We do tend to have our “pet” series here at Comics Daily, it must be said. But when we genuinely enjoy the likes of Captain Britain and MI13 and Phonogram (or, in Julian’s case, X-Force) more than most other things out there, and we feel they’re not getting the attention or sales they deserve, then it can feel like a duty to try and communicate that enthusiasm, in the hope that one or two people pay attention to it. So if you feel we’re giving undue prominence to Kieron Gillen’s writing at the moment, then sorry – but he’s really on form at the moment, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we really like his recent comics.
And truth be told, if what you want from a mainstream superhero comic is glorious, fun, witty, gripping, clever escapism, then S.W.O.R.D. ticks all the boxes. It’s just full of those little “Cor, yes!” moments, whether it’s an endless stream of quotable dialogue (“That’s the problem with these superheroic overcompensating altruists”; “Is it because of the long hair? Ah, the forces of the man do assail us freedom-loving hippies, libertines and similar”) or plot moments such as Lockheed (yes, Lockheed) kicking arse or Beast’s quite, quite brilliant escape plan (one that also, in an unexpected way, calls back a plot point from the previous two issues). And then there’s the characterisation – it’s just spot on throughout – Beast’s transformation into a loveable, wisecracking leading man has been just fantastic (best version of the character for years, even possibly superseding Morrison’s. See, the good writers just get Hank), and if there’s any justice, the idea that he can carry a series will be this book’s greatest legacy. But then you’ve got the layers of Brand being, against her resistance, quietly peeled away; a (potential) origin story and (potential) set of origins for Unit, depending on how much you’re willing to believe him; and the fact that Gillen is savvy – and brave – enough to actually go behind the motivations of Gyrich and almost give him a sympathetic moment or two.
And that’s part of the reason why the plot of this works. You don’t agree with what Gyrich is doing, obviously – but you can see why it’s happening, in the paranoid, Osborn-influenced state Marvel’s USA is in the tail end of at the moment (good to see direct reference, too, to HAMMER having an unseen influence on the book’s events). It’s not entirely dissimilar, of course, to the “no Kryptonians!” setup over in the Superman books at the moment, but… well, less irritating, for a start. But truth be told, the fun in this book is less about what’s happening, and more how it does. It breezes along on a wave of effortless confidence and sharp humour, with Sanders’ zesty artwork striking the right balance between cartoonish humour and energetic action. In a couple of years of reviewing comics for this site, I think I’ve revealed a a clear pattern in the things I like to see in my superhero books – attributes exemplified by the likes of Blue Beetle, Captain Britain and Ultimate Spider-Man. S.W.O.R.D. has most of them in spades, and I’m very glad it’s around – for however long.