The son of Cyclops and Madelyne Prior, Nathan Summers was whisked off into the future by two cloaked figures who looked an awful lot like Cyke and Jean Grey, and aged off-panel until he was in his late forties or so. He then came back to the present day, picked up a giant gun, and started doing some implacable soldier-ing.
I mean sure, along the way he picked up a few clones, most of which didn’t realise they were clones. And he also picked up a few extra mother figures, and an alternate-dimension version of him showed up and started flirting with his mother. Maybe Cable did die and come back for unexplained reasons at some point, and maybe he’s been back and forth in time so often that he’s lived fifty lifetimes in one. I suppose the point could be made that he’s been de-aged, de-powered, re-aged and re-powered to the point of incoherency, sometimes several times within the same issue.
But that’s just what happens when you’re written by Fabian Nicieza, you guys. It’s just one of those things.
The central idea of Cable remains almost-in-place to this day, and hasn’t really changed since the start – the problem is that everything around him HAS. He’s basically a Clint Eastwood character from the good ‘ol days, albeit an Eastwood antihero who won’t stop banging on about technology and paradoxes all the time. He’s a steely-eyed, practical man of war, and when he steps into a storyline it’s usually because he’s got some kind of mission to fulfil.
Now, when the writer has worked out that mission in advance – all well and good. But the nineties proved that not many writers had thought particularly far into the future, meaning the character’s most defining era was also the era in which he’d tell nobody his plans, conspire and plot endlessly, and ultimately get absolutely nowhere. Being from the future, the character has all this foreknowledge about different events which are going to happen and turn the world into an evil dystopia. Every time he uses this to change the present, however – his origin story changes off-panel.
And nobody EVER tells us what that new origin story is! For every big event storyline Cable manipulates into place, he simply creates four more event stories further down the line. He’s a constant thorn in his own side, forcing himself into ever more disturbing deals with his enemies and betrayals of the X-Men as he tries to make sure The Future Is Rosy.
There’s some fun stuff that comes forth from this, and some weird stuff. If there was ever a character with a more confusing agenda than Cable, it’d be Mister Sinister. Apocalypse and Stryfe, at least, have a reasonably defined goal – domination, essentially – but Sinister is the evil opposite of Cable. He sits in the shadows, reacting to everything and changing his plans on a whim. While Cable proactively changes things to try and influence the future, Sinister watches and switches his agenda reflexively each time Cable achieves something. The pair will remain at an ill-defined stalemate until the end of time.
Nicieza and Reilly Brown’s run on Cable & Deadpool got quite a lot of mileage out of that dynamic, actually, taking the mysteries of the two characters and playing it for laughs. The pair took on a father-son relationship at several points – once literally, if I remember correctly – and their schemes backfired on them both at every point.
The most familiar side of Cable is of the convoluted time-traveller with a gigantic gun, an aspect which was mostly put together by co-creator Rob Liefeld. Liefeld’s excesses as an artist are present glorious within Cable, who typically wears lots of unused pouches, has gigantic shoulder pads, a big square head and a huge gun (which, in recent years, artists have called ‘The Liefeld’). He led a strike-force of other gun-carrying mutants, who went around causing trouble, blowing things up, and trying to change the future.
Actually, come to think about it – that’s what he’s doing to this very day.
Recent years saw the X-Men try to simplify themselves, y’see, with editorial becoming more and more aware that several of their characters (well let’s face it, the entire Summers family) had become convoluted and confused even for new writers. As part of this move, Cable’s future was fleshed out – and twinned with fellow time-traveller Bishop’s future. Finally things got explained – Cable had one future, Bishop has another future, and neither wanted their future to be the one which’d come to pass. To that extent, the Messiah Complex crossover pitted them against one another, with Cable believing that a baby should live, and Bishop believing… uh, the opposite.
A fairly decent idea, but… not the smartest way to play it out, that, really, considering how Marvel turned their only heroic black X-Men male into a villain. At the very least, it smoothed out Cable’s rough origin and history – and Mike Carey killed off most of the ‘prophets’ and time-travellers who’d been popping up enigmatically during Cable’s time in the X-Men books. From now on, he didn’t have big secrets – everything he’d been hiding got smooshed into being the events of Messiah Complex.
Which left him with a bit of free time! After doing some babysitting he got back to the present, which has put him in a really interesting position – perhaps not interesting in the comics themselves, but interesting in context. Because Cable works best as a pragmatic leader of a team of X-Men, or part of a supporting cast. As a solo character, he can only go for so long until we’re all breathing dead fumes. As a team player, he has a specific role and character-type.
And it’s the one Cyclops has now.
Which means Cable is at a bit of a dead end! Because the pragmatic, for-the-legacy grimness has rubbed onto his dad, and Cyclops is now the one on the run, causing trouble, and carrying secret agendas. Even as Cyclops has Cable as the wayward son, so Cable has Hope Summers as a wayward daughter, now. They’re merging into one place! Cable, having finally returned to the present-day… is now at a bit of a loss.
He’s being written by Si Spurrier now, though – so there’s hope for him yet. And it’s been at least two years since he time-travelled so he could persuade Apocalypse to go back in time and murder his future/past self. So we’re learning, at least.