When the mutant called Cable first showed up, he was a soldier approaching middle age who sported a bionic eye and a cyborg arm who quickly revealed he was from the future. Not long after this, Scott Summers AKA Cyclops, the first X-Man, suffered the tragedy of watching his son Nathan get infected with the techno-organic virus (called “T-O”), a disease that would painfully alter the child into a biological machine. A member of the Askani Clan, a sisterhood that existed 2000 years in the future, offered to take the child to her time where advanced technology could treat his condition. Cyclops reluctantly agreed and sent his son to the Askani in the far future. It was later explained that this boy had grown up to become the man called Cable, who was not a cyborg but was still suffering from the T-O virus and had to constantly use his incredible mental abilities to keep it from spreading beyond his left arm and eye.
Nathan Christopher Charles Summers AKA Nathan Dayspring Askani’Son AKA Cable was raised in a dark future ruled by the near-immortal mutant terrorist Apocalypse. Told he was the “Chosen One” meant to defeat Apocalypse, Nathan used time travel to prevent this future from happening, hoping to kill the villain in the past when he was younger and weaker. In the present day, Cable formed the original X-Force team before later leaving to pursue his own agenda, occasionally working alongside the X-Men teams.
After he seemingly killed Apocalypse (though the villain would resurface later), Cable’s T-O virus seemed to enter a state of remission and his full power as the world’s most powerful telepath and telekinetic finally surfaced, inspiring him to take a new path in life. After becoming an enemy of several governments and losing his power for a short time, Cable was eventually entrusted by Cyclops to be the guardian of Hope, a mutant child fated to be the key to the race’s future. Recently, while helping time-lost friends get safely back home, Cable was forced to allow the T-O virus to overwhelm his body and then seemingly died in an explosion, leaving only his left arm behind. But those infected by the virus have been able to regenerate themselves from body parts before, so who knows if he’s really gone?
And if that all seems complicated, I deliberately left out and glossed over several details in order to keep your head from spinning.
But for now, while folks are still chatting away about his life and his death, let’s take a look at the many looks Cable has sported over the years. I warn you though, don’t blame me for some of the outfits you’re about to see. Unlike many heroes and anti-heroes in the Marvel universe, Cable doesn’t have a costume so much as a look that he’ll sport for a while. Because of this and because of how frequently he’s altered his looks, these images are in rough but not exact chronological order and this is definitely not a complete list.
THE ORIGINAL STYLES
When Cable first appeared in 1990, his primary creator Rob Liefeld had him wear enormous shoulder pads and lots of weapons. The size of the shoulder pads make them sillier than they should be. It’s also a bit weird that they’re the exact same shade as Cable’s canvas pants. Did Nathan make sure he was color coordinated before he left this home that morning for a full day of blowing stuff up?
What really kills this are the details. Why the white glove on his right hand? Only Khan and Michael Jackson got away with that look. The spiked bracers make him look suspiciously as if he’s about to be filmed in an 80s music video. He might also benefit from wearing a shirt of some kind, but maybe those are out of fashion in the future.
Staying with the blue motif, Cable sported this muscle shirt at one point. And I’ve gotta say, matching gloves with a sleeveless shirt always look a bit silly. Note also that Nathan’s bionic arm has completely altered in design and lost all its exposed circuitry. This makes Cable look as if his arm is a simple artificial limb, whereas the more complex look with all its circuits and moving parts reminds me of the muscles and joints that are constantly at work in a limb. So to me, that gives a better sense of something that is truly “techno-organic.” But at this time, the idea was still that Cable was just a cyborg and so it makes sense for Liefeld to imply that his hero could alter his bionic arm with different models.
But man, how old is Cable that he needs to hitch up his pants that high? It looks like he’s about to lecture the tied-up character Deadpool about why it’s wrong to walk on other people’s lawns. And while we’re pondering this image, look at Domino, the lady with a black diamond over her eye. What is she standing on?
You know, being a militant mutant counter-terrorist from the future while simultaneously trying to lead a new generation of heroes can be a very tough gig. I completely understand why Cable decided he was done with this war against evil and that he would be happier bouncing at a beachside nightclub in 1984.
What? That isn’t what he’s doing? But look at how he’s dressed! Tell me he’s not ready to start a Baywatch-themed X-Men spin-off. No? Come on. With a jacket like that and no shirt, you could at least put him in a music video for Queen!
Seriously, what’s with all the padding over what appears to be normal canvas pants? And what’s with that jacket? I know when I’m going into a battlefield, I cannot possibly be caught without wearing a jacket that ends above my belly button and has a not-at-all-silly disco collar.
AH! Nathan, did you break into a sporting goods store and steal ALL their protective padding? Wait, why do you need to wear padding over a metal arm and an armored arm? Is the metal not protective enough? Are you about to play rugby with the Hulk?
That much sports wear makes me completely dismiss the gun that cannot possibly the wisest carry-on choice for a battlefield and the fact that Boom-Boom seems intent on flashing her enemies.
Cable’s seems to have a couple of parachutes strapped to his shoulder pads. And I think it’s a mistake to armor the right arm in a way that makes it identical to the left arm. You’re tricking folks into not realizing that the left arm is actually unique.
Okay, so Cable traded all that padding in for a suit that can best be described as “holy crap, that is bulky.” Seriously, look at those ultra-boots around the armored legs. Look at the extra plates that have no purpose except to decorate his shoulders. Check out that weird collar that makes it seem as if the armor is trying to eat Cable’s head. How can he move in this? Can he even bend over to pick up his absurdly cumbersome gun?
So Cable got himself a beard that made him look even older. Because, you know, it wasn’t already creepy that this white-haired guy who was pushing 50 was spending all his time hanging out with a team of attractive mutant teenagers. This outfit is an improvement over the last one, but that unified shoulder pad makes him look like a futuristic American football player. The fact that he’s wearing an athletic cup over his pants doesn’t help. And I’ve gotta say, wearing one tiny glove and one giant swashbuckler glove is even sillier than wearing only one glove.
The cables connecting Nathan’s arm to the gun are a nice touch, though. They remind us that he’s a mixture of man and technology and they finally give his codename some meaning.
I appreciate needing protection and weapons when you’re facing powerful enemies, but um … what if Cable has to go to the bathroom? Can he even sit down in a car with all that stuff on? It looks like he’d have trouble turning to see if there was anyone behind him. And what’s with the giant staple guns? He must have a lot of housework do to in-between missions.
Oh, Nathan. Again with weird shoulder pads? Be honest. You secretly want to be a football player, don’t you? It’s okay, you can admit it. The X-Men has a regular baseball game, who’s to say you can’t turn your X-Force buddies into a fun football team? Cannonball would be pretty adept at getting down the field at incredible speed.
Dude, you’re from the future. SURELY they have learned how to make powerful guns that are more compact than THAT! Seriously, throwing that across your back would be like strapping on a small tree! And are you wearing shoulder pads on top of OTHER shoulder pads? No wonder Rogue is unconscious, she thought she was being attacked by living protective gear.
What in the – I don’t even… wait… how heavy would that even… Is that an extra gun in his armpit? I just… Okay, you know what? Screw it. I’m moving on. You should to.
God, what was WITH the early 1990s?
Huh. You know what? I don’t absolutely hate this look. It says both soldier and superhero. The single pad over Cable’s right shoulder goes along with the old practice of armoring or padding the arm that isn’t wielding a sword or axe, with Cable’s metallic limb taking the place of a sword arm. It’s a nice touch.
The protective cup has to go and I don’t think he needs thigh-belts when he’s already got one around his waist and one around his torso. But a few adjustments and I’d have no real problem with this look.
After a while, Cable did his best to streamline his look. He lost some of the pouches and ridiculous guns. Unfortunately, he seemed to believe that mismatched shoulder pads were a neat choice when, in fact, they just make him look like he cobbled stuff together from someone else’s closet. This effect is enhanced by the continued insistence on wearing mismatched gloves. And those boots are… well, they’re something else. Did Cable steal them from a pirate?
Again, this outfit wouldn’t be bad if just a few details were altered.
BRING ON THE COSTUMES
Eventually, Marvel decided that Cable needed a more traditional superhero look. He often worked with the X-Men and his father was the first official X-Man, so why not advertise the connection to X-Men readers who might be interested in buying his comic?
The traditional X-Men uniforms had been black and gold and later blue and gold. So Cable’s outfit here immediately brings that old school look to mind. This is definitely a step in the right direction. But the fact is, Nathan isn’t an X-Man. That’s one of the major points of his character. He doesn’t share their methods or moral codes and he walks a very different path than their founder Charles Xavier. So putting him in a look that brings the team to mind so clearly seems like a mistake. The shorts over the pants also seem a bit out of place for a character like Cable. He can look superhero-esque, sure, but we shouldn’t forget that at the core he is a soldier, not some costumed crime-fighter who patrols the streets of a major metropolitan city.
The boots are also very out of place. I get that their color matches the gloves, but their design seems completely different from the rest of the suit. And why do they have belts on them? Did Cable get them a size too large?
The look got refined a little, but most of the same problems remain in this other outfit. The boots are better, but now the belts across his torso make it appear that Cable is wearing either decorative suspenders or a training bra.
Rather than tweaking things a bit, Cable’s costume only became busier and more complicated. I don’t get the lace designs under the collar or the third belt-cord that goes down the middle.
There’s also a new problem of overstating the obvious. An “X” on the belt buckle is fine. That’s a standard costume feature for X-Men and let’s us know that Cable is connected to that team. But now with the belt buckle, the chest buckles and the shoulder patches, Cable has no less than five X’s on his costume. That, my friends, is just absurd and excessive. I mean, can you imagine if… What’s that? He has an X on the back of each of his gloves too? So he’s wearing SEVEN red X’s all together?!
I hate you all.
The bra motif continues with this bizarre design. Replacing shorts with a protective cup isn’t exactly a great innovation. And what are those things near his neck? Those have got to be the most ineffective shoulder pads I’ve ever seen.
Hmmm. It seems Cable decided that what he really needed were some X-Men themed overalls so he could move to the swamp. Or maybe this is some life preserver he decided to wear in case he gets lost at sea. And amazingly, the thigh-belts are now even more useless since they no longer have pouches attached to them.
And we go from overcomplicated to so simple it’s boring. There’s no real design here, nothing to give us any hint about the character’s nature. Just a belt, high boots and a weird chest-piece that once again hits us over the head with the fact that Cable is connected to the X-Men, just in case we don’t notice the X on his shoulder or on his belt. Bland. Very bland.
So the solution toe the bland chest piece is to replace it with a couple of belts that have no pouches and circle around his shoulders. Seems strange. Why would those belts be there? Oh, of course. They form an X across his chest. Well, good, because there weren’t enough X’s on his X-Man uniform already.
So during a pretty major battle against the villain Apocalypse, it looked like Cyclops was possibly dead. With him gone, Cable wound up working more with the X-Men for a while. And in memory of his father, he wore one of Cyclops’ spare visors around his neck. Fine. I can get behind that. What I don’t get are the useless tiny belts around the thighs and the half-mask here. Cable’s identity is public, so a mask is useless. Has he been scarred on the left side of his face and is feeling self-conscious about it? No, the only facial scar he has is on his right eye. I guess Nathan just woke up one morning and decided, “Full masks are everywhere. Half-masks, though. That’ll show people I’m different!”
Lame and weird. It’s like a guy who couldn’t decide if he wanted to have a secret identity or not.
After Cyclops’ apparent death (he later turned up alive, of course), Cable also sported this alternative look. The pants and boots are fine, but the bracer on his right arm looks cumbersome and that right shoulder-guard just looks weird. I’d be more okay with the shirt if it didn’t look like the X was something strapped on. Nice collar, though.
Again, the main problem behind this look may be that it makes Cable look like a superhero when that’s not really what he is.
You know, black looks good on just about anyone and this bodysuit lets us know immediately that Nathan is a serious and grim guy, not to be confused with your garden-variety costumed superhero. This outfit definitely has some extra belts and pouches, but they all seem to have an actual weapon or object attached to them and there aren’t so many that Cable becomes comical. He looks ready for battle but he can also move when he needs to.
Not a bad look at all, really. If anything, the bodysuit it self might be TOO plain now. Adding a single red X to the belt buckle or over the heart would be nice, I think. And I like the idea that Cable’s shifting his arm into a more deadly configuration. It should help deal out injury while also striking fear into anyone who wants to attack his un-armored side.
For years, the Legacy Virus was a plague that affected mainly mutants. Finally, a cure was realized and delivered into the atmosphere. One side effect of this was that the techno-organic virus in Cable’s body entered a state of remission. His bionic eye and arm remained, but he no longer had to keep the effects of his illness from spreading. At last, he could use the incredible mental abilities he’d been born with and that called for a change in attitude and operation. After a few months, it also called for a change in title, as his comic went from being called “Cable” to being “Soldier X.”
With his full power now at his disposal, Cable could fly, create instant telekinetic force fields, toss people a mile away just by looking at them, disassemble an entire house simply by focusing, read the minds of his opponents and alter their perceptions. So this means he’s no longer someone who has to worry about body armor or carrying around an excessive amount of weapons and survival equipment. Which means you gotta rethink his whole look.
In the “Soldier X” comic (and the stories leading up to it), Nathan’s thrown out the idea of costumes and specialized outfits entirely. Now he’s wearing simple, off-the-rack clothing, along with either a vest or a belt to carry some things he may need. Since he’s more powerful than any man-made weapons, the arsenal of oversized sci-fi guns is replaced by just a couple of more realistic armaments.
Even adding a trench coat isn’t enough to help this. Nathan’s new outfits were practical, yeah, but that’s all they were. If you want to make a movie about Cable and this is the look you’re going with, fine. But this is comics. Let’s enjoy and embrace the medium where an artist can make fabric behave however he wants it to. Simple designs can be good, but don’t let our guy fade into the crowd. Otherwise, he’s not visually interesting enough for new readers to pick his book off a stand.
After “Soldier X” was cancelled, Rob Liefeld came back and gave Nathan a new look for a new X-Force mini-series. I get where this design is going but it’s missed the mark a bit. There’s too much yellow, frankly. The extra layers on the legs give it an odd look. And the metallic lining down the side is a bit confusing when dealing with a character who actually does have techno-organic body parts. So looking at this, I’m not sure if that metal siding is part of the costume or if that’s more T-O infected skin that Cable exposed because he cut out parts of his outfit so he could feel a little sexy.
Later on in the mini-series, we got back the familiar elements of shoulder pads and belts-o-pouches. The outfit underneath has changed a bit too. The belt definitely works and it’s good we lost the extra ones all over the place. The shoulder pads actually aren’t bad. Their functional and their curved shape make them look better suited for Nathan than some of the football ones he wore.
I’d lose the protective jockstrap though. And again, there’s just a bit too much yellow here. Cable’s not a bright, sunny guy, he shouldn’t be sporting bright colors.
After the X-Force mini-series ended, Nathan next appeared as a main character in the ongoing series “Cable and Deadpool,” which gave him a new direction and forced him into a semi-partnership with his old enemy, the loud-mouthed assassin Deadpool. During the first story arc, Nathan sported normal clothes like what he wore during “Soldier X” and he also briefly wore this jumpsuit here. It’s not terrible, but it really looks like a parachute jumper’s outfit rather than a soldier.
But this coat makes it a different ball game. Its design stands out and the frock on top gives Cable the look of a western hero. And that isn’t far from the truth. Nathan is, if you break him down to his core, a sci-fi bent on the Man with No Name, journeying from place to place and taking on those he deems to be his enemies, not caring that he’s a question mark to everyone around him. Now if only he were wearing something cooler underneath.
During the initial issues of “Cable and Deadpool,” Nathan also briefly wore this suit of armor. Not awful, but very generic. Anyone could wear this armor and give the same impression.
WELCOME TO PROVIDENCE
To show the world what human society could be like, Cable created an island nation called Providence and allowed citizenship to any who wished to join and take part in the social experiment. Nathan was now a leader entrusted with governing over and protecting many civilians and their families. After a while, circumstances led to him losing much of his power but he was able to compensate by becoming a “techno-path,” allowing him to mentally hack into computer systems world wide. He could also manipulate a force field generator to make up for his telekinesis.
This is body armor, but unlike some of Cable’s previous looks, this stuff is thin and lightweight. It also emphasizes that Nathan’s abilities are now technology based. The cords around him emulate circuitry patterns, especially since they’re glowing. And making them a light source is a nice touch since it underlines Cable as a source of hope now rather than as a cynical soldier. So now, brighter colors make sense for our boy.
A very interesting design. But eventually, Providence fell and Cable was forced to resume the life of a grim soldier moving from one battle to another, so this suit no longer fit his character. Especially after his natural abilities (and, unfortunately, the T-O virus) returned.
When he joined up with the X-Men again, this was the outfit Cable wore. It’s not bad at all, but a couple of design elements confuse me. What’s with the shirt? It looks like he’s wearing a football jersey with a big zero on it. And the star on the shoulder is a bit odd. It brings to mind Captain America.
Now, there was indeed a story where Nathan explained that in the far future where he grew up, he became the inheritor of Captain America’s shield (during which time he wore this suit of armor that I actually quite like). And if you think about it, Cable was the inspirational figure for his own people of the Askani Clan that Captain America is for today’s superheroes. So the star on Nathan’s shoulder acting as a reminder of Cap is not necessarily a bad thing. But at the same time, Cable had just given up his status of trying to be an inspiration and was back to being a darker, more grounded character. So it seems like a mixed message.
Or maybe Cable just likes stars.
For years, it seemed that more and more mutants were born every day. Some said that these people, also known as “X-gene carriers”, would one day outnumber normal human beings. And then M-Day happened and all but roughly two hundred mutants lost their X-gene. It looked like mutants were facing extinction until a child was born, the first new X-gene carrier since M-Day, and everyone wanted her or wanted her dead. Knowing that this baby girl, whom he named Hope, was the key to the survival of all mutants, Cable became her protector and adopted father and took her with him into the future.
So Cable’s back to his time-lost soldier mode, but this time he’s even more on his own. This look that says warrior but also gives him the impression of being a refugee and that’s good. These are desperate times for Nathan. This is a guy who can’t even have a stable base of operation like he had during his X-Force days, he is constantly on the run, doing everything he has to to ensure the child’s safety and, through her, the safety of all mutant people.
Because of this new refugee life-style, the mismatched armor that seemed odd before now seems appropriate. Likewise, a tattered cape is always a visual clue to us that someone is operating in either a savage past or a post-apocalyptic future. It’s just one of those things we’ve come to accept after seeing any number of sci-fi and fantasy films.
Cable has occasionally sported other looks for an adventure here and an adventure there. And he’s also had different outfits featured in alternate timelines. And, of course, there’s also his Ultimate Marvel counterpart and his Age of Apocalypse counterpart, the young man named Nate Grey. But I think we’ve seen enough at this point.
I hope you enjoyed this look at Nathan Summers over the years. Cable may be gone (for now), but with looks like these, people will still be talking about him for years to come. This is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.