The Deadpool movie hit theaters this weekend, and with it the announcement that the mutant known as Cable would be joining Wade Wilson for the sequel.
Cable is a familiar name for fans of X-Men comics, but hasn’t had quite the same exposure across other media. As such, you might be wondering who this Cable person actually is.
Cable is a psychically gifted, ultimate soldier type from the future, and we’re here to try to explain who his history and why he’s such a big deal. However, Cable is a contender for comic book character with the most convoluted continuity, so prepare for a deep dive into the Marvel Comics Universe.
Cable made his first appearance under that name in New Mutant #87, but his history actually begins before that, in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #201, the first appearance of Nathan Christopher Summers. Nathan is the son of original X-Man Cyclops (Scott Summers) and Madelyne Pryor, a clone of Jean Grey (Cyclops didn’t know this at the time). The villain called Mr. Sinister had secretly been manipulating the Summers and Grey lineages over generations in order to breed a mutant powerful enough to defeat Apocalypse, and Nathan is that mutant.
During the Inferno event, Madelyne transformed into the demonic Goblin Queen and planned to sacrifice Nathan to open a portal between Earth and Limbo. Cyclops, now reunited with Jean as members of X-Factor, managed to rescue Nathan, but couldn’t stop the boy from being infected by Apocalypse’s techno-organic virus. They knew the only way to save Nathan was to send him into the future, where they would have the technology to treat the virus. Scott gave Nathan over to the care of a mysterious woman called Mother Askani (secretly Nathan’s half-sister, Rachel Summers), who promised to raise Nathan in her future. It was in that future that Nathan was trained to use his mutant power of telekinesis to control the spread of the virus. Though it took constant concentration, so much so that Cable could barely use his powers for anything else, Nathan learned to contain the T-O virus in his left arm, giving it that distinctive, metallic look. Mother Askani later pulled Cyclops and Jean (who had absorbed Madelyne’s memories upon her death) into the future, where they possessed the bodies of two members of Clan Askani and helped raise Nathan for 12 years. Together, they helped end the threat of Apocalypse by preventing him from taking over a new body.
Having defeated Apocalypse in the future, Cable decided to travel back and time and prevent his nemesis from ever rising to power in the first place. When he arrives (in New Mutants #87), he takes over as leader and mentor of the Xavier School’s students, the New Mutants. With the help of Domino, Cable reforms the young mutant team into the paramilitary outfit called X-Force. It is during this era (New Mutants #98, specifically) that Deadpool makes his first appearance. Cable seems to recognize Wade, but this recognition isn’t fully explained for nearly 25 years (we’ll get to that).
During the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover event, Cable was challenged by a mysterious villain named Stryfe, eventually revealed to be a clone of Cable secretly raise by Apocalypse in the future. Stryfe’s threat forced an uneasy alliance between the X-Men and that era’s Apocalypse, who was unaware of Stryfe’s history. The conflict ended with Cable and Stryfe battling until they were both cast into a time vortex. Cable manage to escape, and finally completed his mission of defeating Apocalypse.
With Apocalypse defeated, Cable entered a new stage of his life. He turned his spaceship home, Graymalkin, into an island nation called Providence and began teaming up with Deadpool on missions. Cable spent his time trying to make the world a better place, but his forceful methods would bring him into conflict with other heroes, including S.H.I.E.L.D. and the X-Men.
Eventually, Cable joined a team of X-Men led by Rogue. He was believed dead after causing Providence to self-destruct while protecting the nation’s database from Mr. Sinister, but reemerged during the events of the Messiah CompleX crossover as the sworn protector of Hope, the first mutant birth since M-Day depowered most of the mutant population. After leading the X-Men, the Marauders, the Purifiers, and Bishop on a long chase, Cable fled to the future, where he hoped he could raise and train Hope to eventually return. Bishop followed, forcing Cable and Hope to be constantly on the run. Cable eventually brought Hope back to the present day, during the events of Second Coming, but apparently died when he was overcome by the T-O virus while using all of his power to hold open a portal to allow Wolverine’s X-Force team to return from the future.
It turned out that Cable survived the event and was thrust into the future. There he learned that Hope would die in an incident catalyzed by the Avengers. Cable travelled back in time to defeat the Avengers before they could cause whatever event would lead to Hope’s death, but his plan was foiled when Cyclops and Hope come to the Avengers’ aid. Afterwards, Hope absorbed Cable’s T-O virus,, curing him and leaving his left side fully organic.
After the events of Avengers vs. X-Men, Cable formed a new X-force to help him proactively stop threats that he was being warned of in precognitive flashes. The mutant inventor Forge outfitted Cable with a new, robotic left arm that fit over his atrophied biological arm. Eventually, this X-Force would disband and reform when Hope became infected with a new and different techno-virus. Cable, himself infected with the same virus, began a routine of releasing clones of himself every time he died in combat or from the virus, and devoted all of his energy to saving Hope.
Most recently, the miniseries Deadpool & Cable: Split Second restored Cable to his original status quo and power level. Deadpool and Cable teamed up to prevent a time-travel assassination, but the story quickly shifted focus to Cable himself, whose frequent trips though time had begun cracking the fabric of space-time. Deadpool was tasked by a mysterious organization with travelling to all of Cable’s divergent timelines and killing him. Instead, Deadpool went to those timelines and saved Cable in each one, producing the same effect of unifying Cable’s timeline, saving the time stream, and explaining how Cable recognized Deadpool in his first appearance.
With his original status quo restored, Cable travelled back in time to assist the Avengers Unity Squad in defeating an Inhuman villain’s attack on Boston, which would have eventually destroyed the world. He decided to stick around long enough to assist the team in finding the Red Skull, who has stolen Professor X’s brain, but now finds himself trapped in the modern era.
Cable’s adventures continue in the pages of Uncanny Avengers, and he’ll make his big screen debut in Deadpool 2.