(Massive thanks to Thomas “Dac” Lee for writing this guest review)
Wait a minute, how did I end up with this gig?
Oh well. Mysteries of life.
Cable & X-Force is one of Marvel’s two current titles with “X-Force” in the title, and the first of the two I’ve read. It revolves around Cable, who founded the original X-Force a couple of decades ago, as he puts together a small group to take out future threats before they happen, which is Cable’s usual M.O. but has taken a bit of an odd turn here. Also like the previous X-Force stories, this team is an unsanctioned, unapproved bunch who should (emphasis on ‘should’; remember that, it will be important) have no compunction about killing. The ragtag bunch put together by Cable includes former flame and fellow Force friend Domino, disgraced powerhouse Colossus, nutjob tech wiz Forge, and…Dr Nemesis. …your guess is as good as mine.
The first arc, Wanted, deals with, as most first arcs tend to do, bringing the team together and their first mission, which naturally ends disastrously. The whole thing is written by Avengers Arena and X-Men Season One scribe Dennis Hopeless, whose name I refuse to make jokes about since the entire Internet has already done it to death, and illustrated by Salvador Larroca, of a few dozen X-titles and the under-read Newuniversal. Bit of an odd blend but it should be OK, right?
A couple of things I feel I should point out before we get down to business: I didn’t read Avengers Vs. X-Men. I took one look at that buffet table loaded with ominous servings and stayed away. It’s not really fair of me to criticise the book without having read it, so I won’t do that. I only really bring it up at all because, as with all the X-books, its repercussions are felt across Cable & X-Force. How could they not? Cable’s return in X-Sanction, also unread by me, kicked the whole escapade off, and as Havok angrily reminds Cable in the very first issue of this book, the Summers family name doesn’t need any more tarnishing after Cyclops’s, ahem, actions. Also along for the ride is Hope Summers, Cable’s adopted daughter and saviour of AvX. If you weren’t aware of that latter fact, don’t worry, this book reminds you at least three times.
In the wake of AvX, Cable comes to Forge to give him a little bit of help. Having lost his techno-organics, his arm and eye are about as full of life as Chuck Austen’s writing career. Forge, who spends a prologue issue getting his insanity cured after that whole Ghost Box thing in Astonishing X-Men, builds him a new arm and gives him an eyepatch, because if you’re going to be a rogue team, you may as well be led by a pirate. Forge already has the whole pegleg thing, now that I think about it. Anyway, Cable also recruits…
Wait, wait, no, I’m going about this all wrong.
See, the first four issues of this series are non-linear. I can see the appeal, put up a situation and explain how things led to it, constantly switching between the beginning and the middle and back again to do so. When done right, it’s great.
This was not done right.
When the first issue opens, Cable and team are caught in a building surrounded by corpses of innocent humans by Havok and Captain America, and a whole press team. Hence the chewing out by Havok I mentioned earlier. Things look pretty bleak for the team, and they teleport away, where no one’s too thrilled about how it went down, least of all Colossus, who nearly puts a fist through Cable’s face. The arc then proceeds to describe how things got to this point: after getting his literal bodybuilding from Forge, Cable still has inexplicable migraines and gets Dr Nemesis to check his brain out. At the same time, Hope goes AWOL from her foster home to go looking for daddy, and winds up forcing Domino to show her in. After a somewhat touching reunion, Hope takes some of the heat from Cable’s migraines (Cable is telepathic and Hope can tap the powers of those around her. Explaining that was remarkably easy) and they realise he’s getting visions of the future which they need to prevent.
OK, that’s a problem. Cable trying to stop bad futures from happening has been part of his shtick ever since the future farted him back into the present, but the reason for that was, he was from the future. He knew how things would happen because he studied them growing up. Random telepathic flashes, which are never adequately explained but vaguely hinted someone may be doing it to him, just seems like a total cop-out. Nonetheless, that’s the driving force here. One of these flashes clues them in to what appears to be a scheme by a fast food corporate exec (no, really) to engender the usual anti-mutant bile, leading to Sentinels, camps, yadda yadda yadda. Thankfully there’s more to it than that, and I’ll admit the fast food exec has more reason to dislike mutants than most, and it’s actually a nice breath of fresh air when it’s not personal, it’s business, so there’s positives and negatives.
So there’s a bit going on here. Cable recruits team of morally-dubious figures, has to stop evil plots involving zesty breakfast burritos, has a troubled relationship with his kid and a few medical problems. If that feels like a lot to cram into four issues, well, that’s because it is. I haven’t even gotten started on Colossus’s intro yet (he’s trying to live a normal life and happens to be working in the same building the team needs to shut down. Whoops) and there’s a whole beach rescue thing which is as irrelevant as it is forgettable. As in, I forgot it until I was writing this paragraph and didn’t think it important enough to insert above.
The artwork is not the best you’ll ever see, but Salvador Larroca is one of those rare artists whose body of work, at least as far as I’ve seen, always falls between ‘excellent’ and ‘decent’. If his name is on the cover of a book, you’ll get some nice images. He certainly keeps the team looking interesting, although Dr Nemesis’s new goggles-mask-and-duster-coat looks inexplicably like Grifter from Wildcats, especially once he loses his hat. Cable’s new look may take some getting used to, but I have to admit I respect the decision to consciously make him look different as a way of moving forward. I just can’t help but think…eyepatch? Really?
The dialogue? Well that’s a bit of a problem. Part of it is the story’s fault; with such a rushed pacing, there’s a lot to cram in, and as such the characters don’t seem to take the time and really interact with each other. Cable and Hope’s reunion is sweet, but unfortunately brief, and the most interesting conversations are, unsurprisingly, the ones not related to the maniacal plot; specifically the ones between Cable and Domino about his, ahem, medical condition. Dr Nemesis’s vocabulary comes across as Fantomex, Deadpool and Beast getting tossed into a blender, and having the liquid spilled onto a Thesaurus, which I honestly did not want to like because it seemed to jar with the rest of the team, but by the end I couldn’t resist sniggering at his interjections. Helps that, despite having read Nemesis in other books, I honestly still don’t know who the hell he is or what his deal is, so if this is off-character bingeing and purging for him, I didn’t even notice. As mentioned before, the fast food exec has a lot of winning points behind her, which surprised me, so I was never bored when she turned up. The true loser in the dialogue department is Colossus, who speaks very little while off-mission and his remarks on-mission tend to fall in the “RAAAAAAHH! MUST SAVE THESE PEOPLE!” variety. His intro scene was much more subtle and heartfelt, but it seemed to be all downhill from there.
So this was a poor start to the series, then?
Those are the first four issues. This volume contains five. And honestly, that fifth issue? Saved this book a LOT of grief. Why? Because it shows the team on downtime. Do you know how many superhero titles take the time to show their heroes having downtime? And I don’t mean one or two panels in an issue. This is a whole issue solely devoted to the team catching a break. After such a sandwiched first mission and the way it ended, power to them too. It was a very good issue; Colossus and Domino sink a few and Colossus discusses why he was so pissed Cable had to kill the people in the building (oh, did I not mention he actually did do it?). The discussion is one of the most genuine I’ve heard in a comic in some time, and given how poor Colossus’s dialogue was in the preceding issues, it stunned me all the more. There’s Cable riding around on a motorbike, which was the issue’s weak point, before having an overdue heart-to-heart with Hope, and Forge and Nemesis playing video games against each other. Having come to guiltily enjoy Nemesis’s non-sequitirs, it’s hard not to laugh when it turns into bravado about kicking Forge’s arse at Time Nuggets. The adventure continues at the end as the team prepare to jetset off.
And thanks to that issue, I’m considering following their next adventure.
So at the end we have an arc that needed to take its time, pace itself out a bit, forego the utterly unnecessary non-linear device and give its characters more time to adjust to each other. The hooks for the next arc were utterly blink-and-you’ll-miss-them; the cameo appearance of one of Remender’s Uncanny X-Force (or was it?) came out of nowhere and went back there moments later, not to be mentioned again until the downtime issue. I cannot give the downtime issue enough credit for saving this arc; in fact I worry I may be overhyping it so anyone reading this may be disappointed. If I can give you any advice on this series, it is this: take it with a grain of salt, but don’t be turned off completely. It’s far from the greatest thing you’ll ever read, but far from the worst, too.
Oh, I better do this too.
PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS
BEST QUOTE: “This isn’t normal to me. You raised me. Bouncing around half a step in front of the gun, trying to save the future for a present that won’t ever appreciate it. That’s what I want. That’s my normal.” – Hope