X of Swords is a love story. It is a fantasy and an epic. It is a tale of redemption, and most importantly, it completes the character arc of one of the most enigmatic, influential, and often terrifying characters in not only X-Men, but the Marvel Universe in its entirety. This complex and rich series is far more than a mere contest of sword battles between the mutants of Krakoa and Arakko. It would be easy to focus on the plethora of new characters that were introduced here such as the vicious Solem, Bei the Blood Moon, Isca the Unbeaten, the vampiric Sevelith, or any of the mutants of Amenth. However, despite all the depth within X of Swords, none of it really matters or is even possible if you remove Apocalypse and his family from the equation.
We see a side of Apocalypse that we have not seen before. We got a hint of it in Powers of X when he sacrificed himself to Nimrod to ensure Moira could be reborn with knowledge of his origin files. That was the first hint that Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard had big plans for the big A, and that we were going to see major growth in his character development. We had also first learned of Krakoa and Apocalypse’s intertwined past in House of X in which Apocalypse had saved Krakoa from a terrifying enemy that had separated Krakoa from Arrakko with the Twilight Sword. In X of Swords, we learn Apocalypse was not alone in this battle. We learn that he had a wife and kids, Genesis, and his original four horsemen – Death, Famine, War, and Pestilence. They had to enter the rift to fight back the enemy while Apocalypse sealed it on the other end. From that moment forward, nearly everything, if not everything Apocalypse has done, has been to find a way to save his wife and kids from a nightmare world. He mastered mutant magic waiting for the perfect celestial alignment that would allow him to open the portal to Otherworld.
Apocalypse’s first encounter with his ancient family is when he meets his grandson, offspring of his daughter, War, and promises him that he intends to save all his children, both those of Krakoa and Arakko. Later when Archangel and Apocalypse are together scouting the enemy, Apocalypse shows gratitude for Angel choosing his Archangel form as though the two have worked through the trauma Angel had experienced as the Horseman of Death. Then Angel asks him if there was anything Apocalypse regrets. We see a very powerful image of tears streaming down his face from the realization that his wife and kids have joined the enemy. He sees his wife has become Annihilation, and she and their kids now lead the army of Amenti demons that they were at war with millennia ago to which Apocalypse replies, “This I regret.” This is one of two powerful teary-eyed images that show a side of Apocalypse we aren’t familiar with. Apocalypse’s family lives by his old mantra of survival of the fittest. It was a mantra that had helped Apocalypse to defend the planet in ancient times and often put him at odds with heroes. During conversations with Genesis, we see him try to convince her that love is the greatest strength and surrendering is not a weakness.
In the final battle between Apocalypse and his wife, we see that Apocalypse has truly completed his arc and is a “good guy” to stay when he rips the Annihilation helm from his wife after refusing to kill her in battle. The artwork and story telling when Apocalypse puts the helm on himself is unparalleled. When I read this part, I felt my heart sink as I was worried the helm was going to corrupt him and undo all the growth we had seen in the once dark lord. However, he shows that his desire to save those he loves is greater than Annihilation’s desire to win at all costs. You’ll need to read the story to truly see how this plays out. I cannot do it justice in this brief review.
Finally, X of Swords: Destruction is the last time we see Apocalypse. After their victory, Apocalypse has been reunited with his family, and he makes a deal with the Omnimatrix that frees millions of Arakki mutants to Earth, while Apocalypse once again makes a great sacrifice to be with his family with the cost of having to rule over the Amenti demons in their own hellish world. We learn that Apocalypse had built a strong friendship with Xavier and Magneto, has been a father figure to Rictor, and that he will see them again sometime. Recently, Ryan Stegman has released some teaser art for the upcoming series, Dark Ages. One of his sketches shows Apocalypse appearing as reverent as ever. Hopefully, he returns in this story as the hero he has become. It would be a great shame to see him go backwards after the amazing work Hickman and Howard have done primarily through HoX/PoX, X-men, Excalibur and especially the X of Swords storyline. We can only wait and hope.