Credit where credit’s due

One of the interesting things on Peter David’s site is his reprinting of old columns he wrote in the early ’90s.  It’s an interesting look at what was going on back then, especially now with so much more context to look back upon.  His opinions on early Image is especially impressive and mirrors what I think of it now.  Back then, I was 10.

But one bit really caught my interest.  In an article originally published in 1993,  PAD took Rob Liefeld to task for claiming not only that he was solely responsible for the creation of Cable, but insulting beloved writer Louise Simonson (who wrote the issue of New Mutants in question) in the process.  There’s really nothing to say about the spat itself – the whole thing went down 18 years ago.  But the core argument remains relevant – and actually moreso than ever nearly two decades later.

The center of this particular example is this guy:

Nice shoulderpad-vest, dude.

Back in an era when nobody bothered to ask questions like “Why to you have three belts on?”, “How do you bend forward with those tube things there?” or “What’s up with the spiked wristband?” this guy was a really big deal.  Inexplicably, Cable caught the imagination of fans by simply showing up with huge guns, a glowy eye and a metal arm.  There was very little else to the character.

In the original spat, Peter David had talked about the origins of Cable and how credit for his creation could be more widely scattered since pieces kept being added here and there, often editorially mandated.  Liefeld chimed in saying that credit was due him as he came up with the appearance, name and backstory.  But in his original appearances, that meant “Grizzled soldier with a glowy eye and a metal arm.  Oh, and he’s from the FUTURE!”  Cable debuted in New Mutants #87, and Rob Liefeld was gone from the book about 25 issues later.  The X-Cutioner’s Song, which dealt with the relation between Cable and his duplicate Stryfe (because TWO Cables are better than ONE Cable!), came after Liefeld’s departure.

So who really should get credit for Cable?  Liefeld definitely for designing the character.  Had he not been there to draw him, someone else might have made him look quite differently (though perhaps that’s not a bad thing).  But is it fair to take credit away from Louise Simonson, who actually wrote the issue he debuted in?  The argument took place at a time when the coals from the Image wildfire were still hot and thus the thought that “hot” creators could sell anything was still apparent.  Rob Liefeld got the spotlight because who bought a book simply because it was written by Louise Simonson?  It had been that attitude that cast both her and Chris Claremont from the X-Books at the turn of the decade.

But if credit is given Liefeld for establishing Cable’s frame, shouldn’t Fabian Nicieza, who took over writing X-Force upon Liefeld’s departure, get credit for filling in the blanks?  After all, it wasn’t until Liefeld’s departure that Cable was established as the son of Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor, nor was it revealed that his metal arm was actually the manifestation of the techno-organic virus, held in check by his telepathic powers.  Hell, under Liefeld’s watch, Cable didn’t even demonstrate any mutant powers until X-Force #1, and even then very rarely used them.

Cable is an example of how a character can be changed so greatly from his original roots to the point where he is nearly unrecognizable in all but physical appearance years down the line.  Another example would be another X-Character – Wolverine.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him.  Wolverine was designed by John Romita, and debuted in an issue of Incredible Hulk Len Wein and Herb Trimpe.  But in that issue, there was very little to Wolverine – and it wasn’t until he got pulled into the X-Men’s relaunch that he became a huge deal.  So who should be credited for the creation?  Would it be Wein, Romita and Trimpe who first introduced the character?  Maybe Chris Claremont who defined his personality and powers and made him a household name?  What about Dave Cockrum who did away with the ridiculous whisker mask?

The answer is that everyone should be given credit for the characters.  It’s unfair to try to accept complete credit for a character when so many others have contributed to the whole package.  Had Cable just stuck with Liefeld’s design, he would likely have not made it much further past Liefeld’s Marvel tenure.  After all, look at other Liefeld creations from the period.  Stryfe is only used once in a blue moon.  The Mutant Liberation Front?  Gone.  Garrison Kane, the new Weapon X?  No, thank you.  Shatterstar was sent off to character limbo until X-Factor brought him back for a fresh look.  Hell, let’s go beyond that period.  How many times have they tried to get Youngblood running?  Can you name four members of the group?  (Sadly, I can.)

Even famed creators cannot fully take the credit for some of their creations that eventually took off.  Look at the X-Men – sure Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Beast and Angel, but credit must also be given elsewhere for their development.  How about Claremont, Cockrum and John Byrne for evolving Marvel Girl into Phoenix?  What about Simonson for bringing us Archangel?  Further down the line – what about Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely for changing Beast into his current feline form? The difference here is that Lee and Kirby’s designs were good enough that the core characterizations remained the same.  Nearly 50 years later, Cyclops is still a brooding leader, Iceman is still an immature jokester, Beast is still a big word-spewing genius.  It’s the stuff that makes Lee and Kirby legends in the big picture even when some of their actual issues weren’t the best.

There’s a difference between saying that you initially a created character and that you are responsible for that character years after you stopped working with them.  Rob Liefeld may have created Deadpool, but he’s certainly not responsible for the character’s boom in popularity over the past few years.  Where final credit is given for overall legacies is the type of stuff that keeps fanboys up at night and will likely never be agreed upon throughout the fanbase.  But I think that collective credit should be given to all who helped shape the major aspects of the character to make them into the full products that continue to stand to the test of time.

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