Marvel NOW! Review: Cable and X-Force #1 by Dennis Hopeless and Salvador Larroca

Cable and X-Force #1
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Salvador Larroca
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Joe Sabino
Assistant Editor: Jordan D. White
Editor: Nick Lowe

Synopsis

Thunderbolts has a problem. That book came out one week ago and already we have Dennis Hopeless beating Daniel Way at his own game. Similar concept, similar stylishly iconic and guilty pleasure fan-favorite lineup, with all of the flash readers expect and none of the problems that plagued Thunderbolts #1. Cable and X-Force stands on it’s own, I’m just amused at Marvel defeating itself with it’s own titles.

We meet Cable and his newly recruited team as they’re confronted by Havok, Captain America, and the Avengers after laying waste to an unknown facility. The media is on site, and this isn’t the sort of press anyone, let alone mutants like Havok and Cable, really need right now. Of course, Cable tells them to jog on, and his team extracts before the Avengers can do anything about it.
Jumping back in time, we follow Cable as he sets about recruiting a specific team for an unknown purpose. Meanwhile he also grapples with being separated from his daughter, Hope. She also shares his frustrations, feeling abandoned, and sets about looking for him. Both storylines converge as we learn Cable is suffering from headaches, which Hope discovers are much more.

Discussion

I want to make something clear: I cut Thunderbolts #1 some slack last week. It had the potential, but failed to deliver, and knowing how things go these days in the comic book realm, that potential won’t be realized or dissipated until we get another issue or two under our belt, when I can fairly assess it. That’s the danger of telling decompressed stories, and I think that most readers of Marvel, regardless of if your favorite writer is Daniel Way, Brian Michael Bendis, Rick Remender, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer, or others would be hard pressed to deny that decompressed pacing is the way Marvel likes to go.

It’s no secret around the Nexus that the X-Men franchise, and especially any era of X-Force, is “my joint”. When I talk about Cable and X-Force and what went right here, I am not doing it solely because I like anything with mutants or an X. I am not biased because Dennis Hopeless is also writing my other favorite X-Heroine over in Avengers Arena, nor because I think Lovestruck and his other works are great. Or maybe I am, in a way, as far as Lovestruck, Legion of Monsters, or X-Men: Season One (dammit, there’s that X tie again), because what Cable and X-Force comes down to is that Dennis Hopeless is a good writer. Not to say Marvel doesn’t have a house full of them. It’s just that Dennis Hopeless, if only to be judged solely on this week’s offerings of Avengers Arena and Cable and X-Force, knows how to tell a tight story within the confines of a twenty-something page issue and not leaving you feel cheated on content.

And he does it all through the magic of…basic storytelling technique. We’re talking Story 101, here. The beauty of Cable and X-Force is it’s simplicity in execution.

The book opens up with the team formed, in the midst of action, and then the true conflict hits: they are at odds with Havok and the Avengers. Right away, you want more. We learn about Cable’s daughter, Hope, and how they’re estranged. That’s important, because even if you haven’t picked up a comic book until this very issue, if you know nothing about Marvel Now! or the X-Men or Avengers status quo, Hopeless starts laying out the characters: who they are, what they want, and what’s tearing them up inside.

We don’t just discover what drives Cable as he recruits his team. Every team member or supporting character is clearly established with crisp dialogue and a unique voice:

Check out Domino’s conversation with longtime teammate Tabitha “Boom Boom” Smith, which also helps spotlight Domino’s mercenary past and friction with the X-Men (The “yellow tights” slam is great). Really savor the banter with Forge or Doctor Nemesis. Look at Cable and Hope. No shallow action scenes or vague allusions to motive, but in quick two or three page scenes we know everything there is to know about Cable and Hope and the state of their world. We know exactly who everyone is and why they’d be there.

Hopeless does all this while still propelling his story along. It’s not a series of teases and vagueries, by the issue’s end we know what the looming conflict is and the team is assembled to deal with it.

This is basic stuff. In fact, in most scripts this would be the perfect first act, but unlike other titles, Hopeless makes sure the book also contains all three necessary acts of a story structure before it steers off the cliff. It’s episodic. Wow. Who’d have thought a single issue could be satisfying and riveting and packed with content and not need to rest on the promise of five or eleven more issues to justify it’s existence. This is how you write a comic book. I don’t care what genre, this is how comic books should be written. I think we forget that, given the last decade or so of how Marvel likes to pace things.

But you know what? Forget all that structural dissection and classroom talk. Cable and X-Force just kicks some serious ass. It’s the best sort of comic book, the best sort of X-Men book, where you come for the outlandish characters and the action and walk away with all that and a quality sci-fi soap opera held together by the compelling characters that are so crucial to making the flashy concepts and stellar artwork gel.

And the artwork is stellar. Salvador Larroca is a Spanish artist with an impressive resume, but is probably going to be recognized for his collaboration with Matt Fracion on The Invincible Iron Man. I’ll allow you bonus points if you remember his Uncanny X-Men and X-Treme X-Men work. Or Ultimate Elektra. Anyway, this is the man. The first thing that jumps out at you on the cover is the new look the team sports. Cable and Forge are familiar in a technological mashup, while Dr. Nemesis looks only slightly less badass than his original fedora and coat ensemble. Domino is in black, as ever. I admit the black and orange scheme for the uniforms didn’t grab me at first, but it grew on me. What’s important here is how gorgeous Larroca makes everything look.
The world feels lived in and appropriately gritty. There’s a subtle visual look to Cable and his team, where every scene is strewn with refuse, yet Hope starts out in a pristine environment and gradually descends into clutter as she closes in on her father.

Every character looks like a breathing part of our world, and you want to reach into the panels and hug Hope, or restrain Forge or Havok as they push Cable’s buttons. Every expression and posture sells the world weariness of the characters. You can see the cold, professional nonchalance in Cable and Domino, the resignation in Dr. Nemesis’ stance, and the soldier rearing up inside of the young Hope. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given Larroca’s Iron Man work, but I always find it cool when characters like Forge or Cable actually look like they’re burdened by their machinery, and it’s not just a cosmetic fixture.

Of course, great linework isn’t everything; a colorist can make or break the best of pencillers. Thankfully we have Frank D’Armata working the colors. I don’t know where to begin, because he’s one of the penultimate colorists in the business, and this is certainly something he enjoyed coloring. What stands out the most is the color scheme for each scene, with very subtle and clever use of color temperatures. The palette is muted just right, and it lends the book the same cold and detached visual filter that surely every protagonist in this book uses to view their world.

It’s because of this that I really came around to the orange color scheme for the uniforms; while still cool shade, it helps pop the characters out just enough in scenes to remind us, yes, they’re X-Men characters, and really brings home their unity, even if they’re not wearing a strict uniform. Also, it’s just refreshing and different. We’ve seen the blues and purples and golds and blacks and reds before, orange and steel or black just looks new without being outlandish.

Quite simply, Dennis Hopeless has written one of the best constructed single issues I have read lately. This includes the Marvel Now! launch, this includes the New 52 efforts. It is just one of the most well crafted issues I’ve picked up in recent years, and it puts everything together for new audiences and old audiences in a slick, addictive package. Salvador Larroca and Frank D’Armata are one of the best artist combinations this book could have asked for, the colors and illustrations interlocking Tetris-tight into Hopeless’s vision. I love X-Force in every incarnation, from the beginning. I had a crush on Domino in middle school and never let go. I think Cable and Hope is one of the coolest relationships the X-books have seen in a while.
Strip all that aside, and you still have one of the best books to hit stands in years. If you’ve been looking to return to X-Men but didn’t know where to start, start here. If you’re a new reader who is overwhelmed by all the offerings on shelves, start here. If you’re an aspiring writer looking for something good to study, start here. If you read comics for the art, start here.

Start here.

We’re on the precipice of something amazing.

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