Welcome to the first in a six-part series examining some nine-year old Marvel Comics featuring their Cable character, written by myself, Tucker Stone, and Noah Berlatsky. We've teamed up like this before to write about some amazing comics by Bob Haney and Jim Aparo, but our second attempt to capture that bottled lightning resulted in us getting pretty depressed. Here's hoping for a charming third time.
Written by Darko Macan
Art by Igor Kordey
Published by Marvel Comics, 2002
Three issues away from the series conclusion, the first issue following Igor Kordey's notoriously blunt depiction of 9/11's smoking towers (in an issue he wrote as well as drew), "The Sound of the Arena" was Darko Macan's initial dose of Cable. At first blush, the story isn't that far removed from something that his predecessor David Tischman might have written. Cable is struggling with his powers, which are greatly increased and somewhat out of control following a prior plot twist, and he's trekking around the world. After accidentally destroying a hotel room, he aimlessly wanders out to while away the evening on the beaches of Rio. There, he watches a young mutant boy ruin a soccer game (by telekinetically destroying the soccer ball), and after rescuing the kid, Cable is led to a local underground fight club, where drugged up mutants are pitted against each other in death matches.
So far, so standard. These are the sorts of stories that a thousand Wolverine comics are made up of, to say nothing of the thousands of television shows that use the same format. A singular character, usually a loner, who bums around, looking for problems to solve. There's the cliched kid--he's not necessarily cute, but a kid nonetheless, at the crossroads between going good or breaking bad--and there's some nasty sons of Satan that need to be taught a lesson. Insert Cable in place of Wolverine/Caine/The A-Team, cross the t's, and you've got yourself a story that everybody knows, and more than a few love.
When Cable's half-hearted attempt to "talk some sense" into this young mutant combatant fails, his immediate solution is to sterilize the mutant powers in her brain. It's a strange, brutal choice, but most of all, it's just lazy. He's only just happened upon the girl, the fight club, and even though some of the dialog makes it clear that the girl is drugged--and that Cable knows she's drugged--he seems to be more irritated about the situation than he is concerned. He jumps into the ring, tells her she "doesn't have to do this" and "she's wasting the gift", and when that lame attempt at reason fails, he jacks up the juice. His powers overreact--as they've been consistently doing, worse, as he's aware they've been consistently doing--and along with the girl, a large portion of the audience is completely lobotomized. That gunk coming out of the mouth? It's probably just blood, but for story purposes, that's basically the parts of their brains that make them individuals. After Cable leaves the room--which he does immediately, with zero attention paid for the young child who brought him to the arena--those victims are left behind, vegetables for life.
And then the comic ends where it begins, with Cable on the beach. The only difference this time is that he's feeling sorry for himself instead of swimming with whales.
It's tempting to expend some energy here talking about what Cable was like before this issue came along, but if that's going to come up, it'll have to come up later. What's interesting to me in this story, and the reason why this little team-up is starting here instead of with Soldier X's first issue, is the character that Macan and Kordey are working with. Even though there's 100 odd issues of Cable that had gone under the bus, Macan decided not to focus on what the guy supposedly is, but on what he doesn't have--which is a reason to do anything at all. From the little I've been able to glean about what Cable had gone through in the issues prior to these, the character was one who had accomplished what was apparently his primary objective (the Terminator 2 style time travel murder of Apocalypse) and now, like a soldier returning from front to 'burbs, he had to figure out what he was supposed to do with the rest of his life. And due to the circumstances involved in the character's creation--that he was controversially, yet essentially, the product of Rob Liefeld's lust for drawing certain things--he was fictionally cursed with a set of powers far beyond those that could make any sort of rational narrative use. Unlike Superman, a character whose historical relationship with his adopted Kansas family fundamentally hardwires him to always care about people, Macan's Cable stories are more reminiscent to stories about a young Old Testament God: omnipotent, irritable, and purposeless. And if there's one thing the God of Genesis enjoyed, it's widespread destruction. And birds.
Written by Darko Macan
Art by Mike Huddleston
Published by Marvel Comics, 2002
And here both of those things are, in the one non-Kordey issue that Macan wrote. Also? Jokes! Like most of the ones you'll find in a Marvel comic, they're not funny, exactly, but unlike the stinkers that clog up Spider-Man comics, there's never a sense that they're supposed to be. First, there's the setting: Cable is trying to crack wise with a pretty young secret agent chucked into Kazakhstan's bewildering maw with so little oversight from her CIA overseers that it almost seems like she should be wearing a target around her neck. Second, there's Mike Huddleston, who seems to be teetering on the verge of drawing a Mad Magazine style parody of a Cable comic, while at the same time drawing a regular old Cable comic.
It's all silly stuff, groaner comedy, dad jokes and lame pick-up lines--and that's exactly the kind of humor that you'd expect from a character like Cable, which is probably why he became such a popular straight man for Deadpool during the course of however long that Cable & Deadpool comic lasted.
During the course of Cable's journey with this young American spy, Cable reflects on the actions he took in the previous issue--accordingly, we're told that the lobotomy count rests at a frightening 83--revealing that he's come to the conclusion that he didn't feel bad about what he did to those people. But he doesn't come to this conclusion like an adult coming to a realization, he comes to it at the tail end of some whining. It's even sandwiched between the clarion call of the teenage malcontent, a preening "you wouldn't understand", and immediately dispensed as a subject for discussion when his bored traveling companion lets him know that he's probably going to get laid, after all.
And then two pages of the comic pass by, and our young pretty spy is shot in the head.
While Cable's response to this moment of out-of-nowhere cruelty is predictable to anybody who has ever seen any piece of American entertainment, what makes this version different is some foreknowledge of what's to come. Macan's Cable, in these two issues, is somebody no one would rely on--he's good at taking care of himself, but he's basically shit for everybody else--and there's yet to be a evidence why that would change. He's a lousy super-hero, one whose every act thus far has resulted in death or destruction for anyone unlucky enough to be in his square mile radius. The only reason he ended up hanging out with this unlucky secret agent and her arms dealing murderers (who Cable completely annihilates) is because a local hustler kept bugging him about pumpkin seeds when he was trying to sit around on his ass.
The fragmentary images of Cable on the cover of the final issue aren't the best advertisements for the character's history. They mostly serve as a reminder that Cable's a weird character with a weird history, a glowing eye, and that he's always had better haircuts than any other super-hero. Unnecessary!
While 107 served as the final issue of Cable's long-running series, the Soldier X series was launched only a few weeks later. Macan's job in 107 wouldn't have been to write a conclusion--after all, Marvel would've wanted Cable's readers to continue on to Soldier X--but he couldn't really start anything, either. That's not how the renumbering trick works. So instead, he had to do a placeholder, and his solution was, like his first two issues on the title, to present another standard loner super-hero tale and then screw around with the ending. This time, Cable's peace is interrupted by both a gross-out version of Criss Angel as well as a newly-introduced James Bond style supervillain, complete with a pet sidekick. After hearing "Mr. Singapore's" villainous pitch, which involves so many empty buzzwords that it wouldn't be out of place at a TED conference, Cable delivers his response--an extreme showcase of his godlike power where he transmutes grapes to poison and then destroys localized portions of oxygen--before stealing away in the villains helicopter, which he flies into a lightning storm screaming "hit me". It's Macan laying it at its thickest, shaking your shoulder and saying "this is a guy whose shit is not 100% together" while still chucking in all kinds of silliness, like a helicopter in the shape of a merlion or a villain whose security forces are made up of 35 year olds genetically altered so as to appear as small children.
I'll be blunt though--this is my least favorite issue of the three. These three Cable issues are all visually interesting comics, even if the Huddleston one can't compare to his more recent work, but Macan is ultimately hampered by the fact that he can't really get moving until the first issue of Soldier X. There's just nothing for him (or Cable) to do beyond subvert some expectations and paint the character as one without direction or maturity. But that's not enough for these types of comics to rest upon, and by the time you get to the third iteration of "look at God lose his temper", there's just not enough plaster to cover up the skeleton.
Luckily, there was more plaster to come. Check out The Hooded Utilitarian for Noah's take on the first four issues of Soldier X.
-Tucker Stone, 2011