In a Nutshell
The first appearance of Cable & Stryfe.
Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Rob Liefeld
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: M. Rockwitz
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
The Mutant Liberation Front attacks a Federal energy research facility, setting a bomb to destroy the facility. A man named Cable arrives just as the MLF teleports away, and is caught in the blast. Meanwhile, in Asgard, Tiwaz gives the New Mutants a map through the dimensional eddies that can bring them home, but Dani announces she's staying behind. In Washington DC, Mystique visits the recovering Skids, asking her why the MLF is so interested in her & Rusty, but Skids insists she has no idea. In Asgard, the New Mutants say a tearful goodbye to Dani and the rest of their friends, then depart for home aboard Warlock. At the MLF's hidden base, their leader, Stryfe, sends the team to rescue Rusty and Skids, the government having refused to release them. They arrive at the detention facility, where Cable is lying in wait, determined to protect Rusty and Skids.
Elsewhere, the New Mutants fight off a group of Mindless Ones, then enter the last warp to get them back to Earth. Meanwhile, Cable battles the MLF, but is overwhelmed. The New Mutants emerge on Earth, but X-Factor's ship is missing, so they resolve to wait for it. In DC, the MLF bursts into Rusty and Skids' room, the guards inside attacking them. Skids throws her force field around the MLF, and in the face of the humans' hostility towards them, agrees to leave with the MLF, along withe unconscious Rusty, and all the mutants teleport away. Later, the New Mutants spot Ship returning to the city, but it appears to be crashing, and they rush off to help however they can. Meanwhile, Cable stews on his failure to save Rusty and Skids, and realizes that if he's ever going to take down the MLF and their leader, he's going to need to swallow his pride and get some help.
Firsts and Other Notables
After a brief one panel tease last issue, this issue marks the first appearance of Cable. He will soon join the New Mutants as their new mentor figure, and eventually be revealed to be Cyclops' son (currently appearing as a baby in X-Factor), returned from the future (originally, to shepherd the development of Cannonball, later to save existence from Apocalypse), his cybernetic parts actually a result of the techno-organic virus that brought him to the future in the first place, and in possession of tremendous telepathic and telekinetic abilities (the latter of which keeping the virus in check). He will receive a handful of ongoing series through the years, and despite being very clearly a product of the then-burgeoning 90s aesthetic, has managed to stay mostly relevant within the X-books since his creation.
But pretty much all of that is stuff tacked onto the character by later writers; as Rob Liefeld initially envisioned him, he was little more than a grizzled time-traveler intended to be the latest teacher of the New Mutants, even though he quickly began dropping hints at a larger backstory for the character (this Comic Book Legends Revealed post does a nifty job of tracking down all the various developments in the origin of Cable, who thought of what when, etc., and tackles the question of how much credit Simonson deserves for the creation of Cable, while this one offers one more bit of Cable info. Spoilers, of course).
In this issue, all we really learn about Cable is that he has an impressive dossier (consistent with later developments, as Cable spent much time prior to joining the New Mutants as an international mercenary), has a grudge against Stryfe, and is interested in recruiting the New Mutants to help in his battle against the Mutant Liberation Front.
The Mutant Liberation Front appears in full for the first time this issue with their full roster, and we learn everyone's names and powers. In addition to Wildside (manipulate perceptions so as to appear invisible), Tempo (erroneously called Strobe last issue, can locally speed up or slow down time) and Zero (the teleporter), there's Reaper (generates a paralyzing neuro-toxin he distributes through his scythe), Forearm (he's super strong and has four arms, possibly the only mutant whose power is also a pun, thus making him the greatest character ever), Thumbelina (shrinks), and the actual Strobe (generates intense heat).
Also teased last issue, the leader of the Mutant Liberation Front, Stryfe (please note the cool 90s way the "i" in "strife" is replaced with a "y") appears in full for the first time. Fittingly, given their debut in the same issue and their roles as heads of organizations with opposing views on mutant rights, Cable and Stryfe will quickly become inextricably linked, and it will eventually be revealed that Stryfe is in fact a clone of Cable (after we spend some time thinking Stryfe is the real Nathan Christopher and Cable the clone). Here, he is simply the mysterious, Mr. Sinister-esque leader of the Marauders-like MLF, and seems genuinely interested in the Brotherhood-esque goal of making things better for mutants through terrorist actions, something that later stories will retcon as cover for his true goals in this era, making the MLF more or less his unwitting stooges.
Stryfe will soon rise to prominence within the X-books, and spends the early 90s as one of the franchise's signature villains, on par with Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse, and will be the chief antagonist of his own crossover, 1992's "X-Cutioner's Song". Once the connection with Cable is fully revealed, though, Stryfe fades into the background, and though he's popped up a few times since then, he's very much a character of his time, one who burned hot but fast, and never really managed to survive the transition out of his early 90s heyday.
Much more significant to the series at the time than all the Cable/Stryfe/MLF business, this issue marks Dani's departure from the series, as she resolves to stay behind in Asgard to help atone for the damage done while the Valkyrie were under Hela's control. At one time arguably the series POV, most significant, and most developed character, she hasn't really been in the book since issue #77, when Hela's transformation first took hold, which takes some of the sting out of her departure. She'll actually remain out of the X-books for a good chunk of time, eventually popping up as a member of the MLF just after "Fatal Attractions", and then rejoining her old friends in X-Force after "Age of Apocalypse". I have no idea if her departure was something Simonson had planned all along, or something Liefeld asked for, but given the timing, I suspect the former.
This issue also marks Rusty and Skids' departure from the series, as they take the MLF up on their offer of freedom and escape from government holding with them. It's a development that Simonson has seemingly been building up for a few issues, as Skids had been growing increasingly hostile towards humans in the face of what she and Rusty were dealing with, and it's worth noting that Rusty, always the more traditionally heroic of the pair, was pretty out of it when Skids made the decision to join the MLF for them. Not sure if this was something Simonson had planned all along as well, but given that Liefeld including sketches of Rusty and Skids in his preliminary and pin-up work prior to this issue, it seems likely to have come from her.
The pair will appear again occasionally as members of the MLF and elsewhere in the years ahead, but this pretty much marks the end of Rusty and Skids' time in the spotlight. A shame, as neither really got much of a chance to be New Mutants in anything other than name, and Rusty, who was introduced in the first issue of X-Factor and was a fixture of that series all the way into "Inferno", gets written out in another book, without so much as a mention in X-Factor (made even more egregious by the fact that the books share the same writer...).
This leaves the team consisting of Cannonball, Sunspot, Wolfsbane, Warlock, Boom-Boom and Rictor, which, with the addition of Cable, will be the main cast moving forward, at least until "X-Tinction Agenda" and the transition to X-Force that follows it.
And then, finally, after nine issues in Asgard, the New Mutants return home. They arrive before X-Factor does, and end up hanging out over the ocean looking for Ship (which is where New Mutants Annual #5 picks up, aside from the fact that "Atlantis Attacks" has to take place before this issue) until they see it seemingly crashing into New York (it's actually landing, as seen in X-Factor #51).
Not surprisingly, this was a highly sought after back issue during the speculator boom of the early 90s, and cost big bucks as a back issue. I actually read it for the first time via trade, and the first copy of the issue I owned was the second printing, with the gold background (years later, after the bubble burst, I picked up a first print at a con for probably all of a buck or two).
A Work in Progress
Any Thor readers concerned about the fate of Karnilla's followers, they are transformed from stone to flesh in this issue, thanks to a spell from Tiwaz.
Mystique pops up in this issue to threaten Rusty and Skids, her first appearance since the death of Destiny in X-Men #255.
In the wake of Dani's departure, Sam is now the solo leader of the New Mutants, though again, that's been the case pretty much for the last dozen or so issues, as Dani dealt with the effects of Hela's curse.
Not sure if this is deliberate or coincidental, but in his debut scene, Stryfe chokes out and tosses Wildside in a show of his displeasure, just as Mr. Sinister did to Sabretooth in his debut scene, in X-Men #221.
The MLF get a few limitations put on their powers: Zero can only teleport places he's been, while the effects of operating within the range of Tempo's time manipulation is physically taxing. It's also suggested that Tempo is Southern (she says "sugah" at one point).
En route to Earth, the New Mutants battle some Mindless Ones, occasional foils of Dr. Strange.
Cable's bionic hand is melted by Strobe in this issue, which isn't quite consistent with later revelations regarding the character.
Boom-Boom refers to Professor X as "their" mentor, even though she and Rictor never studied under him.
The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Cable is, well, Cable, vaguely-futuristic guns a-blazing, tough guy attitude, robotic arm, while Stryfe is Stryfe, covered in armor and spikes. Welcome to the early 90s, people. Hope you survive the experience.
It may not all be entirely Liefeld's fault, but the storytelling is already suffering in this issue. Cable survives the explosion at the research facility, which killed other people, without explanation, Stryfe admonishes Wildside for getting injured but Forearm is the one who was hurt, Reaver paralyzes Cable and Strobe melts his hand, but the MLF don't bother killing him despite him being entirely defenseless, and Cable appears to be in government custody at the end of the issue, though its unclear (as a kid, I always thought the last few panels were meant to imply he was working for the government).
Rob Liefeld on Cable's Name
"Bob [Harras] said, 'Let's call him Quentin.' ... I said, 'Yucch!' I had already put 'Cable' down as his name on the sketches. Then, in Louise's plot, after being told his name was Cable, he was called Commander X throughout. I said, 'If this guy is called Commander X, I want nothing to do with it.' That seemed ridiculous to me."
Howe, Sean. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. p321
You guys, I love Cable. Genuinely, not ironically. Not for the guns and cyborg parts and the bad attitude (though I certainly did love that stuff when I was twelve), but for the great big convoluted mess of retcons and motivations and twisted family tree stuff that the character becomes. I came into comics through the X-Men when, arguably, one of the biggest mysteries across the line (aside from the identity of the X-traitor) was the question of Cable's identity and his relationship to Stryfe. Even then, without having a read a ton of the back issues, the idea that Cable was Cyclops' infant son returned from the future was being floated about, and once that was confirmed, I was hooked: he's the son of my favorite character? Returned to the past to save the future (in some vague way)? Mystery, time travel, a link to my favorite character? What's not to love?
Cable, in his ways, represents some of the worst excesses of superhero comics in the 90s: the guns, the attitudes, the overall character look designed to be cool first and logical much lafter. Even the mysterious past angle was just a clear attempt to replicate the success of Wolverine. But Cable is also representative of just how thoroughly unique superhero comics are, the way these great twisting mythologies are formed as the result of the collaborative nature of an ongoing, decades-long shared universe. They may be messy, but they're thoroughly unique, and it's one of the things that makes me love comics. And Cable is emblematic of all that.
But that's all well into the future at this point. For now, Cable really is just an enigma with a big gun and a cool metal arm. We know he's a good guy, because he wants to help Rusty and Skids and is fighting the clearly evil mutants (Stryfe admits their desire to save Rusty & Skids is a smokescreen for their true purpose), and even without knowing what's to come, it's clear that Simonson and Liefeld are setting up the character to be something big. Guest stars and one-off characters usually get introduced to the reader via the main characters. Here, we meet Cable before the New Mutants do. In fact, the New Mutants are almost guest stars in their own series in this issue; this is Cable's story, as though he's already a member of the book's regular cast, even though the main characters don't even know he exists.
New Mutants is a series that can be broken down into distinctive era a couple different ways, either by the set of artists who lent their distinctive styles to the series (Sienkiewicz, Blevins and Liefeld) or by the character charged with teaching the New Mutants (Professor X, Magneto and technically X-Factor). With Liefeld already on board, this issue marks, with the introduction of Cable, the beginning of the series' final incarnation, the Cable Era. Neither New Mutants, nor comics, for better or worse, will be the same.
Tomorrow, Archangel fights Sabretooth while everyone else goes on a date in X-Factor #52. Next week, Avengers West Coast #56-57 and #60, followed by Excalibur #20.