Cable #13 or Would That Be Messiah War #2?: The Curse of Continuity
When Marvel first announced the Messiah War cross-over that would incorporate the X-Force series into the events that have been slowly unfolding in Duane Swierczynski's masterful run on Cable, I was genuinely enthused. Swierczynski's book has been so consistently satisfying over the year or so it has been running that adding another title with its attendant infusion of character and narrative development must simply mean more of a good thing. At least that was how my thinking went at the time. Upon reflection, it occurs to me that I should have realized that such thinking was naïve. Rather than raising the quality of the supplemental series, the result of wrapping another X-book into the narrative of Cable has instead subjected Swierczynski's great series to the ultimate killer of good comics: continuity.
I've said before and I am still willing to hold to the assertion that Cable is the strongest mainstream superhero series going. One of the paradoxically great things about wrapping the book into a continuity-based, multi-series event narrative is that the faults of the current issue help to crystallize precisely why the series up to now has been so good. The most obvious example of this is evidenced by the unusually high proportion of pages of the current issue devoted to exposition, which is something the series had largely avoided up to now. The problem with including large amounts of exposition in a comic--aside from the obvious exclusionary factor that comes with back-story heavy books--is that very few writers are skilled enough to seamlessly incorporate the necessary background information into the action of the book and instead you end up with page after page of relatively static panels featuring one character recounting information to another and a whole lot of text.
Consider as an example the difference between Mike Mignola's first several Hellboy story arcs, in which the first several pages often featured little more than panel after panel of Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm sitting in an office with huge text-filled speech bubbles laying out a tome's worth of mythological minutiae and more recent Hellboy stories, such as the great one-shot In the Chapel of Moloch, in which the attendant mythological background is skillfully woven into the narrative. In the case of Cable #13, Olivetti's brilliant illustrations--ironically perhaps the best yet for this series--mitigate this problem somewhat, but in the end it's still a book in which nothing happens.
Another glaring problem becomes apparent as Bishop is giving us his internal monologue explaining how he recruited Stryfe into his Messiah-killing enterprise. It suddenly dawned on me at this point that the entire story hinges on Bishop's going to extraordinary lengths to retroactively nullify his existence. Even considering his harrowing life in the mutant concentration camps, this is a wildly problematic premise and it undermines the structure of the story. One great irony in this is that the concomitantly running The Life and Times of Lucas Bishop comes off as something of a power-of-the-human-spirit-in-the-face-of-great-adversity story, something which is belied by Bishop's apparent raison d'être in Cable.
Of course this has been the case throughout the entire run of the series, but somehow it never occurred to me or never mattered before this point. The truly ridiculous part is that Bishop lets on that he is aware that Stryfe plans to kill him as soon as he's destroyed Cable and that for this reason he plans on taking out Stryfe first. In the subsequent panel, he admits that once Cable and Hope are dead, "all of this will go away." What, then, is the point of preëmptively killing Stryfe?
I made reference above to the fact that issue #13 is a comic in which nothing happens. The strange thing about that is that Cable has pretty much always been a book in which nothing, or anyway, very little happens. But there is a difference between a comic with strange and wonderful illustrations in which little happens outside of the peregrinations of a weird, old, granite-jawed, quasi-robotic soldier and a little red-haired girl and a comic in which little happens outside of the arguments between annoying, wise-cracking mutant heroes who are ostensibly allies. As I mentioned above, Olivetti's illustrations are perhaps better than they have ever been on this series and this is almost enough to convince me to continue with the Messiah War enterprise . . . almost. One can only hope that there will be enough of the series's wonderful weirdness remaining at the conclusion of this event for it to regain something of its former glory.