Before I give Stryfe his time in the light, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about myself this time. My name is Jason Miller. I’m a 38 year old nerd that lives in Iowa. I have two children, Jade and James, and a loving fiance, Renee. I have been interested in creative writing since I could spell and have collected comic books most of my life. Though, back then, it was all horror or comedy. It wasn’t until my grandpa bought me issue #6 of the 1990’s Darkhawk title by Marvel Comics, that my true love affair with superhero comics began. And now, 25 years (And hundreds of thousands of dollars in comics) later, I have been given the opportunity to share my love of this era in comics history with all of you, through the Unspoken Decade, as an author. Who would have thought one comic book could make that much difference in one boy’s life?
Stryfe. Even the name invokes fear and dread. To fully understand this Marvel madman, you have to delve into his origins. After all, one is not named Stryfe without good reason.
Stryfe began his life basically as a back-up plan. I’ll explain. In the far-flung future the mutant tyrant, Apocalypse, held dominion over all. His will was absolute and none could oppose him. Or so it seemed. A small band of resistance fighters, led by the mysterious Askani, needed a savior. One who could put an end to all of this death. The answer finally came in the form of an infant named Nathan Summers. Nathan was the son of Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Jean “Phoenix” Grey. You could tell by his parents alone that this was to be a very powerful mutant child. The problem was, Apocalypse believed this as well. He struck quickly and decisively, infecting Nathan with a virus that would not only halt the boy’s growing mental powers, but eventually kill him. Desperate, Askani has the child cloned to perhaps salvage their last hope. She also goes to work on young Nathan, trying to if not cure him of the virus, maybe halt it’s progress. She succeeds in the latter, saving the to-be savior of mutantkind. As for the clone? He is kidnapped by the very monster he was created to destroy, Apocalypse. Lacking a name, Apocalypse names the child Stryfe. Stryfe, as can be expected, is treated as nothing more than a weapon as he is believed to be the original child. He was raised for the sole purpose of one day becoming the vessel in which Apocalypse would transfer his essence to further his total domination of the planet. Stryfe knew this. His soul was forever tainted by his situation. And in his inner rage, plotted the downfall of not only Apocalypse, but his “brother” and all that he stood for. Finally, as his own body was now failing, the day came when Apocalypse decided it was time. To Apocalypses dismay, the procedure failed as they discovered Stryfe was a clone. Afterwards, Apocalypse was attacked and killed by the true Nathan Summers (Now calling himself Cable) and Stryfe uses this distraction to go into hiding.
He would emerge later as a fierce warrior and egomaniacal madman himself. Striking out with his own army, he attacks Cable’s people and what is left of Apocalypse’s regime again and again. Though despising both armies, he centers the bulk of his rage upon Cable. It should be noted that no one knows that the leader of this faction is actually a clone of Cable save for Stryfe himself. Wearing spiked silvery armor, complete with masked helmet, his identity remained a secret. At one point, he uses this to his advantage by seeking out Cable’s wife, Aliya, and conceived a child with her, Tyler. Stryfe would later kidnap Tyler and brainwash him into being a loyal follower, renaming him Genesis.
Finally, seeking to alter the future, both Cable and Stryfe would end up time-traveling to the then present day. Stryfe would assemble another army, this time called the M.L.F (Mutant Liberation Front), and Cable would take over leadership duties of the New Mutants (Later called X-Force). The two would clash many times, one time revealing Stryfe’s true face to Cable under the helmet. More battles were fought, but one in particular would prove to be Stryfe’s “masterpiece”. The event was known as the X-Cutioner’s Song. Stryfe, dressed as Cable, entered a rally in support of mutant rights, and shot Professor Charles Xavier founder of the X-Men and face of the peaceful coexistence for mutants and humans. This caused all of the mutant teams at the time to clash leaving Stryfe ample time to strike again. This time, he struck at the past incarnations of his “parents” and Apocalypse himself! He was finally stopped by Cable. Cable thought, by killing Stryfe the conflict would be over. He couldn’t be more wrong. You see, by killing him, Stryfe had had the last laugh after all. A virus was released at the point of his death that would claim the lives of countless mutants for over a decade before being cured!
As with all comic book villains, Stryfe would not remain dead. He plagued the Marvel Universe many more times. But, he would never again be the threat he once was. In my opinion, had he only been treated like a real person at the beginning of his tragic life. Stryfe would never have been a threat in the first place. He might have even used his power and mind for the betterment of his world. But, sadly, this was never to be. He is and always will be Stryfe, in purpose and name.
Welcome to another fabulous edition of not just The Unspoken Decade, but that nifty blog crossover epic we call “Super Blog Team-Up!” This go-round we at SBTU have decided to utterly enthrall you with some of the most violent and spectacular clashes of all time, as we present VS!
Here where it’s always 1996, we bring you two of Marvel’s heaviest hitters when it comes to firepower. One is James Rhodes, better known as the operator of he most offensively-powerful armor this side of a Hulkbuster, War Machine! The other is the son of Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor, sent to a far future to cure his techno-virus, he has now returned to the present day as the telekinteic cyborg warrior known as Cable!
Personally, I have always wanted a Punisher/War Machine/Cable team-up. They could call it “big guns, bigger attitudes”. It writes itself! WHERE ARE YOU, MARVEL? GET THIS DONE.
The fight between Cable and War Machine takes place over the first few issues of War Machine’s first solo title. Written by Len Kaminski and Scott Benson, penciled by Gabriel Gecko, and inked by Pam Eklund, War Machine #1 hits our reality in April of 1994 (according to the copyright indicia) as an attempt to sort of stretch the parameters of the super hero game. The first issue has James Rhodes getting caught up in an international incident that ties the hands of most of the other heroes. It also sports a die-cut foil cover that is sort of hard to display on the internet.
War Machine’s armor is probably my favorite Iron Man armor ever. I mean, just look at it. Right there on that cover, you can see two guns on his wrist, a giant cannon on his shoulder, and what appears to be a missile battery on his other shoulder. Beautiful. Also, you just know that his chest circle fires SOMETHING AWESOME.
In real life, I tend to be a defense first guy (as a fan of the 2015 WORLD CHAMPION Kansas City Royals, how can ya blame me?). In my genre fiction, give me the guy who has little protection who comes out with every gun he has firing as he simply overpowers his enemy with a fierce barrage from his armada! That’s War Machine in a nutshell, although I am underselling the brilliant strategic mind of one James Rhodes as well.
The selling point of these early issues of War Machine is that James Rhodes isn’t gonna sit idly by as the technicalities of the world prevent him from taking the fight right to the bad guys. After he makes a connection with a famous international diplomat, Vincent Cetewayo, who is looking to start a corporation known as “WorldWatch” that would help deal with international crises before they develop, James is intrigued. He refuses Cetewayo’s offer at first, but after reading his book, James seems to be coming around on the idea. Of course, then said international diplomat is kidnapped by the regime he once fled, Imaya. Due to the fact that this African nation is full-fledged member of the United Nations, many heroes are paralyzed by international law as it prevents them from acting…
The angry phone call Rhodes is on doesn’t seem to get Fury on the line, as Rhodes quickly shows up at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ with harsh words for Nick Fury.
C’mon War Machine, how could you possibly figure that Fury wouldn’t know who you were and what you were up to? It’s his game!
It’s insanely hard not to side with War Machine here. It isn’t like Fury doesn’t go off half-cocked when he feels like it, the UN and S.H.I.E.L.D. be damned. Now that War Machine needs some help, though, Fury is acting like these rules are suddenly sacrosanct. That’s government bureaucrat types for ya, amirite? Also, ain’t it against international law to, y’ know, just kidnap a guy off a hijacked airline? Oh, UN, you’re so delightfully unwieldy.
After seeing that he’ll get no help from Fury in regard to this, War Machine says the line that seemingly has to be said in nearly every action flick and story:
War Machine plows into Imaya, taking out soldiers and warplanes left and right. He’s doing very well against these instruments of war, which might be ironic because he is a War Machine. Or is it just meta? I dunno, Alanis Morissette forever ruined all of our understandings of ironic. (Also, if you think that joke is too old, you’re the one reading a 90’s comics website, pal.)
While War Machine’s attack may make for impressive viewing, X-Force’s leader Cable doesn’t like it.
So it appears Cable has taken umbrage with War Machine going solo in a War Zone. Apparently, Cable is the only guy allowed to do what he wants with big guns, a gleam in his eye, and a devil-may-care attitude. When it isn’t him, Cable is super concerned with geopolitical events and how a solitary man with an advanced suit of armor trying to rescue a man destined to be tortured and killed could upset the entire balance of power in Africa!
Now, before we can get to laser fights, Cable and War Machine have to try and win the debate. I’ll spare you my opinion of who is right, but I’d love to know yours in the comment. (Here’s a hint as to whose side I am on; it’s War Machines’s.)
This exchange of philosophy does nothing to change the mind of either Cable or War Machine, and so we get Cable and War Machine throwing down! We also get Cable spouting a line that’d lead one to believe he was trying out for a Viagra commercial.
Cable draws first blood, knocking War Machine down and into some boulders. War Machine doesn’t take this lying down, however, and quickly takes over on offense. He separates Cable from his firearm, which leads to the most ineffective strategy Cable has ever employed against an opponent.
The back and forth is fairly evenly matched, but just when it appears that Round 2 is about to start, a new competitor enters the ring and it becomes a triple threat match!
That’s where War Machine #1 leaves off, and Page #1 of issue #2 may be my favorite page by Gecko in either issue. But first, the cover to War Machine #2!
Not only is this a great page artwise to me, I love the succinctness in getting all three of the players across. With just three panels, you know who everyone is, what their motivation is, and how they are feeling about the situation. One can even reasonably assume that Deathlok is housing two personalities based on what we see here, which he is.
What we really need, though, is a two-page splash showing us just how badass all these guys look together.
Basically, we get the same conversation that Cable and War Machine have been having, but now Deathlok is thrown in, and he is on War Machine’s side. This sits none too well with Cable, who decides to use that awesome gun of his (for real, I could talk for hours about Cable’s guns. Ask Emily.) to solve a problem. That problem’s name is Deathlok!
War Machine tries to play peacemaker, but all that does is rile Deathlok up in his direction.
War Machine finally uses his massive firepower to overcome the both of them, as he attempts to talk some sense into these guys. It’s sorta funny how all of a sudden after breaching international borders and shooting down Imayan warplanes in Imayan airspace that War Machine now fancies himself the voice of reason. Of course, seeing as he is the only 100% human guy here, maybe he’s the only one we can trust. One way or another, War Machine incapacitates them both, and then he gets to deliver a lecture because to the victor go the soliloquies.
For those of you placed your wager on “the three guys yap until Imayan ground forces show up,” head to the window and collect. You have to wonder what sort of resistance they could possibly put up to these three, seeing as how War Machine just single-handedly thrashed their entire goddamn air force. I do suppose that being in the military in a despotic dictatorship probably just has you going out in your tank even after a solitary armored figure has taken out all your air support. Your choice is get killed by War Machine or get killed by your superior in the ranks.
Cable, though, can teleport, so he has lots of choices, including the choice to allow Deathlok and War Machine to reap what they have sown without him around.
And that’s the end of the Cable vs. War Machine showdown. It’s a rather typical Marvel hero vs. hero fight, in that there is no clear winner, although it’s a little less like a typical Marvel hero fight because Cable and War Machine are at odds from the start and there is no misunderstanding between them before they pal up and head after the baddies! I suppose Deathlok is the one who handles that role with ol’ Rhodey here.
The rest of the early War Machine story arc is good. You get to see War Machine take on a nation’s entire armed forces as he teams with Imayan freedom fighters to liberate their country. Cable plays a small role by evacuating Cetewayo to the camp of said freedom fighters. If he had just done that to start, there’d have been no fight! But then again, I wouldn’t have this article, either. Hmmm.
For real, though, scope out the rest of this early War Machine arc if for no other reason than to just see this image explained:
Now that you have had a nice fight here, maybe you should go take a gander at the other folks playing along with Super Blog Team Up! Check out the links below:
Warren Worthington: Before you go any further, you need to ask yourself… is any story really worth dying for? Irene Merryweather: Depends on the story.
No theme this month at “The Unspoken Decade” so I have taken this opportunity to look back at José Ladrönn’s run on Cable that helped close out the nineties.
Irene Merryweather is a reporter, a storyteller. She acts as Cable’s chronicler and as the reader’s way to understand the man and his world. She provides a way for the plot devices and conflicting motivations of such a popular character to be examined and contextualized in a much needed way.
Who is Cable? What is he? Why does he call himself that? Maybe in 1990 when the character was first introduced this was considered a suitably sci-fi term. The modern equivalent of calling a character “Plastic Man” in an era before that was a household name. Did this name say something about the character that was deep and meaningful? Was it the name of one of his weapons, maybe an artistic way of describing his method for traveling through time?
No, of course not.
Cable is what you would call yourself if you had been raised two millennia into the future. This is the same reason his arch-foe (and one of several clones) is known as “Stryfe.” These people are as separated from “today” as “today” is from the beginning of the Common Era. Cable is a character that everyone recognizes, comic fan or not, even though he has avoided the Silver Screen for seven X-Films and counting. For me there is no more interesting take on the character than his extended tour of the Marvel Universe in the artistic styling of Jack Kirby.
The Hellfire Hunt is a story from 1997 written by James Robinson. Halfway through, after issue #50, scripting duties switch to Joe Casey. From then until issue #70, in August of 1999, Casey and artist José Ladrönn put their mark on the Man With Many Names. The run was bookended by extended crossovers with the plethora of other X-Titles, from Operation: Zero Tolerance (itself spinning out of Onslaught) to the Apocalypse centered The Twelve soon after its end. In between was an attempt to define the character of Cable in a way that made him grounded and believable, or in other words, in the Marvel way.
In addition to the extended X-Family (for the most part) there is no appearance by X-Force, the child soldiers that Cable usually drags into dangerous war zones, or Rob Liefeld, Cable’s self-appointed ‘sole creator.’ The Rob would eventually bring back the expected trappings of the franchise but in his absence Casey, and especially Ladrönn, build a supporting cast unique to Cable including re-introducing Nate’s own personal Yoda, Blaquesmith, and the aforementioned former gossip columnist Irene Merryweather, as well as the brand new love interest, and confidante, diner waitress Stacey Kramer.
Over the course of these twenty issues Ladrönn’s depiction of Cable, and the world he inhabits, comes to resemble one drafted by Kirby. The King himself passed away in 1994 so this type of tribute would not be uncommon except that Cable, and the Modern X-Men in general, had nothing to do with what he had come to stand for. This appears to be envisioning what Cable would have been if Kirby had created him at the peak of his career.
A time-traveling, cyborg with a Messiah Complex, locked in an Eternal Struggle with a being destined to conquer the world and subjugate its people. That feels as if it could have been a pitch for a story Kirby never got around to putting down on paper in the years after he left Marvel in search of the greener pastures he never found.
For reasons none too important to the overarching plot Cable finds himself in the nation of Wakanda fighting Ulysses Klaw alongside the Black Panther. A few issues later he engaged in the defining conflict of the run in a fight against Jack Truman, Agent 18 of SHIELD. An appearance by the newly revitalized Mighty Avengers closes out the run featuring Kirby Classics such as Captain America and Thor. This resembled a comic done in the Mighty Marvel Manner at a time when nothing else the company put out really did. Even non-Kirby, but classic nonetheless, vintage characters such as Zzzax and the Tinkerer make appearances. They are not furthering the plot, but rather showing how rich and imaginative a world Cable occupies.
A year and change after the bankruptcy that nearly buried Marvel, and comfortably before the movies would start to shape what the company would become, Cable takes a tour of an older version of the Marvel Universe, one not seen in some time. He himself gets a streamlined, shoulder-pad-less redesign that allows, as all Kirby characters must, to be in constant motion and bristling with power. The tons o’ guns are stripped away as this Heroic Quest sees Cable wield the Psimitar, a future-tech spear capable of focusing his advanced telekinetic abilities into Kirby Krackle. The static, cold images that had come to define the character up until this point are forgotten as Cable genuinely struggles with whether or not he can really save the future, a fight that seems u winnable and a task that seems unsurmountable, even though he can remember what happens if he fails.
I am not sure whose idea it was to go down this road but it does not happen all at once. Ladrönn had been involved with the title before Casey arrived and the latter went this route again with his later Image series Godland (I am not putting a “0” there, but you may need one if you want to research the series). Does the fact that no one else was doing overt Kirby homages on a regular basis make the issues worth seeking out, or picking-up discounted at least?
Yes and no.
This is one of the few full runs of Cable I have read but was by far the most rewarding. The aesthetic got me in the door, so to speak, but the character does not keep me there. Ladrönn clearly has a love for these particular layouts and design work. There are ways of presenting a story and moving events forward that only ever seem to appear in those older books. Figures in motion stride through scenes of intense action oblivious to “cool” poses and the constraints of the page. Not to say that the genre as a whole does not pull plays from the same book but these are specific, and in some cases too much so, references the work of a single man.
Ladrönn at one point, before the Kirby homages are overt, places a panel of only Cable’s foot in motion in the midst of an action scene. This warrants a caption box, with a message from the editors, stating that “we’re not really sure why Ladrönn put this panel here, but it was too fun & wacky to take out.” Fun. Whacky. These things have no place within our comics, clearly. This is how far the expected conventions had moved. Panels are mere recommendations to the characters and the Kirby Krackle is everywhere. This constant love and affection is also how they begin to lose their appeal.
There is a love here, but is there an understanding? Casey’s name is attached to many beloved runs in superhero comics as well as under the radar projects that remain fan favorites. The main pitfall I have come across that prevents me from embracing his work is that he never quite seems able to keep up with his own ideas. Superhero comics can be dense. Packed full of characters, ideas, and images that combine through the act of reading to form entirely new experiences. They should not be stagnant and they cannot to waste space. Casey does not seem to spend the time giving Cable, or any of the other characters, enough to do. He is not very imaginative when it comes to creating new ideas or concepts and he certainly does not seem to maintain the primary rule of a Kirby Comic: Create!
Jack Kirby created at a rate that far outstripped his peers. Physical number of pages (at one point Kirby was personally responsible for more titles per month than the Liefeld’s Extreme Studios), concepts, characters, and plots. Not only are the Marvel Age works with Stan Lee responsible for most of what we still read today but each of Kirby’s series after showed that the act of creation was the most important aspect of the work. A book such as The Demon has new villains and foes each issue, new obstacles to surmount. For good or bad (and many are not going to be action figures or cartoons any time soon) they were there. Jack acting as midwife to world after world from some unknowable higher power.
Casey’s primary contribution to the Cable Mythos is the Harbinger of Apocalypse, whose origins are actually steeped in Robinson’s final story (he was also responsible for Merryweather). The otherwise unnamed Victorian Era waif (he has a strange origin that still manages to feel unoriginal) provides the primary physical threat that hangs over the main story. No motivation, or real defining characteristics, just something for the hero to rail against. Another character, Blockade, is introduced as a MacGuffin for Cable’s Titanic Team-Up with his former beau Domino. I never got the feeling that this team could not create new characters but rather would not. I am not sure why as this was not the X-Market of today where all the good characters have their movie rights absorbed by 20th Century Fox.
There is also not a constant stream of creativity reflected with the use of classic characters. This is the SHIELD exactly as Kirby drew it back in the day. Same line work, same designs. The same goes for Klaw, Black Panther, and even the Master Man (in a Golden Age flashback story). I applaud the revisiting at a time when everyone else seemed to have no interest (had I read these at the time they would have been my first introduction to Kirby’s aesthetic) but I mourn the loss of opportunity. Who knows how much more enjoyable, and re-readable, this run on such an otherwise uninspired title would have been had the creators channeled the spirit of the man they honored instead of merely what they saw in his work?
Part of this is shown in the use of Apocalypse. Throughout the run there are vague allusions to a time, coming soon, when “Dayspring” will have the chance to complete his mission by ending the potential future reign of terror in the here and now. Presumably this was supposed to tie-in with The Twelve but if you remember reading that story you will probably also remember not caring all that much about what happened in it. Here Apocalypse haunts the background, hinting at a Master Plan and moving pieces into position. Anywhere else this would be just one more subplot but here the regularly overt character is reimagined as a subtle dark-skinned man in a suit. He arrives, seemingly from nowhere, with the reader and heroes knowing nothing of what he has planned.
When something similar to Apocalypse’s traditional form makes an appearance it is as a flashback (to far in the future) or when a character is describing him, as a threat hiding just out-of-sight waiting to usher in an eternal darkness from whence there is no escape. This teases a character who had been around for over a decade and lays the groundwork for an actual arc. Apocalypse, though never in on the action, appears as a genuine threat that Cable, heavy-hearted, must face or else face the doom of every single person he meets as well as each and every descendant they cannot possibly be aware of. For a character with more conflicting backstories than Hawkman, and an opponent that had been more Action Figure than realized person up until this point, this presentation made me genuinely interested in what would and could have happened next.
Kirby missed out on his chance to design Apocalypse (he did not stay on the original “X-Men” title, that he co-created, long enough to work on most of what is associated with that franchise) but here we see what may have been. If nothing else this is a version of a popular villain reimagined based on how Kirby approached his work in general, with the incredible scope of an endless world. There is a sense of dread permeating the way characters discuss Apocalypse that cannot be matched by all the times he has been shown monologuing about a Middle Schooler’s conception of Darwinism. Apocalypse (a character I love no matter what I seem to be indicating here) is often drawn as this mishmash of different concepts, none of which stand on their own.
Here we have a rather mundane man you would not look at twice and a walking natural disaster on par with any of the Cosmic Threats of old Marvel. The sense of scope has been retained and the character never risks becoming mundane. Bruce Banner and the Hulk, Jason Blood and the Demon. The works inspires your mind to fill in the gulf between the two and therein lies the beauty of what Kirby always did: Making the reader see the world for what it could be regardless of how it actually was. Joe Casey and José Ladrönn understood that more than most and while they worked with Nathan Summers they showed us what could be.