Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Ed McGuinness & Ladronn (pencilers), Nathan Massenbill &Juan Vlasco (inkers), Gloria Vasquez (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)
Summary: Blaquesmith examines Cable, informing him that with most of his powers gone, his techno-organic virus will continue to spread internally. He sends Cable and Irene to Greece, where they encounter the Askani order formerly led by Ch’vayre. When they realize who he is, most of the order bows to Cable. Only one member, Caesar, is skeptical. They give Cable his Psimitar staff as a gift, and he orders them to end their seclusion and join the real world. They follow his command, but Caesar vows revenge. Meanwhile, SHIELD agents Jasper Sitwell and Clay Quartermain meet with scientists and industrialists to discuss Cable.
Continuity Notes: The Askani order relocated to Greece after Ch’vayre disappeared. Following his orders, they burned their former monastery and moved to a group of islands known as the Dodecanese, which translates to “the Twelve.” This begins Casey’s series of hints surrounding the long-forgotten X-Factor subplot.
Both Jasper Sitwell and Clay Quartermain are long-established SHIELD agents, going back to the Silver Age. They’re meeting behind G. W. Bridge’s back to discuss the military and commercial applications of Cable’s techno-organic flesh. The words “Nemesis Program” and “Agent 18” are thrown around, but no information is given.
Review: Casey’s run has been fairly light reading so far, but this one is dense. Following the aftermath of the “Psi-War” mini-event, Cable’s left without his psychic powers again, which leaves Casey in an odd position. If you strictly follow continuity, that means that Cable’s body should be freaking out and becoming consumed with the techno-organic virus. However, Jeph Loeb already covered this territory in the “Onslaught” aftermath issues, so revisiting that idea seems pointless. Instead, he cheats a bit by allowing Cable to have a small amount of telekinesis, and by revealing that the virus is now attacking internally and not appearing as physical manifestations. This also becomes an excuse to revisit the Askani order subplot from James Robinson’s run, and to reintroduce the Psimitar staff from the Askani’son miniseries. This is making lemons into lemonade, which is a position X-spinoff writers often find themselves.
On top of all this, Casey’s setting up the pieces for the next four-issue arc. Having a few SHIELD agents meet with a couple of scientists really doesn’t have to take up too much space, but Casey dedicates half of the issue to the idea. Making the story more cramped is the lengthy recap of almost every public battle and SHIELD run-in Cable and X-Force has ever had. It’s nice to know Casey’s done his research, but the flashbacks have to be crammed into tiny panels in order to fit, and the new “artsy” lettering font Comicraft is using isn’t easy on the eyes, so the overall design of the pages is rough. (I’m assuming Comicraft changed to a more ostentatious font to match Ladronn’s style, but it’s always looked ugly to me.)
The secret military-industrial complex conspiracy stuff is well-worn territory, and it doesn’t really work with the characters Casey's selected. As future letter writers will point out, Jasper Sitwell and Clay Quartermain have never exhibited villainous traits before. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on SHIELD continuity, but just knowing that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Sitwell and Steranko created Quartermain back in the ‘60s leads me to believe that these guys were never intended as the dark conspiracy types. If Casey needed rogue SHIELD agents, I don’t know why he didn’t create new ones. Rogue SHIELD agents show up all the time, usually as new cannon fodder created for specific stories. Casey didn’t need to drag any established characters into this. Also, it’s strange that these specific characters care so much about exploiting Cable’s T-O virus for military gain. That’s usually the role given to generically evil army generals or corrupt politicians.