I feel like we left things unsaid with the death of Scott Summers. During AiPT!’s Cyclops Week, I wrote a five-part series on the original X-Man; his tragic origins, lousy love life, extensive daddy issues, leadership qualities, and the revolutionary lifestyle Cyclops led before an untimely end in 2016’s Death of X. Just over 13,000 words were spent breaking down the way being an orphan, mutant, X-Man, and racial figurehead defined Scott. Yet, there was something in the background I knew I wasn’t fully acknowledging.
Cyclops was right.
It’s an argument that started as a self-referential panel before becoming an online movement of people with very selective memory. You think I’m joking but I’m not. Cyclops Was Right truthers exist. I’ve met them–and from my experience–they don’t think this meme just applies to Avengers vs. X-Men, obscuring a number of the first X-Man’s trespasses.
Was Cyclops “right” to have permitted X-23, his friend’s daughter who has severe abuse issues from her life as a controlled killer, to be on an assassination squad? Was Cyclops “right” to have weaponized the deadly Legacy Virus–a mutant plague that once killed his teammates and friends–against the Skrulls during Secret Invasion? What about threatening humanity as the face of mutantkind? These events happened and they are worth acknowledging.
I’d argue that his mistakes and fears are what make Cyclops’ character richer. When you look at everything Scott Summers has been through, all of the trauma, abuse and loss, you understand that there’s a deeper root to many of the decisions he makes.
Amid Scott’s demise in Death of X, it appeared his position on the matter of “Cyclops Was Right” was certain. As the first X-Man shuffled into the stygian abyss looking like a dehydrated pickle, he told Emma Frost to “not let it end.” He was still wearing his revolutionary red-and-black suit at the time so it can be assumed he was referring to the mutant fight. Personally, I found this to be a sour note for Scott to go out on.
If Cyclops has demonstrated any defining trait over the years, it is his tendency to brood. Scott is the type of person who thinks way too much about his problems. Often his thoughts and fears cloud his judgement in such a way that he just doesn’t know how to deal. The outcome in most cases is abandonment–he’ll run off to his resurrected ex-girlfriend or to Alaska, the last frontier. Becoming a mutant revolutionary and antagonizing the Avengers? Sounds more like a nervous breakdown to me, and he never really came out of it before his death.
So you can appreciate my delight when it appeared the newly resurrected Scott Summers had a change of heart.
When Scott looks back on the final years of his life with Kid Cable, in Uncanny X-Men Annual (2019) #1, he concedes that he lost sight of what he needed to be as a father, leader and hero. Scott’s job as the vanguard of mutant-human relations was to protect everyone, not just mutantkind. In succumbing to his hatred over the unfair treatment of his people, Cyclops stopped being the man mutantkind needed him to be. How did he come to this conclusion, though?
The obvious answer is death.
Scott Summers is unwittingly brought back to life with a Phoenix Force pacemaker to find that his death didn’t do a damn for his people. In fact, the choices he made in life have likely made things worse. The X-Men appear to have died in a mass incident (you should be reading Age of X-Man if you aren’t), an anti-mutant vaccine is being passed around like free candy, and things for mutantkind have generally never looked worse. There are reasons for him to brood, no doubt, but I think this change of heart runs deeper.
It was revealed in Ed Brisson’s X-Men: Extermination that when the original five X-Men were sent back to the Silver Age by Kid Cable, history proceeded as it always had with one exception–their older selves would inherit their memories. In issue #5’s final moments, adult Jean, Angel, Beast and Iceman reflect on how odd it is to have the memories of (arguably) different people. Although it’s not explicitly stated, Cyclops, who was also revealed to be alive on the last page of Extermination #5, presumably had a similar experience. Meaning Scott climbed out of his grave with his younger self’s time-displaced thoughts bouncing around his head.
In case you missed the Bendis era of X-Men, Hank McCoy (Beast), seemingly on the brink of death from his mutation, rationalized that the Scott Summers who convinced him to rejoin the X-Men in the Silver Age could remind the older, revolutionary Scott of why Xavier created the X-Men in the first place (and prevent what he saw as the road to mutant genocide).
Young Scott, as I’ll henceforth be referring to the time-displaced version, is different in a few key ways from the elder Cyclops. Having not yet experienced numerous personal traumas, Young Scott had his idealist tenacity and ethics mostly intact. When Hank brought him into the future, this time-displaced Scott effectively became a separate identity with the same origin.
Cyclops, now a wanted criminal, is confronted by the boy his father figure wanted him to be. The man he just killed while under the possession of the Phoenix Force. Ouch.
There are layers to how vindictive this was of Hank. It could be seen by some as a dying man’s mental breakdown, but I’d say it was punishment. Hank knew how much it would hurt Scott and it had everything to do with Chales Xavier’s death.
For about two-dozen issues, Young Scott would interact with his time-displaced teammates and butt-heads with his older-self. Constantly questioning the revolutionary’s decisions while getting a street-view of all the people in the Marvel Universe who hated him because of his older self. It isn’t long before Young Scott needs a break from Earth altogether.
In an interesting subversion, Young Scott jumps at an opportunity his older self once declined–becoming a space pirate and traveling across the galaxy with his (their) father, Corsair.
Young Scott left All-New X-Men in favor of becoming a Starjammer during the 2014 Cyclops solo series by Greg Rucka. At the time he was put off by the way his Silver Age teammates were changing in the present day. Amid his adventures with his space pirate father, the pair would get marooned on a hostile alien planet, hunted by bounty hunters, and kidnapped by villainous space pirates. It was great fun all around.
The series has a number of charming moments of Young Scott leaning something from his dad. Whether it is using alien technology, how to work a tight situation to your advantage, or how to swordfight (a surprisingly useful skill in space), Young Scott and Corsair finally had that quality time. Time to talk about their fears and hopes. What motivates them. Girls. It was heartwarming.
That’s not to say that Rucka’s Cyclops is all rainbows and concussive blasts. One evening, Corsair finally admits to why he never came back to earth for Scott and Alex:
“They murdered your mother in front of me, Scott. When I finally won my freedom, all I wanted was revenge. All I wanted was to hurt the Shi’ar for what they did to me, your mother, to my family. That kind of anger… it’s the same anger that destroyed Gabriel, that made him Vulcan. That kind of anger is toxic, and it shamed me… I couldn’t go back to you and Alex like that. It was easier to tell myself that you two had moved on, that you were happy. That you didn’t need me.”
You can see in the above confrontation from issue #3 of Cyclops (2014) that Scott had none of his father’s abandonment s--t. Things for the adult Scott might have been different across the board if Corsair injected himself in his (their) life just a bit more. In contrast, when Corsair later sees his time-displaced son starting to lose hope over Corsair’s chances of survival, he reminds Young Scott of what his older self had lost:
“The grown-up you, the one I used to know… you know how he got like that, Scott? Because I can see it in you. He lost hope. And as trite as it sounds, and as hard as it is sometimes… you lose hope, you may as well lay down and die right now.”
Later, when the pair of lost space pirates have collected themselves a bit, Scott asks if Corsair survived on hope alone after all the tragic things that happened. If hope was enough to get his father through watching his wife die and becoming a salve. Corsair admits that he was driven more by anger, which is toxic. They both see that same anger in the older Cyclops, “burning him from the inside out.” Corsair reflects to his son:
“He wasn’t always like that. But from everything you’ve said… I think the older you traded hope for rage. And trust me on this one, son. Hope can nourish you, but rage will eat you alive.”
Without this specific exchange I’m not sure Young Cyclops would have become so resolute in drawing a line in the sand between himself and his older counterpart. In the years that have followed this solo series, we’ve seen Young Scott constantly question the elder Scott’s actions, shut down a group of rioting mutants calling themselves the “Ghosts of Cyclops,” and expose Emma Frost’s manipulations during Inhumans vs. X-Men–finally salvaging his mostly tattered reputation.
Young Scott had gained a greater sense of self by the time Extermination was in full swing. Scott and the rest of the O5 spent months engaging in superheroics through time and space until the universe itself began to blue screen and all five had to go back to the Silver Age. In an instant, the time-displaced Cyclops was no more and the one Scott “Slim” Summers had all the memories.
Memories of Young Scott finally getting that time with a father who showed compassion and support. Memories of discovering who he was outside of a child soldier. Memories of the way he looked at himself though younger eyes. Perhaps even witnessing a grief-stricken Emma Frost twist his posthumous legacy to provoke more bloodshed with the Inhumans. That’s why I think the time-displaced Scott Summers convinced himself that Cyclops was (actually) wrong.
I could be wrong, though. Marvel hasn’t textually confirmed anything and with so many creators in the mix, I doubt my crazed theory would get all of their stamps. Still, there’s no denying that Scott would have had to brood a lot on the inherited memories. I believe, as a semi-professional Cyclops biographer, that those memories would have made Scott Summers rethink some of his more stubborn positions. This would also mean that Hank McCoy–in the most indirect way imaginable–successfully changed Cyclops’ mind with a younger version of himself. And if that doesn’t put a nice cherry on Cyclops Week, I don’t know what would.
Interested in reading more of Trent’s thoughts on Cyclops? Check out the five-part “The Life & Tragedies of Scott Summers” series: “Part 1, Cyclops, The Boy Scout,” “Part 2, Cyclops, The Lousy Lover,” “Part 3, Cyclops, The Bad Dad,” “Part 4, Cyclops, The Mutant Leader” and “Part 5, Cyclops, The Revolutionary.”