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SYFY WIRE Jonathan Hickman

Marvel Comics' Excalibur writer Tini Howard teases battle ahead in exclusive preview of 'X of Swords' event

By Matthew Jackson
X of Swords Creation cover

Next month, the mutant world will erupt into an epic new story as Marvel Comics launches X of Swords, a crossover event enveloping every single X-Men title across 22 chapters releasing in September, October, and November. It's a massive story in the grand tradition of past X-Men crossovers, but with a fantasy angle that aims to set it apart from anything we've seen in the X-books before. And, of course, it carries with it the promise that by the time the swords are sheathed, nothing will be the same. 

We've been hearing about X of Swords (pronounced "Ten of Swords," as in a tarot card) since the event was first announced in February, but despite various teasers, the event remains shrouded in mystery. Some of that mystery will persist right up until we read the last issue of the event in November, but it all kicks off this September with the X of Swords: Creation #1 one-shot from writers Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard and artist Pepe Larraz. Now, SYFY WIRE is pleased to reveal an exclusive preview of this opening chapter, along with commentary from Howard, whose run on Excalibur has laid the groundwork for this event for months. 

X of Swords will unfold in the classic crossover style, with chapters appearing in every X-book over the course of the next few months, but the story really took root in Howard's 11 issues (and counting) of Excalibur. In that title, Howard and artist Marcus To have taken readers through the more magical elements of mutant adventures, from making Betsy Braddock into Captain Britain to a struggle with Morgan le Fay for the rule of Avalon to clashes with Majestrix Opal Luna Saturnyne in Otherworld. It's all served as a potent and gripping reminder that there is magic in the mutant world that goes beyond power sets you might see described on the back of a classic trading card, and according to Howard, that's how much of what we'll see in X of Swords began. 

"It might sound silly, but a very simple desire from my earliest Excalibur concepts was that I wanted a book about fantasy and magic. And I was thrilled when we decided to do this Excalibur-heavy, sword-flavored linewide event — it felt like a canonization of the work I'd been doing on Excalibur," Howard said. "I'm very careful about my storytelling; this is a book about Krakoan magic more than it's about the fun of 'what if the X-Men played D&D,' but the 'X-Men playing D&D' part of it is really fun, and I'm consistently thrilled to see X-Men characters with swords and goblets, alongside dragons and things. It's really unexpected, but so fun. These are fantastic heroes and they do fantastic things. Yes, it is super rad to see the X-Men with swords. Thank you all for understanding that."

Because the story of X of Swords is so connected to Howard's work on Excalibur, she has risen to co-shepherding the event alongside Hickman, who launched the new era of X-Men last year and has been proclaimed "Head of X" by Marvel. Though she and Hickman have taken point on shaping the event, though, Howard is quick to point out just how much of X of Swords' storytelling was shaped by the other X-creators through regular conversations to determine the direction of the event and the X-line overall. In fact, it was through one of those conversations that the conceptual hook of the event, and its connection to tarot, came about.

"It's one of those magical things about us all just getting to sit in a room and brainstorm," Howard explained. "I happen to have a pretty thorough knowledge of tarot so I offered up my knowledge when it seemed like it fit an idea we were all shaping, and it was one of those moments where I realized I'd pitched a whole thing just kind of out loud — and then we all just set to working on it. The X-Room is that kind of room — we do backflips off of one another every time we're in the room together. Some of our best ideas come about there.

"Anyway, I do love tarot, I think it's one of those things that gets often flattened as 'fortune telling' or whatever, but I think it's a really special narrative tool. There's something to tarot and superhero comic — sequences of archetypal images that tell a story, how we interpret them and apply them to ourselves as guidance — that's been in the back of my mind the whole time I've been crunching on this event."

So, that's the groundwork for X of Swords, but what about the actual plot? Marvel has been careful to divulge few details about the story itself, but here's what we do know: Ten mutants will arm themselves with "legendary blades" to face the biggest threat to the nation of Krakoa yet, brand-new characters will emerge as enemies, and key to the story are the arcs of Apocalpse and the realm of Otherworld in general. Though Howard couldn't divulge much, she did note that the Otherworld story in Excalibur will be a cornerstone of what's to come.

"We've been building toward Saturnyne's power in the Otherworld since the very first issue of my and Marcus' Excalibur run. We'll start to see more clearly what's been going on, and the roots of the strife in Otherworld that allowed people like Morgan le Fay to come to power in the first place," she said. "It's all connected. It's connected and it's bigger in ways you haven't even considered. It's going to be like that moment in Wizard of Oz where it all turns to color: stuff is about to change."

But what of these new villains? Marvel has revealed already that they're called the "Swordbearers of Arrako," Arrako being the still-mysterious "sister" to Krakoa first introduced in Hickman's Powers of X miniseries. In the preview pages in the gallery above, we can see some of these Swordbearers preparing for battle, and some of them adorn the cover of X of Swords: Creation. Teaser art for X of Swords: Stasis -- a middle chapter of the event arriving in late October -- has even revealed some of their names. Beyond that, Howard couldn't tell us much, but she did tease that thanks to the collaborative nature of the event, each of them is going to emerge fully formed.

"I'll talk more about the wonders of the X-Room here because it's so relevant to these characters without being a spoiler — so many of us work on these books together that big casts like these feel really real, because we all fill in bits of each character here and there. Or someone 'adopts' a favorite and tells the rest of the room a concept about them, like 'hey, I don't know if anyone had a plan for Crocodile Guy, but I have this idea-' and it gets canonized," Howard explained. "So it's more than just getting an artist to turn in a bunch of sick designs, or one-line concepts, it's that we live with them in our heads. We give them names and histories and pasts, we crack jokes, and we get to know these big casts. So by the time you meet them, they've been loved by a whole roomful of creative weirdos for months. They're full of that energy and they feel real. You're going to meet a lot of new characters like that in X of Swords."

The rest of what's in store in X of Swords will have to wait until the event is upon us, as Howard and the rest of the X-team are still keen on keeping much of the story secret. What's especially clear as we near the event's debut, though, is that this is more than just a pair of lead writers and a few other creators doing tie-in books. This is, as Howard emphasized to us over and over again, a story that comes from the strength and imagination of the entire X-line.

"We've known from the beginning that this was how the event was going to be done, and had every book team willing to join in. So it absolutely affects the structure in that we designed the event we all wanted to write, and if that hadn't been the case, we would have done it differently," Howard said. "Almost nothing that happens in that room is a prescription or an order, and I know fans don't always believe that, but it's true - we write what we want to write, not because Jonathan or [X-books editor Jordan D. White] or anyone had some sort of mandate. If that sounds like magic to you maybe it is, but it's the truth. We do what we do because we love doing it, and we make great comics together."

X of Swords: Creation #1 arrives September 23.