The first of two new versions of X-Force, “Cable and X-Force” has hit the stands as one of two brand new Marvel NOW! #1’s to hit the stand, in what is part of something we dub HopelessFest, considering both comics are written by Dennis Hopeless.
Oof. Talk about having a nervous Wednesday. And a poorly named festival.
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Illustrated by Salvador Larocca
Cable is back! NOW! with a new X-Force at his side, he must tackle the threats that nobody else can know about. But just who are Cable’s new recruits, and why is his team public enemy number one? Caught red-handed at the scene of a terrorist attack on a major American corporation whose CEO has expressed anti-mutant views, the X-Force is the run, with none other than the Uncanny Avengers in hot pursuit.
“X-Force,” in general, features a massive set of shoes to fill. Liefeld and Nicieza’s work on the inital launch of the book, even if it is something that is derided today, was a great testament to comics at the time as a strong reflection of the kinds of books people wanted to read. That’s generally something that has stayed with the book throughout it’s various runs; the more recent Kyle/Yost run and subsequent Remender runs are some of the most celebrated comics of the past five years, featuring darker stories, grittier art and a no holds barred attitude towards violence, yet still holding deep roots in the Marvel U. In fact, it’s probably safe to say at this point that X-Force is the second most recognizable X-brand, having surpassed X-Factor some time ago with the higher profile title and various creators that have taken turns bringing various characters to various shadowy areas of the Marvel U.
So with that in mind, the odds are seemingly stacked against Hopeless and Larocca here a bit. Not only are they using a variation on the X-Force title, but they’re also bringing back its most famous lead for his first major starring role in some time. And to make it New Reader Friendly on top of everything else? That’s rough luck.
What “Cable and X-Force” actually is upon reading is simply a mixed bag. With a new team, a new mission and of course new costumes, Hopeless and Larocca give us a comic that is rather decidedly different than what came before in its central mission statement. It’s a book that feels a bit more grounded and certainly reflective of its lead character; with Wolverine heading up the last two versions of X-Force, chaos and violence was obviously attracted to the stories like a magnet, but now that Cable is in charge things become more orderly, following a more precise plan. That’s what the book is: it’s the beginning of a mission put in place by one of the Marvel U’s strongest strategic minds that is now slowly marching forward, precise and methodical – but that’s just as much a negative as it is a positive.
In looking what the creative team brings to the table, it’s fairly easy to be optimistic about the title. Hopeless’ character work is extremely on-point, as he tosses away Cable’s penchant for laborious sentimental monologues from Loeb’s past work with the character and terms him into a stoic grunt, with the gag about his new arm playing particuarly well in a wink/nudge fashion. The other characters who appear as well, such as Dr. Nemesis and Hope, all transition well from their previous characterizations to now with only slight tweaks to personality, and the slightly different Forge doesn’t feel out of place either. Fans of Larocca’s work on “Invincible Iron Man” will be treated to something a bit more dynamic as well. Given that this book doesn’t somewhat rely on a technological slant (minus, y’know, the obvious stuff), Larocca branches out more with the characters to provide something that is definitely a step up from what came before in terms of technique and execution.
That said, at no point does the comic particularlly wow in any way. It’s a strong comic and certainly a testament to the strengths of both creators, but there’s something missing from it; there’s no grand pop, no exciting hook beyond interest in what the creators or characters will do. The past two iterations of the title game out the gate guns a-blazing in their own various ways, essentially demanding the attention of the reader and offering no alternatives, but “Cable and X-Force” #1 is more of a softball. Generally speaking, it’s a rather average superhero story: “famous character forms new team until something blows up on the last page.” It’s formulaic and not too exciting, albeit still well-written and illustrated, so the question of the issue’s worth depends on how much you value these factors, as odd of a notion as that is to consider. (“Do I want good writing? No, that doesn’t seem interesting,” said someone, somewhere, extremely confused.)
As an additional set-back to the book, unless you’d read online in an interview somewhere, there’s no real apparent purpose to the story or why the team is being formed. The general assumption from reading the issue is that there is no reason other than “because Cable wants to,” which isn’t very interesting, but that can’t be the case given all the elements composing this comic. The hope is assumedly that, given that the book opens sometime in the future, readers will want to stick around to see whatever leads up to that, but starting so far in the past that yet another “origin story” is needed seems counter-productive to anyone picking the issue up blind. Given the cover, solicit and the theoretically projectable future of where the next issue will take us, it doesn’t seem like the issue will get to the story anytime soon. The book doesn’t need to tip its hand too much to the point that it smacks you in the face with its central plot, but the story could’ve heavily benefitted from tighter and more concise sequences so extra pages could’ve been dedicated to fleshing out the reason it should be added to your pull.
The trick of it all is that this needs to be a new reader friendly comic. Given the nature of all of Marvel NOW! books, to do otherwise would be detrimental to the endeavor, and at this “Cable and X-Force” fails. The book barely explains itself, let alone its cast, and unless you have some knowledge of who everyone is from other places, you’re most likely going to be lost. While characters don’t necessarily need to be spoon-fed to the reader, given the ecclectic cast you’d imagine that some kind of device would be created to bring the neophyte reader into this world a bit more, perhaps similar to what Hopeless did with Kev Walker over in “Avengers Arena” #1 (also out this week). The book gets nothing of the sort, and I find it hard to imagine that someone unfamiliar with who a character like Dr. Nemesis is will understand what his role in the series is.
“Cable and X-Force” is a bit of a let down, but not in any particularly offensive ways. While the issue could’ve done with a tighter explanation of its purpose and plot overall, what Hopeless makes clear with the issue is that he’s not phoning it in or throwing things at the wall to see what might stick. It’s just a matter of having the title stand out against the crowd, and given how many books Marvel puts out a month with double-shipping and the sheer amount of #1s being thrown at people, “Cable and X-Force” isn’t a title likely to impress readers over perhaps anything else. It’s a shame, and Hopeless and Larocca can certainly deliver over time, but if you’re looking to be wowed immediately like some other Marvel NOW! books have done, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Final Verdict 6.0 – Browse. Certainly give it a chance to impress you with the second issue, at the least.