The untold truth of Cable
Brace yourselves — the Cable guy is coming.
Deadpool knows him as Nathan Dayspring Askani’son Summers Cable Soldier X, but your general audience member knows this hero as… “who?” Played by Josh Brolin, Cable is making his entrance to the X-Men cinematic universe as part of the series’ 11th movie, Deadpool 2 (or whatever they end up calling it). But outside of comic book fandom, not a lot of people know what they’re supposed to expect from the character. Maybe you know that Deadpool and Cable had a successful comic book series together where they served as the Marvel’s Odd Couple, but that still doesn’t mean you know who Cable actually is. Is he a cyborg, like that Cyborg guy? Is he a time traveler? Hero or villain? What’s going on here?
Introduced in the early ’90s, Cable doesn’t have the lengthy history of many of his fellow mutants, but he makes up for it by having a very involved and very confusing backstory. Just remember one thing: When it comes to Cable, it’s all about family. Or, it’s mostly about family. His story’s also got a lot to do with time travel, clones, “chosen one” stuff, techno-viruses…the mutant villain Apocalypse is involved somehow…but mostly, he’s all about family. Now follow along as we dig down deep into the untold truth of Cable.
New man in charge
Cable burst into comics in a very literal way, making his first full-fledged appearance in The New Mutants #87, published in March 1990. The issue was written by Louise Simonson with pencils by Rob Liefeld — Cable’s co-creators.
Cable doesn’t arrive with introductions or explanations — the man shows up with gun in hand, with mutants to defend and a nemesis named Stryfe to kill. He’s sort of like Kyle Reese from The Terminator, except readers weren’t immediately informed that Cable was from the future. In fact, much of his complex backstory wouldn’t be revealed for years.
The character made a big impression in his first few issues of New Mutants. Winning over its membership, he took on the role of the group’s leader in a battle against the Mutant Liberation Front, a terrorist group lead by the time traveler Stryfe. He also demonstrated his raw power by fighting Wolverine to a stalemate within a few issues of his arrival.
Interestingly, Deadpool made his first appearance in The New Mutants as well, making his debut in issue #98 with a fight against Cable — a bout that the Merc with a Mouth soundly lost. All the best friendships start that way, you know — people don’t get close until they start busting each other’s chops.
Every superhero needs a weakness. Cable’s peculiar vulnerability is a virus unlike anything you’d ever see in the real world. It’s called the techno-organic virus, and Cable was afflicted with it from a very young age.
Essentially, the virus spreads by turning organic material into techno-organic material, meaning that it would, if left unchecked, turn a normal human being into a tin man. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on who’s writing the story. Unsurprisingly, Marvel’s techno-organic virus has many different strains, purposes, and uses, generally serving as a piece of plot magic that can do just about anything.
Cable’s specific situation with the virus defines his early story arc. As an infant, he was infected with it by the mutant Apocalypse, and had to devote most of his energies toward battling back its effects and maintaining his humanity, which consistently kept him from operating at full strength. Imagine if your heartbeat and your breath required your constant attention to work properly, and you’ll get the idea.
Eventually, Cable managed to get the virus cured, unlocking his full potential as a mutant of truly immense power. But what are those powers specifically? Read on for the rundown.
Key powers and abilities
Cable is an astoundingly powerful mutant. Though just how powerful he is depends on which story arc you’re reading, even at his weakest, he’s stronger than most. His power set has included telekinesis, telepathy, and the ability to use his techno-organic elements to control machinery. His other super power, which he relied on mostly in his early years, is just being really good at using machine guns and rocket launchers — and also punching people, because just look at him.
Without the techno-organic virus in his veins, Nathan’s powers are awe-inspiring, according to his sister Rachel — an immensely powerful telepath herself. At the end of The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix, she tells a teenage Cable that he possesses more power than her twice over. “Telepathically, you are strong enough to sense a stray thought a continent away,” she tells him. “Telekinetically, you could extinguish a star with something less than a conscious effort.”
Given his nondescript name and bulked out look, one wouldn’t necessarily expect Cable to be a powerful telepath. From his design, you’d sort of expect him to be a dim-witted heavy — but the character is full of surprising depths.
X-Force to be reckoned with
The first iteration of the New Mutantsaren’t what you’d call an all-star team. Ten issues after Cable’s first appearance, the slightly subpar squad was in tatters. “The only way to make this work is to build it up from the ground up,” he said, in one of the final issues of New Mutants‘ original run. “The right way. My way.”
So Cable set to work with the remaining members on starting a new team, X-Force, to continue the battle against Stryfe and the Mutant Liberation Front.
The series became immensely popular. The initial team was almost a New Mutants rebrand, and the lineup soon included the propulsive Cannonball, the solar-energy manipulating Sunspot, the illusion-weaving Danielle Moonstar, and the luck-manipulating Domino.
Compared to the relatively pacifist X-Men, X-Force’s distinguishing characteristic was its take-no-prisoners style. If they weren’t quite brutal, they were brutally effective. Cable laid out his philosophy for the force in one of the final issues of New Mutants. “There are five kinds of mutants,” he said. “The mollifiers. The abusers. The used. The hunted. The hidden. I am trying to create a sixth kind. The survivors. I am trying to prepare you all for a very bleak future.”
It’s a future — and for Cable, a past — that readers would soon be introduced to. They would also soon discover that Cable, mysterious as he seems, is no stranger to the world of the X-Men. As a matter of fact, he’s family.
Mutant Family Values
Four years after Cable’s first appearance, his backstory was finally revealed in the four-issue miniseries The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix — the two lead characters of which are Cable’s parents. Sort of.
As it turns out, Cable’s full name is Nathan Christopher Summers, a.k.a. the son of Scott Summers — Cyclops, a founding member of the X-Men. While Scott’s paramour has long been Jean Grey, Nathan is actually the child of Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor, a perfect clone of Jean Grey who emerged while Jean was presumed dead. When the real Jean returned and the fake Jean was dealt with, Scott and Jean took Nathan into their care, finally united as a family — for about five minutes.
For reasons unknown at the time, the infant Nathan was infected by the mutant Apocalypse with a variant of the techno-organic virus, which rapidly turned one of his arms bio-mechanical. The parents, their child in peril, were then suddenly visited by a mysterious woman who introduced herself as a member of the Clan Askani.
The visitor told the duo she could save their son — but only if she took him from them, to cure him in the future of the alternate world of Earth-4935. Seeing no other choice, the parents handed over their child, expecting never to see him again, but hoping he would survive.
He would survive, of course — and though they didn’t know it when they handed him over, they were going to be there with him to help.
Pain and Stryfe
Cable’s first nemesis, Stryfe, was introduced in New Mutants shortly after Cable arrived, and they continued fighting in the pages of X-Force and beyond. His past was initially just as murky as Cable’s, but it turns out they have quite a bit in common.
On Earth-4935, the Clan Askani — which means “Family of Outsiders” — made a clone of the young Nathan, under the leadership of the mysterious Mother Askani. The clone was meant to be an insurance policy, in case the techno-virus ravaging Nathan couldn’t actually be cured.
The Askani needed Nathan’s immense powers to defeat Apocalypse, who had taken control of this far-future world, once and for all — and Apocalypse needed Nathan, too. The seemingly immortal mutant stayed alive indefinitely by passing his essence into new host bodies, and he’d infected Nathan with the techno-organic virus to see if the boy would survive. When he did, Apocalypse knew he’d found his most powerful host yet — if he could catch him, that is.
The clone did keep Nathan safe, in the sense that Apocalypse ended up kidnapping the clone instead of Nathan. Taking the boy under his tutelage, Apocalypse named the child…Stryfe.
With Apocalypse as his parent, Stryfe became evil, murderous, feckless, and vain. He also ended up being useless to Apocalypse; when the immortal mutant finally went to transfer his essence into Stryfe’s body, the genetic decoy couldn’t accept him. Only the real Nathan could.
2,000 year reunion
Meanwhile, the Askani saved Nathan from dying by the techno-organic virus, though the condition couldn’t be completely cured at the time. With her age advancing and her powers diminishing, Nathan’s continuing vulnerability inspired the Mother Askani to try a novel idea: call Nathan’s parents for help.
Using her psychic abilities, Askani brought the conscious minds of Cyclops and Jean Grey from their present to Earth-4935’s future, placing them into two new bodies. The duo, initially very confused, took on the names of Slym and Redd Dayspring — “Slym” for the slender Cyclops, and “Redd” for Jean’s red hair.
As Slym and Redd, Nathan’s parents reunited with their child, raising him for 12 years in the violent future, defending him from harm. They also taught him how to use his powers to keep the virus from spreading within him. Finally, in an epic battle following Apocalypse’s failed transfer into Stryfe, the combined team of Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Nathan used their immense powers to defeat Apocalypse, liberating the future from his rule.
The creation of Cable
After the defeat of Apocalypse, a young Nathan Dayspring finally learned the truth of his destiny — and the identity of the Mother Askani. The immensely powerful telepath revealed herself to be Rachel Summers, the time-displaced, biological daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey — in other words, Nathan’s half-sister. It turns out that these 12 years on Earth-4935 were the universe’s most complicated family reunion ever.
With Apocalypse destroyed, Nathan begged his parents to stay, but they were unable. As Cyclops faded back into his own time, he left his son with parting words that would define him for the rest of his life — and give him his name.
“You’ll be many things to many people,” the disguised Cyclops said, saying goodbye. “Sometimes loved and respected, sometimes feared and hated…almost always misunderstood. Someday, you’ll be a cable that unites the past with the present and future — yesterday with today and tomorrow. You’ll be all those things, Nathan Christopher…but know that you’ll never be alone.”
So began Cable’s transformation from Nathan Dayspring to the Askani’son — the chosen one.
After The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix established the complete backstory of Cable, it became impossible to look at the hulking mix of man and machine that he grew into and not see the terrified teen lost in time that he once was. Turns out, there’s a deep sadness to the character — even if it doesn’t look like it.
Deadpool and the Cable guy
Cable’s backstory is very heady, and the themes it explores are very heavy. His adventures with Deadpool are neither.
Both characters spent the rest of the ’90s and early 2000s on their own adventures before being teamed up for the 50-issue Cable & Deadpool series in 2004. If you know even a little about these two, you know they’re a major personality mismatch — so naturally, when they were put together, sparks flew.
The best gag in the series involves Cable repeatedly killing Deadpool just for the sake of distracting him or shutting him up. You’ve never seen one guy’s head explode with such frequency. Crazy how it only brings them closer; turns out repeatedly murdering your buddy is a pretty intimate act.
Keep Hope Alive
After the conclusion of Cable & Deadpool saw Cable presumed dead, the two split off into their own stories once again — but Cable didn’t stay alone for long.
In 2007, the X-Men storyline Messiah Complex introduced the birth of a remarkably powerful mutant girl — the first child born with the X-gene since the Decimation event vastly reduced the number of mutants.
Mass hysteria erupted over the existence of the child. Some groups prophesied she would destroy the world, while others believed she would save it. Cable, whose travels through time should suggest he knows a thing or two, saw the girl as a messiah figure who would unite humans and mutants. To keep her safe, he fled into the future with her, where he started a family with a woman named Hope. The baby would eventually be named for her adoptive mother, finally receiving the name Hope Summers.
While the story will surely be changed for the Deadpool sequel, the teddy bear that’s been seen with Cable in promo pictures and film footage means it’s a good bet that keeping young Hope safe will be a major part of his arc. Our bet is that he’ll spend most of the movie trying to find his surrogate daughter before any of the dozen-odd teams that want to kill her, doing everything he can to keep Hope alive — literally.
Cable vs. the Avengers
In 2011, Cable went on a one-man war against the Avengers, and it was a much more even match than you might expect. Surprisingly, many of the so-called “Earth’s Mightest Heroes” have got nothing on the Askani’son.
Cable went up against the Avengers in the storyline Avengers: X-Sanction, a lead-in to the full-on Avengers vs. X-Men storyline from 2012. In the miniseries, Cable learns that Hope will meet her death in the future as a result of something the Avengers cause. After all the work he’s put into that kid, he can’t have that, now can he?
Facing imminent death from a re-emerged techno-organic virus, Cable uses what he believes will be his last day alive to rain unholy hell on the Avengers, taking out Captain America, Iron Man, the Red Hulk, and Falcon. While the fight with Red Hulk slows him down, Cable’s only stopped by Cyclops and Hope — his father and his daughter.
The intervention of the two Summers was enough to turn the tide against Cable, who was beaten within an inch of his life by the team. With Cable catatonic, Hope absorbed the techno-organic virus from her father, manifesting the Phoenix Force to consume it and destroy it, which cured Cable of the virus completely. Experiencing this, Cable finally understood that his daughter truly was a kind of messiah — all of the trouble was worth it. She was the Phoenix, just like Jean Grey.
The New X-Force
Cable went back to team sport with the 2012 series Cable and X-Force, which brought the time traveler together with a new team of rough-around-the-edges heroes, including Domino, Colossus, Dr. Nemesis, and Forge.
After years of utterly insane time travel shenanigans, Cable and X-Force hearkened back to the good old days, when the team was just a gaggle of mercenary types out doing dirty work. Specifically, they do a lot of work to stop disasters Cable had seen premonitions of.
Interestingly, it looks like something close to this iteration of the team just might be what’s coming in the Deadpool sequel, as well as the upcoming X-Force movie. The Deadpool sequel’s trailer certainly shows a cadre of mostly-hidden mutants standing behind Deadpool and Domino, but we don’t know who they are yet. Reportedly, the Deadpool sequel will introduce three new, yet-to-be-announced characters for the squad. Considering the tone of the Deadpool series so far, our money is on a roster of the zaniest and craziest.
Brother from another…beaker
Are you still with us? We hope so, because there’s just so much weird stuff on the fringes of Cable’s life that we haven’t mentioned. Like, say, his brother. No, not Stryfe. Another brother — also named Nathan. Comic books!
Introduced in 1995, Nate Grey is an alternate version of Cable from Earth-295, a biological son of Scott Summers and Jean Grey — so, what Cable would’ve been if not for that meddlesome Madelyne Pryor.
Because he was never infected with the techno-organic virus, Nate grew up with his powers unimpeded — and as a result, was one of the most wildly powerful telepaths of all time. His superhero name was — get this — X-Man. And don’t think that he doesn’t “count” just because he started off on another Earth: Before long, Nate crossed over into the main Marvel continuity on Earth-616, where he started palling around with Spider-Man and the X-Men. He didn’t get to keep his insanely strong powers for long after crossing over, though. Eventually, he was kidnapped, losing the majority of his powers thanks to the schemes of a villain named…Sugar Man. If you haven’t started getting the feeling yet, the ’90s were a strange time for comic books.
One thing to be clear on: Nate Grey is not a clone of Nathan Summers. Stryfe is the clone. Nate’s the one from another dimension. Pretty simple, innit?
Everyone who stuck around for the credits of Deadpool left the theater knowing Cable would show up in movie number two. What they didn’t know was who would play him.
Internet chatter initially unified around Stephen Lang, who played the villain in Avatar. While the actor does have a striking physical resemblance to a more human-sized version of Cable, it doesn’t appear he was given much consideration by the people in charge. Despite the fan enthusiasm, the production looked elsewhere, courting the likes of Brad Pitt, David Harbour, and Michael Shannon, who was reportedly the frontrunner for a while.
The casting process proved surprisingly dramatic, too, directly leading to the breakup of the creative duo of Ryan Reynolds and Tim Miller, depending on which account you’re reading. Apparently, Miller was gunning hard for casting Kyle Chandler in the role of the time-displaced father figure — the sort of bonkers, seemingly against-type idea that’s so crazy it just might work.
Chandler gained a devoted following for his remarkably charismatic performance as Friday Night Lights‘ Coach Taylor, and if you’ve seen a decent amount of that classic series, you just might be able to see the appeal of the actor in the role. He can play strong, he can play stern, he can play funny, and he can definitely play a father who would tear through time to keep his daughter safe. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Onscreen at last
Following months of speculation, the untitled sequel — which we really hope remains named The Untitled Deadpool Sequel, though Deadpool One would be funny, too — finally cast its Cable.
Josh Brolin — who already had a role as the Marvel big bad Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War at the time — came out on top in the hard-fought competition for the role, with his casting announced in April 2017. While not everyone was skeptical about the casting, some had doubts — especially if they, say, looked at a picture of Cable, and then looked at a picture of Brolin. We’re not saying Brolin is scrawny or anything, but for all his 49 years, he’d never really been known as a beefcake — until he hit the gym.
Oh, he hit the gym. He hit it hard, and he got ripped. There were no survivors. He even impressed Dave Bautista!
It’s a credit to Brolin’s charisma that his turn as Thanos is playing second fiddle to his debut as Cable. It’s neat to see Thanos invade, finally, but the dude himself seems boring. Cable in these promos looks incredible, and you actually get to see Brolin’s face. As you now know, there is a lot going on with this character — and it’s going to be a blast to see how Brolin brings him to life.
The Untitled Deadpool Sequelbusts into theaters on May 18.