Most times that I tell people Cyclops is my favorite X-Man, they ask me how that could possibly be true. They think that Scott Summers is not interesting. That he’s too perfect, too whitebread, too boring. To them, Scott is the boy scout “born leader of the X-Men” and not much else.
But Scott Summers is not a born leader. After spending years being bullied and hiding who he is, Scott was chosen to lead by Charles Xavier. Xavier recognized Scott’s potential – his levelheadedness and ability to solve problems. And he also recognized Scott’s shyness – and that the boy would likely need a push to become the best version of himself.
Being chosen to lead the X-Men was exactly the push Scott needed to become his best self. He became a confident, competent leader, a stalwart friend, and (eventually) a valued romantic partner. He did this while overcoming his predisposition toward hiding himself away, for fear he might lose control of his powers (and relatedly, his emotions) and hurt those around him. Scott worked incredibly hard to become the “leader of the X-Men,” the thing that ’90s X-Men cartoon fans know him best for.
That version of Scott Summers is a great character, and would likely rank among my favorite X-Men even if there was nothing else to him. But as I dug into X-Men comics, I learned what Scott Summers’s real superpower is – the power to watch his life fall apart, again and again, and figure out how to soldier on regardless. And that’s what has cemented him as my all-time favorite X-Man.
All Cyclops Does Is Pick Up Pieces
Cyclops is the X-Man whose life has changed both the most and the least over the course of X-Men history. For the most part, Scott has always been the leader of the X-Men (or at least a faction thereof). But the X-Men themselves have changed drastically over time. Every five or ten years of real time, Scott Summers has to lead a team that includes entirely different members, or is located in an entirely different place, or has an entirely different mission statement. Cyclops has led the X-Men as a superhero team, a learning institution, a nation, and an underground revolution. He has held the same job since 1963, but the specifics of that job have changed wildly and unimaginably.
During that same time period, Scott’s personal life has been an absolute mess. Jean Grey’s death drove Scott from the X-Men. Eventually, he returned – just long enough to learn that the father he’d long thought dead was actually alive, and a space pirate to boot. Needing time to figure things out, Scott moved to Alaska and married a woman who reminded him of Jean. But as with most impulsive gestures, Scott’s marriage didn’t work out. Scott attempted to return to the X-Men, relented, and then ended up forming an entirely new team when Jean Grey was found alive.
(Yes, Scott left his wife and child behind in Alaska. There were consequences to this action, as there are consequences to all Scott’s actions. The fact that Cyclops leads the X-Men expertly but makes so damn many mistakes in his personal life – and is summarily punished for them – is also part of what draws me to him.)
After that, Scott:
- Was forced to send his son to live in the far future (for comic book reasons). That son returned to the present as Cable.
- Found out a large portion of his childhood had been influenced by Mr. Sinister.
- Married Jean Grey – a huge win for my boy.
- Merged with X-Men mega-baddie Apocalypse, essentially died, and was reborn with Apocalypse’s thoughts entangled with his.
It’s at this point that I (a Grant Morrison fan and budding regular comics reader who followed Morrison from JLA over to New X-Men) began keeping up with Scott’s story in real-time – and things got really interesting.
Cyclops Is No Boy Scout
The first issue of New X-Men that I read (on a bus on my Catholic school’s eighth grade class trip) ended with this image:
Imagine my surprise to find stalwart Cyclops, a man who was supposed to know right from wrong and always make the right decision, cheating on his wife. “What the heck is going on?!” I wondered. I caught up on New X-Men about as quickly as possible.
In New X-Men, Scott Summers’s defining characteristic is that he is unsure of himself. He can’t figure out which of his thoughts are his, which are Apocalypse’s, and whether anything that he’s done or is doing with his life is right. Essentially, Scott is having a crisis of the soul – something that I would not have thought possible for such a “rigid” (I knew less about Scott’s history then than I do now) and forthright character.
Emma Frost offered Scott a sounding board for all the anguish he felt he couldn’t discuss with his wife (because they’d been together so long, because Scott has always been unflappable, because he’s supposed to be the LEADER OF THE X-MEN dammit, a team that includes Jean). And because Scott was in need of that sounding board, he began a therapeutic and then romantic relationship with Emma. An incredibly wrongheaded decision made for understandable reasons – the first of many Scott was about to make.
Then Jean died (again). Scott picked up the pieces of his life and his team and reasserted his control over himself and his thoughts. Then, he became the leader of not just the X-Men, but mutant society as a whole. He did well in this role, well enough that Xavier and Magneto recognized him as their equal.
Then, things fell apart a few more times. Cyclops clashed first with Wolverine and then with the Avengers. He killed his mentor, Charles Xavier (while influenced by the Phoenix Force). And he attempted to start a mutant revolution that even he eventually recognized was misguided (though still inspiring).
During this time period, Cyclops made a lot of questionable choices – but he made most of them for the right reasons. Scott Summers is a man who has been trained to protect his team and, by extension, all mutants. When Scott founded a new X-Force, when he raised Utopia, when he put together his Extinction Team, when he attempted to harness the power of the Phoenix, all he was doing was attempting to live up to the potential Xavier saw in him all those years ago, and the job Xavier gave him. Scott was trying to be the best leader he could be – which in these drastic times, required him to take drastic action.
Cyclops in the House of X
Now (after a brief stint of death and a resurrection), Scott is again the leader of the X-Men. He currently takes orders from Xavier and Magneto, lives on the Moon (along with Jean, his family, and Wolverine), and conducts combat missions.
But despite what you might think from that description of Scott’s current life, Cyclops has not regressed. Xavier and Magneto both show him the utmost respect, because Scott has earned it. He is now the man who makes both their dreams real. Emma Frost and Jean Grey are both alive, and Scott loves them both. How that triangle (or quadrangle, if you factor in Wolverine) will be sorted out is still up in the air. And now, Scott is able to act as a father to both his son and his daughter.
Scott’s life is in the soundest place it’s been in real-life decades, but he continues to have to make the X-Men’s toughest choices. He is again performing the job that he was not born for, but that his mentor, his teammates, and even his enemies recognize he is best suited for. Scott Summers is the leader of the X-Men – but as always, he continues to be so much more.