He’s been a leader and a revolutionary, a husband and a father, a hero and a villain–He’s Cyclops, the first X-Man. The many roles Scott Summers has played since his debut in 1963 have made him one of the X-Men and comics’ most complex characters. In honor of Slim’s full-fledged return from the dead in this week’s Uncanny X-Men Annual #1, AiPT! is proud to present: CYCLOPS WEEK!
Discussing relationships between X-Men characters can be a stressful thing. X-Men fans are passionate and notoriously disagreeable. I knew that any opinion on Scott’s relationships would be divisive. That my interpretation of those relationships might be criticized for including comics some consider “nonessential” or jarring character moments. Still, Cyclops would want me to be thorough.
Prepare yourself to be taken on a half-century journey of mistakes, triumphs, and unrestrained passion with space firebirds. We’ll look at Scott’s predispositions and anxieties as well as why he so frequently buckles under the weight of expectations. It will require a lot of words given his lengthy publishing history, but hopefully I can address why Scott Summers both is and isn’t a “lousy lover.”
Now let’s put on our Ruby-Quartz glasses and embrace the melodrama together.
Scott, The Lousy Lover
I think the sometimes messiness of Scott’s relationships has everything to do with the way he communicates, and that has a lot to do with his father figures. Scott’s two adoptive fathers, Jack Winters and Professor Charles Xavier, were both telepaths (one of whom was able to turn into organic diamond). Scott’s childhood abuser, Mr. Sinister, is also a telepath. My theory is that Scott has a significantly harder time dealing with people who can’t read his mind and an impulsive attraction to people who can.
There’s a growing body of psychological research to support the idea that our parents influence how we are able to connect to others as adults–in romantic and other contexts. Parents are our rubric from which we create scripts of how relationships work. According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, securely attached children with loving, attuned mothers grow up to be adults who see themselves positively, are comfortable seeking out close relationships and depending on others, and don’t worry about being alone or rejected.
Social psychologist and researcher Kim Bartholomew suggests that anxiously attached children will be preoccupied in relationships–having a negative view of themselves and looking to others for validation. They are needy and demanding, moving from one romance to another. Sound familiar?
Scott didn’t have any kind of secure attachment as an orphan and was often isolated from other children by a telepathic abuser. His mother had appeared to have died in a plane crash that lead to him being comatose and falling into Mr. Sinister’s clutches. I don’t think it’s a stretch to draw a line between Scott’s telepath-riddled love life and his three telepathic dads.
Speaking of manipulative father figures, Cyclops may have never opened up to a pre-telepathic Jean Grey had it not been for Professor Xavier reading his thoughts and pushing him. Scott and Jean spent the bulk of the Silver Age in a will-they-won’t-they holding pattern. We don’t actually see them kiss until Uncanny X-Men #94. Their romance is convincing but brief as Jean Grey sacrifices herself (for the first time) and is replaced by the Phoenix–a lady who walks like Jean and talks like Jean but is secretly a cosmic firebird of death and rebirth.
The Phoenix is the specter of all of Scott’s romantic entanglements. It haunts his choices for the following forty-plus years right from the jump. Scott is rattled when Jean flies out of the waters of Jamaica Bay. The timid girl he fell for is now calling herself “Phoenix” and using powers she’s never had in an outfit she’s never previously worn. Scott knows Jean should be dead and the amount of question marks surrounding “Jean” is freaking him out.
Did some part of Scott know that Phoenix wasn’t his Jean? Perhaps, but the power dynamics of Scott and Jean’s relationship before Uncanny X-Men #101 deserve some attention.
Jean Grey had been known as the least-powerful X-Man. Scott was the deputy leader of the X-Men and chosen successor to Professor Xavier. He called the shots. She went along. Scott would act like a neurotic control freak and Jean put up with him because she knew still waters run deep. Phoenix was not Jean Grey, though. She was fire and life incarnate. There was no restraint with her and when it looked like she had died he felt nothing. He even admits to Storm that he couldn’t mourn her as he did Hank.
At first it looks like he’s finding comfort in another woman’s arms when he stumbles into Colleen Wing, but the affection is one-sided. Colleen would make advances on Scott, going so far as to give Scott a key to her apartment, to no avail. His heart, for better or worse, was stuck on Jean even if he didn’t recognize or understand Phoenix.
Scott and Phoenix reconcile when it’s revealed she and Hank survived but the power dynamic only becomes more polarized. Jean is acting on impulse. She uses her powers with reckless abandon and has been kissing other men and dressing provocatively. It all unnerves Scott. His childhood sweetheart is now uncrushing automobiles with her mind and altering her clothing’s fibers at a molecular level. Worse, her morals appear to be slipping to the point of controlling innocent humans to get what she wants.
Phoenix privately reflects on how her awesome powers “hit” her like a drug. She’s never felt such ecstasy and in one instance has to pull herself back from killing. The more she uses the greater the intensity and the harder it becomes to stop. She knows something is wrong by the visions she keeps having of herself as a cruel noble, but doesn’t realize that they are illusions being cast by Mastermind in order to control her as the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club.
Poor Scott is completely oblivious during “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” He has no idea what is going on with his godlike girlfriend and just has to roll with the punches. When she finally falls victim to Mastermind’s scheming, Scott risks his life in a duel for Phoenix’s love and freedom. It was only days before that Jean removed his Ruby-Quartz visor and held the concussive force of his optic blasts back with her telekinetic powers–arguably the sexiest moment in X-Men history.
Scott’s greatest anxiety is the loss of control over his destructive powers. It’s something we had established about his character yesterday. He’s never been able to exert full control over his eye beams but Phoenix could. When she used her mind to hold back his eye beams it forced him to confront anxieties and looking at a person, eye-to-eye for the first time since his childhood. This is why he so readily agreed to establishing a permanent psychic report with Phoenix, a pact that for anyone other than Scott Summers would be a scary, unhealthy thing.
It’s because of this psionic bond that Jean is able to pull herself away from the Black Queen persona upon witnessing Scott “die” in the duel with Mastermind (it was on the Astral Plane). Shattered by his death and realizing the amount of manipulation she was subject to by Mastermind, Phoenix becomes Dark Phoenix, the chaos-bringer. Bursting into space, Dark Phoenix consumes a sun, murdering 5 billion innocent broccoli people, before returning to Earth to terrorize her family and the X-Men.
What does it say about Scott that he doesn’t hesitate to remain at his spouses’ side after she commits an act of mass genocide? It’s surprising in some respects. Cyclops has a history of leaving whenever he has a case of self doubt and Dark Phoenix would be one of the greatest challenges of his life. When he confronts her upon her return to Earth, he doesn’t waver, though. He talks her down and actually proposes to her without knowing whether the storm had passed.
Scott is often seen as a man with commitment issues, a lousy lover. There are a few key events in his future that would underscore this characterization but it is important we recognize the level of commitment Cyclops had at this point. When the Shi’ar arrive on Earth to apprehend Phoenix, Scott risks his life in combat in order to save hers. In a way, Phoenix (a being of distilled passion for life itself) is a revelation for Scott. She fundamentally challenges his character, burning away his insecurities until he had fully given himself to another person for the first time in his life.
And then she committed suicide in front of him.
Scott doesn’t have a lot of good days. Among the X-Men he suffers the worst personal traumas and bears the most responsibility, self-imposed or not. He was in the mutant fight the longest and had lost the most. Seeing his fiancé die the way she did was more than he could bear and he left the X-Men, again.
Hoping to finally develop some social skills, Scott joins the crew of the ship Arcadia and meets Lee Forrester. He doesn’t want to get involved. Still haunted by a marriage that could have been, Scott spurns Lee’s advances. He’s also dishonest with her about his mutant abilities, finding it harder to talk to a woman who can’t read his thoughts. At one point it looks like they will finally hook up but in the very next issue, Scott is introduced to Madelyne Pryor.
Have you ever taken a vacation to get away from how awful your life had become? Cyclops was on a family trip to Alaska with his father Corsair when he crossed paths with a ghost. Madelyne Pryor looked, sounded, and smelled just like Jean Grey. His mind was screaming that it was her. Maddy, however, saw the comparison to a dead ex as an affront and took offense.
Our insight of Maddy and Scott’s relationship before the events of “Inferno” is somewhat limited. This was in part because Chris Claremont intended to write Cyclops out of Uncanny X-Men and give the first X-Man a happy ending. The two marry, have a child, and Scott leaves (again) to be a father. His life was finally looking up, but Marvel editorial promised the return of the original five X-Men for a new comic book called X-Factor. Jean Grey had to come back from the dead and Cyclops had to leave his wife and child.
Scott’s abandonment of Maddy has been often cited as his personal downfall. Claremont even called it “character assassination.” Too many opinions have been informed by the event itself and not the circumstances surrounding. Looking back, it’s clear to me that their marriage was volatile. Scott found it difficult to cut the heroics and Maddy was harboring resentment over his absence during the birth of their child. A frustrated Maddy is dismissive and belittling towards her husband. When Scott questions her about the resemblance she shares with his ex Maddy responds by punching him in the jaw.
Scott isn’t a villain for leaving an abusive relationship. Point blank. Whether he left Maddy for Jean or himself, Scott had the right to leave (we’ll discuss him abandoning his son tomorrow).
Ethically, the biggest issue I have with early X-Factor Cyclops is his lack of transparency over the existence of his wife and child. Scott had a number of opportunities to tell Jean about what had transpired in his life since her death. Warren Worthington III, a perennial romantic rival, even presses him to come clean. Although he was preoccupied with the sudden disappearance of his wife and child, dishonesty is dishonesty.
The events of “Inferno” reveal Maddy to be a clone of Jean Grey. Mr. Sinister (surprise!) used a sample of Jean Grey’s DNA to create a spouse for Scott so they could make beautiful mutant babies. It’s tragic but Madelyne was a facsimile. A tool intended to manipulate Scott. Had Jean not rejected the Phoenix’s essence, perhaps Maddy wouldn’t have become aware at all. That’s comics for you, though.
This brings us to the big one.
Scott and Jean. Jean and Scott. There are some readers who call them the perfect X-Men couple. And while 40 years of in-continuity romance is nothing to snuff at, it’s best not to confuse strength with length when it comes to relationships. Scott and Jean had problems.
Having assimilated Phoenix and Madelyne’s memories at the end of “Inferno,” Jean had become distant from Scott. She was co-parenting baby Christopher but couldn’t look at him the same way. It’s the reason why she turned him down when he proposed in X-Factor. Jean needed to figure herself out before she could jump into such a commitment. It’s strange then that Jean’s actions as Cyclops’ girlfriend become so hypocritical.
During the events of “X-Tinction Agenda,” Jean is imprisoned with Logan and shares an intimate kiss–something she never actually admits to Scott. Conversely, when she senses his lust for Psylocke amongst his thoughts, she expects him to apologize. Seems a bit immature, no? For no certain reasons Jean Grey eventually changes her mind on marriage and proposes to Scott, which of course he’s amenable to.
The weirdest thing about Scott and Jean’s marriage is that it was arguably more successful in the distant future than it would ever be in the present. Make sense? Probably not.
Scott and Jean’s consciousnesses were sent into the future in The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix so they could raise their son Nathan Christopher and protect him from Apocalypse. It was their honeymoon and it lasted approximately 10 years. Co-parents and freedom fighters, Scott and Jean had to lean on each other to ensure their son’s survival and a better future for the Earth. Ironically, the decade spent together in a world ruled by Apocalypse would offer the only real marital bliss they’d have. In their own time period, things would get worse and worse.
Xavier had left the X-Men after the events of Onslaught. Scott had “retired” and was recovering from having a bomb clawed out of his chest by Wolverine. His powers weren’t working the way they were supposed to. He couldn’t even shoot a hole through a corn chip. It was a classic anxiety for Scott that Jean was acting oblivious towards. Worse, a firebird began appearing when Jean used her mutant abilities and it was triggering her husband’s anxiety.
Jean, already going by “Phoenix” again, picked this time to reclaim the green-and-gold costume as well. To Jean, Phoenix was a part of herself which needed resolution but to Scott she was a dead ex-fiancé. When he last saw that green-and-gold outfit, it was worn by a woman who he loved and was terrified of. The same woman who would commit suicide in front of him. Shockingly, Jean Grey actually gives him a hard time about feeling insecure with this new development.
This is the lead-up we get to a story called “The Twelve.” Apocalypse returns with the intention of syphoning mutant abilities from (you guessed it!) twelve mutants. He’s going to merge with Nate Grey’s body and take all these powers to ascend to Celestial godhood. During the final struggle, Jean is able to create one moment of opportunity and Scott intercepts Apocalypse’s merger. He sacrifices himself and inadvertently becoming one with the evil mutant. Before he disappears, his father figure, Professor Xavier, declares Scott’s soul to be “gone.”
It’s a sad day for the couple but it was worse for me because I had to read The Search for Cyclops.
When Jean finally catches up with an amnesiac Cyclopsalypse™, she separates Scott to find her husband more cold and detached than ever. It’s also notable that the psionic bond they shared had disappeared. Scott wasn’t revealing what was going on in his head to Jean. He didn’t think she’d get it and it was hurting their intimacy.
The Phoenix Force had returned to her. Jean claimed to be in full control but it was clear based on the way she’d lash out that her emotions were running hot. Scott, still suffering from PTSD, was feeling neglected. This, in my opinion, is Jean Grey at her worst. Everyone likes to point the finger at Scott over the collapse of their marriage as if these circumstances weren’t relevant.
Scott says while seeking therapy from Emma Frost that he and Jean had been faking a teenage unconditional love in the face of unstoppable chaos and change. It was all they could do to hold things together while constantly risking their lives. Internally, Scott resented how “safe” their love had become despite her running around in corsets for other men. When Scott turned to Emma for this help, it wasn’t out of lust–he was trying to save his marriage.
Emma Frost isn’t known for being a terribly ethical character. She’s a telepath whose instincts are to use her gifts for personal gain. When Scott admits his insecurities to Emma, she uses her telepathic abilities like a sexual predator. She would dress up like Jean (the Phoenix) and put Scott in compromising positions. He was vulnerable and she would push the line as far as she could before crossing it. Scott did eventually fall to her charms but it would be unfair to ignore how vehemently and repeatedly he said “no.”
Cyclops participated in a psychic tryst. Emma told him they were just thoughts and it wasn’t a case of adultery given the lack of physical contact. The one time Emma tries to initiate a sexual affair, Scott walks away, unwilling to hurt Jean. Jean, overflowing with the power of the Phoenix, would of course find out about the tryst and tortures Emma with images of her dead Hellions. It was a despicable act made hypocritical by the recent instance of Jean making out with Logan.
Listen, we’re not going to play the “who committed adultery first” game or try to find a distinction between Scott cheating in thoughts versus cheating physically. Cheating is cheating and social psychology tells us it’s rooted in something deeper. With Cyclops, Jean’s assumed expectations made him feel like he couldn’t be honest with her without being a disappointment. He even tells Logan that with Emma, he could say any outrageous thing and there was no pressure. She had no expectations. She accepted everything about him.
Jean and Scott knew each other for a very long time. Every time he would look at her he’d see the teenage girl he fell for… and feel like the stunted teenage boy he was. Apocalypse changed all that. Sadly, their relationship status would continue to be in flux until Jean was dying at the hands of Xorneto. In the moments before her passing, Scott apologized for his actions, and she knew he never meant to hurt her. While slipping away in his arms, she whispers to Scott to live because all she ever did was die on him.
Jean and Scott were a mess. There I said it.
Scott finding solace in the arms of Emma Frost probably would have been less controversial had they not officially started their relationship on Jean Grey’s grave. It immediately made Hank McCoy uncomfortable with the relationship, despite being one of the few X-Men who liked having Emma around. Logan, grieving Jean Grey, would make his feelings known during a brawl with Scott on the front lawn of the school for all to see. Whether your friends like your romantic partner isn’t a barometer of personal happiness, though.
The relationship Scott and Emma foster may have begun sexually but the amount of good they do for each other’s personal growth is considerable. Emma pushes Scott to reopen the school for mutant children when he wants to walk away. Later, when Emma is possessed by Cassandra Nova’s machinations, Scott is the one who breaks her from it. They work together. Not just as X-Men but as true partners. Emma is Scott’s confidant, advisor, and therapist–three things in desperate need for the troubled mutant leader.
The events of “Decimation” further establish Scott being healthy for Emma. When she discovers that the Scarlet Witch’s actions in House of M had reduced the mutant population from millions to a mere 198, Scott is surprisingly unshaken. He sees how distraught Emma is at the prospect of all of the suffering having been for nothing. Recognizing their similar abandonment impulses he tells her that she doesn’t have to deal with this loss alone. Even if she feels like an outsider among the X-Men, she will never have to feel that way with him. It demonstrates his growth.
Their relationship would have its ups and downs but they never stopped being there for each other. When Emma nearly succumbs to the Void after ripping it out of Sentry, it is Scott who is able to contain the entity in his mind. When Scott is anxiety-riddled by Cable and Hope’s future-flung disappearance, it is Emma who reassures him. She even dissolves her corporate holdings to support Utopia after half the X-Men abandon Scott.
There’s real love here. It’s just a shame that the Phoenix won’t leave Scott alone.
Avengers vs. X-Men was inevitable. There was no question that this firebird of death and rebirth would return to Earth or that Wolverine’s X-Men and the Avengers would be scared of it. Scott didn’t fear the Phoenix, though. Perhaps he was desensitized or just desperate to find a solution to mutantkind’s dwindling population, but when presented with the powers of the Phoenix Force, he and Emma used them for the betterment of the Earth (at least for a time).
Neither Scott nor Emma couldn’t have anticipated how increasingly unstable they’d become under the Phoenix’s influence. During a telepathic conversation, Emma admits to an affair with Namor. She hadn’t intended to cheat on Scott. Small ideas are like ticking time bombs with the Phoenix. Ideas like Scott taking on her Phoenix power are realized as him violently ripping it away. This is the moment Scott goes full Dark Phoenix.
Miraculously, this moment doesn’t stomp out their relationship entirely. When Cyclops, now a criminal and wanted man, breaks Emma out of a federal custody, they don’t reconcile as lovers. Too much had taken place in their time as Phoenix hosts. Now on a more friendly basis, Emma joins Scott’s Mutant Revolution and stays with his strike team until his untimely death to M-Pox in Death of X.
Grief is a terrible thing, especially when it comes to the death of a loved one. When Scott died, Emma stopped having a person she could confide in. The voice who was telling her that she had merit as an individual was suddenly gone and everyone else hated her. Is it so surprising then that her grief pushes her to fall back into old, villainous habits?
The war between mutants and Inhumans that Emma attempts to incite is a complicated thing to discuss in the context of this article because it says more about her than it does Scott. It’s clear that she was brokenhearted and vindictive, but I doubt Scott would have appreciated her using a posthumous hologram of him against the Inhumans, given the number of mutants that died as a result of her scheming. With his return to comics imminent, I hope that the next time they cross paths, he calls her out for ruining his reputation.
I also hope he stays single.
That’s it. I’ve finally broken down his relationships one by one and it only took a Bible’s worth of Scott’s insecurities to do so. If you haven’t already, please check out the first part in this series, “Cyclops, the Boy Scout” because his uptightness absolutely plays into how he engages with romantic partners, as will the other sides to Cyclops that we’ll be examining throughout AiPT!’s Cyclops Week. Stay with us for the next three days as we examine Cyclops as a father, a mutant leader, and a revolutionary.