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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

X-amining Askani'son #1-4

"The Shadow Lengthens" / "A Tiny Spark" / "An Ember Glows" / "A Bright and Shining Light"
February -May 1996

In a Nutshell
Young Nathan Dayspring embraces his destiny as the prophesied Askani'son,.

Story: Scott Lobdell
Dialogue: Jeph Loeb
Penciler: Gene Ha
Inkers: Andrew Pepoy
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Kevin Somers
Separations: Malibu Hues
Editor: Bob Harras

Issue #1: In the wake of Apocalypse's defeat, the New Canaanites have risen to power, oppressing the people. When the now-teenaged Nathan Dayspring and his friend Tetherblood's rabble-rousing draws the attention of Caananite 'Strator Umbridge, they are arrested. Later, Umbridge meets with her superior, Tribune Haight, who tells her he's located the last remaining Askani sect, operating in Eurasia. With the Askani the last thing standing in the way of the Caananite ascension, he tasks her with destroying it. She comes to suspect Nathan is the prophesied messiah of the Askani, but Nathan & Tetherblood escape with the help of Blaquesmith, who extracts a glowing orb from Nathan whom Nathan dubs "Professor", before seemingly dying during Nathan & Tetherblood's escape. Nathan announces that Blaquesmith left him a telepathic suggestion, urging him to seek out the Askani. Meanwhile, in Eurasia, Madame Sanctity, the last remaining member of the Askani, trains her novitiate, Aliya, while in New Orleans, Ch'vayre continues to watch over Stryfe, who has crafted a synthetic being known as Zero to help him resurrect Apocalypse.

Issue #2: When Nathan proves reluctant to go to Eurasia, he is visited again by the not-dead Blaquesmith, who gives him the specific location of the Askani: Ebonshire. He realizes he needs to go there alone, and says goodbye to Tetherblood. Meanwhile, Umbridge, infiltrating a pirate crew, follows rumors of the Askani to Ebonshire herself, while in Egypt, Stryfe attempts to use Zero to raise Apocalypse's forces, but when those efforts fail, Zero reports a greater power source for Stryfe: Madame Sanctity.

Issue #3: Arriving in Ebonshire, Nathan finds the crew of a pirate ship slaughtered by a massive creature, all save for Umbridge. When he attacks the creature, he is overwhelmed, forcing Aliya to rescue him. Meanwhile, Tetherblood spies on Tribune Haight, and learns of his imminent attack on Ebonshire. Back in the woods of Ebonshire, Aliya obeys Madame Sanctity's orders to bring Nathan back to the Askani headquarters, though she remains wary of both him and the unconscious Umbridge. Along the way, they work together to stave off more attacks from the creatures, and Aliya realizes there is more to Nathan than it seems. In Egypt, Ch'vayre finally accepts that Stryfe is beyond saving, and tries to kill him, but Stryfe easily kills Ch'vayre instead. Back in Ebonshire, Nathan is brought before Madame Sanctity, who proclaims him to be the messianic Askani'son. He asks her to train him, but she declares that it will be Aliya who will instruct him in their teachings.

Issue #4: Blaquesmith appears before Nathan, increasingly disillusioned with the clearly-insane Madame Sanctity, to confirm that it is Aliya who will teach him the ways of the Askani. Just then, the Askani stronghold is assaulted by Tribune Haight, while Stryfe watches from afar, waiting to make his move. During the attack Umbridge attempts to complete her mission and kill Nathan, but she is stopped by one of the Caananite soldiers named Plough, who captures Nathan & Aliya for himself. Meanwhile, Madame Sanctity seemingly perishes while wiping out the Caananite forces, but her death is faked by Stryfe, who offers to let her rule by his side if she trains him. Struck his resemblance to Nathan, she agrees. Aboard the Caananite flagship, Haight orders a retreat, but is confronted by Plough, Nathan & Aliya. Plough removes his helmet to reveal he is Tetherblood. Nathan proceeds to battle Haight but leaves him alive, so he can spread the word that the Askani'son and his Clan Chosen will shine on a light on the darkness of the world

Firsts and Other Notables
Picking up a few years after The Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix, this series features the now-teenaged Nathan Dayspring discovering his destiny, reunited with the Askani Clan which brought him into the future as a baby (and which was shortly thereafter nearly wiped out by Apocalypse) and forming the beginnings of his "Clan Chosen" group which leads the fight against the Caananite forces which ave risen up to rule in Apocalypse's absence (as seen in the early issues of his solo series).

In the course of the story, Nathan meets Aliya, one of the last trainees of the Askani, who will eventually become Nathan's wife and take the name Jenskot.

Aliya is being trained by Madame Sanctity, the last full-fledged member of the Askani, who grows increasing insane through the course of the story before throwing in with Stryfe at the very end. She will later be revealed to be the daughter of Sentienl creator Bolivar Trask (and sister to Larry Trask, who continued his father's work), who gets lost in the timestream and ends up in the future (not unlike Rachel Summers, who founded the Askani after a similar experience). Though she will appear again after this, whatever training she does with Stryfe is never touched on again.

Nathan spends much of this series with a young Tetherblood at his side, another character who, like Aliya, debuted in that initial future-set Cable story.

Blaquesmith, Cable's diminutive, goblin-like companion in contemporaneous issues of his solo series, pops up a few times here, guiding Nathan to the Askani, seemingly dying and returning again without explanation.

Also picking up from Cyclops & Phoenix, Ch'vayre, the prelate who was that story's main antagonist before turning on Apocalypse, has continued to oversee Stryfe's development, hoping to curb the homicidal tendencies & megalomania instilled in him by Apocalypse. He ultimately decides that cause is lost, but is killed by Stryfe here. A younger version of the character will, however, pop up in Cable's solo series down the road, thanks to time travel shenanigans.

The remaining essence of Ship (Apocalypse's former base of operation taken by the original X-Factor whose essence went into the future with infant Cable) is restored in issue #1 by Blaquesmith and merges with Nathan, who names it "Professor", thereby establishing the relationship between those two characters which was routinely featured in Cable's earlier appearances (and the maintenance of which was a plot point in Cable #25, set further into this Cable's future).

The creation of Zero, the teleporting android who was a member of Stryfe's Mutant Liberation Front and later the prize in the hunt for Tolliver's Will, is created at the end of issue #1.

In issue #3, Aliya carries an Askani weapon named a Psimitar, which Cable quickly takes to as well; he will later use a Psimitar as his primary weapon (in favor of his more traditional "big guns", as a way to help focus his mental powers) later in his solo series.

The series ends with Nathan, Aliya and Tetherblood declaring themselves the Clan Chosen, the beginning of the group which Cable will lead up until his trip into the past.

A Work in Progress
The images conjured in a retelling of X-Men legends in the first issue include the Original Five, scenes from "Days of Future Past", and Bishop's sister Shard.

"Askani", as you know, means "outsider" (not friendship).

Nathan & Tetherblood hang out at a milk bar; milk bars were also the preferred hangout spot of the teenaged X-Nation kids in their X-Men 2099 spinoff.

Taking a page from the "Age of Apocalypse", Nate references slave pens that were used during Apocalypse's regime.

The head Caananite offficial, Tribune Haight, shares a name with a general who appeared in Cable #1; it is unclear if the two Haights are related (or in fact the same character).

Towards the end of the series, Stryfe dons armor which is reminiscent of the look he will sport in all his subsequent appearances.

Young Love
Future spouses Nate & Aliyah meet for the first time in issue #3, and immediately have that "can't stand one another despite their attraction" chemistry (though Nate is more immediately smitten).

Austin's Analysis
More or less a direct sequel to The Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix (picking up the adventures of young Cable a few years after that series, referencing events therein and featuring more or less the same creative team), like many sequels, this isn't quite as successful as the original. Whereas Cyclops & Phoenix did much to rehabilitate (or at least recontextualize) Cable as a character by giving him a Campbellian narrative arc against the backdrop of an at-times touching drama of a small family struggling to make it in a strange world, this series lacks both the narrative arc and emotional oomph of its predecessor series. If Cyclops & Phoenix was about establishing the sweep of Cable's destiny, this one is more focused on seeing him through one small step of that destiny (reuniting with the remnants of the Askani and accepting his role as their Chosen One, while also, unknownst to him, meeting his future wife). In that regard, even though Cyclops & Phoenix, while leaving young Cable's immediate fate and the fate of his corner of the future open-ended, felt largely self-contained (helped by the entry/exit of its title characters at the start/end of the series), this reads much less like a finite (albeit still serialized) four issue limited series than the first four issues of an Askani'son ongoing series.

Even at the time of publication, enough information had been revealed about Cable's background to connect the dots from the end of this series to his present day activities (from here, for example, are the events of Cable #25, then eventually the birth & loss to Stryfe of Nathan & Aliya's son, Aliya's death, and Cable's eventual trip back in time), but the ending of this series still feels like its leaving the door open for a more immediate followup that never comes (maybe more series set in this era were planned from Lobdell & Ha or whomever that never came to fruition). It is perhaps unfair to ding this series for a lack of direct follow-ups, but regardless, the plot here is rather thin, with the story stretched to an extra issue (or two), Nathan's character arc is relatively minor (he doesn't require all that much prodding to take up his destiny), and a few characters (mostly Madame Sanctity & Stryfe) are underused and smack of "we'll check in with them again later!"

All that said, there's still plenty to like here. To Lobdell & Loeb's credit, the teenaged Cable is not an insufferable character, striking the right balance of youthful bravado, teenage reticence, and swashbuckling witticisms. It's far too easy to make a character pushing against his destiny insufferable, but for the most part, that's avoided here (which detracts from the overall arc but does make for a more pleasant reading experience). And Gene Ha continues to pack the pages with a delightful volume of detail, fleshing out a thoroughly alien futuristic world. Even when the story bogs down as it deals with, say, the inner workings of post-Apocalypse Caananite politics or whatever, it still *looks* interesting thanks to Ha. Ultimately, if the story's biggest fault is that it ends right when it feels like it's finally getting started, well, "leaving them wanting more" isn't the worst way to end a story.

Next Issue
Next week, the Askani get fleshed out some more in Book of Askani #1!

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  1. There’s a boy’s name in German Askan (pronounced AZ-KAE-KNEE) which means spear/ warrior carved from the ash tree. This certainly doesn’t sound like a name Jim Lee would have known, so I’d suggest it’s Chris’s!

    But it seems to suggest an Asgardian connection;-)

  2. "this series fights the now-teenaged Nathan Dayspring discovering his destiny"

    So one could say this is a series at war with itself?

  3. "Nathan & Tetherblood hang out at a milk bar; milk bars were also the preferred hangout spot of the teenaged X-Nation kids in their X-Men 2099 spinoff."

    I'm not 100% sure, but aren't both references to A Clockwork Orange?

    "Future spouses Nate & Aliyah meet for the first time in issue #3, and immediately have that "can't stand one another despite their attraction" chemistry (though Nate is more immediately smitten)."

    Maybe it's cuz my parents would have a lot of really awful fights & such, but the appeal of such romances is completely lost on me. I see these and think "these are two people who are turned on by each other but don't actually respect or like each other", probably cuz of my experiences.

  4. As with THE ADVENTURES OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX, I've never read this series (or next week's BOOK OF ASKANI). The whole Cable mythology just didn't appeal to me as a youngster (and mostly still doesn't today). But I just wanted to mention that I'm kind of amazed how much of Cable's backstory was apparently created (or at least fleshed out) by Scott Lobdell and/or Jeph Loeb, between these minis and Loeb's work in the ongoing CABLE series. I've always thought of Fabian Nicieza as the "main" Cable writer, but I feel like in the long run, Lobdell and Loeb actually filled in way more of his past than Nicieza did.

  5. I'm with Matt, never a fan with the history of Cable that wasn't him being older/big guns/etc. I did not care about his growing up/future/past version history. I didn't like Ha's art at the time and I still don't like it as an adult, it was a big turnoff. Weren't these priced higher too. I was 15 when this came out, I made 4.45 an hour working at Krogers. Knowing that I would only get 2 books at this price point for an hours worth of work, it just wasn't worth it.

  6. Yes, there was a milk bar in A Clockwork Orange, but it was an ‘adult’ version of the traditional Australian milkbar, or convenience store, which often features ice cream or milkshakes. The milkbar in Askani’son is extremely bizarre with several scenes depicting people wading through pools of milk and udders hanging from the ceiling. Also weird was the name of the pirate ship, Gender Splay…what the heck?

  7. I have to provide counterpoint to the “there’s still plenty to like here” summary. There is very little to like if you ask me. I think the idea of expanding on a previously unrevealed character mythology is appealing for those of us who love the broader universe building, but these future cable comics are all garbage. The visual language is unintelligible, and the dialogue doesn’t try very hard to fill in for that. Also, these books attempt to make this fascinating multiverse smaller, instead of bigger. I think making the myths bigger is why we love it. Sure we want the eventual payoff of an expanding mythology coming full circle, but this feels more like a shameful and poorly executed attempt at forcing that.


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