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!
It’s funny how history repeats itself. In the first issue of Schism, Scott Summers implored a room full of world leaders to decommission their Sentinel units given how close mutantkind was to extinction. His speech is cut off by Quentin Quire, who burst into the arms conference to announce a revolution of mutant supremacy. Quire used his telepathy to coerce the leaders into revealing their dark secrets to the world and the result was a mutant relations nightmare.
Countries all over the world responded to this event by reactivating their dusty, old Sentinel units or purchasing new models. Endangered or no, mutants had again proven themselves to be a menace and human leaders were ready to put down any mutant resistance they faced. It was an example of bigotry being driven by a legitimate threat–revolution.
The word “revolution” has a bloody history packed into it. It represents the sudden (and often violent) change in institutional power. These conflicts come in many different forms but a vast majority have been characterized by the scope of their casualties and civilian imprisonment. To many, that’s what the word represents. It was selfish and irresponsible for Quire to announce a mutant revolution, as it was for Scott Summers two years later.
Today, we’re looking at how Cyclops became the face of a new mutant revolution. What inspired his approach to human-mutant relations, the fears and insecurities that underpinned it, and why it’s hard to say whether he was actually successful.
Scott, The Revolutionary
So you’ve been possessed by a cosmic firebird of death and rebirth. Do you (a) consume a star out of hunger, (b) punch Galactus in the face, or (c) murder your father figure. If you chose that last one you might be Cyclops.
Kidding aside, this era of Cyclops’ history wasn’t born out of a costume or a television broadcast. He, like many revolutionaries, found his path while in prison.
Having lost the corrupting influence of the Phoenix, Cyclops was placed under arrest and sent to a privatized institution. He’d be fitted with power dampeners and a Ruby-Quartz helmet before being sent to a mutant-only wing with only one other prisoner. The warden explained to Scott that he was a proof of concept, used to demonstrate how well these privately owned prisons could house mutants. Industry profiting off institutionalized bigotry.
This is where S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers sent Cyclops after the events of Avengers vs X-Men. A business that housed murderers and hired staff that were more inclined to shoot a mutant than help one. What does this say about the United Nations, S.H.I.E.L.D., or Maria Hill? Well, to me it echoes the classic sentiment that “no one will cry over another dead mutant.”
When Scott first arrived, he was visited by Logan, an Avenger who knew where he was and how he was being treated. Their interaction starts with Logan criticizing the path his former teammate had taken and his role in Charles Xavier’s death. Although Scott points to the new mutants that wouldn’t have manifested if Logan had his way, it becomes clear during the conversation that Scott’s actually trying to goad Logan into killing him. Death will martyrize him but there’s something deeper at play.
Scott wants to die. As an X-Man, he had a responsibility to the people of the world and he terrorized them, killing his father in the Phoenix flame. He wouldn’t have done it if he was in his right mind but that also doesn’t erase his actions. His father was dead, mutants were more hated and feared than before, and Cyclops was responsible.
One of the few good things in his life at this point was his cell-neighbor, a new mutant. Jake was in prison for a robbery when his powers suddenly manifested during a fight. Ironically, Scott got closer to him after saving his life from some bigots who wanted to gut “gene-scum.” He told Jake about the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, how the convict could have a second chance to live with his new gifts. Jake was excited about his future, but he wasn’t out of hell yet. It only took one moment of Scott’s back being turned for Jake to get shivved by those same anti-mutant bigots. As Jake bled to death in front of him, Scott was shocked by the power dampener around his neck. The prison guard didn’t care to save Jake, however, he was willing to punish Scott.
This is the event the birthed a mutant revolutionary.
Up until this point, Magneto had been communicating with Scott about being broken out, each time Scott telling him “no.” He had been a political prisoner ready for death, but in his passivity another mutant had died at the hands of an uncaring authority. Someone needed to stand against a system that treated mutants “guilty until proven innocent.” It couldn’t have been Headmaster Logan, so it had to be escapee Cyclops. He made a break for it and became S.H.I.E.L.D.’s #1 most wanted mutant.
Together with Magneto and Magik, Cyclops went about liberating unjustly persecuted mutants and offering them help with their powers and a place on his team. People on the street began to call him a “revolutionary,” holding signs and T-shirts stating “Cyclops was right.” Scott’s uniform saw its most drastic change since Octopusheim, going from the classic blue to crimson with an “X” covering his eyes–visually signifying a new era and a new mission.
Scott’s team would be intercepted by the Avengers on one of its recruitment missions. When finally face to face with Captain America he tore a strip off him, pointing out that despite making his brother Alex (Havok) a walking PR stunt, mutants were still hunted and discriminated against by local law enforcement and that the Avengers never step in to defend these Mutants from such bigotry. All of these are excellent points, but the kicker is how Scott uses the moment to capitalize momentum for his revolution. Looking square at the mobile phones of the onlookers Scott proclaimed:
“My fellow mutants… I know you’re out there and I know you can hear me. No one else is going to do it for us, we have to fight for ourselves. And if you need help we will be there to help you. And to our human friends, our supporters, we feel your love and we will fight for you too. But to those who would deny us our freedom… the fight is coming to you.”
It was a declaration of intent which S.H.I.E.L.D. interpreted as the onset of a real revolution, in part due to Magneto acting as a double agent and stoking fears of a coming mutant riot. Scott would later admit to Emma Frost and his brother that it was a hollow threat. He had spent his entire life fighting for the sake of the humans with the goal of improving relations and the only thing that had changed was the number of mutants still around. So Cyclops stood in front of the world and threatened a fight if mutants weren’t left alone.
I didn’t just reference Quentin Quire’s threat of mutant revolution in the intro because it was topical; that moment illustrates how fear can make people do stupid things.
Why did Cyclops make such an inflammatory remark on a global stage? It seemed to be out of fear on his part. Scott knew that if he were to break out of prison, he’d only have one shot to make a go of it. To stop the kind of brutality that was allowed to happen to Jake. He had to do something. Scott didn’t have any idea what that something was, though, making his “mutant revolution” appear more like an extend nervous breakdown.
Scott had become increasingly rattled and people were picking up on it. He was still racked with grief over Xavier’s death and Hank’s plan to shame him with a younger, more innocent version of himself had succeeded. His revolution was crumbling. When the Westchester X-Men arrived on his doorstep to resolve Xavier’s last will and testament it might have been the worst possible time.
It’s revealed in the Professor’s will that he had found “the largest mutant power source Cerebro had ever registered.” Matthew Malloy was an Omega-level mutant with no ability to control his immense abilities; humanity’s worst fear realized. Charles’ solution was to manipulate Matthew into believing that he had met a new friend named “Charlie,” a front he’d use while putting up psychic blocks in the mind of this mutant so he could no longer use his powers. Xavier effectively lobotomized him.
Scott was incensed. Xavier was a leader of mutants who preached of “no mutant left behind” and fostering peace through control. This act made him a hypocrite. Moreover, it sent a message that absolute power corrupts absolutely–something that hit too close to home for the former Phoenix host. Cyclops’ response was predictably desperate.
Scott had Magik teleport him directly to Matthew.
What you need to understand about Scott at this point in his life is that he wanted to believe he could be the change. That he could bring this godlike force back from the edge and prove that his mistakes as the Dark Phoenix didn’t have to be repeated. Matthew wasn’t the Phoenix, though. He was a man who didn’t understand his reality warping powers and could level a city block by stubbing his toe.
Scott was so lost in his own desperation for control that he didn’t see the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier in the background and was obliterated in an airstrike. Had one of his students, Tempus, not gone back in time to tell the Professor what had happened, that would have been it for the first X-Man. Tempus didn’t just save Scott’s life, though, she called him out on his hubris in trying to recruit Matthew to his mutant revolution and told him that if he didn’t screw his head on right she’d make sure his parents never met. It was a sucker punch.
We’ve established throughout this week how much control means to Scott. The idea that he through sheer will can reign in his shortcomings didn’t stand up to the knowledge that doing so in a splinter timeline left himself and those around him dead. If he couldn’t save Matthew, how could he expect to save himself? Was his revolution just a nervous breakdown?
Scott had been given the school in Xavier’s will and instead signed it over to Storm, asking that his students be taken in. When he returned to the Weapon X facility that he had been using for a school, his brother was waiting for him. It was their last chance to connect before Scott turned himself in for the murder of Charles Xavier. When Alex asked Cyclops what the mutant revolution actually was, it led to an idea. A wonderful, thoughtful idea.
Taking a page from the Civil Rights Movement, Cyclops and Havok gathered all mutants, heroes and villains alike, in a peaceful display that harkened back to the Movement’s 1963 March on Washington. Surrounded by X-Men and their longstanding mutant enemies, Scott was able to show the world that a united mutantkind was no threat to humans. It didn’t change how aimless the mutant revolution had been to that point, but this demonstration was absolutely a victory. It’s just a shame it would be his last.
Having died in the aftermath of Secret Wars, Scott’s legacy was twisted by grief into the inciting force for a war between mutants and Inhumans. Meanwhile, mutant punks calling themselves the “Ghosts of Cyclops” would riot and commit crimes in his name. In short, it’s been a hard time being a Cyclops fan since the end of the Bendis runs.
I am a fan, though.
When I started writing this series, the intent was to get to the heart of Scott’s character. To know what motivated his actions between 1963 and 2016. I didn’t pull any punches with his romantic mistakes or decisions as a mutant leader, however, I did spend a lot of time recontextualizing his actions as a dad and revolutionary. I know that there will be people who disagree with some of my impressions or that I included events that seem out of character for Scott, but continuity is continuity.
It’s important that a character as rich and dynamic as Scott Summers gets more than a Top 10 list of mistakes. That we understand the things that underpinned him leaving Madelyne or sending his son into the far-flung future, rather than fixating on those events themselves. It’s my hope that in doing so you can look at him in a different light: as the quintessential X-Man, the expert field tactician, and an anxiety-riddled do-gooder who occasionally does wrong.
Let me leave you on a thought: when Uncanny X-Men writer Matthew Rosenberg was interviewed by AiPT!, he got some flack for calling Cyclops a Shakespearean character in need of redemption. Predictably, the #CyclopsWasRight crowd took issue with him “needing” a second chance. Looking back at the different moments of his life, it’s clear that reconciliation is needed. Maybe not for all of the readers, but certainly a lot of them. Maybe not with all the mutants, but certainly many of the X-Men. As you read this week’s Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 keep in mind that all of the different things Cyclops has been and the different ways he can be interpreted.
It’s the thing that makes his character great.
This is the final part in “The Life & Tragedies of Scott Summers” series, which was preceded by “Part 1, Cyclops The Boy Scout,” “Part 2, Cyclops The Lousy Lover,” “Part 3, Cyclops The Bad Dad” and “Part 4, Cyclops The Mutant Leader.”