By Don Alsafi. In this week’s installment of Building a Better Marvel, we take a look at the latest debut from the X-Office’s “Resurrxion” initiative. Like Marvel’s recent relaunches of Generation X, Venom and more, this week’s Cable #1 is another attempt to capture readers’ eyes (and dollars) with a hefty dose of ’90s nostalgia, in addition to revitalizing their mutant line of X-Men books.
But is there anything more than that waiting inside? Let’s find out!
Marvel Comics / $3.99
Written by James Robinson.
Art by Carlos Pacheco & Rafael Fonteriz.
Colors by Jesus Aburtov.
Letters by VC’s Cory Petit.
Question time – and no answers. At first glance, the creative team certainly looks promising enough! The pencils are by the always dependable Carlos Pacheco, whose clean, elegant superhero stylings made 1998’s Avengers Forever such an instant and enduring classic. The comic is written by James Robinson, who knocked April’s Nick Fury #1 right out of the park. Two debut issues from the same writer, mere months apart, means that comparisons to Fury are perhaps somewhat inevitable. Unfortunately, Cable #1 is the inferior product, and by a greater margin than one might wish.
The plot, such as it is, proves somewhat thin: Time-traveler Cable wanders into a saloon in the Old West, handily beats up a gang of ne’er-do-wells shaking down the locals, and interrogates the last man standing. He time-jumps to 16th century Japan, runs into a second group of native baddies terrorizing the villagers, and just as easily gets his own butt kicked. And… that’s it.
What we don’t get in this debut issue: Who, exactly, is Cable after? Does he even know, or is he chasing down blind leads? How did he get on their trail? What, exactly, is at stake? When he’s not flitting from one historical era to the next, where does he hang his hat? Is there anyone back “home” he’s working with, or is this a solitary book without a supporting cast?
Many of these questions went unanswered in Nick Fury #1. But that comic endeavored to give us a full experience that showed our hero with a clear and understandable agenda, challenged by circumstances yet strong and clever enough to overcome them. With Cable, we’re left in the dark, without any real hook to bring us back.
Historical confusion. The more we compare Cable #1 with Nick Fury #1, the more Cable’s failings stand out. NF was densely plotted, its first issue encompassing the entirety of a single mission, yet it teased out subtle hints of a larger narrative. Plus, anyone who’s ever seen a James Bond movie can instantly understand the archetype of “ultracool superspy”, allowing the reader to comfortably gloss over any unknowns until such time as the unfolding story fills them in.
By contrast, Cable doesn’t have near as transparent a genre trope as Fury. That’s a problem, because over the years Cable has been a bewildering mishmash of character concepts.
He led a group of Big Gun mercenaries, but he’s also the son of Scott Summers and a Jean Grey clone (!). He also grew up in an apocalyptic future, and later raised a presumed mutant savior in similar surroundings… and that was years after he turned the original New Mutants into the paramilitary unit, X-Force!
With such a dizzying and scattershot accumulation of motivations and backstory, you really need the current creators to immediately stake out their vision as to what kind of book this is intended to be. Unfortunately, apart from the basic “time-traveling do-gooder” template, this first outing doesn’t give us much to go on.
Light and insubstantial. Granted, part of this first issue feeling so lightweight might have to do with the decision to have the narrative begin in one time period (9 pages), then immediately jump to another (11 pages). Structurally, this decision gives us a debut issue essentially consisting of two short stories rather than a single full-length tale. Considering the decompressed writing style very much en vogue in today’s comics, an approximate length of 10 pages each isn’t really a lot to work with – especially when both halves are almost entirely action sequences! How much more successful might this introduction have been if the Japan segment had been pushed back to issue #2, with #1’s Old West sequence interspersed with (for instance) Cable’s immediate backstory, or something else – anything else – to give us a sense of the man behind the guns?
Cable #1 makes the same mistake common to many first issues, in seeming to assume that anyone who’s picked it up has already decided, sight unseen, to purchase the entire first arc. One senses that the creative and editorial teams have forgotten the number of potential readers who gamely pick up any first issue in the hopes that it might completely knock their socks off, and completely wow them right out the gate. These readers are sampling a new comic book as an unknown quantity, and one by which they genuinely hope to be surprised and impressed.
(This is an example of a comic written deliberately for the trade paperback collection, with little thought given to the single issue experience. That’s been a risky move for a number of years now – but since Marvel is increasingly cancelling more and more new titles before the first collection even comes out, training their readers to trade-wait pretty much ensures that a new title won’t last more than a handful of issues.)
A recipe for success. The funny thing is, a time-traveling hero isn’t such an unusual, or even unsaleable, concept. Heck, Doctor Who has been doing that for the better part of fifty years! In fact, to look at that property as another case for comparison, we can note that at its start – whether we’re talking the very first episode in 1963, or the relaunch in 2005 – the show took pains to show viewers exactly what was immediately important to the title character.
But since its ostensible hero – The Doctor – is also something of an enigma, the writers made doubly sure to give the television audience a number of viewpoint characters with whom they could identify. Alternately, the only significant reaction we see in Cable occurs when he encounters a slaughtered village and feels anger – which is a pretty low bar to hurdle. (Congratulations! He’s not a complete monster.)
Cable #1 shares Generation X‘s failure of not introducing its leads, which furthers the disquieting suspicion that the X-Office has completely forgotten how to make comics for anyone besides existing X-fans. Gen X at least has a very distinct identity, as its high-school setting is a concept not otherwise explored in any other Marvel comic. In short, it has a reason to exist.
By contrast, what is this book about, and what does it do that no other superhero comic does? You half wonder if editorial thought, “Hey, we should put out a Cable comic!” without ever asking themselves why. (It wouldn’t just be due to certain movie news, would it?)
Early in the issue Cable stands at the entrance of an Old West saloon, proclaiming to the patrons that there’s “no need for introductions.” Regrettably, it’s hard not to feel the creators took that sentiment to heart.
6.5 out of 10
What did you think about ‘Cable’ #1? Let us know in the comments below!