Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cable Sunday: Paneled Goods

After picking up the collected Cable: Classic at Long Beach Con and a fistful of X-Force from Earth 2's parking lot sale, I was ready to strap on my shoulder pads and pack my belt and suspender pouches full of 90's action awesomeness. The 90's are dubbed the most action packed decade in comic book history. And for good reason. With splashy, vibrant, kinetic art from the likes of Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Mark Silvestri, Ron Lim and a host of others ruling the sales charts, the 90's became the era of the artist. Men were hyper muscular and women super impossibly hot in poses looking like they were always flying and action that screamed spectacle and splash pages. Created by Louise Simonson and Rob Liefeld, Cable was to be a "man of action" and opposite to the wheelchair bound, tolerance spouting Professor Charles Xavier from the X-Men. Cable: Classic collects his first full appearance in 1990's New Mutants # 87, two part series Blood & Metal and the first four issues of his own ongoing series.

The action starts with a force from the Mutant Liberation Front storming a secret facility to bust out some captured young mutants. After the super powered strike force of Wildside, Forearm, Reaper, Strobe, Tempo and Thumbellina take out the facility guards, from nowhere a huge man decked out in giant shoulder pads, future guns, a metal arm, spiked bracelets and a big scar over his eye appears. This is Cable, time traveling soldier from the future. We don't get too much of his personality besides being a hardass tracking down the same mutants the MLF is after. We're introduced to the armored, masked and spike covered Stryfe, leader of the Liberation who is out to prove mutant superiority over humans by breaking into their facilities after his demands are not met. Cable nearly takes out Stryfe's group single handed but ends up losing his mechanical hand and the MLF breaks out the mutant captives.

From there we move into 1992's two-shot, Blood & Metal from Fabian Nicieza and John Romita, Jr. Here, we go back in Cable's past as a member of the Wild Pack, also known as Six Pack along with Domino, G.W. Bridge, Garrison Kane, Grizzly and Hammer. The bandanna wearing, shoulder pad suited and heavily armed unit lands in Iran, wasting a ton of hostile locals about to execute some hostages. That's just a cover though as the hardcore group is actually there on behalf of a rich corporation and blow up a competitor's building. Cut to years later and the team has been disbanded, some members being permanently injured from a job Kane believes Cable turned on them and left them to die. Cable tracks a team of MLF'ers stealing artifacts from various parts of the world and across numerous centuries on Stryfe's behalf. After getting caught in an explosion on the botched mission; Kane is now the armored up, metal armed, hand disengaging Weapon X and tracks Cable down to his safe house in Switzerland where the two brawl through the house and outside in the snow, hitting each other with trees. Kane joins Cable in his quest to stop Stryfe from collecting the artifacts on the condition that the future warrior help their wheelchair bound former comrade Hammer. Cable had to shoot Hammer in the back on the disastrous mission to stop him from jeopardizing it. That's leadership, kids. The two jump to the future where Kane is made whole again with the intention of bringing back some technology to make Hammer walk. I really dug Blood & Metal, John Romita, Jr's art is very clean and dynamic. The over the top costumes actually look somewhat practical and streamlined here versus Liefeld's early mish mash of pads, bracelets, belts, pods and ammo. The black ops style military group was a key theme in the 90's with many of your Image Comics being based on military teams who imploded on that one bad job and how members come back to haunt the others years later after feeling betrayed or left behind.

The action was pretty interesting as you had guns and mutant powers, robot soldiers, mech suits, ninjas and the Silver Samurai! Cable is fleshed out here as being a tough leader who makes decisions for the best of the mission rather than his team leading to future conflict. Then throw in his turtleneck lounge attire when at his tech loaded safe house and you get more than just some brooding grunt. I'm still not exactly sure what Stryfe's endgame is but you see that he and Cable are spitting images of each other, clones, twins or something or other. All of this Six Pack stuff comes back to haunt Cable in his ongoing series as G.W. Bridge went on to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. and was sent to capture his former teammate, Hammer becomes a revenge seeking threat and Cable totally makes a chick cry after they got busy when he thought she was someone else...Key phrases like "stab his eyes" (son of a bitch?) and "body slide by" (call for teleport) are prevalent.

Over in 1991's X-Force # 1, Cable is now leading the former New Mutants as their own unit of part rebels, part heroes consisting of the flying Cannonball, strong man Warpath, wolf like chick Feral, explosion tossing Boom Boom and bred to be a warrior alien Shatterstar. It's all action for the first 21 pages as X-Force locates and attacks a Mutant Liberation Front base, again confronting Stryfe but losing him, again. Hands get chopped off, bodies are slashed, POONTH! shots are fired, Stryfe teleports and X-Force body slides out. We learn that in addition to Cable's mechanical arm and battle experience he actually has some telekinetic powers as well. It's interesting to see how Rob Liefeld's artwork changed between New Mutants and X-Force as I think it got worse. I'm not sure if he was working under a deadline or just tried to do too much but X-Force # 1 just isn't as clean as his previous work, everyone has angry expressions on their faces and nobody has pupils. Meaning it's just a bunch of slanted white eyes...The haircuts are 90's atrocious mullets or big square do's and body language has become increasingly awkward. While Romita, Jr was able to streamline and make the outfits look somewhat plausible, Liefeld draws Cable with outrageous dimensions, outlandish shoulder pads, arms and thighs three times the size of his head making it look like a guy in an exo-suit of sorts. Still you get lots of action and banter with appearances from Juggernaut, Black Tom Cassidy and Spider-Man in the first half dozen issues. Cable's purpose is more or less highlighted when he states: "We're here to do what the police and the Avengers-types are unwilling to do -- put an end to this situation -- cold, hard and mean!" Superb.

X-Force # 1 was packaged with a limited edition trading card and became the best selling comic book of all time with a staggering 5 million copies sold. Liefeld was featured in a Levi's 501 jeans commercial directed by Spike Lee where he talks about drawing comics since he was 7 years old and never receiving any formal art training. X-Force's record would soon be broken by Jim Lee and Chris Claremont's X-Men # 1 which sold over 8 million copies with it's gimmick of having 5 different covers. Liefeld, Lee and many of Marvel's other superstar artists would then disband from the mother company and form Image where they could have more creative freedom and own the rights to their characters and art. Liefeld's Extreme Comics would produce best seller Youngblood and land the young artist on Dennis Miller's late night chat show. Brigade was another super powered team oriented book with a Cable looking leader where several of the characters die in the first issues through getting their intestines punched out or fingers sliced off. Liefeld would be kicked out of Image/resign after consistently late shipping books and poaching talent from other in house banners. In 1996, Liefeld and Lee returned to Marvel to help launch Heroes Reborn where Captain America, Iron Man, The Fantastic Four and The Avengers all died in a universe shaking battle and be brought back in new, alternate reality universes. Cable would pop up there too.

In 2004, Liefied and Fabian Nicieza relaunched X-Force with Cable still hanging/training/banging with Domino but being haunted by Skornn, a long dead being that feeds off mutants like humans eat cows. Warrior from another planet/time/dimension Shatterstar is training with some monks but signs up for some mindless violence because that's what he does. You see, Cable was originally sent back to our time from a thousand years in the future to stop some kind of catastrophic mutant event. But even all those years ahead, mutants and mankind are still at odds. Some ninja looking baddies from the future aka Agents of Humanity show up looking for The Five Fingers of Annihilation sword, the only weapon that can defeat Skornn, it's up to the reunited Cable, Domino and Shatterstar to stop them. With jump kicks, double bladed swords and punches to the face. In subsequent issues we catch back up with Cannonball, now living a peaceful life on a farm in Kentucky while Tabitha Smith aka Meltdown and formerly known as Boom Boom along with Warpath rejoin the team. Liefeld's art is substantially more palatable years on with cleaner lines along with less ridiculous body shape and sizes. Backgrounds are a little plain or non-existent but pupils are more frequent and hair styles are much better. A scene from the future takes on an ethereal and shiny quality with coloring that looks more akin to paints than vibrant and smooth computer coloring. While the story jumps back and forth between eras, it never gets too confusing or clunky.

Phew! Some fun reading with lots of ads for Marvel shirts and toys that made me miss my awesome double sided Jim Lee X-Men shirt from 4th grade. It wasn't as extreme as Brigade though as those comics just got me amped up and the test (testosterone) flowing making you want to lift weights and punch holes in walls. Until next time, body slide by one...

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