Saturday, December 17, 2011
X-Sanction #1 - A Time for New Awesome
A Marvel comic book penned by Jeph Loeb is like going to a whore house blindfolded and randomly picking someone to fuck. Sometimes you'll get a supermodel style babe with an ass so nice you could paint the Mona Lisa on it. Sometimes you'll get butt-ugly transvestite with a botched boob job, a botched face-lift, and breath that stinks of gasoline and herpes. Loeb is one of those writers who is great at telling certain stories and cock-smashingly awful at others. When he's in his element like with Hulk, he's one of Marvel's top talents. When he's allowed to do too much like with Ultimate, he ruins everything he touches. So it is with a certain mix of excitement and trepidation that I give his X-Sanction mini a chance.
Some are too young or too stoned to remember that Jeph Loeb once wrote Cable. This was back before he teamed up with Deadpool and was neutered by becoming Hope Jean rip-off Summers's adopted father. He was basically a lone soldier who occasionally kicked ass for the X-men or just for the hell of it. It was a different kind of Cable that most readers today probably don't identify with, but damn it if Loeb's take on him didn't work. Now he has a chance to make Cable awesome again and the premise is as volatile as it is fucked up.
The last time we saw Cable he "died." I say "died" with quotations because in the Marvel universe death is no worse than a bad case of the runs. You may be incapacitated for a while, having to lock yourself in the bathroom and declare the surrounding area a toxic waste dump, but you eventually come up with only a slightly burned asshole. But Cable didn't exactly die from a shotgun blast to the head or anything. He was caught in a time portal between the future and the present. He disappeared with Hope crying like the whiny bitch she would eventually become. There was no body to bury. And as everyone knows, if there's no body the guy isn't dead. He's just MIA. Now with the recent announcement of Avengers vs. X-men where Hope Summers is destined to be a big part of it, Cable can't let a little something like death stop him. He still has to protect her. That's where X-Sanction comes in and that's the story Jeph Loeb has to tell.
X-Sanction doesn't begin with Cable. It begins with his targets, the Avengers. All the heavy hitters are present including Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man, Red Hulk, Falcon, and Captain America. It's your typical Thursday night for the Avengers. Some underpaid prison transport fell asleep on the job and let a couple of superpowered villains loose. I know people say a lot of bad things about the American prison system. We lock stoners up with murderers, but you would think that even in a world of fiction they would have the good sense to be careful with superpowered criminals. Guess the economy is just that bad. That or effective transport wasn't in the budget. Still want to cut government spending Tea Party people?
The battle is nothing spectacular and why should it be? These are the Avengers against escaped prisoners like Tornado. They have about as much chance at toppling the Avengers as the St. Louis Rams have of beating the Green Bay Packers with their scout team. But this little skirmish is just a backdrop. It's a little glossed over, but for good reason. After Captain America lays out Tornado in typical Cap fashion, Falcon goes missing. In horror movies, when the token black character goes missing it usually means trouble and a firmly worded letter from Al Sharpton. In this case, Captain America leaves his Avenger buddies behind to go after his pal. This is the last you see of the other Avengers. Again, it's glossed over to a point, but it's the first fucking issue. You can't expect every molecule to be given a life story.
The revelation isn't too startling unless someone had enough brain damage to not look at the cover of the book before reading it. If in fact someone has that much brain damage, I probably shouldn't be making jokes about it because shit starts to get serious here. Cable is back. He's alive, he's pissed off, and he just took out an Avenger and dragged him through a sewer with the full knowledge that his super-powered buddies would come after him. But he's not doing it just for kicks. He soldier. He has a mission. And it's made clear in a very powerful image that the last thing he saw before he "died" was Hope. It's a nice way of connecting this story to the events of X-men Second Coming. It shows that while some loose ends are easier to forget than others, others haven't been forgotten.
Now this is an important moment for anyone who has been following the events of X-men since Second Coming. It's also important to those who criticize Jeph Loeb for essentially rejecting continuity and forcibly imposing his own, ignoring how many are pissed off as a result. In this he actually connects Cable's mission to what happened at the end of that event way back in the dark days of 2010. He could have ignored those details and pulled any number of things out of his ass, but he didn't. He saw what that story did with Cable and he ran with it. For that, he deserves more due credit than most will ever give him.
Captain America, still ignoring the rest of his Avenger buddies while they take care of the prison break, tracks Falcon down to an anchored cargo ship. It's the city equivalent of an old house built on Indian burial grounds, satanic rituals, and abortion clinics. Loeb doesn't waste too much time with finer details, as is his style. He just gets Cap into the same room as Cable as quickly as possible and that's not a bad thing by any stretch. It just means they have more pages with which to kick ass. Not only that, Cable has Falcon suspended in a bio tank rigged with C4. So if Cap tries to rescue his buddy, he blows them all to hell. That means the only way he's saving his friend is if he goes through Cable. It's only slightly more daunting than being Snooki's gynecologist.
What follows next isn't too deep, but it's not glossed over either. When you put two hardened soldiers in a confined area and give them reasons to be pissed at one another, it damn well ought to be a kick ass fight! And that's exactly what Loeb does here with help from artist Ed McGuinness. You've got two soldiers from two different eras that have to beat the shit out of each other in order to fulfill their mission. And it's painfully clear early on that Cable is not 100 percent. Remember, he still has the techno-organic virus eating his ass alive. The worse Captain America ever had to worry about was a bad case of the clap in World War II. He can barely fire his gun competently so Cap has the early advantage.
But that advantage doesn't last. Cable has dealt with the techno-organic virus before and after several glorious pages of hero on hero action that could make an awesome porno if two hot women were involved, Cable gets the upper hand. He actually uses Captain America's own shield against him, both to protect himself and to keep Cap on his toes. It works because Cable is more willing to fight dirty. He'll throw in a few low blows and maybe even bite a few ears Mike Tyson style if that's what the mission requires. He's able to knock Cap out, showing that while Captain America may be all red, white, and blue he's still as vulnerable to a blow to the head as anyone else.
Now Cable had the edge because he was much more determined and had way more to lose. And it wasn't just because of the techno-organic virus that's killing him either. Why is he so determined? Well that's another detail that Jeph Loeb didn't gloss over. During the battle we get a few flashbacks (or flashforwards since time is so fucked up in the Marvel universe) that show what happened to Cable after the end of Second Coming. Apparently, he didn't die. He was just transported to a future. There, he met up with mysterious man with a racially charged name, Blaquesmith. Now before Al Sharpton gets involved, Blaquesmith gives Cable some very bad news. His mission to protect Hope didn't exactly stop the future from going to hell. In fact, it made everything worse. This is where Jeph Loeb makes yet another connection. In a recent giant sized issue called Point One, Marvel revealed that the Phoenix Force was on a rampage again. It was able to essentially purge an entire world and look awesome doing it. Well in the future Cable travels to, that happens to Earth. And the reason it happens is because Hope wasn't there to stop it. Why? Well apparently the Avengers are the main reason. They took her so she couldn't be the messiah she needed to be. For Cable, that's all the reason he needs to end their shit. And you know what? It's a damn good reason.
I'll take a moment to compliment Jeph Loeb again. I know it's becoming an ugly habit, but he deserves such praise with this for all the right reasons. Not only did he make a connection to the past with this scene. He also set the stage for the future. X-Sanction was announced before Avengers vs. X-men. Not much was revealed about the plot and now we know why. This story in one issue shows what's at stake. With both Point One and Second Coming, the threat of the Phoenix is beating into the reader's head like a Catholic nun to a kid who hides Playboys in his desk. It's a message worth reinforcing because the Phoenix Force is one of Marvel's threats that's near the top of the not-to-be-fucked-with list.
Back in the present, Captain America in a very special chair that old school Uncanny X-men fans may recognize. It's not enough to just kill Captain America when he's unconscious. Keep in mind, Cable has to have bait for the rest of the Avengers. Cable makes it clear to Cap that he didn't just wake up one morning and think it would be fun to kill the Avengers. He's doing it because they're going to royally fuck up the future for what they do to Hope. As an adopted father and a guy who is mighty sick of dystopian futures, he just can't let that shit slide and the issue ends with an ominous hint of just how serious Cable is. It's implied that he shot Captain America in the head, but there's no blood splattered visual so it may be a different shot. What does it mean? Well unfortunately we'll have to wait until 2012 to see. Is it so wrong to want Christmas to be over already?
And so this most basic of stories ends with the most basic of noises, that noise being a gunshot. It's not clear if the shot is from Cable's gun or someone else who thinks it's not cool to shoot Captain freakin' America in the head. But that's the beauty of it. That final scene is all you need to want to see the next issue. It's not like an episode of Lost where you want to see the next episode just to make sense of the convoluted plot from the past six. You want to see it because you want to see what happens next. It's simple. It's clean. The retard who eats paste in 1st grade can understand it just as much as the Korean valedictorian that spent all of high school functioning on two hours of sleep. Nothing is blown up. Nothing is overly destroyed. It's just a simple plot of Cable having the balls to take on the Avengers and having a damn good reason to do so.
Now I'll go on record as saying that I had no faith in Jeph Loeb after his Ultimate work. I was prepared to blow a federal judge or twenty to get a restraining order that would prevent him from ever writing another Marvel comic again. Luckily, it never came to that. I may be a drunk, but I'm not an unreasonable drunk. I'm willing to give a writer a chance if the story and the premise are good. Jeph Loeb walked into a major story here. This is the prelude to Avengers vs. X-men, Marvel's equivalent of a heavyweight title fight that Don King would have injected crack into his eye socket in order to promote. And Loeb pulls it off and does a damn good job of it. So with both relief and elation, I praise him for making this first issue awesome. The dialog may be flat and the finer details may be overlooked at times. But in the end it's a worthy first issue and that's really the best you can hope for with a story like this.
Jeph Loeb still has an uphill battle ahead of him. His propensity for cheesy dialog have brought down promising stories before. So has his inability to deal with the little things in a story. After Captain America and Cable clashed, the rest of the characters were pretty much forgotten. Some scenes were glossed overs while others were overly drawn out, but it wasn't terribly egregious. It's the first damn issue. I'm willing to give Loeb the benefit of the doubt for once because he's been so good at making Cable a likable badass. So with more than just a sliver of hope, I give X-Sanction #1 a 4.5 out of 5. Loeb has everything he needs to make this series awesome and he has three issues to show he can do it. And for once, I don't need six bottles of tequila to be optimistic. Nuff said!