Marvel Comics recently announced the cancellation of one of my favorite new titles: SWORD. I’m not angry about it. I saw the sales numbers and knew it wasn’t long for this world. But it’s still a little disappointing.
There are a number of reasons why SWORD didn’t garner a larger audience. For example, it didn’t have a high profile creative team. It didn’t spin out of a major crossover. And it’s not part of a hot property (the X-Men aren’t as strong right now as Green Lantern or the Avengers). Yet I think that one of the underestimated reasons for its failure is timing.
SWORD’s biggest star is Beast, former Avenger and X-Man. It paired him with Agent Abigail Brand, introduced by Joss Whedon in the pages of Astonishing X-Men. And it included a number of aliens as co-stars, including Lockheed the Dragon.
Over the past year or two, X-Men fans have watched as Beast became increasingly frustrated with his fellow X-Men. He went on his own personal journey to find a cure for the sudden decrease in the mutant population. He confronted Cyclops and Emma Frost concerning some of the choices they were making as leaders. He increasingly withdrew from active participation and threatened to leave on several occasions. It was pretty clear that Beast was going to quit. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when.
And that brings us to the matter of timing. Beast finally quit the X-Men in issue #519, which reached stores on Dec. 23, 2009. Unfortunately, Beast’s debut in SWORD #1 arrived in comic book shops in November. Even the second issue of SWORD was out before Beast officially quit his other team.
That means that X-fans ignored SWORD as just another X-Men spin-off. But if the timing was different, SWORD could have been promoted as Beast’s new team title. It would be like Batman and the Outsiders or Hawkeye and the West Coast Avengers. It wouldn’t be a guarantee of success. But it would have increased the possibility of success.
Imagine this scenario: Beast finally quits the X-Men as he’s been threatening to do for nearly two years. He walks out at the end of issue #519. On the next page, the reader sees an ad for SWORD. “Follow Beast into his new title, SWORD, coming this March from Marvel Comics. Spinning out of the pages of Astonishing X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, Abigail Brand, Beast and the agents of SWORD defend Earth from alien threats and galactic danger.”
I think that more fans would have been inclined to pre-order issues of SWORD in that scenario. It still might not have succeeded. They may not have liked its quirky tone or its odd guest-stars. I found it intriguing but I understand that it might not have been for everyone. However, the audience would have at least been there to give SWORD a chance. It would have stood or fallen on its own feet, instead of being almost immediately destined for cancellation.
I knew that SWORD was already in sales trouble when I read Uncanny X-Men #519. That’s when I realized that SWORD had simply debuted too soon. It would have had a much better chance of surviving had it come out in March. It was a matter of timing. Marvel’s rush to publish SWORD may have doomed it to failure.
This isn’t the only example. Marvel has done a good job of debuting some other titles, such as giving Madrox and Pete Wisdom mini-series that served as introductions for X-Factor and Captain Britain and MI:13 (it was a good move, even though it didn’t work in the latter example). But in other cases, they’ve simply brought out books too quickly. That was one of the factors in the quick cancellation of Jeff Parker’s Exiles as well. It’s too bad. These were good books that I would have loved to keep reading. And with a little better timing, I might have been able to.