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CSBG Archive

Into the back issue box #23

Yes, I’m back with the rules for these posts.  I figure there might be someone who doesn’t know them!

Well, I wished for a good comic this weekend.  I didn’t get it, sadly.  Stinkin’ muties.  Does anyone ever wish Bastion had succeeded in his diabolical plan?

Cable #40 (“Into the Dark”) by Todd Dezago, Scott Clark, and Chris Carlson.  Published by Marvel, February 1997.

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The blandness of this issue is what strikes me first.  There is no effort whatsoever to make this comic interesting or unique or different in any way.  When people speak of “corporate comics” (they do, don’t they, at all those cocktail parties I don’t get invited to?), this is what they mean.  Bob Harras hooked up the Mutant-o-tronomatic 6000 and typed in, “Write a comic in which Cable and Domino do something.  Oh yeah, put some action in it and make sure Bastion is somewhere pulling the strings.”  Then he hit “execute” and this got spat out.  Its most memorable feature is its utter forgettableness.  And that’s tough to do!

But how does this do in drawing in the first-time comics reader?  Remember, this is 1997 (well, 1996 really), at the height of Operation: Zero Tolerance.  So there’s a lot you would presume one should know to enjoy this.  So let’s check it out.  We begin deep in the Louisiana bayou (we know this because it’s the first narration box in the book!), where someone, who is quickly identified as Cable, tells his compatriots to “Stay frosty.”  Does anyone actually say stuff like this in real life?  Cable is checking out some sort of compound, and he mentions that “Xavier’s files” mentioned a guardian, but nothing specific.  He says that “members of Professor Xavier’s mutant underground – like Renee Majcomb – could be at risk … in light of recent events.”  So we get that they’re looking for someone named Renee Majcomb, who might be in danger, and something has happened recently, but we’re not sure what.  Before we can get anymore exposition, Cable leaps out of the way as what appears to be gunfire erupts around him.  I say “what appears to be gunfire” because the “gunfire” is green, so maybe it’s some weird laser.  Whatever.  Cable tells his comrades – Domino and Douglock – to get down.  So we know who’s in this book, at least.

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The people who are shooting at them wear some weird uniforms that allow them to become invisible, not unlike the Predator.  One of them remarks that one of the mutants they’re tracking is one of the government’s most wanted and that his “levels” are “off the chart” (this impresses him so much he says “Holy spit!”).  The commanding officer says that Majcomb is a Genoshan expatriate with ties to mutant insurgents, and they have to send her back to Genosha.  At this point, we have no idea what Genosha is or who these mutant insurgents are, but we have hope that all will be explained.  Meanwhile, Cable thinks that the people chasing them are capable of blocking his telepathic abilities.  Darn it!  Domino points out that there’s clear access to the house, but the three of them don’t make a move.  We get to see all three of them clearly.  Cable is a white-haired gentleman with what looks like a robotic arm and lots of extraneous armor, Domino has a chalk-white face with a patch of black skin encircling her left eye.  What the hell?  She also has blue hair and a Power Girl oval in her shirt.  Douglock, meanwhile, looks like a boy but is obviously some sort of machine.  So that’s our intrepid rescue team.  As a first-time comic book reader, you wonder if the weirdness of their appearance will be explained.  As a seasoned comic book reader, you don’t have much hope.

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Cable tells them to chill and then has a flashback.  Yay, exposition!  We learn that his name is Nathan Dayspring, and that he’s from 2000 years in the future.  He’s telepathic and telekinetic, and he’s fighting “to keep his genetic brethren, and those humans who would side with them, free from the persecution of a world that fears them!”  He recalls a conversation he had with “world-reknowned and geneticist [sic], Moira MacTaggart,” who also offers some exposition when she mentions the assassination of Graydon Creed, which has led to anti-mutant hysteria.  “Charles” is also unavailable (the details of which we can find out in Onslaught: Epilogue, a footnote explains), and Moira fears for his mutant underground, which, according to her, are just a bunch of people helping mutants and humans co-exist.  But Renee Majcomb is working on a cure for the Legacy Virus, and she’s been out of contact for weeks.  We don’t learn what the Legacy Virus is, but it sounds nasty.  Cable says that Xavier had files about the members of the underground, but his students deleted most of them to keep them from Onslaught.  Moira sent a “bio-technic curiosity” to him – Douglock.  Douglock is “an alien life-form cast in the image of a dead boy named Doug Ramsey,” which doesn’t really explain much about Douglock, but at least it’s something.  Douglock was able to “cyber-link” with Xavier’s computers and find the relevant files.  They discovered Majcomb’s location, and went to warn her of the possible dangers.  Douglock asks to accompany them, because he feels a connection with Cable, and they might need each other very soon.  Cable breaks out of his reverie with an oath (he actually thinks “Oath!”) and wonders if they’re facing the “guardian” that protects Majcomb, or if they’ve arrived … too late!

Story continues below

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Majcomb, inside, is looking for a gun.  The narration tells us that she is well known for her research into mutagenics, and she was forced to “pervert” her studies for her country (Genosha, as we recall).  She rebelled and paid the price.  We’re still not sure what Genosha did to mutants, but apparently it wasn’t a good thing.  Majcomb finds the fun and turns on the light, thinking about “Nils,” who is out in the darkness protecting her.  Nils was “forced into the slave caste” in Genosha because he is a “mutate.”  He has some sort of “condition” and “inconsistent control” over his powers.  Majcomb promised to wait for his return, but she’s getting anxious.  Outside, the strangely-clad soldiers are talking to each other.  One, a female named “Neils” (yeah, that’s a bit annoying), wants permission to investigate something in front of her.  Her commanding officer orders her to stay put, but before anyone can reach her, a blackness envelops her.  The blackness makes “frip frip frip” sounds.  That’s just bad news.  Cable hears gunfire, but not aimed at them, and he makes his move.  Douglock takes this opportunity to disappear.  Oh, that Douglock!

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Neils, whose first name is Amy, has disappeared as well.  While the others try to figure out what happened, one of them gets a communication from “base.”  Base is the headquarters of the “multi-national task force” called Operation: Zero Tolerance.  “The group’s sole aim: neutralize the mutant threat against humanity.”  The boss man, a Mr. Harper, tells them to leave Neils behind and return to base, because their job was to get Majcomb and all data she has on Xavier and the Legacy Virus.  That has been compromised, so they need to leave.  As he breaks communication, Bastion appears behind him and tells him he’s doing a fine job.  Mr. Harper is a bit terrified of Bastion.  We, of course, know next to nothing about him, except that he wants to “neutralize the mutant threat against humanity.”

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Back in the bayou, one of the strike force gets a reading on Neils.  Cable has already found her, though, and he’s confused as to what happened to her.  She’s lying still, with blue smoke rising from her.  As he investigates, one of the bad guys comes up behind him and cracks him in the jaw.  As he is in “Predator-mode,” Cable can’t see him, but the guy stupidly rants at our fallen mutant, giving Cable a target because he can follow his voice.  Come on, it’s Cable – ultra super-duper mutant warrior!  He manages to tackle the bad guy just as Douglock shows up and offers assistance.  We cut to Domino, who hears someone behind her.  She turns and sees Majcomb’s protector, Nils, who doesn’t appear to have much of a physical body.  He’s all weird black strips, see?

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He threatens Domino, but Majcomb shows up and tells him it’s okay.  Lucky for Domino!  We zip back to Cable and Douglock, and everyone’s favorite bio-technic curiosity has accessed the bad guy’s suit and turned him visible.  The guy accuses Cable of messing up Neils, and Douglock tells Cable that he has already accessed her suit, so he knows what happened to her.  Cable reads him telepathically and learns that Neils was ambushed and “lost in a stygian void,” whereupon her suit shut down.  As Cable states the obvious, that something is stalking them, Majcomb and Nils show up (Domino, interestingly enough, does not appear for the rest of the book – did she decide to hit the Starbucks or something?) and Majcomb introduces Cable and Douglock to Nils.  As she explains, one of the bad guys sneaks up behind her and grabs her, holding a really stupid-looking gun at her head.  He can’t do anything about it, though, because Nils easily moves behind him and is about to suck him in (and his friend, who just suddenly showed up).  Cable tries to talk him down, but Nils doesn’t care.  Cable tells him their suits are “cybersynaptic” and when they shut down, it might kill them.  Nils says it’s what they deserve, but Cable pulls the old “you’re not a killer” speech out of his bag of tricks and Nils lets them go.  Cable tells the strike force (a third member of which suddenly appears) to go and bother them no more!  He also says, lamely, “I’m sorry for your friend – I’m … I’m sure she’ll be all right.”  Cable always has a kind word for his enemies!

Story continues below

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Cable tells Majcomb that he thinks she should return to Salem Center with them, but she refuses.  She says she was planning on relocating anyway, and Nils is a very good protector.  Nils prefers to stay away from other mutants, and when Cable asks why, Majcomb tells him that he is infected with a variant strain of the Legacy Virus that broke out among the Genoshan mutate population.  He doesn’t want to infect anyone else.  On that somber note, the issue ends, rather abruptly.

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This is a bad comic in the worst possible way – it’s completely bland.  It looks vaguely like an early-1990s Image book, but Clark doesn’t even go whole hog with it and give Domino ridiculously inflated breasts and Cable strands of saliva linking his teeth whenever he opens his mouth.  We get some weird muscle poses, and a few popping veins (on the cover, for instance), and strange armor in bizarre places (Nils has the ubiquitous head thing that many superheroes in the 1990s sported), but other than that, there’s not much to the art that makes you roll your eyes.  It’s not good, but it’s not so bad it’s good.  Dezago’s story is similar.  Dezago is certainly able to tell a good story and give his characters some personality, but I imagine as this is an X-book in the middle of a whole convoluted storyline about Operation: Zero Tolerance, Harras allowed no deviation from the norm.  Therefore we get Vanilla Cable and Vanilla Everything.  For a first-timer, Dezago does try to make it accessible, giving us lots of information about each of the characters.  It’s a sad statement about the nature of Marvel’s Mutant Universe at this time (and for most of the past 20 years, really) that even with all that information, people who came to this cold would still be hopelessly lost.  We know the basic facts, but not why, for instance, a man from 2000 years in the future happens to be wandering around in the present day.  Or why Bastion hates mutants so much.  Or what the Legacy Virus is.  You know, kind of important stuff.

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Marvel books in the latter half of the 1990s, especially the mutant ones, were all like this, and I wonder how much it drove away new readers.  Granted, this was before the X-Men movies, so maybe the desire to seek the X-books wasn’t there among the general populace, but if it was, Marvel took care of that right quick.  I don’t want a “jumping-on” point – when I started reading Marvel books, I jumped right in and waded through until I figured everything out, damn it! – but a bit more accessibility would be nice.  If you’re going to make these books impenetrable to the layman, you have a responsibility to make the story really good or the characters really interesting.  Despite this being a single-issue story, it is hooked into the larger storyline, and therefore it suffers from having to refer to it.  Cable, Domino, and Douglock also can’t get much character development because they have a plot to get through.  So there’s no reason to get too worked up over what happens, and no good reason to come back.

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I have no idea how well Cable sold back in the day.  However, it shows the problem with both Marvel and DC – way too many books.  There’s no reason for this comic to exist, and therefore no reason for the creative team to make it interesting at all.  Everyone phoned it in on this issue, so why should we care?  And that’s a shame, because it seems like the Big Two have this kind of attitude a lot – nobody cares about the book, but the readers should.  Why, exactly?

Maybe I’ll get a good book next week.  I’m not holding my breath!


Today was our first real outing since Julie got home from the hospital, driving up to Lynnwood to get the students’ convention passes, and on the way home we stopped at a thrift store. I got lost in the books, as I always do, but this particular Goodwill outlet was a bit odd because it had comics. Two longboxes full of them at fifty cents each. And both boxes were FULL of this crap. 90’s Marvel X books, Reed-less FF with Sue Storm in her slut uniform, and Clone Saga Spider-Man, 90’s Image…. my eyes blurred after a while. It was kind of if the whole comics industry was made up of the books you did last week and today. I was looking for cheap books for my students, we do grab bags for them sometimes and I always like to have giveaways around the house for neighbor kids and Halloween and so on. But I found exactly NOTHING fit to give — well, anyone, really. No kid would want that stuff and I don’t know any adults that would admit to reading it. Except you, taking one for the team here every weekend.

Now I’m wondering what the hell I WAS buying in the 90’s. Looking at the longboxes I see… not much. Waid/Garney Cap. Some Superman. Some Bat stuff. Vertigo. Slim pickings.

The hell of it is, that story actually sounds like baseline-good as far as new readers would be concerned. It sounds about comparable, in terms of the effort to catch up, to MY first Marvel books by guys other than Stan Lee — Steve Englehart’s Avengers, say, or Marv Wolfman on Daredevil. Those were rough going at first, especially Englehart, but I managed. Because the art was so basic and clear.

But this art is so awful… I really think you should give it a little more credit for putting people off. It looks like the book would be really hard to read. Look how many guys have wedge-shaped faces and white hair. Even now, at forty-five, I had to look twice a couple of times to figure out who was which character. (I’m assuming there’s no real REASON for Bastion to look like a skinnier Cable, or for the other guy to look like Bastion with a mustache.) When I was eleven or twelve and just starting to branch out into trying new comics, this would have confused the hell out of me. You shouldn’t have to STUDY the art in a comic to tell who’s who.

But it has a character actually swearing, “OATH!” That’s so generic it’s actually mirror-universe cool.


March 25, 2007 at 12:08 am

Did it feel like a punch in the gut when you pulled this out of the long box?

With that cover I’m surprised you didn’t just put it back in.

I hated that time in Marvel comics (I think I’d stopped reading x-men at that point), where they’d discovered photo shop but didn’t really know how to use it.
Take that 3D ‘X’ in the corner box for instance – was that supposed to be cool?

A word of advice – if you ever pull out Maverick #1 just put it back and walk away.
I may have mentioned it’s badness before, but really, just walk away.
It’s the only comic that’s given me a headache – not made it worse, but given me one.
I started reading I was fine, by the end I had a headache and felt bad for the rest of the day.

I don’t even see how OATH makes sense. Is that some future deity that he’s invoking?

who came up with “STITH” as a sound effect for gunfire?

man, that’s…..dumb.


March 25, 2007 at 12:46 am

“I don’t even see how OATH makes sense. Is that some future deity that he’s invoking?”

It’s a ye olde swear word, that nobody ever actually said.
I’ve actually heard people say ‘Bloody Oath’, or with a different rude word in front of it.
I think ‘Oath’, on it’s lonesome, was just how writers used to swear in books before they were allowed to (so you got to add which ever expletive you felt like in front of it).

A guy in my highschool said “oath” as a swearword once or twice, but we all told him to stop it. And he did.

Funny that you would comment on a Cable-related comic book in your review of new releases this week as well as your “back issue box” selection.

As I mentioned in the comment section of that post, the character was really a trainwreck in the 90’s. I’m of the mind that almost all of Marvel was a trainwreck in the 90’s, but the expanded X-verse was particularly odorous.

Don’t let that discourage you from trying Nicieza’s current CABLE AND DEADPOOL series. It has a dedicated cult following…notice that it’s pretty much the only X-Men spinoff book (ie: not a core monthly) to survive past 10 issues in recent memory. It’s a great book.

I often feel like I get punched in the gut when I pick these books out, and occasionally I wonder if I should put them back. I said I would do these randomly, though, so it’s just the luck (so to speak) of the draw! Even if I pull out Maverick #1, I will read it! Actually, you describing it as giving you a headache makes me hope I pull it out one day, just to see if it’s that bad.

You’re right about the art, Greg, but it’s not absolutely offensive and painful to look at, like some books I’ve read in this series. It’s a bit difficult to figure out why everyone looks similar, but you’re never really at a loss as to what’s going on. It’s just bland, like the rest of the book.

A comic shop near me actually has Maverick #1 in the £1 or less box, (along with most of the series I think). I had planned on ignoring it, but thanks to your post I think I’ll get it just to see how bad it really is :)

If I remember right, Bastion’s underlings all looked like second-rate impersonators. That was really weird.

Ah, the 90s. Nothing like them to cure nostalgia.

I know that there was good stuff then (Chase, lots of Vertigo, all of Milestone, Kesel’s Superboy, Waid’s Flash…) and I know there’s dreck now. But I just keep getting drawn to comparisons like these:

Cable and X-Force and Bastion and Stryfe and the Acolytes and Onslaught and Bony Wolverine and… vs. Morrison’s NXM or Whedon’s AXM

The Avengers being so bad that they effectively got sold off to Image, vs. Busiek’s run. And, hell, the first year and a half of New Avengers was still better than Heroes Reborn and the years of Avengers comics that preceded it.

Extreme Justice vs Morrison’s JLA

Genesis vs. 52/ OYL

Amalgam vs. JLA/ Avengers

Over the last x years– where x might be the DiDio/ Quesada years or might date the way back to 97 when the Avengers and JLA relaunches finally seemed to remember what flagship titles should be, and also explicitly embraced the Silver-Age-nostalgia-chic of Kingdom Come that’s been so central to the aesthetic since then– it’s always at least seemed like the Big 2 were *trying*. Even misfires (Identity Crisis, Civil War) seem like someone’s putting thought in the right direction. During the preceding Image-and-mylar-age, it seemed like good stuff that happened to get published was accidental and prone to immediate cancellation. The era of Busiek, Morrison, and Johns is so, so very much better than the era when the defining talents were the Image artists.

Compare this, too: Chase got dropped like a hot potato. Manhunter keeps getting saved from the axe. Different times!

Andrew Collins

March 25, 2007 at 4:48 pm

Greg Hatcher said:
“Two longboxes full of them at fifty cents each. And both boxes were FULL of this crap. 90’s Marvel X books, Reed-less FF with Sue Storm in her slut uniform, and Clone Saga Spider-Man, 90’s Image…”

It sounds like that thrift store either bought into the early 90’s “investment” craze or bought those comics off someone who did. Sometime around X-Men #1, the Death Of Superman, and Spawn #1, it felt like all creativity dropped out of mainstream comics and this was the resultant crap being put out. In my opinion, it’s only been in the last 4-5 years that DC & Marvel have started putting out a decent amount of readable comics. I remained a reader in the 90’s only by discovering Vertigo, Waid’s Flash, and indy books like Bone and SiP.

Sadly, the mid-90s were the first time in my life that I had the disposable income to read comics. Weirdly, I’d gotten in via the least new-readerly comics of all, the Marvel Handbooks in their spiffy TPB versions. (I figured that any comic with that many characters on the cover had to be good; and once I found out what was inside, my geekly enmcyclopedia-reading side took over.)

I avoided the X-books — waaaay too many of them, and dauntingly inaccessible even for an OHOTMU geek like me — but got sucked right in to three of the worst runs on superhero comics ever, the 90s FF, the tail-end of Michelinie’s run on Amazing Spider-Man that led into the dark Spidey and Clone Saga periods, and the miserably awful Avengers stuff when Harras started to decline and then they did…the Crossing.

The comics that saved me were Mark Waid’s Flash and Busiek’s Untold Tales of Spider-Man, which have their own faults but were at least attempting to try out good ideas and present proper plots. That, and a love of back issues that taught me all about good old comics.


March 26, 2007 at 1:43 am

“A comic shop near me actually has Maverick #1 in the £1 or less box, (along with most of the series I think). I had planned on ignoring it, but thanks to your post I think I’ll get it just to see how bad it really is :)”

Alright, but you were warned.
Just remember to put it in context and realise that books like Starman, Preacher were also being published.
There were good books at the time, and so it’s badness stuck out.
That said, my choice at the shop that day was Maverick or a Men In Black tie in from Marvel. Ahh, the Harras/Bankrupt Marvel days, good times.

Pedro Bouça

March 26, 2007 at 4:20 am

A few issues later, Joe Casey and José Ladronn take over the series and it gets very cool indeed. Chack it out if you can!

The other readable Cable run is the final, by Darko Macan and Igor Kordey.

Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

“I hated that time in Marvel comics (I think I’d stopped reading x-men at that point), where they’d discovered photo shop but didn’t really know how to use it.”

Yeah, that’s something that really strikes me about the Marvels of this era – how *ugly* they are, in all-around art direction just as much as the actual story art.

This period had quite a lot of worthwhile stuff from DC and other publishers, but was a all-time low point for my Marvel reading. I believe the only books I was reading were “Captain America” and “Untold Tales of Spider-Man.”

A low point not again reached… until today’s “Civil War” era, where I find my Marvel list is basically, um… “Captain America” and “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.”


March 30, 2007 at 2:27 pm

“This period had quite a lot of worthwhile stuff from DC and other publishers, but was a all-time low point for my Marvel reading.”

DC was at a very high quality at this time, problem was the market was in a slump and lots of good books didn’t last because of it (Creeper, Chase, Scare Tactics, Young Heroes In Love, Chronos etc)

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