Powerful Panels: Cable #11 by Jamie McKelvie and Duane Swierczynski

Ariel Olivetti's art has been such an integral part of the success of the current Cable series that the abrupt and dramatic shift to that of Jamie McKelvie that happens on page 8 of the current issue at first seems like a profound mistake. That said, like a lot of things that at first glance have seemed ill-advised or even absurd in Swierczynski's paradoxically superb series, this shift reveals itself upon reflection to fit perfectly within the larger framework of the series.

McKelvie's art stands in stark contrast to Olivetti's. What makes it work is that it appears just at the moment when Cable and Hope timeslide to a future in which they are quite likely the only living things on the planet. If one could witness the appearance of these two travelers in such a landscape without negating the conceit, the experience of such would likely be as jarring as the transition from Olivetti's hyper-realistic artificiality to McKelvie's cartoonish artificiality.

This particular panel is so critical because it underlines the many and varied sub-textual strands Swierczynski has gradually been introducing into the series. Sure, this issue is about Cable and Hope timesliding into the future to avoid the catastrophic fallout of the bioweapon employed to defeat the cockroach armies and about the difficulties presented by Cable's inability to move anywhere in time except forward. But it is also about the secondary responsibilities of Cable's role as protector of the mutant messiah--namely those associated with fatherhood. It is interesting to note in this regard that for the first time in the series, we see Cable embodying the role of father-who-plays-games with his daughter in the McKelvie illustrated pages.

There are two main threads that are developed in the panels leading up to our focus here. In the first place, we have Cable enacting the role of self-denying father--assuring that his "child" is fed, even if it means going without himself. The word Hope uses to call him on this tactic--"Baloney"--sets up the other major thematic thread, namely the issue of a father's role as preserver of innocence. As Cable asks Hope where she learned that word, we are party to Hope's thoughts in which she reflects that she had ample opportunity to learn new words and concepts from Cable's military counterparts. As we come to the final panel on the page, Hope's thoughts tell us that the things she learned from Zyker and the other soldiers include those that Cable may not yet be ready for her to know.

The composition of this panel and specifically the respective aspects of and relations between the two figures speak volumes for what is going on under the surface of this issue. As Hope's thoughts inform us that Zyker and his comrades presumably taught her words of a sexual nature, her pose suggests that what she learned may have exceeded the bounds of vocabulary. The look on her face as she brings her hand to her opened mouth is one of resigned distaste. The sexualization of this gesture of eating is relatively overt and her aspect at once indicates that this process of sexualization is something with which she is as yet uncomfortable, but which she realizes is inevitable and that her discomfort will gradually diminish; in other words, she is resigned.

Cable's posture and positioning in this panel encapsulates the forest-for-the-trees shortcoming of all over-protective parents. Cable is so focused on the horizon, looking for external threats, that he cannot see those threats that are right in front of him. This sequence presciently foreshadows the crisis at the end of the issue, in which Cable, weakened by lack of food and water, collapses after timesliding once again, leaving Hope utterly vulnerable to whatever she might encounter in this unknown future.

The sexualization of the older, yet still pre-pubescent Hope is presaged by Olivetti's brilliant, but downright creepy cover. As if the comically oversized revolver she wields were not enough, Olivetti gilds that lily with the all too knowing look in her transfixing green eyes and the all too sensual leer of her criminally sensual mouth. What is really effective about all this, however, is that it keeps in the reader's mind all the little unanswered what-the-fucks that have been peppered throughout the series: Why do Little Girl and the older Hope look so similar? Was the older Hope Little Girl's mother and if so, is Cable her father? Are the two Hopes the same and if so, does this mean that Cable has already bedded Little Girl/Hope? I get the sense that none of these questions will ever be satisfactorily answered and this is yet another reason why this series has been so satisfying.


samuel rules said...

I think the thing about comics, for some reason, is that no (really though very few) can draw women in a non-sexual light, unless they are drawing the ugly neighbor or other disgusting person in someone's life. Most of the children are sexualized without there being any sex at all, Hope is being drawn as a young woman, not a girl, possibly because of the (and sorta all of their) lack of experience with the subject matter? Meaning kids, not girls' bodies.

david e. ford, jr said...

i definitely think you are right about the phenomenon, at least insofar as mainline superhero comics are concerned. considering the context of the panel in terms of hope's thoughts leading up to that moment, i do think that it goes beyond a sort of general blanket sexualization of female characters. insofar as that cover is concerned, i challenge someone to claim that olivetti did not intentionally sexualize her. she is seven goddamned years old and i am looking at her like it's a centerfold, for christ's sake

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Viagra said...

This Cable issue was very good, I actually was expecting more of it but it turned out well enough to make me read it a couple of times.