We’ve been waiting for a successor to Captain Britain and MI13 since… well, ever since Captain Britain and MI13 ended, frankly; and I’m pleased to report that in SWORD, it looks (at this early stage at least) like we’ve found it. There’s just something about British writers going over and taking a handful of not-quite-A-list Marvel characters, setting them up in their own little corner of the universe (whether it’s the UK, or… Earth’s near-orbit) and infusing them with a healthy dose of wit and characterisation – not to mention throwing in appearances by Death’s Head – that makes these books appealing to people like us.
But then, I look at a comic like this and wonder who wouldn’t find it appealing. It’s just so much bloody fun. Not to mention densely packed – the amount that goes on in a single issue puts books that cost a dollar or two more than it to shame, and yet it never feels overly crammed in. Gillen simply has a strong enough grasp of pacing and concise storytelling to give you a complete adventure in a single issue while still making it part of a wider, trade-friendly storyarc. It’s always gratifying to see a writer simply cutting loose and having a good time, and he’s learned from contemporaries such as Fraction and Cornell by setting out to make escapism that’s glorious in its immediate simplicity yet still supremely solidy constructed beneath the surface. What really makes it work, too, is the way the lighter elements are deliberately used to offset the serious ones. For the most part, Beast and Brand’s relationship has been charming and amusing – but that simply makes it all the more striking when he’s angry at her perceived involvement in Gyrich’s schemes. And an opening sequence that quite deliciously parody’s Morrison’s Marvel Boy simultaneously serves to show the immediate extent and devastating effectiveness of said plot.
The whole thing is lent sparky energy by Steven Sanders’ uncharacteristic (for this sort of book) yet strangely fitting artwork. You can make the “Beast looks too much like a cartoon character” argument if you like, but what’s undeniable is that the style serves the tone of the story perfectly – and that the blue fuzzy one is given more immediate visual character than in some time. Meanwhile, where Sanders utterly shines is in the Death’s Head sequences – the character design used (while not the later, smaller version recognisable to most readers) is instantly striking, and only adds to the feeling that it’d be quite nice if this team were to give him his own series, please. Although, of course, that would probably mean having to divert Gillen’s attention away from this title – and given that SWORD has already marked itself out after two issues (in fact, it did it with the first) as the most purely enjoyable mainstream title out there, I’d really rather that didn’t happen for some time. The only worry is that the lessons of Captain Britain won’t have been learned, so I’ll spell it out clearly: this damned book needs buying. And similar exclamations.