Cable, to me, is Turok 2 on Nintendo 64. He’s a Street Fighter arcade machine, he’s Wednesday Addams, he’s fanny packs and Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp. A product by, of, and exemplifying everything ’90s. X-Man and X-Force to a lesser extent are, of course, very much the same. Gritty, decadent, over produced and faux edgy, they are the bastions of a different time and style. One I grew up with, and have great fondness for in certain regards, but one that is certainly achingly archaic in others. Cable & X-Force: Onslaught!, a trade paperback collection of the group’s dealings with supervillain Onslaught at the height of his power as well as numerous other stories including a fun trip to the Microverse, created by the likes of Jeph Loeb, Peter David, Terry Kavanagh, Ian Churchill, Angel Media, Scott Hanna and many many others, is very much the same.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
Onslaught has struck — and now Cable and X-Force must strike back! Cable is on the hunt for the monstrous menace’s true identity, but standing in the way is the Incredible Hulk! Meanwhile, X-Force tries to protect Cable’s “brother,” X-Man, from Onslaught — but Mister Sinister wants him too! And to strike at Onslaught, Cable must team up with his mortal enemy: Apocalypse! In the war’s aftermath, Cable’s techno-virus is out of control, and his life hangs in the balance. Can he pull himself together in time to help Domino save their old “friends” Garrison Kane and Copycat from the maddening Psycho-Man? Elsewhere, X-Force must survive the madness of Mojoworld — and unravel the mystery of Shatterstar’s true identity!
An interesting, if somewhat hyperbolic, premise. I think it’s safe to say that Onslaught is a fan favorite villain, and his inclusion here, the biggest post-Age of Apocalypse story yet, exemplifies some of why. Although his origin is convoluted and borders on inane, his tactics, and the discord his appearance created in the X-Men line at the time is anything but. There’s a real sense of dastardly energy and evil imbued in seeing him imprison a young Franklin Richards within his own body, in looking down on a world he has doomed from his tower, and the appearances of Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse, scared of him enough to work with their sworn enemies Cable and X-Man really sells the threat across all the X-Men line.
This collection capitalizes on that. there’s quite a bit more character here than you would expect from a hyper-violent ’90s book, and some of the visuals are mindbogglingly good. As Cable struggles to keep an ever-growing and uncontrolled techno-virus in check, Domino struggles similarly with keeping X-Force in line in his absence, X-Man struggles with his place in the world writ large, and Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse play unexpected, but appropriate and tantalizing hands. It all rings true of what these characters — devoted to saving the world in the most urgent and harshest of manners, willing to paint their conflicts in black and white, good and bad — would do in this situation.
Sure, X-Man saying stuff like “I was born for war, and this seems like it might be the last one” seems self-obsessed and egregiously hyperbolic, but so does everything about the character here. He and Cable’s fights and loose alliances with Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse equally so. These are characters at wit’s end, and the urgency of the storytelling feels totally warranted and still ridiculous in the best of ways. If you revel in Sinister fitting “Summerseed” and “Greyson” into every conversation for seemingly dubious and grandstanding reasons like I do, there’s a character or two here for you — to say nothing of how fun some of the included backup stories like the one in the Microverse are.
Some of the art is equally revelatory. Double page splashes by the likes of Churchill, Medina, Hanna and others are detailed, kinetic and over-the-top in a way that doesn’t diminish the quieter bits of the story but also really effectively blow everything up when needed. An early espionage story in the collection featuring Cable and Domino is especially indicative of this duality. As Cable and Domino sneak around a covert facility they’re cloaked in all darkness save for the light coming from Cable’s eye, faint red glow outlining their silhouettes, and glints of their overly complex guns. Then everything goes loud — a large yellow and orange explosion fills the pages, Cable and Domino fly backwards, “BUDDA BUDDA” and “KRAKABOOM” accompanying their fight for their very lives, explosions now the only light against their proficient and deadly outlines. It’s larger-than-life fights to the death like this that exemplify everything good and unique about Cable and X-Force in general and this book is littered with them.
Unfortunately, all of that character work and intricate story crafting is undone by this collection and its lack of cohesion — and to a larger extent, this event’s structure in general.
Every other issue, if not every issue, is littered with shell casings and cool psionic powers, yes, but also egregious editor’s notes and disjointed narrative work. Some issues end up feeling like purely traffic control, directing you to X-Men, or Cable or X-Man stories happening elsewhere and not collected here. The worst of it? Onslaught appears in book and then is killed in a separate issue nowhere to be found. We go from Cable, Apocalypse, and Invisible Woman fighting for Franklin Richards’ very life, to a fight with the Shi’ar with absolutely no in-between or contextualization. This is, of course, the fault of ’90s and prior event storytelling in general, where readers had to be collecting absolutely every issue of every title to keep up, but the opportunity to collect those all here and now is completely skipped over in favor of a thematic tie-in of every Cable and X-Force story which don’t work on their own.
These aren’t the only issues with the story, however. For every interesting character, there is too much time given to a Siryn, Magma, or sorry fans, Scalp-Hunter. Characters inessential to the main story are nonetheless given mind-numbing amounts of exposition and focus. It’s disparate, confusing, and thematically inconsistent at best. Similarly, the dialogue-heavy bits of the story are completely underserved by the majority of the artists here and are maximized, busy, and ridiculously over designed to the point that they confuse more than clarify anything that’s happening. There are countless scenes of Mr. Sinister taking up too much space on a page, with multiple panels dedicated to the same, duplicated face, diminishing everyone else’s presence to poorly conceived and confusing margins and breakout boxes. When the story is achingly slow or verbose, this artistic overdevelopment doesn’t help at all. A stark, more overwhelming effort to the good bits here.
Ultimately, then, Cable & X-Force is nothing to write home about, but is fun in a microcosmic sense. If you hold any fondness for these characters and their over-the-top Rambo-esque outings, there’s probably something here for you. Otherwise, the poor planning of the collection itself, as well as the disparate efforts of the story and art dismantle any good will and would be better off left to the X-Men themselves. Turok 2 works perfectly fine repackaged and optimized for your Nintendo Switch; this does not.
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