Child of the Atom

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June 25, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

Every summer I re-read my entire X-Men collection; not just Uncanny X-Men, but every X-title I own.  Realistically, that’s probably about 300 issues.  During this most recent undertaking I realized two things: 1) most of the characters who are parents, are really shitty parents, and 2) Cable is a really underrated and misused character.[1]  Even though they seem like dissimilar points, the first realization led directly to the second one.  Regarding the first point, just think about all the characters who are parents: Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, Mystique, and Quicksilver are all terrible parents.  Xavier goes out of his way to neglect his son Legion, Magneto has tried multiple times to murder his own kids, Wolverine didn’t even know he had a son (God knows how many more he’s got), Mystique loves Rogue more than her own biological child, Nightcrawler, and Quicksilver tried to forcibly turn his daughter into a mutant.

It then dawned on me, for a book that stresses how this group of strangers have become a family, most of the characters don’t really know the meaning of it.  As I was sifting through my collection and my memory, I completely forgot about Cyclops and Cable.  Now part of this is because of the fact that most writers probably don’t think it’s an important aspect of the characters, but it truly is.  The same can be said about the cartoon series in the early 90s, as I don’t think it was ever made evident that Cable was the son of Cyclops.[2]  The mythos of Cable, the crux of his character is that he is a son.  Likewise with Cyclops, the added dimension of fatherhood certainly fleshed out the character in a way that hadn’t been done since his inception.

Even though Cable is a walking cliché of everything that was wrong with comics in the 90s, (and by extension everything that is still wrong), there are instances that show the potential of the character.  Most of that potential lies in the often overlooked fact that he is a son, more specifically the only son of Cyclops, leader of the X-Men.  But instead, more often than not, we get the militant, gun totting anti-hero with an unclear and ultra convoluted back story.  That’s what made The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix so riveting, because it was Cable as we had never seen him before.  It was Cable as a child, then as a teenager who was unsure of himself and his place in the world, and finally it was as a messiah, not the ridiculous, walking cliché of early 90s bloat.[3]

Everything that you’ve ever needed to know about Cable can be discerned from three issues within the entire franchise.  I was never a big fan of the character, but these three issues are not only some of my favorite Cable stories, but also some of my favorite issues of all time.  The three issues that explore and expand on Cable as a son are as follows: Uncanny X-Men 201, X-Factor 68, and Uncanny X-Men 310.  These issues form a loose (and unofficial) trilogy that define Cable in an expansive and insightful that has unfortunately been lost upon subsequent writers.

Uncanny X-Men 201 features the birth of Cable (at the time Nathan Christopher Summers) and little else.  Although the character of Cable would not be introduced until a few years later, and while there was no intention of making little Nathan Summers into a militant messiah from the future, what is important is Rachel Summers interaction with the newborn.[4]  She promises to always be there to protect him, no matter the cost.  This will have implications on the subsequent issues.  So unbeknownst to fans and writers alike, 201 is the first appearance of Cable, albeit as the child he once was.

The next issue, X-Factor 68 details how and why Nathan was sent into the future where he would eventually become the freedom fighter known as Cable.  Sensing and fearing the boys’ power, Apocalypse infected the child with a virus that would kill him by turning the child’s cells into techno-machinery.[5]  Well, Apocalypse succeeds and the child is infected with no means of salvation.  But it’s the climax of this issue, after Apocalypse has been defeated, that really catapults this issue.  Fulfilling her promise from Uncanny X-Men 201 to protect her brother no matter what, it is Rachel Summers who goes back in time to save her brother from certain death, by bringing him into the future.  This sets in the motion the events that will shape the young boy into becoming the man who was first introduced in New Mutants 87.[6]  Then the watershed moment of the issue is when Cyclops says to a disguised Rachel “When he’s better you’ll bring him back”.  This isn’t a question, but a demand.  He is telling her what to do after his son is saved.  Even though the initial answer is “No, if you embrace this path he will be lost to you forever”, we eventually find out that this is not true.

So two-thirds of the way through the immaculate Cable arc and still we haven’t seen him proper.  Even though this is true, that’s the point of Cable, that all the events that shaped him into who he is were done without is control or consent.  He was sent to the future because he had no choice, he was infected with a disease that would cripple him because of who he was, he was turned into a militant freedom fighter because he had to be.  In these two issues we’re shown that instead of simply being told that.

Finally we get to Uncanny X-Men 310 which brings about a close to the idea of Nathan Summers being one and the same with Cable.  This issue is essentially a talk between father and son, Cyclops and Cable, shortly after they found out their true relation to each other.  It is thematically and emotionally a sequel to X-Factor 68.  Cable is questioning his father’s decision for doing what he had to do to save the life of his son.  Nathan reverts to a child in some instances, as he refuses to acknowledge why Scott did what he had to do.  He’s angry at his father for throwing him away into the future, and with a childlike stubbornness won’t listen to the why.  It isn’t until Cyclops tears down his emotional wall and reveals that after his son was sent away all Scott could do was weep.  Cable then realizes that his father did what he had to do out of love for his child even though it was an impossible decision to make.

Even though these issues don’t portray Cable in the traditional light as a rogue mystery man with a really big gun, we as readers get something better, a fleshed out definition of who the character is, and why he is the way he is.  For cable, the paradigm of these clichés, this was something to behold, how a child that was raised with love and affection could turn out to become Cable.  Moreover, that gruff nature comes from the idea of not being wanted that was borne from Cyclops sending him into the future to save his son from the ravages of the virus Apocalypse infected him with.

These three issues introduce a different, more elaborate Cable that comes from his status as a son, as a child.  For a character as especially one-dimensional as Cable, this additional information worked wonders to flesh him out, even if it wasn’t taken to its creative zenith.  But, at the end of the day what Cable is, as a character, is the boundless love a parent possess for their child.  That’s how Nathan Summers became Cable; it was out of that love for his son that made Cyclops send him into the future to save him.  Never more than in those three issues does the X-Men franchise showcase that kind of love, and there was absolutely no one better than Cable to use as that conduit between parent and child.

[1] As are about 90% of all X-Men characters post 1994.

[2] But then again how many kids would have been able to keep up with that explanation regarding clones, eugenics, time travel, and a messiah complexes?

[3] Suffice to say I, my favorite period in X-Men history was from 1987-1993.  Hypocrisy: Checkmate.

[4] Rachel Summers is the time displaced daughter of Cyclops and Phoenix from the Days of Future Past timeline.  Biologically she is the full blooded sister of Cable. If the preceding sentences made absolutely no sense to you, kudos for making it this far.

[5] Rather elaborate don’t you think?

[6] That would be Cable.


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