In His Defense: Cyclops
Oh, Scott. Scott, Scott, Scott, Scott, Scott. You’re not gonna make this easy, are you? I’ve always been on your side. I’ve always defended you in the face of those who seem to think that Wolverine is the end all be all of the X-Men. I’ve always said you’re far more complex than people give you credit for…but you’re pushin’ it, man. My goodwill only extends so far. So, here ya go, Mr. Summers. My gift to you.
Yes, I’m a Cyclops defender. I wear the badge proudly. You may ready your opening salvo of “Wolverine’s awesome, Cyclops is a dick!” Granted, it’s not an original line, but it seems to be the one thrown around the most. A friend of mine once referred to Cyclops as the “Leonardo” of the X-Men. I’ll admit, it’s not always easy making a case for Scott Summers, especially with Marvel’s philosophy of keeping, for the most part, ALL OF THE CONTINUITY. So, for every awesome thing Scott does, you can easily go back a few years and find something not so awesome. Although, for the record, Wolverine ain’t no saint either, bub. But that’s part of the beauty of the Marvel Universe. Whereas DC heroes have generally been depicted as paragons of heroicism – at least, pre-52- Marvel heroes have always been flawed, existing in the moral grey area where the rest of us live. It’s part of what makes Marvel heroes more relateable, but also ellicits discomfort when we’re confronted with those facets of humanity we try to hide under the rug. Scott Summers is no exception.
Warning! There are some MAJOR spoilers from here on out, especially for AvX #11! Read at your risk!
Let’s begin with a little background on the current state of the Marvel 616 Universe. In the pages of Avengers vs X-Men, the two groups started fighting over how to treat the on-coming possible threat of the Phoenix Force. The Phoenix Force was first introduced in “The Phoenix/Dark Phoenix Saga” extending from 1976-1980, resulting in the first of many “deaths” of Jean Grey who played host to the entity. Ever since, the Phoenix Force kept coming back, possessing people (usually psychics), and causing general mayhem. So, it’s not surprising that, when it seems to be on a collision course for Earth, presumably to possess the mutant messiah, Hope Summers (we’ll get to that), the Avengers are dead set on destroying it.
Complicating matters is Cyclops. Scott, now the leader of the mutant race (we’ll get to that, too), sees the coming of The Phoenix as a good thing. He thinks that maybe, just maybe, The Phoenix will jumpstart the mutant race once again (gonna cover it!). So, the major conflict comes from The Avengers and the X-Men fighting over how to deal with The Phoenix and its connection to Hope. In the midst of the battle(s), Iron Man, in all of his infinite wisdom, fires a missile at The Phoenix Force, which disperses it into five entities that latch on to Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magik. Dubbed The Phoenix Five (sigh), they go about improving the problems of the world while scaring the shit out of everyone at the same time. Because, as has been proven in the past, The Phoenix Force ususally ends up corrupting those it possesses, resulting in death and destruction. The Phoenix Five similarly fall prey to this obvious plot point, but under the combined forces of The Avengers and The X-Men, the five are reduced to two, Emma and Cyclops. In a last ditch effort to stop them, an all out attack occurs resulting in Scott taking the entire Phoenix Force for himself, killing Professor X, and becoming The Dark Phoenix!
In a lot of ways, this was a long time coming. Not so much the Phoenix Force bit that wore out its welcome a long time ago, but the confrontation between Scott and Xavier as well as Scott’s descent. While the current creative teams for The X-Men cite AvX and its aftermath as the ending of an era for the X-Men that began with Grant Morrison’s run (“E is for Extinction” through “Here Comes Tomorrow”), I’d argue that this has been building since the beginning of the X-Men in 1963.
Scott Summers was the first of Charles Xavier’s recruits. Like all mutants, Scott’s powers manifested at puberty, but due to an unfortunate accident when he was a child (here’s his Wikipedia page, trust me, it’s gold), Scott was unable to control the concussive ruby beams spewing forth whenever he opened his eyes. Knowing that he could literally kill someone just by looking at them, Scott developed a very controlled, somewhat “uptight” personality stemming from the burden of responsibility he felt to keep those around him safe. Xavier took Scott under his wing, grooming him as the leader of the X-Men and representative of Xavier’s philosophy of a peaceful mutant integration with the rest of society. For the longest time, Scott was the ultimate believer in Xavier’s dream.
And then some stuff went down.
In the 40 plus years of X-Men history the one defining characteristic we generally attach to Charles Xavier is his desire for peaceful integration between humankind and mutants. It’s what separates him philosophically and methodically from Magneto and his “strike first or be struck down” approach. And though Xavier and Magneto remain opposed to each other, one of the more interesting avenues of storytelling has been the tarnishing of Xavier’s dream by the man himself.
In the comics, Xavier has straddled the line of morality multiple times. Of most significance to this article is the instance where Xavier knowingly erased Cyclops’ memory of his presumed dead brother, Vulcan, after a failed mission in Krakoa. You could argue that Xavier did what he did out of love for his surrogate son, but upon learning of this deception, Cyclops is understandably pissed. It’s a betrayal of the highest kind. A second instance occurs during Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men when the team learns that Xavier knew of the growing sentience of the Sh’iar technology enhanced Danger Room and ignored it, thus allowing Danger, as she dubbed herself, to take form at the expense of the lives of several students. Cyclops, appalled at Xavier’s willingness to put his own school in such danger, tells Charles he’s no longer welcome at the mansion. It’s Scott’s disillusionment that’s really significant. The one mutant always seemingly in Xavier’s corner can’t even stand the sight of him. Another betrayal of the beliefs Xavier instilled in Scott as a teeanger. Though their relationship eventually repaired, it’s at this point that Scott’s moral foundation begins to shift. The storylines of “House of M” through ”Schism” crack the foundation entirely.
So, to save some time, here’s a nutshell explanation of the last seven years worth of storylines. Thanks to the insane, reality-warping powers of The Scarlet Witch, the mutant population was reduced to a few hundred. Cut to a couple years later and we have the birth of the first mutant post M-Day. The baby is pursued by every group under the sun, including the X-Men, only to be taken by Cable to the future with Cyclops’ blessing in the hopes that she’ll at least be allowed to grow up and return to help mutantkind in the past. Deeming her the Mutant Messiah, she’s named Hope Summers. In the mean time, Cyclops christens the resurrected Asteroid M in San Francisco Bay as Utopia and invites all mutants to live there. Then Cable and a teenage Hope return making them targets for every mutant villain and hate group alike. Battles are fought, people are killed (most notably Nightcrawler and Cable). Though the mutants are “victorious” tensions begin to grow between Cyclops and just about everyone else over the purpose of Utopia and the state of the mutant race. The tension comes to a head when Cyclops and Wolverine come to blows over the use of the younger mutants as soldiers instead of allowing them to be children. Oddly enough, Wolverine is arguing in favor of scholastics while Cyclops is opting for the mutant draft. The two part ways, each taking their own group of mutants with them. Wolverine rebuilds Xavier’s school, renaming it after Jean Grey, and Cyclops keeps his base of operations on Utopia.
Thus, we’re all caught up! So let me tell you why I’m defending Cyclops.
First of all, in the aftermath of M-Day, Scott essentially went from being the leader of a team of mutant superheroes to the leader of the Mutant Race. A guy who was already tightly wound about his responsibility towards a small group in a larger population of mutants now has the added burden of leading a small group of mutants that encompasses his entire species. His strategy had to change, his entire way of thinking had to change. And it did. In the stories that followed, Scott became far more aggressive in his stance on protecting the mutant race at any cost. Weaponizing the legacy virus, creating X-Force, and treating the younger mutants like soldiers in a war all pointed to Scott’s increasing distance from Xavier’s philosophy in favor of a more Magneto-esque approach, which was touched upon briefly in “Fear Itself”.
And in distancing himself from the guiding principles of his upbringing, his relationships with those who he was closest to suffered. The death of Nightcrawler while protecting Hope was especially brutal given that Nightcrawler was one of the few mutants who shared Scott’s belief in Hope’s destiny. His death is especially significant in the grander scheme of the X-Men Universe since Nightcrawler was a comforting source of faith and acceptance, a person Cyclops might have needed later on. Equally devastating is Beast’s decision to leave Utopia when he feels that Scott is going too far in his methods. Their parting of ways takes yet another confidant away from Scott, someone he’s relied on since he was a teenager. But Beast’s decision to leave doesn’t stop him from continuing to criticize and berate Scott for his decisions. Showing up at Nightcrawler’s funeral, Beast flat out tells Scott that Nightcrawler’s blood is on his hands. Later on, after another mission gone awry, Beast leaves a phone message for Scott that basically reiterates how many crappy decisions Scott’s made. It also doesn’t help that Magneto agrees with him and wants to help out around Utopia. Though Scott appears to understand why everyone is angry with him, he doesn’t relent on his goal: the survival of the mutant race. It’s what drives Scott to do what he does because all he sees around him are people who want his kind to be wiped from existence. By this point in his life, after all he’s been through, after all the hatred and suffering, Xavier’s vision is nothing more than a pipedream. All that matters is survival and he’s the one who has to make sure it happens.
It’s those beliefs that make “Schism” a more significant story. Though I’m less enamored now of the outcome, I like the ideas behind “Schism” even if I disagree with the execution. Mostly because I side with Cyclops. Shocker, I know! But if you look at the argument between Cyclops and Wolverine, Cyclops’ point of view makes more sense. That Wolverine doesn’t want to involve children in war is horribly naive in light of their limited population and penchant for being attacked on a semi-regular basis. There’s also the matter of Wolverine becoming the stand-in Xavier with Cyclops replacing Magneto. While Cyclops’ stance makes sense in context, Wolverine’s doesn’t. From the get-go, Wolverine has always been the loner. A team player when he has to be or when someone ropes him into it, Wolverine seems like the last person who’d be telling Cyclops to keep the kids out of the bloody sandbox. It also ruins the goodwill and respect built between the two over the last few years, something that was far more refreshing than their constant pissing contests. It would’ve made more sense if the big schism had been between Cyclops and Storm, the two mutants who, though they love and respect each other, have always had issues with the leadership of the X-Men.
But I digress.
This leads us right back to where we started, The Phoenix Force and Xavier’s death at the hands of a possessed Cyclops. As you can see, Scott was already headed down a slippery slope, something that might have been prevented had some of his friends bothered to stick around instead of ragging on him at every turn. And, as tragic as it may be, The Avengers, The X-Men, and Xavier were pretty much pushing Cyclops to the point of no return. ComicsAlliance very astutely pointed out that The Avengers and the remaining X-Men just seemed to be waiting in the wings, poking at Cyclops until he inevitably turned ”evil”. And I don’t see anyone berating Iron Man for causing the creation of The Phoenix Five either. Thanks a lot, Tony! During the all out assualt on Cyclops and Emma, Cyclops screams at Xavier that the Avengers are trying to assassinate their people, not just through all the fighting, but in trying to destroy The Phoenix, preventing the possible salvation of mutantkind. And after killing his surrogate father, Scott, tears running down his cheeks, asks the gathered mutants and Avengers why they couldn’t “leave it alone.” Scott, even possessed by The Phoenix, only wanted what was best for his people. He believed he was saving his species and the thanks given to him was deception, pain, and death. Cyclops giving in to the Phoenix is far more tragic, in my opinion. And with everyone just standing by and watching it happen, especially Hope – useless, useless Hope – makes all that he’s worked for entirely pointless.
Though he’s not entirely responsible for his actions, the aftermath and consequences of AvX are going to hit Scott especially hard. Again, it’s unfortunate that Nightcrawler isn’t around. Scott’s definitely going to need a friends. And that’s where a lot of my frustration stems from in regards to the events of AvX leading into Marvel Now!, Marvel’s reshuffling of the main continuity in response to DC’s New 52. Though Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso and the writer of AvX and the forthcoming New X-Men book, Brian Michael Bendis, very much love and believe in Scott, I’m pretty sure the next year of storylines are going to be yet another excuse for mutants and Avengers alike to straight up shout at Scott all the time. Then again, maybe Bendis will take the Joss Whedon route and build Scott back up, showcasing the complexity of the character and letting him grow from this experience instead of suffer in silence. I swear, if I see an emo-Cyclops come out of this…There will be words! Strongly stated words, Marvel! Do you hear me?
So there you have it. I still intend to defend Mr. Summers. He’s still one of my favorite mutants, though I don’t think he qualifies as the “Leonardo” anymore. But what did you think? Have you been reading AvX? What’s your opinion of Cyclops and the events of the book thus far? What do you think this will mean for Marvel Now!?
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About Sam (68 posts)
I'm the lead writer for Noise Shark and I handle the creative content as well. And that voice of anger you'll hear emitting from the podcast? Oh, yeah, that's me. I'm so full of opinions it's ridiculous! My interests include movies, television, music, history, comic books...pretty much everything! No stone will be unturned, so expect a wide variety of articles from yours truly.
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