Aug 6, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 163: Cable #20, February 1995

This is one of my favourite comics. But it's one of those ones that I always forget until I've decided to re-read the AoA crossover.

I'll start with the cover. This is literally the most action that happens in this whole issue, but that's not the most interesting thing about it. This is also a rather poignant gathering of fathers and sons, and sets up very nicely the attention given in this issue to the relationships that define the characters and how they treat them in these, their final moments.

And that's what this comic basically is: a collection of final moments. While, for the characters, the outcome of Cable's mission to the past is not a foregone conclusion, it really seems here that the whole universe is ending (though let's perhaps say the whole timeline, or continuity. The universe continues, albeit in a different fashion). Thus what we are given here is final thoughts and words between characters with whom, as long-time X-readers, we have grown close. Cyclops and Phoenix finally reveal the truth of their future adventures to Cable. Angel and Beast, who've been there from the beginning, have a tender moment. Rogue and Gambit (a couple I've never really got) have a moment. Rather than beating a problem into submission, each of the characters is instead given the opportunity to do what probably any of us would do when faced with the certainty of our own demise. They say the things they probably shouldn't have waited so long to say.

Jeph Loeb is one of those comics writers that, I find, often disappears into his work. He's a competent writer, and though I've never been as blown away by his work as by someone like Moore or Gaiman, I've also never been disappointed by it. It's only when we look to his collaborations with artist Tim Sale that we begin to really understand how much he gets the structure of the superhero narrative, and I think that's why he disappears into his stories. This'll take a bit more thought, I think, but I'm going to keep my eyes on Loeb as I read through. Brilliance in art has two distinct outcomes. The first is the innovative, what we might call the literary in the written work, where a work is atypical, pushing boundaries both structural and narrative. The second, though, is the disappearance of the artist into the work. Grant Morrison is always front and center in his stories. His style is an intrinsic part of his storytelling. With someone like Loeb, his style is subsumed by the tropes and structures of the superhero tale, or is the tropes and structures of the superhero tale. Someone like Kurt Busiek has a similar handle on this kind of story. Mark Waid, perhaps, straddles the two different ways. We have artists whose work is stereotypically superheroic, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. Loeb is amongst those creators whose writing is stereotypically superheroic, with definite emphasis on the good.

Speaking of art, this issue is drawn by one of my favourite artists: Ian Churchill. I've caught flack for liking his work so much, as he's of that school of hyper-sexualized, super-defined bodies. His women are tall and slender and buxom beyond all reason, and his men have 12 packs instead of 6 packs, along with muscles on top of their muscles. But, like Loeb, I think Churchill captures something essential about the stereotypicality of the superhero. These are ideals given 2-dimensional form. While most of his characters are unbelievably ripped, I can imagine that he would spend the same amount of time and hyper-realism on more typical characters. I've just yet to see it. I came to his work when he did an issue of Moore's run on Supreme, and his art style meshed perfectly with the highly symbolic world of the Pearl Paragon. His work here is no less wonderful, and it's a treat to see these hyper-realized characters having conversations rather than fights. How does the superheroic body function in repose, in tender situations, rather than in violent conflict? Churchill gives us an all-too-brief look.

So the universe crystallizes, even though we haven't read the final issue. Perhaps the crystal wave is moving backward through time, so the present (1995) day X-Men are hit by it before those trapped in the past. We'll find out their fate tomorrow. See you then.

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