By Marc Strom
Beginning in November, Earth's first line of defense against alien invaders gets its very own spotlight with S.W.O.R.D. #1, kicking off a new ongoing series from the creative team of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Stephen Sanders, all topped off by gorgeous covers from John Cassaday.
When the series begins, readers will discover a new status quo has established itself in the S.W.O.R.D. regime, with Henry Peter Gyrich leading the organization and forcibly removing all alien beings from Earth.
"When we actually start the series, [Agent Abigail] Brand is abstractly still in control of S.W.O.R.D.," says Gillen. "Joint control with the new appointee Gyrich, admittedly, but still in a position of responsibility. It's Gyrich's machinations that allow her to be sidelined. Which, as you can imagine, [is something] the ever-personable Brand doesn't take particularly well."
And while Gyrich may have wrested control of S.W.OR.D. from Brand, that doesn't mean she'll play any less of a role in the series, alongside a few other familiar faces.
"She's still the lead," confirms Gillen. "Well, co-lead with Beast. While the book is about everything that happens on this boundary between the cosmos and the Earth, the relationship of Beast and Brand is the real heart of the series. They're our mutual stars, and I think make a brilliant couple. When planning on S.W.O.R.D., [series editor Nick] Lowe and I became obsessed by the idea of the 'adventuring couple' which seems to have fallen out of common use. We figured we could have some fun with that.
"[Brand], Beast, the empath Sydren and Lockheed are Brand's A-Team of operatives, the core away-team group who go and look at whatever little problem may be threatening life as we know it. Obviously, in an ideal situation, she'll be supplementing that with the resources of S.W.O.R.D. She's often in un-ideal situations."
While Lockheed will appear prominently in the series, though the mini-dragon has seen better days.
"Lockheed is especially fun [to write], though he wouldn't agree with that particular analysis," Gillen remarks. "The loss of Kitty Pryde has really changed the dragon. He's fuming, angry, depressed and aggressive. In actual practice, he's the team's Wolverine; which, yes, gets some laughs, until he sears off someone's facial features."
Beyond those mainstays, Gillen also looks forward to playing with characters from a number of different alien races in the Marvel Universe.
|S.W.O.R.D. #1 cover by John Cassaday|
"Away from more established characters, I've tried to draw both from the wideness of the Marvel Universe and totally new creations. It's a series at least partially about the mysteries of space and First Contact-as such, inventing aliens is part of the gig. What Steve has done with the Metroliths who turn up in issue #3 is just wonderful. One of the series' prime antagonists is a new creation too: U.N.I.T., who exists at a midway point between C-3P0 and Hannibal Lecter. And in the first issue, as I needed a bounty hunter for a plot beat, I'm using the first Death's Head. Yes, he's dead. But if you can't bring back a time-traveling dimension-skipper, who can you bring back?"
Gillen describes the overall tone of the book as "breathlessly swift," with "eccentric, often-genius-level characters thrown into situations that demand immediate action, even if that immediate action is to release their finest one-liner.
"When talking about the series, I tend to reference things like the 'West Wing' and '24'-as if a character from the former would go all Jack Bauer if the situation demanded it," he continues. "Velocity is key to it. There's a line in the pitch: 'In space, no one has time to breathe.' I derived the title of the first arc, 'No Time to Breathe,' from it, as it seemed to capture what we were aiming at."
The motivating force behind Gyrich's mission statement as acting head of S.W.O.R.D.-to remove all aliens from Earth-goes back to a certain invasion force that hit the Marvel Universe in 2008.
"Earth was nearly conquered," Gillen reminds us. "Many people failed in stopping that disaster earlier, but the only organization whose main task was to prevent that was S.W.O.R.D. [Gyrich] looks at S.W.O.R.D. and sees an organization packed full with alien staff. He looks at Earth and sees a mass of fifth columnists. Now is not the time for liberality. It's a time to be secure. As such, the swiftest way around that is to send all these people home. It's not personal. It's just what needs to be done."
And somewhat predictably, Agent Brand won't appreciate S.W.O.R.D.'s latest directive.
"She's half-alien herself," Gillen points out. "She's not exactly happy. Or rather, she won't be when she finds out..."
Both Brand and Gyrich, however, remain all too aware of the fact that S.W.O.R.D. must fight to earn their credibility once more.
"Gyrich views the best way for S.W.O.R.D. to regain credibility as this purge. Brand's solution-in this, as most things-is to just work harder. As she likes to say, they stop something like Secret Invasion seven times a year, without anyone ever knowing. The problem is that this particular year, she needed to stop something like Secret Invasion eight times. That grates at her. She blames herself as much as Gyrich does."
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