The X-Men’s X of Swords event is over, but it changed mutantdom forever

X of Swords (pronounced “Ten of Swords”), the 22-part epic story told across all the books under Marvel’s X-Men umbrella, came to a close this week. The ancient extra-dimensional mutant nation of Arakko was overrun by an extra-dimensional monster horde and rose as a threat to life on Krakoa and all of Earth. The mercurial sorceress who rules the nexus between dimensions forced Arakko and Krakoa into a tournament of champions. And the X-Men triumphed.

But did the Omniversal Magestrix Opal Luna Saturnyne get everything she wanted? What did the X-Men sacrifice for their victory? And what comes next? Let’s run down all the ways that X of Swords has changed the mutant paradigm.

X of Swords was comic book prestige TV

First, a note on format: Most Marvel or DC crossover events consist of one main comic to follow — either an arc of an ongoing series, or a miniseries sharing a name with the event — and a number of tie-in issues that are usually pretty hard to keep track of. It’s intended to make the event feel like it’s swept the other characters in the setting into its happenings. When done well, it heightens the stakes and ideally makes fans feel interested in picking up the main event book, but not obligated.

X of Swords did something we see way less often. It was made of 22 issues, and 19 of those parts were issues of existing X-Men books, crafted by the creative team of that book. And it all felt like a single contiguous narrative, no need for a narration box to pop through the fourth wall to tell you that you should only read this tie-in issue if you’ve already read Spider-Man #42069 or what have you.

It’s clear that this involved a lot of coordination on the part of the X-Men creator stable, and understandably so, because this is essentially a television writers room model. It’s the kind of superhero comic creating that has produced some of my most fondly remembered event comics, like Bruce Wayne: Murderer?/Fugitive and 52.

There are some downsides to the way X of Swords was run. Readers had to buy a lot more books over the last two months to keep up with the story. Fortunately, they were rewarded with comics that always left one eager for the next panel, and with 2-3 issues of X of Swords hitting stands every week, there was no downtime to get bored with the proceedings.

But if the creative teams had not kept such a high polish on the art, stakes, character forward storytelling, and making sure X of Swords felt like one story and not a clumsy game of Exquisite Corpse, this could have been very different. This format might be harder to pull off than the usual event comic structure, it might require a lot more heft on the part of writers, artists, and editors, but it sure made a damn enjoyable comic.

The mutant homeland just got a lot bigger

The Twilight Sword sunders Okkara into Krakoa and Arakko in X-Men #12, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu/Marvel Comics

We all know that Krakoa belongs to all mutants — but the living mutant island is about to double in size. With the resolution of X of Swords comes the reunification of Krakoa and Arakko, two sentient halves of a whole island called Okkara that were sundered thousands of years ago when Apocalypse and his family locked Arakko and its mutant inhabitants away in another dimension to spare the Earth from destruction.

And Arakko has “millions” of mutant prisoners on it, who will now be living on Earth. What’s that going to look like? There’s no way of knowing.

We won’t be seeing Apocalypse again for a while

“Anything you want me to tell the Professor or Magneto?” Cyclops asks. “Just one thing,” replies Apocalypse, before walking off with his strange mutant family, “That I will see them again. Someday.” in X of Swords: Destruction #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Pepe Larraz/Marvel Comics

Arakko returns to Earth as a goodwill exchange of one mutant for one mutant. And that one mutant is Apocalypse, who volunteered to remain in Otherworld with his ancient long-lost family. That is, his wife, Genesis, ruler of the Arakkii mutants, and their four children, the immortal mutant’s first Horsemen, War, Death, Pestilence, and Famine.

Among the X-Men’s most ancient and formidable foes, this probably isn’t the last we’ll see of Apocalypse. But it’s likely the last we’ll see for a while of him being a driving force in Krakoan politics. Otherworld is difficult to reach from Earth, and uniquely dangerous to mutants, as its magical and ominversal nature disrupts their resurrection process. If a mutant dies in Otherworld, they die in real life.

The Captain Britain Corp is back, but different

Members of the Captain Britain Corp, including human Captains of all races and genders, a purple ape Captain, a frog Captain, and a bird Captain, in Excalibur #15, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Tini Howard, Mahmud Asrar, Stefano Caselli/Marvel Comics

Why is everything in Otherworld so dang complicated? Well, part of the problem is that the nexus of all Marvel realities has been missing its legendary army of protectors, who gave their lives to protect the multiverse during the lead up to current-X-Men-architect-Jonathan-Hickman’s legendary Secret Wars.

Who are those legendary protectors? OK, well, in the Marvel Universe, Great Britain’s eternal protector is a Union-Jack-clad figure who goes by Captain Britain. And the Captain Britain Corp are a reserve army of every Captain Britain from every universe in the Marvel Multiverse.

The Corp was resurrected by Lady Opal Luna Saturnyne, the sorceress ruler of Otherworld and the buck-stops-here protector of the Starlight Citadel, the way station between every one of the infinite worlds in the multiverse. But it didn’t go exactly the way she wanted. Saturnyne has been particularly peeved that the current Captain Britain of the main Marvel Universe isn’t her beloved Brian Braddock, but his twin sister Betsy, the mutant formerly known as Psylocke.

So she orchestrated the tournament between Krakoa and Arakko to kill Betsy, forcing Brian to take up the mantle of Captain Britain and be her loyal servant and consort once more. But it didn’t work. Brian refused to budge, and her love spell resurrected Betsy Braddock’s Captain Britain Corp — and army made of all the versions of Betsy Braddock/Captain Britain in the multiverse. One of them is a swan. Because multiverse!

Strangely, Betsy is no where to be found among them.

The X-Men live again?

“You formed the Quiet Council to be the government of Krakoa,” Cyclops tells the Quiet Council. “Well... the X-Men are its heroes,” in X-Men #15, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Jonathan Hickman, Mahmud Asrar/Marvel Comics

One of the strange quirks of the new Dawn of X paradigm for mutant life is that, while mutants have their own nation, their own laws, their own space program, their own tiki bar, their own covert ops team, their own private investigators, and their own immortality — they don’t have the X-Men team anymore.

X-Men #15, the penultimate issue of X of Swords, lays out that the X-Men as a concept are considered a threat to the power of Krakoa’s government in, what else, a data page.

“It is in the best interest of Krakoa — and all mutants — if the only authority and higher representation rests entirely with the Quiet Council. This is delicate work we do. We cannot afford the slightest societal crack. So from this day forward, the X-MEN are now more,” reads a data page from X-Men #15, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Jonathan Hickman, Tom Muller/Marvel Comics

This information was juxtaposed with Cyclops and Jean defying the will of the Quiet Council to risk “everything we’ve built for a few lives.” Professor X and Magneto seem proud that their kids are living up to their ideals, and it seems to indicate that the formal return of the X-Men as a team is imminent. But as to how they will fit into the delicate balance of power on Krakoa/Arakko? That’s anyone’s guess.

Anything else?

Uhhh, Cyclops and Jean rallied an army of X-Men, teleported a space station into the magical realm of Otherland, and opened its doors to let that army out. It was dope as hell.

Doug Ramsey/Cypher/Warlock is married to a giant Arakii woman called Bei of the Blood Moon and even though his mutant power is that he can understand every language, he can’t understand her.

The only mutant to perish in Otherland since the start of the tournament is Gorgon, who you’ve probably never heard of anyway. But he went out strong, and it seems like he’ll be getting a weird amalgam resurrection.

So maybe, some day, you’ll have heard of that Gorgon.