarot imagery as well.
Howard recently opened up to Newsarama about the Tarot symbolism in the story, offering significant insight into the role Tarot plays in 'X of Swords' and in mutant society - read more on that right here.
In other words, the 'X of Swords' creative team is using the obscure symbolism of Tarot to hint at what the crossover will hold – so some knowledge of the cards might go a long way if you're looking for that extra level of interpretation for the story.
This comes up in a significant way in X of Swords: Stasis #1, in which the mutants of Krakoa each receive a Tarot card from Saturnyne - with Storm receiving the 'Death' card, which symbolizes a rebirth or metamorphosis.
With X-Men group editor Jordan D. White recently hinting at a big story development for Storm, this could indicate she's in for a death and rebirth in Otherworld, which could result in a totally different version of Storm inhabiting her body. Of course, she won her fight against Death, leaving only three chapters for such a twist to occur - though it's still well within the realm of possibility.
When does 'X of Swords' come out?
'X of Swords' encompasses the entire X-line – X-Men, Marauders, Excalibur, X-Factor, Cable, Wolverine, X-Force, Hellions, and New Mutants – along with three X of Swords one-shots that tie the different chapters of the story together including the aforementioned Creation, X of Swords: Stasis #1, and X of Swords: Destruction #1.
You can get the full rundown of the schedule right here with this checklist, showing the reading order for 'X of Swords.'
How does 'X of Swords' fit within Marvel Universe?
As for how 'X of Swords' fits into the Marvel Universe overall, that's a question that remains to be seen. Since the onset of 'Dawn of X,' the X-Men have largely been separate from the Marvel Universe at large – though aspects of the 'Dawn of X' X-Men mythos have entered into the wider Marvel Universe, and vice versa.
Notably, X-Men #10 and #11 feature a tie-in to Empyre, Marvel's recent Avengers/Fantastic Four-centric summer event that placed a focus on Cyclops's brother Vulcan, while the Empyre: X-Men limited series set up dire stakes that tie Krakoa into the Marvel Universe and Empyre specifically.
And it's not for nothing, but a sword was featured heavily in Empyre - Hulkling's Sword of Space. How that may tie-in to 'X of Swords' now that Empyre has concluded remains to be seen.
Speaking of Empyre, that story ended with Abigail Brand disbanding Alpha Flight and SWORD, and apparently building her own version of the space agency, this time staffed by mutants. Writer Al Ewing and artist Valerio Schiti will launch a new volume of SWORD following 'X of Swords' - appropriate, as the SWORD base might play a role in the crossover, having appeared in X of Swords: Creation #1.
And of course, this November marks the launch of 'Enter the Phoenix,' a new Avengers arc from writer Jason Aaron – who previously teased a meeting between the Avengers and the new X-Men some time down the road – which brings the devastating Phoenix Force back to Earth in search of a new host.
Given the Phoenix Force's ties to the X-Men – Jean Grey specifically, the most famous host of the Phoenix Force – and the fact the X-Men and Avengers have clashed over the Phoenix Force before, there's a good chance the X-Men could be a factor there.
And, with Jean Grey and Wolverine noticing the arrival of the Phoenix in Avengers #37, it seems like that the X-Men and Avengers will soon cross paths whether it's during 'X of Swords' or not.
While some might bring up the Blade of the Phoenix - given it's a sword and a bit of the Phoenix, and appears in 'X of Swords' - last time we saw the Blade, the Phoenix Force fragment it once held was removed.
With Jean apparently about to venture to Otherworld to intervene in the competition, these threads could follow her there.
Though it's too early to say exactly, any or all of that could play a factor in 'X of Swords.'
So there you have it – nine mutants, most of whom many readers already know and love, will carry ten magic swords against a mysterious threat. It's both a beautifully simple fantasy premise for a superhero story, and – as is typical for the X-Men – an incredibly complex mystery that will invite readers to make their own interpretations of the symbolism of the story.
Welcome to 'X of Swords,' readers. Hope you survive the experience…