We’ve been covering the new era of X-Men on Shelfdust over the last few months, but on a time-delay from the actual issues being released. With the start of a new 22-part crossover story called “X Of Swords”, though, we thought… well, what a great chance to really screw up our own internal timeline, eh? And so we’ve gone Swords-A-Go-Go, and we’ll see if we can get through all 22 issues together. If nothing else, at least we’ll try to make some good… points.

It’s worked out for the best that Wolverine and X-Force both came out on the same day, as they form a two-part side story which is more entertaining for being read all at once. As I said mere hours ago, the first part of this story ended with a sequence which was a bit vague and undefined. But the thing is, if you’re going to experiment with something that doesn’t work out, it definitely helps to have the second part of your story be immediately accessible – because X-Force #13 clears up all the confusion about Wolverine and manages to tie everything together into a tight package.

That’s not a joke about Wolverine, who is naked for most of the issue. It turns out that his quest for Muramasa, the blade maker, takes him straight into Hell, where he falls into a pit of hellfire and is captured. What we saw in the last issue was him finding Muramasa’s dead body, because the swordsmith has been sent to Hell so he can complete the creation of two new blades for a demonic wedding present. That’s what was actually happening! And with Wolverine recuperating in a jail cell, that makes time for Solem to show up in Hell and explain how he got there too.

The back-and-forth chronology of these two issues feels a lot tidier when you read them together, and get the whole story in one go. The smartest thing is that Percy decides not to wrap everything up: there are some dangling plots (also not a Wolverine penis joke) by the end of the issue which are obscured because of the choice to jump back and forth in time. The narrative choice didn’t work inside one issue, but across two it’s far stronger. It also keeps the momentum rolling – if we watched Solem go into Hell and then meet Wolverine, this whole thing would’ve felt torturous.

As it is, we see Solem show up and recount his story subsequently, which feels like a more natural progression of their shared stories. Their escape and brief team-up gives them time to have some back and forth as well, meaning that when they face each other down in a few months we’ll have at least some history to play with. Their interplay is entertaining enough, with the most fun part being how they’re each viewing their upcoming fight as a bit of necessary business. There’s no bad blood and no antagonism – they each have a job they need to do, and it’s going to involve one of them stabbing the other at some point in future.

The smartest touch is probably the introduction of Solem as having adamantium skin – and the immediate reintroduction of the concept of Muramasa steel, which can cut through adamantium. The creative team make Solem seem like he has a power advantage over Wolverine before immediately showing that he can bleed. It’s a bit like the sort of storytelling you get in professional wrestling, in fact. In wrestling, two characters will engage in a feud with one another which leads to a final match between them to see who is best – and just before they have that match, usually one of them will be shown to be at a disadvantage. Typically you have one wrestler get “injured” or beaten up in advance, so they have something to overcome when the final fight starts.

It’s all buildup, but usually it’s the good guy who steps into the final fight at a disadvantage, so it’s more rewarding when they finally do overcome the odds and win the day. Here, both Wolverine and Solem are given a hurdle to jump over – Solem learns that he can bleed; and Wolverine pays an unseen price for his Muramasa blade. That speaks to the focus which has been given to Solem over the last two issues, to make him seem more rounded and complete a character before he goes on to the fight with Wolverine. It also throws off the expectations for the fight, which makes things more interesting for future. If Wolverine had been beaten up here (as usually happens at the start of a crossover story) then you’d expect him to make the heroic comeback and win in future.

Instead, we see both characters on surprisingly equal footing. Solem could be a longterm character Percy wants to keep using; he could also just be a one-off villain who’ll be dispatched at the end of this whole storyline. His time-jumping narrative throws all expectations offguard. Everybody expects Wolverine to be the one character who is left standing in the final battle, but now the crossover has taken its surest bet and thrown uncertainty into the mix. It’s exactly what the story needs.

At the end of this issue Wolverine takes his place on the summoning circle next to Magik – so now we’ll have to see how the remaining X-Men find their swords, and if the other writers will get the time and pages to make the rest of the fights seem as interesting as this one.

Magik, your knees are going to be ruined if you’re just going to stand there for three days whilst the other X-Men are off getting their swords.

 

X-Force #13
Writer: Benjamin Percy
Artist: Victor Bogdanovic
Colourist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

Designer: Tom Muller

 

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