In Defense of: Cable
The excesses of 90’s comics are many and vast, from the over saturation of popular characters, to the bad girl phenomenon, to artist over writer bias and the speculator boom, there is a lot of 90’s stuff that is risable.
One of the many trends viewed poorly in hindsight is the costume/character design tropes that began to show up. Poor anatomy with huge legs and shoulders and tiny heads and feet, the propensity towards big guns and the proliferation of shoulder pads and straps/pouches. There are few characters who so epitomise this era than Cable.
The 90’s and in particular the 90’s X-Men were how I got into serious collecting, and saw the rise and fall of the negative elements of the 90s and also the rise and fall of Cable. I’ve often asked myself the question, is Cable a bad idea at the wrong time, or simply a victim of the time in comics in which he came to prominence?
Let’s start at the beginning.
The first appearance of Cable was as Nathan Christopher Summers in Uncany X-Men #201 in 1986. The son of Scott Summers (Cyclops) & Madelyn Pryor-Summers (de-powered clone of Jean Grey). Yes, that’s right folks, Cyclops married the clone of his dead high school girlfriend. This was only ever going to end well. Well there was a series of dramas but what eventually happened is that during a battle with Apocalypse,
Nathan was infected with a transmode virus which began to transform his flesh into organic metal. To save him, Cyclops entrusted him to Askani, a time traveller who had come to save Nathan. Cyclops handed over his son, who was sent over a dozen centuries in the future.
After Cyclops married Jean Grey (yes she came back it’s comics, just go along with it) their ‘essences’ were sent into that same future, which was under the boot-heel of Apocalypse. They found Nathan under the care of the clan Askani and under the names Redd and Slym raised him to his teenage years before returning to their bodies after only a few hours of time. I wish this was the weirdest X-Men got, I really do.
Cable lived his adult life in the far future, in battle with Apocalypse’s minions and Stryfe. Stryfe was a sort of terrorist, bringing chaos to the future, he was always masked, which comes in handy later. There was a civil war between Cable’s people the Clan Chosen and Apocalypse and this followers. During this war Cable, known as Nathan Dayspring Askani’son, met and married Aliya Jenskot and had a son Tyler. This family and their Clan fought hard and long and yet lost. Aliya was killed and Tyler taken and Cable, realising the futility of battle with an entrenched Apocalypse whilst simultaneously battle the chaos bringer Stryfe, decided the best chance to save the world he lived in, was to make sure it never happened to begin with. His answer was to travel back in time and prevent the ascension of Apocalypse.
He arrives in the past of the Marvel Universe predating Fantastic Four #1 and forms a group of Mercenaries called the Wild-pack, later being called the Six-Pack, using this time to map the world he’s now in and learn as much about it as possible. He also brings his base, a station called Graymalkin and it’s A.I. who he calls Professor who has been with him much of his adult life. All seems to go well until he finds out that Stryfe has followed him to this time and their war continues, crippling two of his team and destroying the trust in him of the other three. He looks for new soldiers and that’s how he finds himself in New Mutants #87.
That, by any stretch is a mental backstory. Part Terminator, part Firefly, part Star Wars and wrapped up in 90’s X-Men craziness.
Cable as he appears in NM #87 was a creation of Rob Liefeld and Louise Simonson. His arrival shook up the status quo and introduced a new villain for the X-books, the MLF (Mutant Liberation Front)
Admittedly there’s not much to start off with, he’s a bad ass sort of action hero character with little to no characterisation to him. He’s well-travelled and mysterious, but beyond that, there’s little to know and even less to care about. His appearance, with the short silver hair, glowing eyes and ridiculous shoulders, let alone the bionic arm and star shaped scar over his not glowing eye. He looked like the quintessential 90’s character and that’s followed him around like a bad smell since then.
Here’s my defense: I know what you’re thinking, about f***ing time.
Introduced at the same time, Stryfe was seen as just another 90’s X-Villain, until he removed his silly mask to reveal….Cable. Or at least his double.
Cable started out very much as an agenda driven 90’s anti-hero. From New Mutants 87 to X-Force 15, he did only what he wanted to do and nothing else. There was no room to compromise or fit other people into his life. In the aftermath of the under-rated X-Cutioners Song Cable came back different, instead of leading X-Force in support of his own agenda, he followed theirs.
Although created to be part of the New Mutants and then X-Force, Cable’s retcon-able backstory and popularity justified a mini-series and then an ongoing in 1992. The mini-series Blood and Metal was a bit of a 90’s gem, bridging the gap between X-Force 15 and the start of X-Cutioner’s Song. Drawn by John Romita Jnr, it jumped between the past and present to tell a complete story about Cable, his history and how his time with X-Force had changed him.
After X-Cutioner’s Song was his ongoing, it is a bit uneven, with rotating creative teams, but just in the first year, a lot happens. The series starts in the future, there’s an issue where Cable/Weapon-X are stuck under the ocean, there’s a resolution of the Cable/Stryfe story, where Cable learns his true origin as well as a sort of team up with Magneto’s Acolytes. Jeph Loeb and Ian Churchill also have a nice run.
As well as his stint in X-Force, he has also been one of the X-Men, a mercenary, a soldier, husband, father, fugitive and freedom fighter. Cable’s ties to the X-books aren’t always an advantage, but there are so many stories that can be told.
It can be considered a bit of a silly designs, so very nineties in its silliness, but I still maintain that it works. The white hair, yet muscular build prevents any pin pointing of age. The sort of mechanical arm gives a very sci-fi look as does the glowing eye. The guns and scars give a military/solider feel. So much is written about the ridiculousness of the guns and I’ll be honest, with such good reason, but the overall design can be done very well.
He’s existed in several times, lived several lives and had all kinds of different things happen to him, there is potential for a lot of different types of stories to be told. He can fit in war stories, straight up sci-fi, spy thrillers and more besides, set in a variety of locations and times.
There are several bad stories he was in, over half of his series is unreadable, but no character with over 25 years of stories behind him is immune to that. I would like to see what someone with a new take on the character would do with him. Let’s be honest, Rocket Raccoon was just in a huge summer blockbuster with Drax the Destroyer. Anything can happen.