The Cable comic books definitive issue-by-issue collecting guide and trade reading order for omnibus, hardcover, and trade paperback collections. Find every issue and appearance! Part of Crushing Krisis’s Crushing Comics. Last updated January 2023 with titles scheduled for release through April 2023.
No single character defines so much of what is right and what is wrong about the venerable X-Men franchise as Nathan Christopher Dayspring Summers AKA Cable.
Cable was the creation of Rob Liefeld in 1990 when he took over pencilling New Mutants and was charged with creating a leader for the team that contrasted with Professor X’s non-violent philosophy. The character he came up with couldn’t be more of a 90s extreme – a Terminator-esque mysterious time-traveler with a glowing eye, a metal arm, a massive gun, countless pouches, and a set of shoulder pads that tripled the width of his body.
(Alex Ross would later say, “I felt like it looked like they just threw up everything on the character.”)
Cable (and Liefeld) lead the New Mutant team out of passivity and lower sales to become one of Marvel’s biggest sales phenomenons, shedding all but three cast members in the process and relaunching as mega-seller X-Force just one year later in 1991. The first issue was the top-selling comic of all time for exactly one month, until X-Men (1991) #1 outpaced it the next month.
However, something even more interesting was going on with Cable thanks to the plot of another X-book: X-Factor. In the wake of X-Tinction Agenda, X-Factor saw Cyclops’s son with Madelyne Pryor (Mr. Sinister’s clone of Jean Grey) being kidnapped to the moon. There, baby Nathan was infected with a techno-organic virus by former Sinister mentor Apocalypse before being whisked off to the future by Sister Askani in an effort to save his life.
Was it intention or coincidence that a telekinetic baby who was the heir apparent to the X-Men franchise was infected with a metallic virus and sent to the future just months after a telekinetic time-traveler with a missing eye and a metallic arm landed in the present? It didn’t matter, because fan obsession with the idea that Cable could be Cyclops’s son quickly took over and made Liefeld’s extreme new character more in-demand than he was before!
That sort of long-term, interconnected, soap opera plotting is a major part of what makes X-Men comics great. However, Cable’s subsequent adventures offer the insufferable underbelly of X-Men: constantly revised powers, convoluted time travel, unendingly retconned secret agendas, and multiple apparent deaths. Even as a Cable fan it can be hard to say what his current mission is or how many more intermittent jumps to the future he’s conducted since his last appearance.
Despite that, Cable has been central to some biggest comic blockbusters in the past few decades – including co-headling a series with Deadpool, driving both Messiah Complex and Second Coming, anchoring the Avengers “Unity Squad” of Uncanny Avengers along with Rogue, and ushering in the final stages of the pre-Hickman era in 2019.
Cable’s ongoing frenemy relationship with Deadpool is a big part of his lasting appeal. While he’s a militant curmudgeon on his own, as the Merc With a Mouth’s eternal straight man it’s a little easier to see the heart of gold that makes him so central to the X-Men franchise over 30 years after his debut.
Note that this guide refers to Cable and “Nathan” interchangeably throughout when referring to the character and not the title.