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Thursday, July 21, 2016

X-amining X-Force #8

"Flashed Before My Eyes"
March 1992

In a Nutshell
A flashback reveals Cable is from the future.

Plot/Framing Sequence Art: Rob Liefeld
Guest Penciler: Mike Mignola
Guest Inker: Bob Wiacek
Guessed Scripter: Fabian Nicieza
Jest Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Dressed Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Edits: Bob Harras
Chief: Tom DeFalco

As Cannonball lies dying, Cable flashes back to a mission involving the Wild Pack, the mercenary group he led alongside Domino, Bridge & Kane, retrieving a piece of equipment for AIM that was stolen by Hydra. After handing the device over to AIM, the team goes their separate ways until their next job comes along, with Cable returning home to the future. There, he confers with Professor, his sentient computer, and learns of a possible new High Lord awakening: Sam Guthrie. Determined to guide his development and believing this to be the chance they've been waiting a long time for, Cable has Professor timeslide him into the past, roughly six month's before Sam's awakening. Back in the present, Cable is wondering why Cannonball isn't waking up from Sauron's attack, thinking maybe he was wrong about him. But, Cable insists to Sauron as he shoots him, if he was wrong, Sam won't be the only one who pays.

Firsts and Other Notables
Taking a break from the Brotherhood/X-Force fight, this issue is mostly a flashback into Cable's past. It opens with Cable leading a mercenary group called the Wild Pack into battle, comprised of himself, Domino, GW Bridge, Kane (the current Weapon X introduced in issue #2), Grizzly and Hammer. This is the first collective appearance of the group (who will eventually be re-christened the Six Pack), and the first appearances of both Grizzly and Hammer (both of whom will eventually turn up in the present day as well, and it establishes how at least a few of the characters in the series (Domino, Bridge, and Kane) know Cable from his pre-New Mutants/X-Force days (also, given that, retroactively, the Domino who has been appearing in this series is actually Deadpool's shapeshifting girlfriend Vanessa, this is technically the first appearance of the real Domino).

This issue also reveals that Cable is a time-traveler from the future (something mildly hinted at in previous issues), and that the reason he hooked up with the New Mutants, started to train them and transformmed them into X-Force was, at least in part, to guide the ascension of Cannonball, whom he believes to be a High Lord.

We'll learn more than we ever want to know about High Lords shortly, as that particular plot thread introduced here will come to dominate the series in Liefeld's final days (and I have some things to say about it), but ultimately, Sam's status as one gets retconned out and Cable is given different motivations for traveling through time, so that particularly plot beat doesn't matter as much as the fact that Cable is a time-traveler.

Cable is attended to in the future by a group of robots named after the original X-Men, and talks with a sentient computer, which is named Professor, "appearing" here for the first time. Professor is eventually revealed to be a remnant of Ship, the sentient program from X-Factor's previous base of operations, whose energy matrix traveled into the future with Cyclop's son Nathan in X-Factor #68, something alluded to here. All of this, the Professor and the robots named after the X-Men plus the time-travel element, is the first significant tease that Cable is a grown up Nathan, and the most definitive bit of evidence on the subject until "X-Cutioner's Song" comes along.

Professor notes that Cannonball was never technically one of the X-Men; in fact, he does eventually join the team (and even later, becomes an Avenger as well).

While Rob Liefeld draws the framing sequence, the bulk of this issue is illustrated by future Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. I know he was doing some work for the X-office around this time, providing new covers to the X-Men Classic reprint series, but I'd love to know how he ended up drawing this story; was it intended as a deadline-saving fill-in story, possibly without the time travel stuff? Was it always meant to go here, in the middle of the larger Brotherhood fight? Why did Liefeld hand over such significant developments in the series (revealing Cable as a time traveler and his motivations for getting involved with the New Mutants) to a guest artist?

The Kane backup story from the previous issue (which ended on a cliffhanger) isn't continued here, but Liefeld does pad the issue out with a pair of Cable-centric pinups, one of which teases the death of Gideon (though he doesn't die in 1993).

A Work in Progress
Kane makes a joke about Cable being out of touch, asking what time he's from, teasing the later reveal.

Cable (in the past) has apparently never heard of Baron Strucker.

Wild Pack was hired by AIM, another hint at the connection between that group and Cable (which ultimately goes nowhere).

In the present, while Boom-Boom is beside herself with grief over Sam's apparent death, Cable wonders why he isn't waking up, noting that while Sauron stabbed him, his body remains intact, suggesting a limitation to the apparent regenerative abilities of High Lords.

It's in the Mail
This issue features a two page letter column, containing mostly rave reviews about the series as a whole and Deadpool in particular.

Austin's Analysis
Without a doubt, this is the best issue of the series yet. Not just because the majority of it is drawn by Mike Mignola instead of Rob Liefeld (though that certainly helps) but because after twenty plus issues, it finally provides us with some backstory on Cable, establishing that he's from the future, that his hinted-at-past with Domino, Bridge and Kane included time together as a mercenary group, that he holds the original X-Men in some esteem, and that his whole reason for getting involved with the New Mutants in the first place is because of Cannonball. It's certainly not groundbreaking character work (and some of it will lead to some bad ideas that ultimately get retconned out), but it at least gives Cable some context, a little bit of depth and history, and the series as whole along with him.

I devoured this issue as a kid, reading it over and over, convinced Cable was Cyclops' son and that's why his robots are named after the original X-Men, that Professor was Ship and his memory was faulty from going into the future with baby Nathan, captivated by the notion of Cable going back in time to influence future events. I loved (and still do) time travel stories, and being a huge Cyclops fan and slightly obsessed with the fate of his son, I was also a huge fan of Cable and absolutely captivated by all these mysteries and teases and hints about him. That Cable's motivations hinted at here are ultimately overwritten and lead, in the near term, to some pretty questionable creative decisions, or that most of what we learn about him here ultimately just inspires more questions, or that this flashback story prolongs the already overly-long fight with the Brotherhood, doesn't really matter - the important thing is that we're finally learning something about Cable.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Wolfsbane prowls the streets of Trans-Sabal in X-Factor #76. Next week, X-Men #6 and Excalibur #48.

Collected Editions


  1. The issue was far and away more interesting narratively than anything else in the series to date. I can relate to how it captivated you as a kid, although I’d probably still care a lot less were it not for the Mignola (& Wiacek) art — just great stuff. Also, I’m less curious myself about whether the backstory was always meant for this issue than exactly what kind of plot Liefeld contributed, and how, for Mignola to pencil from. Also also, I can’t help but wonder how much of Harras’ (and Marvel higher-ups’) gratitude for the pair of kewl Cable pinups from Liefeld was offset by frustration that he was spending time on those rather than actual pages of continuity. Unfinished business is, of course, as much his legacy as the characters laden with impossible arsenals, random cybernetics, grotesque anatomy, etc.

    1. If memory serves, the late-80s were around the time Marvel started returning original art to the artists, meaning Liefeld, McFarlane and Lee (among others) really started to take advantage of Marvel's whack-ass method of plot->art->script by throwing in tons of pin-ups in the back pages, on covers, and even in the narrative pages. John Byrne lamented at the time that seemingly every page had a pin-up section because they sold for way more in the aftermarket.

      There's a great sequence in X-Force 2 that illustrates this perfectly. The team is standing around, planning an impromptu danger room session, but for three pages there are some panel layouts, but they're mostly characters posing for the camera. You can almost see Liefeld counting his money as he drew those, annoyed by editorial's insistence that he tell a story at the same time.

    2. One of my hugest annoyances with Jim Lee is those splashes where everyone gathers to pose for the camera after the adventure is over, like they were knowingly filming a documentary of a day in the X-Men's life or something. Come on, where's mah defeats snapped from the mouth of victory? But I never realized it was likely for a financial incentive, and now I'm even more annoyed.

    3. The Marvel method works great, in my opinion, when you have professional artists involved who value the integrity of the story more than their aftermarket compensation.

      (Wow, that may be the John Byrne-iest thing I've ever typed -- but I do believe it's true.)


    4. @Bob: // Liefeld, McFarlane and Lee (among others) really started … throwing in tons of pin-ups in the back pages, on covers, and even in the narrative pages //

      Good point. Although Marvel had been returning original art since the mid ’70s, so it’s more that it simply dawned on the soon-to-be Image founders that pages with key characters in kewl poses or action shots commanded more in the marketplace and storytelling be damned. Sigh.

  2. I enjoyed this issue, too, due to all the revelations we, finally, got about Cable's past. Unlike you, Austin, I don't believe I had connected any of the dots, at this point, regarding the Cable/Nathan Summers and Professor/Ship connections. In retrospect, though, I can see some of the clues.

    On the down side, the whole framing sequence and Cannonball being Cable's motivation for returning to the past are, completely, useless. I don't think the whole High Lords/Externals thing was ever mentioned, again, after this arc. Cannonball has been a "mere mortal" ever since.

    1. Something was mentioned in an issue of New X-Men (the series about the students, not Grant Morrison's run) about Cannonball's status as an External.

  3. Even though they retconned some of this, the issue as a whole stands up pretty well to the test of time. Mainly because Mignola's style has aged so much better than Liefeld's.

    The idea that Cable's adventures in time were not happening linearly, that he was jumping around in time having an adventure in the 80s one day and the 60s in another, was a neat twist, although they never did anything that cool with it before I stopped reading ...


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