Cable Eats a Bagel
Or… the de-Imagification of Nathan Dayspring Askani’son Summers
Should I start this piece by doing that sarky internet writer thing, by reminding you all that it’s been thirty years since Image Comics launched? Ya know, to remind us all how dreadfully oooooooold we are? Nah, I won’t put’cha through that…
Actually, rather than talk at all about the launch of Image Comics… which, I’ve already done… several times, and if I’m being completely honest — I’m kinda “over” it, I want to discuss how the original “Image attitude” kinda fell out of the comics zeitgeist during the latter half of the decade, and in particular, the surprising “de-Imagification” of a character who I never thought I’d enjoy reading about.
If you’re more interested in partying like it’s 1992… well: pouches, advantageous, shoulder pads, no-feet. Cool? Cool.
For my bit, we’re gonna hop to the other end of the decade. It’s 1998, and I was newly back into the comics hobby after… a little while away. I’ve told this story before, though I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually written about it. Assuming I have (I do write and talk a lot), I’ll spare you the deep dive and just share the quick ‘n dirty of it. Basically, I found myself fed up with the gimmicks. I clearly had more sense at 15 than I do today, because back then I actually did walk away. For a bit. It was the week that X-Men (vol.2) #45 hit the shelves… and, as I did every month, I hobbled my way down to the comic shop with a couple’a bucks in my pocket to pick up my latest fix. Upon arrival, I was intensely annoyed that… rather than being a regular-sized/regular-covered $1.99 “X-Men Deluxe” issue… it was a $3.95 cardstock-n-foil gimmick cover issue — one which I didn’t have near enough repurposed lunch money to leave the store with! I asked the owner why this was a “special issue”, as it wasn’t a “divisible by 25” issue — turns out, it was the 20th anniversary of Giant-Size… and, boy, it was like a veil was lifted.
I realized that, any given month… Marvel could decide to celebrate, ya know, anything — and tart up and double the cost of our monthlies. See? I definitely had more sense back then. I put the ish back on the shelf — proclaimed to anybody who’d listen that I was “done” with the hobby. I was leaving… and never coming back. The shop owner, Bob Nastasi of Amazing Comics in Sayville, New York assured me that I’d be back — and that we always come back. Damned if he wasn’t right.
A cross-country move, and the realization that I wasn’t the most personable young fellow in the world, led me back to my comics comfort food. This move, ironically enough, almost resulted in me leaving my two longbox collection of comics behind! I thought I was done with ’em… and that phase in my life was over. I actually only took ’em with me as an afterthought… there just happened to be room on the truck!
This was mid-1997, and while I was enjoying revisiting the comics I had… ones I’d already read, seemingly dozens of times before already — I wasn’t quite prepared to venture into the wilds of my new stomping grounds in order to add to my collection. I still thought I was done. I figured that the industry would still be using the same gimmicks that ran me outta dodge in the first place… after all, it had only been a couple of years. This changed when I went to a nearby mall in order to apply for a job in every single store within it. There was a comic shop there… and, as I was already there to hand in an application… I decided to have a goo at the current offerings on the shelves. Picked up some X-Stuff… and, though it wasn’t part of the “plan” — I was back.
Not only was I back… but, I was completely back. Anyone who has the misfortune of knowing me, will know that I’m very much an “all or nothing” kinda idjit. If I’m in for one X-Book… then, dammit, I’m in for them all. Especially considering, this was around the time I became more active on USENET. When I first saw things like Paul O’Brien’s X-Axis — and sites like X-Fan being linked to. In seeing Paul’s work, impressionable goof that I was, I found myself inspired… and decided that I wanted to do what he did. I wanted to share my thoughts on comics… though, likely in a far less enlightened and intelligent sort of way. Then as now, I wanted to be viewed as someone who had something worthwhile to say about the things I was passionate about. In order to do that (which, I never actually did — even though I’m sure I was a far better writer back in the long ago than I am now), I’d definitely have to buy ’em all!
Now, the one book out of the entire X-Family of books circa 1997 that I was absolutely dreading having to buy, read, and think up clever things to say about was… Cable. In retrospect, that’s saying something… since X-Men Unlimited, Howard Mackie’s X-Factor, and Larry Hama’s “pookafied” Generation X were still very much things. Cable to me was a relic, even in ye old 1997. He was the embodiment (or harbinger of) the Image Comics archetype. Big guns, shadowy past, constantly gritted teeth, nonsense “tough guy” talk, the whole thing. I held off on “committing” to Cable for as long as I could… mostly because, when I came back, his book was in the middle of a (then-rare) six-issue story arc, which I had no interest in jumping in on during its third or fourth chapter. At least that’s what I told myself… I didn’t seem to have any problem starting in the middle-issues of some of the other X-Books.
Cable, and by extension Image Comics, was emblematic to me of the ridiculous 90s comics excess that drove me outta the hobby to begin with. In hindsight, that might be an unfair conflation — as Marvel was certainly no slouch when it came to “excess” (or x-cess, as the case may be). Perhaps, as I was just rediscovering my love of comics again, I wasn’t quite ready to be reminded of all that? To me, I simply had to resign myself to the fact that… if I was going to go all-in, Cable was very much going to be a part of deal. Kind of a “You take the good, you take the bad…” situation.
And so I braced myself… and picked up my first issue of Cable since the series was in the single-digits, Cable #55 (June, 1998). I almost didn’t… as, not only did this issue’s cover prominently feature our man Nate… but also, Domino. Another “relic” from a time I didn’t wanna revisit. Then… I sat down with the issue, which prompted a bit of an eyebrow raise. First off, the art in this book, by the… do we call him “underrated” (?), Jose Ladronn… wasn’t like anything I’d seen on a “current-year” book — especially not something out of Marvel and the X-Office. It was something of a modern take on classic Kirby… something that probably shouldn’t have worked… and yet, did! The writer, Joe Casey, was another new name for me. Frankly, at this point in my collecting “career”, most names would’a been. If you weren’t one of the Image guys, the Pinis, Stan Lee, or Scott Lobdell, I wouldn’t have a clue!
The title of this issue is “Wiser Times”, and it couldn’t be more appropriate… at least to the young Chris who was reading it. This was a Cable who, while still gristled… still battle-hardened — felt more like a man who was learning from his future-past than being distilled down and defined by it. So many, if not all, of the early Cable stories were predicated on the fact that he was a mysterious man from the future… rather than being a character, Cable was a collection of mysteries given four-color flesh. And, ya know… great big guns. He was the archetypal early 90s (anti)hero. The more we seemed to learn about him… the less we actually knew. For every answer we got… five new questions sprang up. Add to that how “continuity copping” was becoming far less strict, and what we’re left with is a recipe for disinterest.
Joe Casey came onto the title during the middle of that aforementioned six-issue arc, Hellfire Hunt. Between that and “Wiser Times” was a one-off in Wakanda with T’Challa. Straightforward and generic superheroics wherein Cable felt more like a placeholder than anything. The heroes teamed up to beat up Klaw… which, I feel like was the only thing anybody ever did when they hooked up with the Black Panther back then. It was with Wiser Times that Casey was able to try and give our Nate as fresh a start as possible.
Late in the James Robinson run on the title (which proceeded Casey), a character named Irene Merryweather was introduced. Irene was a reporter who would wind up traveling with Cable… acting as his chronicler and biographer. This addition gave me (and I’m sure at least a couple’a other readers) hope that… maybe we were working toward a “definitive” understanding of Cable. Not the soldier, not the messiah-figure, not the dude with the pointy-headed doppelganger… but Cable the man. Surely we’re all affected by our life experiences in a multitude of ways. There’s a lot to that nurture element that PSY101 students love to spend entire class periods debating. However, with this new addition to Cable’s cast — we may start taking those experiences and paying them forward… rather than stagnating within them.
Cable #55 was an issue that, when I was done reading it, I was kind of left flabbergasted (it doesn’t take much). It wasn’t at all what I expected from a Cable book. Judging from comments around USENET at the time, I wasn’t alone. This issue was met with, ya know, mixed reviews. Some people (like me) loved it, and considered it a tremendous improvement on what had come before. Others, well… not so much. Here’s a smattering of takes from the long ago:
We range from “It’s a great read” to “Not Recommended”. Good or bad, people are talking about it. And, after a couple thousand words of pre-ramble, maybe I ought to as well… in brief.
The issue is kind of a sandwich of the stuff you’d sorta-kinda expect on either end of the stuff you wouldn’t. It’s quite well done, and a fun way to set the tone for what the Casey/Ladronn Cable was going to be. It’s the fluffy middle section of the book that I want to focus on. It’ll be these (and subsequent) “fluffy” bits that the rest of this piece will be focusing on. Cable is now operating out of Daredevil’s backyard, Hell’s Kitchen… and stops in the Babel Diner for both a bite to eat and a respite from the rain. Speaking of DD, Matt Murdock’s actually here grabbing a bite himself… but, our hero doesn’t even acknowledge him.
Cable plops down at a booth… and, spends an entire page drinking a cup of coffee. This is the kind of page that has been used-to-abuse in the time since, but, back in 1998 — it was kind of a novelty.
This was my first indication that, this wasn’t necessarily going to be the Cable I grew up with. This wasn’t the early 90s Image Comics archetype. The pages that followed were equally bizarre… yet engaging. Cable and the waitress-soon-to-be-love-interest, Stacey Kramer share a little bit of small talk. Not through “lol, gritted teeth”… not staring down the barrel of a Mark-69 Liefeldian firearm… but, over a cuppa and (eventually) a bagel.
It’s not often that Cable comes across as an actual human being. Used to be that scenes like this were few and far between… and when they would occur, they would be so tempered by angst and mystery that the conversation was rendered secondary (or tertiary). Here… it’s small talk. Our hero still feels like Cable… but, some of the “Nate” is slipping in as well.
While these quiet scenes may define the Casey run for me, there is so much more to it. For those unaware, the X-Offices had been building to an epic confrontation between Cable and Apocalypse for… ever. It was earmarked for the turn of the century, and it was to be the battle to end all battles. “Was to be”. Joe Casey would drop hints to this eventual clash throughout his run. While bebopping around the Marvel Universe having adventures with (and against) S.H.I.E.L.D., the dude who would become the M-Tech Deathlok, the Avengers, and… a crossover with X-Man that we don’t need to talk about, there would be reminders that Cable’s got a date with destiny on the millennial horizon.
Our man would battle the Harbinger of Apocalypse (a human jammed in a weird coffin by Poccy that had been infused with some sort of Celestial tech a century earlier)… he would prepare for the big dance by arming himself with, of all things, a traditional Askani spear called the Psimitar. Cable without great big guns? What gives, right? While we’re at it… Cable was also without his Psi-Powers for a bit here, after the events of the Psi-War over in the flagship books… a story whose ramifications were forgotten about almost immediately after it ended!
Cable #58 – (w) Joe Casey / (a) Ed McGuinness
All throughout these adventures, Cable would find himself returning to the Babel Diner… where he’d chat up and lay his troubles on Stacey. Their friendship would become a more romantic relationship… one that both grounded our hero as a much more relatable fellow… while at the same time, reminding us that he’s not. Stacey wasn’t the only member of the Kramer family to join Cable’s cast of characters — her younger brother, Kenny would also appear from time to time. Kenny had Down Syndrome… which Stacey hoped Cable might be able to use his “mind powers”… to cure!
This is a powerful scene. Stacey, who was established early on as working on her nursing degree, is desperate see her brother living a “normal life”. Hoping Cable’s nebulous “mind powers” might do the trick… while choosing to ignore the common sense or ethics of the situation. Even more interesting, this scene occurs during the brief time where Cable no longer had those nebulous “mind powers”, so we never find out whether or not he’d have given it a try. Later on in the issue, he attempts to explain this to Stacey — but, a) she’s not interested in hearing his excuse, and b) they happen across a dying Santa Claus laying in an alley (it’s Christmastime). Even this Santa scene is important, as it shows that — even without powers (and big ol’ guns), Cable’s first instinct is to act the hero.
These Christmastime scenes are scattered throughout Cable #64… fitting neatly between pages out of Irene Merryweather’s Cable Chronicle Biography. In it, we see where he’s come from… where he’s been… along with plenty of the how’s and why’s of his current mission, and a reminder of his pressing date with Apocalypse. It always comes back to Apocalypse. Who else is getting all psyched up for this final battle?!
Well, readers of Cable’s solo book weren’t the only ones getting jazzed about seeing Nate and En Sabah slappin’ meat — because, the epic barnburner of a final battle… sorta-kinda… get usurped by the X-Offices to payoff the long danglin’ and lingerin’ Twelve storyline. Rather than allow Casey’s build and prep to pay off in dramatic fashion… the X-Offices did what they do best. The story Cable had been building toward since forever, was taken away… and handed off to:
In the two years that led up to this barnburner of an issue, the readers really got to know Nathan Summers. We saw him grounded in a more mundane setting, surrounded by a non-mutant cast of characters who he’d formed bonds and attachments to. Cable, as a series, for the first time ever, had a reason to exist (creatively). The payoff? Marvel ditches the direction, brings back the “classic” look and feel — and delivers us an issue that was so tragic and pointless, that to this very day, I’m fairly certain nobody’s accepted the credit or blame for writing the thing!
The quick of it is… the issue opens with Cable strapped to a great big “X” while Apocalypse talks at him… then, 750 pages later, it ends with… Cable strapped to a great big “X” while Apocalypse talks at him. During the middle of the issue, our man breaks free… spends most of his time fighting off Wolverine (who was then the Horseman Death) — before the big showdown. The blowoff is a handful of full-page pinup spreads of Cable and Apocalypse bouncing off each other.
A terrible issue. Though, it’s hard to even blame anybody involved in it for the let down! The event that this series had been building to for years was relegated into being just “Part Two” of the wider X-Men The Twelve storyline. The story couldn’t be anything more than what it was. A circular, pointless disappointment. More important than all that, around the time of this issue’s production, Rob Liefeld did suffer the loss of his father.
All that having been said… I feel that the impact of Casey and Ladronn’s time on the title cannot (and should not) be understated. Joe Casey took a character who was basically deep-fried and pickled 1991… and “matured him” for a post-2000 audience. Ironically enough, writing the sort of stories that Image Comics themselves would be putting out not too long after!
For more Image-centric chatter both from back in the long ago to today — please check out the rest of the #SBTU crew!
Between The Pages Blog
Killer Walking Dead Cakes
Comics, Comics, Blog:
Image Comics: Remembering my early days
In My Not So Humble Opinion
Astro City: That Was Then…
Jesse Starcher – Source Material
Better Late Than Never: Spawn #1
Dawn Of Image: Inking The Deal, The Dave Olbrich Tapes
Dave’s Comics Heroes Blog
Big Bang Comics
Chris is on Infinite Earths
Cable Eats a Bagel: the de-imagification of Nathan Dayspring Askani’Son Summers
https://www.chrisisoninfiniteearths.com/?p=37220 – You’re already here!