Review: S.W.O.R.D. #3

“Lockheed & Load”

S.W.O.R.D. #3 cover by Cassaday and Martin.

S.W.O.R.D. #3 cover

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciler: Steven Sanders
Inker: Craig Yeung
Colorist: Matt WIlson
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover by John Cassaday and Laura Martin

I admit it. I’m a big, fat, hopeless sucker for S.W.O.R.D. I’d be one even if I didn’t have regular back-and-forth with Steven Sanders on Twitter. I’d be one if I’d never met Kieron Gillen and found him to be the kind of creator who always has time to talk to a fan.

(There. Now I’ve done all my full disclosure up front.)

What’s not to like, really? It’s a Dark Reign spinoff book that largely ignores the earthbound aspects of that mega-crossover. Hank McCoy is honestly smitten with his green-haired beloved, Abigail Brand… who seems like she reciprocates the feeling, when she doesn’t have ten other action items on her agenda. Lockheed drinks, swears, roughs up Henry Peter Gyrich’s goons with great abandon, and makes dubious deals with the enigmatic UNIT, an alien artifact locked up in S.W.O.R.D.’s basement.

By the by, if you don’t like drinking, swearing dragons with personality disorders, it would be better for you if you just stopped reading now. Department H has nothing to interest you in that case.

Issue three brings us to the conclusion of Gyrich’s “Operation Grace,” an attempt to round up all of the aliens who work for S.W.O.R.D. and bring them under control. This is part of his larger agenda– the eventual deportation of all aliens on Earth– and it plays out, like most major events in the book, at lightning speed. Gillen recently described the book’s narrative style as “hyper-compression,” and it’s true. Expository dialogue is at a bare minimum, subtext is everything, and Sanders packs his scenes with painstaking technical detail (check out UNIT’s cell, complete to the wiring and life support). It’s a busy, breathless approach that still manages to remain accessible.

Speaking of UNIT, this issue begins to peel back the layers of mystery around everyone’s favorite sociopathic android super-genius– or, well, maybe it doesn’t. In three issues, Gillen’s set UNIT up as a reliably unreliable narrator; sure, he’s telling the truth as he sees it, but he’s not above omitting details, dropping broad hints, or just toying with the staff to his own ends. UNIT’s big discussion with Beast this issue begins with an origin sequence and ends in the opening moves of a chess match, which UNIT promises will end in “mate in 18.” Are we getting a hint about how many issues it will take for UNIT’s ultimate plan to unfold? I don’t know, but I’m half-tempted to keep a chessboard around for my own reference as the game progresses.

(Chad watched me play Dragon Age: Origins one night and drew comparison between UNIT and Shale, DA:O’s gleefully misanthropic golem. Kieron’s reply to a tweeted inquiry was “They’d certainly get on. They’re very personable.” Take from that what you will, comic geeks with RPG-fan leanings…)

On the Beast end of things, Sanders continues to render him in extravagantly snouty fashion, a decision that’s raised some fan hackles. I don’t share the hate; I think snouty!Beast works well for his role as S.W.O.R.D.’s resident holy fool. Hank’s renounced his ties to Scott’s X-Men and the new Utopian order and gone haring off after his girlfriend, armed with only his superior intellect and a tray of blueberry muffins. He’s comic relief and worldly wisdom in one adorable package. He’s throwing himself into Brand’s cause as much to remind her that there’s life outside of it as to support it, and I can’t argue with that depiction of their relationship. (Shit, they have a close relationship, and it shows no signs of being abruptly dissolved to suit editorial whim, which is more of a positive vibe than I get from most partnered Marvel heroes.)

One small editorial quibble, too: I know the issue title is “Lockheed & Load,” because it was on Marvel’s site when the solicitation came out… but it’s nowhere to be found in the actual issue. A bit puzzling, that.

Definitely a rollicking read, though, with Sanders’ art firming up (although Gyrich’s a little long in the face on page 3) and Gillen continuing to find high-adventuring romantic comedy in the current grim state of Marvel’s alien affairs. Plus, Lockheed spends most of the issue in full draconic John McClane mode, crawling through ductwork and creating mayhem in his wake. As I said, what’s not to like?

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