- What Is Marvel’s SWORD?
- SWORD’s Origin
- SWORD’s Most Important Members
- SWORD in Other Media
- How SWORD (and Its Logo) Fits Into WandaVision and the MCU
SWORD: A History of Marvel’s *Other* Spy Agency
What Is Marvel’s SWORD?
For decades, SHIELD has been the premier peacekeeping agency on Earth, monitoring threats across the planet and dealing with the likes of Hydra, AIM and other organizations who threaten world peace. But what about threats from beyond Earth? What happens when one of the many alien empires in the Marvel Universe decides to come calling? That’s where SWORD comes in.
SWORD traditionally stands for Sentient Worlds Observation and Response Department. Operating from an orbital space station called The Peak, SWORD’s agents monitor the cosmos and do their best to neutralize any extraterrestrial problems before they make landfall. With any luck, humanity will never know how close they’ve come to being wiped off the face of the universe.
While SWORD has appeared in a great many Marvel stories over the past two decades, the agency actually has its roots in the X-Men franchise. The agency first appeared in 2004’s Astonishing X-Men #5, by writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday.
SWORD initially plays a fairly antagonistic role in that series. Under the leadership of the perpetually cranky and antisocial Abigail Brand, SWORD forms a tenuous alliance with an alien named Ord. His people, a warrior race from a planet called The Breakworld, fear their prophesied destruction at the hands of a mutant. Rather than allow him to wipe out all life on Earth, Brand convinces Ord to settle for orchestrating the creation of a cure for the mutant gene. When that fails, the Breakworld fires an enormous metal projectile at Earth, one which would have obliterated the planet if not for Kitty Pryde’s handy phasing powers.
Since then, SWORD has settled into a regular role as the even more secretive sister agency to SHIELD. Marvel even briefly published a dedicated SWORD comic in 2009, though the series was canceled after five issues. SWORD was temporarily phased out after the events of 2015’s Secret Wars, with the agency effectively replaced by a new incarnation of Canadian super-team Alpha Flight.
But in the wake of 2020’s X of Swords crossover, SWORD has returned in a new form. Now the agency is more closely tied to the X-Men than ever, to the point that the majority of its commanding officers are mutants and Magneto is the official liaison with the mutant nation of Krakoa.
SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) – SHIELD is typically the dominant peacekeeping agency on Earth, one that often works alongside heroes like the Avengers to combat all manner of supervillains and terrorist organizations. While the modern incarnation of SHIELD was formed after World War II, few realize the organization’s roots date back thousands of years. Even in the days of ancient Egypt, humanity had a shield to guard against threats like Galactus and the Brood.
SWORD (Sentient Worlds Observation and Response Department) – A direct offshoot of SHIELD, SWORD is tasked with monitoring extraterrestrial threats while its sister agency focuses on enemies from within.
HAMMER (full name unknown) – After SHIELD failed to prevent a Skrull invasion of Earth, the agency was scrapped and replaced by the Norman Osborn-led HAMMER. True to form, Osborn uses his new agency mainly as a means of furthering his own agenda and putting the world’s worst villains in positions of power. After Osborn’s crimes are exposed, HAMMER itself is shuttered and a new version of SHIELD is created in its place.
SPEAR (full name unknown) and STRIKE (Special Tactical Response for International Key Emergencies) – Marvel has never been entirely consistent about whether SHIELD is sponsored by the US government alone or the full United Nations Security Council. As such, other world nations sometimes form their own SHIELD equivalents. STRIKE is a British agency, while China forms SPEAR after the events of 2013’s Infinity.
ARMOR (Altered-Reality Monitoring and Operational Response Agency) – If SWORD is responsible for safeguarding against threats from other worlds, ARMOR’s job is to safeguard against other dimensions and realities. This obscure agency helps prevent the apocalyptic plague from the Marvel Zombies universe from gaining a foothold in the regular Marvel Universe.
SWORD’s Most Important Members
While the ranks of SWORD tend to change, the agency has a few familiar faces who crop up.
Abigail Brand – Brand is the commander of SWORD, essentially the agency’s equivalent of Nick Fury. Though almost nothing is known about her past, Brand is a half-alien who carries the mutant gene (hence her distinctive green hair). She’s also perpetually cranky and antisocial, which makes her good at her job but wins her few allies in SHIELD or among the superhero community.
Sydren – It wouldn’t do to staff an intergalactic peacekeeping agency with only Earthlings. Sydren is an alien from the planet Drenx. As Brand’s right-hand-man, he’s basically indispensable, though his Cobra Commander-esque lisp tends to drive her up a wall.
Beast – Most of the X-Men would just as soon have Brand stay aboard the Peak and away from Earth, but not Beast. A scientist first and a superhero second, Beast is fascinated by SWORD’s operations and often works alongside Brand’s team. He and Brand have even formed a romantic relationship, to the surprise of everyone else around them.
Lockheed – The X-Men were thrown for a loop when they discovered Kitty Pryde’s pet dragon Lockheed is actually a spy for SWORD. It turns out Lockheed is also a polyglot whose mastery of numerous alien languages makes him a valuable asset.
Henry Peter Gyrich – This back-stabbing government agent has made enemies of basically every hero on Earth, so it was inevitable he’d find a new gig at SWORD. Gyrich is installed as co-commander in order to help the government keep closer tabs on Brand. Predictably, the two don’t get along one bit.
Spider-Woman – Jessica Drew is as much a secret agent as she is a superhero. And after a Skrull impostor ruins her reputation on a global scale, Spider-Woman finds solace in leaving Earth behind and taking up a new mission with SWORD.
SWORD in Other Media
Having debuted back in 2004, enough time has passed that SWORD has begun trickling out into other Marvel media. Most significantly, both Agent Brand and SWORD feature in multiple episodes of the animated series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Brand also appears in Iron Man: Armored Avengers, though in that case she’s depicted as an agent of SHIELD. Two particularly SWORD-heavy comics – Astonishing X-Men and Spider-Woman, Agent of Sword – have also been adapted into animated motion comic format.
SWORD appears to finally be making its live-action debut thanks to the post-credits scene in Spider-Man: Far From Home and the debut of WandaVision, but it nearly appeared much earlier in the MCU timeline. A deleted scene from 2011’s Thor features Erik Selvig referencing a “SWORD database,” and Agents of SHIELD executive producers Jed Whedon and Jeffrey Bell confirmed they tried unsuccessfully to include SWORD in earlier seasons of the show. In both cases, it’s unclear whether Marvel would even have been allowed to reference SWORD in the MCU while the X-Men movie rights were still at Fox. Fortunately, that’s no longer an issue.
How SWORD (and Its Logo) Fits Into WandaVision and the MCU
A number of Easter eggs in the first two episodes of WandaVision all but confirm SWORD has finally arrived on the scene, including what looks to be the agency’s logo. One of the many mysteries surrounding the series, however, is why the events of WandaVision would fall under SWORD’s mandate. Dangerous though her powers are, why is Wanda Maximoff on the radar of an agency whose mission is to monitor other worlds?
The answer may lie in the SWORD name. Based on a series of digital trading cards from Topps, it appears the SWORD acronym in the MCU is different than that of the comics – Sentient Weapon Observation Response Division. Rather than focus on extraterrestrial threats specifically, it would seem this version of SWORD is intended to be a safeguard against any living being whose powers threaten the world. Whatever the true cause of Wanda’s sitcom-flavored hallucinations, Monica Rambeau and her fellow SWORD agents may be working to prevent her powers from spilling out into the wider world.
WandaVision: All the Marvel and TV Easter Eggs in Every Episode
It’s also worth remembering that the MCU has been without a traditional version of SHIELD since the organization collapsed in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While a leaner version of SHIELD has continued on in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, the events of that series are never referenced in the MCU movies. And whether or not Agents of SHIELD is still part of the official MCU canon, there’s clearly a power vacuum waiting to be filled by a larger and more public-facing organization. SWORD may be more than just the space-based sister agency to SHIELD, but a full-fledged replacement. Even as Nick Fury and Talos deal with an alien conspiracy in the upcoming Secret Invasion series, the Agents of SWORD may appear in all sorts of MCU projects in the years to come.
Which SWORD character are you most eager to see enter the MCU? Let us know by voting in the poll below:
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.