by Kieron Gillen and Steven Saunders (with Jamie McKelvie)
“My Spacegirl Friday. Fury Nick and Green-haired Nora. Joss Whedon writes Deep Space 9. West Wing in orbit (plus zap-guns). 24 with the neo-con-agenda swapped for gags. The fastest-paced comic Marvel puts out, I think. We move at escape-velocity. IN SPACE NO-ONE HAS TIME TO BREATHE.”
(Kieron Gillen on S.W.O.R.D. in this Newsarama interview neatly summing up why it’s such a fun read)
Sadly this collected volume of the space-faring adventures of Agent Abigail Brand and her blue, furry boyfriend – Hank McCoy of the X-Men is all you’re going to get. This fun and funny space opera X-Men spin-off was just a little too unusual to succeed. My review of issue 1, with a few words changed to apply to the collection is still absolutely apposite. From which…..
“S.W.O.R.D. begins very well indeed – fast, witty, silly, big sci-fi stuff with the characteristic scattershot dialogue of the Ellis, Whedon school of superhero sci-fi writing. If that’s your sort of thing, you’ll be along for the ride. I certainly shall.”
Gillen writes a near perfect little comedy sci-fi romp here, throwing in lots of action but backing it up with some clever ideas and a sort of Warren Ellis lite dialogue – essentially all the funny, clever bits but with less of the swearing, technobabble and bizarre sexual situations.
The plot is simple: Agent Brand is head of S.W.O.R.D., the agency set up to protect Earth from the alien invasions that seem to crop up with frightening regularity. Beast is her boyfriend. Her orbiting space station is a mass of barely controlled diplomacy, often with weaponry. We’re in the middle of the complex storylines involving Norman Osbourne’s takeover of SHIELD, but you don’t really have to know about that (or in my case – care), as Gillen only uses it as an excuse to get Agent Peter Gyrich on board as joint commander of S.W.O.R.D to put into place his plan to rid Earth of all aliens.
Gyrich’s sledgehammer diplomacy fails miserably and it’s down to Brand & McCoy to save the day, ably assisted by Lockheed the dragon (still much loved by those of us of a certain age for his adoption of/by Kitty Pryde in the X-Men) and the much missed Marvel UK bounty hunter Death’s Head.
And if you’re after one moment that shows how much fun it is, try this: There’s a wonderful setup where Gillen invents a new race of sentient rock like aliens to invade Earth on false pretenses because they think that Mount Rushmore is actually a noble species like themselves cruelly decapitated by us humans. Personally I think he sets the whole thing up just to get Brand to deliver the punch line:
(The “they’re enormously incredibly dense” punchline, the giant rock alien doing the silent hits forehead in stupidity move – put them together and you get funny.)
That’s why S.W.O.R.D. is a very good book. Gillen’s writing here screams out “writer having a great time”. And when the writer is as good as Gillen is, and full of potential, that means the whole book is one of the most enjoyable superhero romps I’ve read in many years. Incredibly light stuff, a fast read, but great fun.
And that it never had chance to get past it’s first 5 issue storyline is a real shame. Still, at least we have that first storyline in a collected volume. That will just have to do.