If you want to see the X-Men at their most glorious excess, then X-Cutioner’s Song is the story for you. It’s a comic which throws absolutely everybody into the mix, from Apocalypse, The Dark Riders and new villain Stryfe through to Mr Sinister and the Mutant Liberation Front. You have the gold and blue X-Men teams, Summers family drama, and standout roles for X-Force, X-Factor, Bishop, Wolverine, Jubilee, Xavier…. it’s all crammed into 12 issues, and it’s an absolute riot.

But almost more than anything else there’s the artists involved: Brandon Peterson, Andy Kubert, Jae Lee, Greg Capullo. All of them are stylish, aggressive artists, keen on making every character feel like the coolest person who ever lived. The trend at the time was for comics to be frenetic and exaggerated  – we were seeing people like (crucially) Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld building up momentum, and changing the way people viewed comics art on the page and artists off the page. It’s the Image Founders who benefitted most from that momentum, but artists like Jae Lee were every bit as influential.

Lee draws X-Factor during the crossover, and it’s the most artistically impressive of the four comics tied into the storyline. Issue #85 is perhaps the highlight of the entire storyline, and sees Cable pitted up against the team of Bishop and Wolverine. Cable’s been accused of trying to assassinate Xavier (in reality it was Stryfe who fired the shot, but nobody knows that they’re clones of each other) and the other two mutants team up to try and take him down. What follows is an incredible fight scene which gives each of the three a chance to express themselves – and for Lee to go all-out in his sequencing and character work.

It’s not subtle, but you don’t want it to be. Each of the three are suddenly squat, hunched body-builders who grit their teeth in each panel as their veins bulge and sinews tighten. Every action is sharp and fast, guns drawn and knives pulled on one another as the violence comes fast and hard. Bishop is seen as the soldier here: he’s more naive than the other two, and sees things in a more simplistic way. In his mind Cable is a murderer, there’s no questions about it, and so it’s clear what he needs to do. Wolverine is more open-minded as he fights, aware that he wants to take down Cable but more concerned with putting his enemy down so he can then have a chance to question him.

Cable finds the whole thing bemusing, quipping his way through the fight in order to try and suggest he doesn’t want this to be taken seriously – perhaps hoping that the other two will stop fighting them if they just start listening to his words. It’s really entertaining to see these three particular characters fight in the way they do: although there’s literally no point to there being a fight other than the fact this is a comic, these are the three characters you would want to see fight at this point in the story.

One thing which has always marked Cable out is that he seems like he has a smart head on his shoulders. Whether he’s carefully manoeuvring his way around X-Cutioner’s Song, trying to keep Deadpool on a leash, or protecting the baby in Messiah Complex, Cable has always come across as a “grown up” in the world of the X-Men. He and Bishop typically share that trait, although Messiah Complex screwed Bishop up for a long time. Both characters are time-travellers, and that gives them a level of understanding and perspective which none of the other X-Men characters could hope to have… other than Wolverine, who has himself lived for a very long time and received an extraordinary sense of perspective as a result.

Seeing these three fight is like seeing your three coolest uncles fight one another at once: you like all of them, respect them all, but you can’t wait to see who’ll come out on top. In this case it’s Cable who pauses and gives Wolverine the time to hear him out. Bishop doesn’t listen to Cable’s explanation of what’s going on, but Logan does: something which was shown clearly during the fight scene. Lee always shows Bishop going for a clear shot on Cable, but Wolverine doesn’t land a single blow on his opponent during the entire fight. He always misses, or gets countered, and that’s why Cable’s explanation is aimed at Logan rather than Lucas – he knows that Wolverine is pulling punches and ready to listen.

When Cable puts down his weapon, he lets Logan take the kill shot if he wishes… and Logan retracts his claws. Bishop, however, pulls his gun right up to kill Cable in cold blood: it’s only then that Logan lands anything on target, as he cuts Bishop’s gun into pieces. Cable is pragmatic but he’s also able to work out character, and the fight gives him the understanding of how his two opponents will treat his explanation of what’s going on. That’s why Cable, to be honest, rules. He’s smart and capable, and he processes things at the same time the reader does, if not before. That’s why the fight is such a highlight; and so memorable even considering the magnificent excess of the other 11 issues.

And the best thing of all is that it ends with the promise of these three cool battle uncles teaming up. Who wouldn’t want to pick up the next issue?!

 

X-Factor #85: Snikts and Bones
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Jae Lee
Inker: Al Milgrom

Colourist: Glynis Oliver
Letterer: Richard Starkings

 

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