X-MEN: X OF SWORDS STASIS #1
The champions of Krakoa have gathered but so too must their opposite numbers in Arrako...meanwhile, Saturnyne and Otherworld stands between them both with its own mysteries, agendas, and schemes...
A ritual. A parliament. A game begins.
It’s the midway point of the crossover and while its name is “STASIS,” which by definition means: “A period or state of inactivity or equilibrium.” Howard and Hickman give us plenty to chew on as they narratively divide the issue between a look into Otherworld’s affairs (including a peek into the courts both Fair and Foul), the gathering of the swordbearers of Arakko with their swords for the contest and the arrival of the Krakoan champions in Otherworld ahead of the tournament and the shenanigans that accompany that arrival.
The insight into the affairs of the various kingdoms of Otherworld is exciting but at the same time, a little frustrating too as Howard and Hickman tease us with the mysteries of these newfound kingdoms with single panels of art and in the six opening pages of a gathering of the Kingdoms to discuss Otherworld affairs and witness the tourney before diverting our attention back to the Krakoan champions as they gather to make the journey to Saturnyne’s kingdom… It certainly left me wanting to know more and the mystery of Mercator deepens as they name drop Mr. Mercator as the new regent/ruler of this mysteriously renamed land! What that means would be idle speculation on my part but I’ll leave you with his final words to Lorelei and Leech in X-Men: The 198: “Some things do not die… THEY EVOLVE!'” Hickman’s fond of these sort of deep cuts so it wouldn’t surprise me if it was actually connected to the character of Mr. M…
From there the story jumps to the past and examines what the swordbearers of Arakko have been up to in their allotted time and the gathering of Arakko’s champions to face Krakoa’s. What’s particularly interesting is the relative relationships between Apocalypse’s offspring and the other champions. Just like our Krakoan mutant champions, the motivations differ: some seek the deadly competition willingly for the sheer sport, some choose to participate for promises of riches and worlds to plunder (POGG) and some choose to fight to place the boon of debt upon Apocalypse’s children (WHITE SWORD) and these different motivations really help make the swordbearers of Arakko feel very three dimensional and not just that these are the bad guys and they getting ready to fight. There are relationships and history to the characters cleverly dotted into the mix with the writing that add layers to all the actions the Horseman and Summoner, at the direction of Annihilation, take even though this is really a truncated version of what our favorite mutants have been up themselves in preceding chapters, Howard and Hickman keep it engaging the whole way through while keeping certain things unspoken; mysteries like having War and Pestilence’s meeting with Isca the Unbeaten be completely wordless.
We jump back to the now and the arrival of the Krakoan champions at Saturnyne’s home and then we get some interesting moments with Saturnyne’s Tarot as well as between Apocalypse and Saturnyne herself before the last panel reveal that (while not totally unexpected) is sure to make what’s to come so much more interesting!
The real success for me in this chapter is not the art, which is without a doubt beautiful (more on that below), but in the power, gravity and depth the writing team brings to an issue which is more about what is said than what is done and includes several fantastic exchanges between characters.
The art is once again nothing short of wonderful. The opening and closing are handled masterfully by Pepe Larraz while Mahmud Asrar handles the swordbearer part of the story with equally excellent aplomb with Marte Gracia’s superb coloring tying it all together. The standard from both artists is so exceptionally high that I actually did not take notice of where Pepe’s art ended and Mahmud’s began until the second reading! These are two of comics’ best and brightest operating at the top of their game while syncing up perfectly for another sumptuous, beautifully drawn issue whose every page evokes an emotional response. Clayton Cowles gets all that dialogue in there while never drawing the reader’s eye away from the power of the image and of course, the cover from Larraz and Gracia is a thing of beauty.
This is an issue that could stand on its written component alone but combined with absolutely stellar art succeeds on all fronts as an engaging and in fact thrilling halfway point in this crossover. Action lovers may not gravitate toward the issue but fans of tarot, the lore of Otherworld and Arakko will find plenty to engage them on every page!
X-MEN: X OF SWORDS - STASIS #1 (XOS part 11 of 22) : Otherworldly Affairs
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
Art - 9.5/109.5/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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