From the moment Henry Gyrich turned up in SWORD #1, you knew he was going to be trouble. The quintessential G-Man, Gyrich has been a one-man Dark Reign since before the idea had a name. A plan to repatriate Marvel's Earth-bound aliens is exactly the sort of thing you'd expect from a weasel like him, so it's a pity that the people best placed to stop him are off trading banter with a bounty-hunting robot. Such is the plot of this issue of "SWORD," the latest, greatest addition to the Marvel Universe.
SWORD may be in its infancy as a series, but between snappy dialogue, breakneck plotting, and laugh-out-loud comedy, it's already a series that demands attention. Indeed, the chance to see Kieron Gillen's UNIT in action is more than enough reason to pick up an issue of SWORD. A sociopathic android who makes Hannibal Lector look like a ham-fisted amateur, UNIT is easily the breakout character in a series that already has an incredibly strong cast. It's telling that when faced with a dilemma, Agent Brand's immediate response is to consult UNIT rather than pursue more conventional (and safer) options. Despite his malicious intentions, he's just that charming.
The true talking point of SWORD's first issue was the playful interaction between Beast and Brand, and although there's less of an emphasis on breakfast muffins this time around, the light touch of comedy amid the action thankfully remains. Brand's half-brother taking a quick photo of her and Beast to show the family immediately draws a laugh, but such moments serve another purpose: when Hank is alerted to SWORD's actions, his outrage at Brand's perceived involvement is palpable and all the more affecting because we've seen the flip side of their relationship.
It's a credit to Sanders' artwork that he manages to work the diverse moods of the series into a consistent look. His interpretation of Beast took some flak in reviews of issue #1, but it's impossible to deny that it possesses its own unique charm - and let's not forget that it is rather more faithful to Quitely's lion-inspired redesign of Beast than most artists are (and I invite you to refer to "New X-Men" #117's cover if you disagree.)
The relentless pace of the book is a refreshing change from most ongoing series. Gillen is well aware that "serialized" doesn't have to mean "decompressed". In fact, if anything, it's a little too quick to get going. Within the space of two pages, SWORD rounds up several major alien characters, and though the montage itself is great, making brilliant use of the way a comic can tell a whole story in one panel, it does comes across a little too easy. SWORD and Gyrich are afforded a level of competence that doesn't quite mesh with the previous appearances of either.
Nonetheless, with two genuinely fun issues under its belt, SWORD has quickly established itself as a must-read series, not just for X-Men fans, but for anyone who appreciates the diverse storytelling opportunities of the Marvel Universe.