Shiny Shelf

SWORD #1&2, Dark Reign: The List: Wolverine #1

By Mark Clapham on 17 December 2009

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Here’s a couple of spin-offs from (relatively) recent high-profile runs on the ‘X-Men’ franchise.

The colontastically titled ‘Dark Reign: The List: Wolverine’ #1 came out a while back, but is worth catching up with. Scripted by Jason Aaron, writer of ‘Wolverine: Weapon X’, a creator mainly known for hard-boiled, blackly humorous Americana, the one-shot is an out-and-out love letter to Scottish writer Grant Morrison’s run on ‘New X-Men’.

Now, many writers, some of them very good, have managed to shoot themselves in the foot while trying to walk in Morrison’s footsteps (if you’ll excuse the horrible mixed-metaphor). ‘New X-Men’ has proven a particuarly hard act to follow: the only person who has an excuse for rehashing old Chris Claremont stories is Claremont himself, and Marvel as a whole tied itself into a baffling knot trying to establish that Morrison’s big villain reveal wasn’t what it seemed to be.

(Considering every post-Morrison reference to that reveal has been in a story registering somewhere between forgettable and risible, I imagine the scales of continuity will eventually restore the integrity of Morrison’s story, and it’ll be the retcons that find themselves retconned in the end. He who stays in print wins.)

So, welcome Jason Aaron, a man who can play with Morrison’s big ideas in a way that’s true to them without just being pastiche, and add his own layer of invention and humour on top. Wolverine himself is pretty much sidelined for this story in favour of Morrison creations Marvel Boy and Fantomex, who end up having to save the World from Norman Osborn when Wolverine is crippled by his own belief in God.

Aaron has great fun with Noh’Varr and Fantomex, two very different brilliant, ruthless narcissists, and provides a suitably OTT stage on which they can spar, bicker and win the day. It takes a big, demented threat to provide a challenge for these two, and Aaron delivers it, and then Esad Ribic, Tom Palmer and Matthew Wilson draw it very nicely.

Another Wolverine one-shot or ‘Dark Reign’ tie-in might not seem like a good idea, but a Fantomex/Marvel Boy crossover that lives up to the source stories definitely is, whatever name is thrown on the cover to get it commissioned. A lot of fun.

Also a considerable amount of fun is ‘SWORD’, an action-SF spin-off growing out of the unpromising mulch of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s ‘Astonishing X-Men’. Slick, occasionally clever but ridiculously overlong and subject to massive delays, Whedon and Cassaday’s twenty five issues had some fun bits but really didn’t get anywhere fast, or indeed slowly.

Thankfully ‘SWORD’, which stars the glibly-envisioned space-bound version of SHIELD from ‘Astonishing’, is far less cavalier with its readership’s time, and throws in a lot of attention grabbing plotlines, characters notes, cameos and stuff from the first page of the first issue.

The Beast in love! Lockheed hitting the bottle! A rogueish half-brother who looks like Booga from ‘Tank Girl’! An evil clever robot man! Nasty political machinations! Death’s Head!

Yes, Death’s Head! Fresh from the pages of twenty-year-old issues of the UK’s weekly ‘Transformers’ comic! Not Death’s Head II, or 3.0, but the real, giant-sized Death’s Head!

And that’s a good thing, yes? Here’s hoping that now writer Kieron Gillen has put Death’s Head back on the board, others now decide to use this neglected, brilliant character. If Namor or Doctor Strange can get a doomed relaunch every year or two, then Death’s Head deserves a chance. DEATH’S HEAD!!!


Gillen and penciller Steven Sanders have a lot of fun with all this, and that fun is infectious. Sanders has a great, cartoony line to his work, and he can go off-model as much as he likes with the Beast if it delivers this level of characterisation and doesn’t involve Henry wearing those ridiculous wrestler-shorts. Between them, writer and artist create a fun world with appealing characters, and there’s a real momentum to the book.

‘SWORD’ is a fun, clever, charming comic that’s packed with action, gags and neat ideas, seeming to go out of it’s way to provide the reader with a lot of value for their money. It’s mainly really, really entertaining, a quality that too few comics can claim as their own.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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