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Cable #1 (Review)

Cable #1
Marvel Comics, May 2017
Writer: James Robinson

“Cable” #1 is the first issue of a new comic book series from US publisher Marvel Comics that focuses on a character, being both a mutant and a cyborg, called Cable. The backstory to this character is as confusing as its categorisation. Cable is the middle-aged, time-displaced son of popular X-men character Cyclops, but from an alternate future. The character is part of the wave of edgy, gun-toting, militaristic characters that defined the US superhero comic book genre in the 1990s. Cable featured prominently in many X-Men-related story arcs at the time.

The first issue of this comic book has the mutant traveling through different times and places in the past. Cable visits the United States in 1874 and Japan in 1543, pursuing an unnamed foe. Along the way, Cable has to contend with locals who have been gifted futuristic weapons by Cable’s adversary. Disappointingly, this leads to fights with laser gun-equipped cowboys, and ronin (masterless samurais) wielding electric/laser swords and bows. Cable was largely successful with the former, but defeated by the latter group, as they had the advantage of numbers and the element of surprise.

“Cable” #1’s plot, at least as it is presented in the comic, is flimsy. It certainly breaks no new narrative ground. It is obvious that the story is building up to something, and this first issue’s only purpose is to set up the mystery relating to Cable’s target and why Cable is hunting him down. This is however framed by the reader-engagement tactic of action involving a time-travelling cyborg mutant fighting samurais and cowboys – a mind-boggling first issue.

Our next criticism of this title is perhaps no surprise to longstanding followers of this character: The dialogue is shallow. Most portrayals of Cable never injected the character with much of a personality, other than as occasional father figure to young super-powered mutants. In fact, the character’s most successful runs were as the partner of the very talkative Deadpool. Deadpool is another character in Marvel Comics’ quiver which has become enormously popular as a consequence of the 2016 motion picture, “Deadpool”. In these tales, Cable played the straight man to Deadpool’s funny man. Without Deadpool, Cable is relegated to a walking action hero cliché. Cable is a veteran fighter with guns, dry but not wry, rarely given the gravelly sense of humour of Clint Eastwood’s cowboys. Cable’s interaction with a cowboy-turned-informant allows for slightly humorous banter, but his interactions the Japanese warriors end up being uninteresting and tedious.

One positive aspect of this new comic book is that it is not part of any crossover event, nor does it rely on extensive knowledge of other Marvel comic books. This commercial strategy, designed exclusively to increase sales, in our view cripples Marvel Comics’ creative output in three ways:

a. by requiring enormous and generally unsuccessful writer collaboration;
b. unnecessarily tangential plot lines; and
c. main plots creaking from the stretch of page duration.

The backstory of Cable might be provided in future issues for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the enormously complicated X-Men franchise. If this occurs, like so many other Anglophone periodical comics issued on a monthly basis, the comic will benefit from being collected into a trade paperback.

A “Cable” comic has potential. The character is generally portrayed as hard-bitten but not remorseless. The character also has a time-travel backstory. Both should provide ample room for creativity and allow writers a little bit of wiggle room with regard to setting, continuity, and character usage. We are unimpressed with Cable #1, but perhaps the writer, the very talented James Robinson, is gearing up for something more substantial. Notwithstanding Mr Robinson’s tremendous track record, on the basis of this first issue alone, readers are advised to keep expectations low.