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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

X-amining Cable #35

"It is Always Darkest..."

September 1996

In a Nutshell

Cable & Apocalypse team-up to take down Onslaught! 

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Penciler: Ian Churchill

Inkers: Scott Hanna & Art Thibert

Letterer: RS & Comicraft

Colorist: Mike Thomas

Enhancements: Malibu

Editor: Mark Powers

Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras


In the midst of the psionic storm created by Onslaught, Cable & Invisible Woman are met by Apocalypse, who proposes they join forces against Onslaught & rescue Franklin Richards, thereby cutting off Onslaught from his reality-warping powers. Though Cable reacts to this proposal violently, he ultimately relents when Invisible Woman agrees, saying she'll do what is necessary to save her son. Cable & Apocalypse enter the Astral plane as a way to get inside Onslaught's citadel, but are forced to leave the non-telepathic Invisible Woman behind. Inside the citadel, the pair is attacked by psychic manifestations of Post, Hulk, and Magneto. During the fight, Apocalypse takes advantage of Onslaught's split attention to try and kill Franklin, but he is stopped by Invisible Woman, whom Cable helped smuggle onto the Astral plane. Ultimately, Onslaught proves too powerful for all three, and they retreat back to the physical world, forced to leave Franklin behind. Apocalypse scoffs at the heroes for allowing their feelings to stop them from doing what was necessary, but inside the citadel, Franklin's resistance has become emboldened by the actions of Cable and his mother. 

Firsts and Other Notables

This is the first time Cable (adult, returned from the future Cable) and Apocalypse have met & interacted on panel; both characters were involved and shared some locations in "X-Cutioner's Song", but to the best of my recollection, they never interacted directly there (and, of course, Apocalypse was there when Nathan Christopher was taken into the future in X-Factor #68, but we didn't know that was Cable at the time). This meeting comes after the establishment (following "X-Cutioner's Song" and the confirmation that Cable is in fact the grown up version of Nathan Christopher) of the idea that Cable's whole deal is to defeat Apocalypse in the present so as to prevent his rise in Cable's future, and that the birth of baby Nathan/the eventual Cable was orchestrated by Mister Sinister in order to create a being who could one day defeat Apocalypse. 

This also effectively ends the whole "Watcher & Apocalypse watch & comment on events from afar in an effort to give the story gravitas" subplot; Apocalypse next appears in Onslaught: Marvel Universe to get in one last discussion with Uatu (after Onslaught is defeated), but does nothing else between now and then. 

What's the Plan, Stan? 

Apocalypse wants to separate Franklin from Onslaught, so as to cut Onslaught off from Franklin's reality-altering abilities, further suggesting tat Franklin is a key component of Onslaught's plans. 

Later, when Apocalypse reveals he wants to kill Franklin & Cable intervenes to stop him, Onslaught tells Franklin he let the scene play out so Franklin could see betrayal in action, as he intends for Franklin to help him change that tendency which he believes is part of humanity's true nature. 

Whilst on the Astral plane, Apocalypse says that Onslaught is funneling psionic energy into something, though it's not clear why or for what purpose. 

A Work in Progress

This issue opens where Uncanny X-Men #336 left off, with Cable & Invisible Woman in the eye of Onslaught's psionic storm (though when Onslaught appears later, he does so in the original form he had, prior to his mutation in that same issue). 

Well, that dialogue has clearly been re-lettered. 

When Cable & Apocalypse go onto the Astral plane, their physical bodies disappear, which...isn't how the astral plane works (the whole point here is that while they can't get into Onslaught's citadel physically, they can sneak in via the Astral - ie not physical - plane). 

Apocalypse says he infected Cable "at birth" with the techno-organic virus; while the depiction of Nathan Christopher at the time of his infection has been vague & inconsistently depicted through the years (because comics), he clearly wasn't infected at literal birth since he hung out with his mom & dad, almost got sacrificed during "Inferno", went to the Judgment War planet, etc. before getting infected. 

It's said that Onslaught's citadel made of telepathic energy, and while it's never been explicitly said otherwise, that seems to undercut the notion presented in X-Men (vol. 2) #55 that he needed Franklin's reality warping powers to create it. 

With Professor X freed by Thor, Franklin has taken up his position in Onslaught's weird back bubble prison.   

Austin's Analysis

There is, at the core of this issue, an interesting idea: take Cable & Apocalypse, two enemies with a shared history of conflict, and force them to work together in the face of Onslaught's greater threat. It's certainly not an original idea, but it has the potential to lead to an interesting story. Unfortunately, in execution, the interesting idea is undone by a couple factors. First, while Cable & Apocalypse have a long & storied history together, it all exists mostly off-panel or between different versions of these characters: this is really the first time the two "main" present-day iterations of the characters have encountered each other when the audience had full knowledge of that history. In the years since "X-Cutioner's Song" much work has been done by everyone from Fabian Nicieza to Scott Lobdell to Jeph Loeb and even, to some extent, Peter Milligan, to build up the idea that Cable was created to be a weapon against Apocalypse, Apocalypse attempted to strike him down as a child to prevent that from happening, and Cable's destiny (including his rationale for being in this time period) is to fight Apocalypse. To have their first encounter after all that was established result in them being forced to work together robs that unhappy & unlikely partnership of its intended impact, because readers haven't actually seen them be sworn enemies much at all before they're forced to work together here. 

Secondly, the resulting team-up between these two sworn enemies & their confrontation with Onslaught is pretty lackluster. The reveal of Invisible Woman is fun and a mildly clever use of the fact that she is, after all, the Invisible Woman (and Ian Churchill gives the proceedings an appropriate larger-than-life sense of scale & energy, with large figures bursting off a number of double-page spreads), but beyond that, coming as this does in the middle of the crossover, it's pretty much just an exercise in wheel-spinning from a plot perspective. Cable & Apocalypse attack Onslaught, Onslaught defeats them rather handedly (in part because Cable, understandably & not surprisingly, refuses to embrace Apocalypse's ethos & allow him to kill Franklin for the "greater good"), and there's some mild plot momentum in the notion that Franklin Richards has been emboldened by their effort but otherwise, things are pretty much the same, plot-wise, at the end of the issue as the start. Which, under normal circumstances, is forgivable: incremental plot advancements is the name of the game in these big crossover stories, especially at this point in the narrative. But to waste both the first real encounter between Cable & Apocalypse since the full weight of their relationship was established for readers, as well as the potentially interesting idea of making these fated enemies work together in the face of a greater evil, is a damn shame. 

Next Issue

Tomorrow, X-Force wakes up in X-Force #58. Friday, Excaibur cleans-up in Excalibur #101. Next week, X-Man #19!

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  1. Yeah, the Apocalypse/ Cable direct interactions were SUPPOSED to be a big deal, and I was left wanting a lot with this issue. Spoiler Warning: It doesn't get any better forty issues later during The Twelve.

    I also love how Apocalypse has droned on and on throughout this crossover about how important it all is. Helps that I've always read him in that bombastic, 'James Earl Jones on drugs' voice from the cartoon. Contrast this with Dr Doom, who says "I have no interest in betraying you to rule over a planet of cinder and ash". Something about those differences always made me laugh.

    1. Oh, trust me, things are gonna get especially rant-y around here when I get to "The Twelve".

  2. As I said elsewhere, this was the most disappointing part of the crossover for me. I was convinced Apocalypse would have some major hand in bringing Onslaught down and instead we got ... this.

    At the time, unfamiliar as I was with Simonson's X-Factor, I thought Apocalypse was just the coolest of the would-be super-dictators. But having gone back and read that run in the decades since, this Apocalypse seems so much lamer. I have to think Simonson's Apocalypse would just watch happily from a monitor somewhere about how great this all was. Cull the weak and all that.

    1. I have to think Simonson's Apocalypse would just watch happily from a monitor somewhere about how great this all was. Cull the weak and all that.

      What's funny about that is, that's more or less what happens (he's just watching from slightly off-camera with the Watcher, instead of a video screen with Caliban), up to and including his line in ONSLAUGHT: MARVEL UNIVERSE about how now that those weak-ass heroes are gone, the Age of Apocalypse can begin. It's really just this issue that has him stepping in to try and directly stop Onslaught, instead of just watching him do his thing while commenting on what a Big Deal he is.

      And there's an even a way to spin his involvement here more directly as a "trying to stop a rival" move (or "get Franklin's power for himself") that would fit better into his general ethos, but that doesn't really happen.

    2. I'd forgotten he appeared in Onslaught: Marvel Universe, tbh. Hell, if Apocalypse's only appearance in this crossover had been an epilogue to that issue where he just turns off a monitor and walks away like "the age of heroes is over and now the Age of Apocalypse can begin ..." then I'd have been hyped to 11.

      As it was with all the teases, I was like Homer watching the Yakuza saying "But Marge, that little guy hasn't done anything yet ... He's gonna do something and you know it's gonna be good!" and then it's just ... this.

    3. Ha! Yes, totally.

      And of course, even after we get his "now is the dawning of the age of Apocalypse (the age of Apocalypse...)" line, it leads to...not much at all, which is disappointing in its own right.

  3. pò-caly could've had a fitting 3 act arc, of talking with Uatu (arrogantly) / stealing into battle and getting trounced / and passing back by Uatu (defeated) again without a speech on hand.. or was that the gag? i haven't thumbed back through yet.

  4. So Cable's pretty proud of the "X"-brand, isn't he? When he repairs his costume in the astral plane, he has no fewer than FIVE "X"s on it! One on his belt buckle, one on each side of his chest, and one on each shoulder! And I always thought Cyclops with two "X"s on his Jim Lee costume was a bit of overkill!

    1. Seven, Matt: There’s an X on each of his gloves, which I found an amusing bit of overkill while reading. Although not as amusing as the realization that in a ’90s crossover issue of Cable what struck me as overkill was his gloves…


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