Samuel Guthrie started life as a stereotype. He was a teenager sent to work in the coal mines of Eastern Kentucky after his father died. Outside of the Pre World War II era, this simply wasn’t a thing that was allowed under federal or state law. But, it was perfectly acceptable to say it took place in 1982. Cannonball discovers his powers after a mine cave-in. Unfortunately, he attracts the attention of Donald Pierce and the Hellfire Club. Samuel works as a mercenary for the Hellfire Club for awhile before Professor X rescues Cannonball and has him join the New Mutants. Sam becomes the co-leader of the team alongside Dani Moonstar.
The team grows closer and closer, providing an interesting parallel against the X-Men. As a kid, I loved how the entire New Mutants team got along with each other. Sam fights his way through Nova Roma, Asgard, the Mojoverse, back at his home and even in the deepest spots of the galaxy. Sam also plays quite the Casanova, as he puts the moves on Magma, Firestar and Lila Cheney. Cannonball and his team are eventually killed by the Beyonder out of his curiosity with humanity. The Beyonder restores them to life, but leaves the New Mutants with memories of their death and related pain. Meanwhile, Professor X leaves the team in Magneto’s custody without telling them directly. Cannonball would spend this era becoming far more headstrong and learning the different aspects of his powers.
Cannonball would later find out that he was invulnerable while blasting. Sam would become the outright leader of the New Mutants until Cable arrived in the team’s lives. He would oversee a team merger with the X-Terminators and he’d have a brief romance with Boom-Boom. While working with the newly dubbed X-Force, Cannonball would be brutally murdered by Sauron. Cannonball would resurrect minutes later and learn that he is an External. The Externals are a specific offshoot of mutantdom that also counts Gideon and Apocalypse as its members. Cable knew this, as he reveals to Cannonball that he’s been specifically training him to help kill Apocalypse. Cannonball and Cable seem to bond over this fact, as Cable starts to become the father that Cannonball desperately missed having.
As Cannonball grew older, he would start to break out of Xavier and Cable’s grasp. Cannonball would lead his team against S.H.I.E.L.D. and numerous organizations that were actively trying to control mutants. At the same time, the Phalanx Covenant was happening and his sister’s mutant powers activated. Paige Guthrie aka Husk is a character that we’ll be talking about sooner than later. This era was the one time where we could see Sam starting to become his own person, but there was a push to have him represent the voice of mutant youth at every turn. Sam spent most of the 90s, as the most approachable yet direct answer to why Xavier’s dream doesn’t work all the time. I mentioned X-Force #19 during the Professor X chapter and his speech there remains true.
You can’t put everything into black and white categories. Sam has been used by Emma Frost, Donald Pierce, Magneto, Cable and Professor X and Sam sees that nobody has the correct answers. Cannonball tries to lead X-Force in the best way possible, but I don’t know if it’s lazy writing that keeps trying to deflect him out of the leadership role. Warren Ellis tried to hang Pete Wisdom on him, Jeph Loeb kept trying to stick him with Cable and Scott Lobdell wanted to make sure that everyone still viewed him as a kid. Cannonball is the definition of one step forward and two steps back as a character. We don’t get many comic characters from Kentucky and watching Sam struggle as a character throughout the ages has been frustrating. Not to mention the dialogue send-up that every writer has been trying to follow since Claremont created it.
Eventually, Cannonball would graduate and become a full-fledged X-Man. Cannonball would spend most of his time on the team doubting his powers and then feeling that he didn’t belong. After the assassination of Graydon Creed, Cannonball was quickly removed from the team. Eventually, he would join the grimdark version of X-Force and then the X Corps. For what seemed like an eternity, nobody that wrote for the X Books seems to have any idea what to do with Cannonball. He was part of the team that fought Weapon Plus and the loss of Darkstar hurt him a bit. But, then nothing came of it.
After some time, Cannonball would rejoin the X-Men and find great success as part of Rogue’s team during the Mike Carey era. Cannonball had his biggest moment when fighting against Mr. Sinister and the Marauders during the lead-up to that series’ 200th issue. Sam runs into a bit of tragedy, as William Stryker kills his younger brother Icarus (Jay Guthrie). Cannonball moves to San Francisco and then Utopia alongside the X-Men. Following orders from Cyclops, Cannonball takes the lead of the reformed New Mutants. They fight the returned Legion and they participate in the rescue of the resurrected Magik. Eventually, Sam grows tired of being stuck under yet another leader and he turns on Cyclops. Sam joins his sister in leaving Utopia to join the Jean Grey School, but Wolverine has other plans for him. This leads Sam to meeting Captain America.
In the modern era, Cannonball has become an Avenger alongside Sunspot. While he hasn’t had much to do with the Avengers, recent changes have seen him marrying/having a baby with Smasher of the Imperial Guard. Now, they live on the Shiar Homeworld while Sunspot has taken over A.I.M. and is starting to run it as a legit company. While it’s been nice to see Cannonball age into a full-fledged adult, I still feel like he hasn’t had his chance to shine. Even in Husk’s brief amount of time, Paige Guthrie has gained more of a personality than her big brother. Sam always plays the leader or the overwhelmed youth. I praise Jonathan Hickman for trying to break that pattern, but we need further emphasis on the guy. I feel that an over-sized team book might not be the place for that.