Top critical review
Cable Travels Back to 1996
on October 13, 2014
Following his abysmal work on Wolverine, I didn't anticipate ever reading another competent--let alone good--Jeph Loeb comic book again. This volume, Avengers: X-Sanction, was billed as a kind of prequel to the Avengers vs. X-Men crossover from a few years back. It was in this context, and also because this features one of my favorite characters (Cable), that I decided to grit my teeth and bear reading this.
I was broadsided by the realization that this is actually a decent story. As I turned the pages, I kept expecting that Loeb would derail the whole enterprise on a whim, but by the time I finished issue #4, I gasped and concluded the following: Jeph Loeb has produced an average comic.
He has written a story that in fact has more to do with Cable than with the Avengers, one that hearkens back to Loeb's run on Cable's (now cancelled) title from the mid-1990s. Loeb reintroduces Blaquesmith, a face from that era that readers have not seen for quite some time. The vibe feels very retro, but Loeb's characterizations come across as organic. For all of my criticism, Loeb was a writer who really did "get" Cable--which should really come as no surprise since, after Fabian Nicieza, Loeb was one of the early architects in defining the character. Here Loeb incorporates his take on Cable with recent developments in the character's history--his "death" at the end of the Second Coming crossover, and his relationship with Hope, his "daughter" in recent years. In contrast to Loeb's work on Wolverine: Sabretooth Reborn, in which he showed absolutely no interest in explaining events or character developments (some of which Loeb himself introduced), in Avengers: X-Sanction the writer actually uses the circumstances of Cable's return from his apparent death as the springboard for events in the story, and he makes thematic connections between Cable's relationship with Hope to the very old plot detail of Cable having lost his son (Genesis). It's a refreshing acknowledgment of Cable's past, albeit playing out in the odd foreground of a story supposedly about the Avengers.
The story itself is largely composed of stock elements: characters acting questionably in order to avert a dystopian future, violent misunderstandings between other heroes, and guest stars galore. Loeb has especially become known for his tic of tossing around guest stars. In this case the "guest stars" aren't really guests at all--Loeb merely has several of the Avengers interact with Cable one (issue) at a time, focusing on each in isolation in a "gauntlet" type scenario. Captain America, Iron Man, Red Hulk, and Wolverine and Spider-man each get their own issues in which to face off with Cable. (Penciller Ed McGuinness does a fine job bringing to life everyone involved.) Other notable appearances are made by the Falcon, Cyclops, and Hope. By series's end, the story also functions to advance Hope's larger storyline within the Marvel Universe, and it terminates by making a significant change to Cable. We've seen this particular change before, and it's questionable whether it will last this time, but it does make sense as the resolution to this story.
This is not a stellar story. If taken by the standards of the 1990s, it's still only average. Given that it was written in the second decade of the new millennium, I should not rank it so highly but, in fairness, Jeph Loeb seems to have hewn his way to the center of the earth where he has established his own standard, and so he must be graded on a curve. And this is one of his better efforts.