For anyone wanting to provoke an argument among comic fans, dropping the name of Cyclops into the conversation would be a good way to go about it. Over the last decade it’s doubtful whether there has been another character to have inspired such heated debate about his personality, actions and motives. For some he’s a hero; for others, a dangerous fanatic. What is certain is that the days when many fans considered Cyclops one of the least interesting X-Men are long gone. His name may not have adorned the title of any X-Men team books, but in recent years Cyclops has undoubtedly been the fulcrum around which all the other characters have revolved.
In the aftermath of the mutant schism, and reaching new levels of intensity in the aftermath of “Avengers vs. X-Men,” Cyclops was treated with disdain by the majority of his fellow X-Men. While the ending of his so-called mutant revolution at the end of the Brian Michael Bendis run on “Uncanny X-Men” suggested a reconciliation of sorts with his peers, this appears to have been short-lived. The X-books in the aftermath of “Secret Wars” have been hinting that Cyclops was killed during the eight-month gap, with various X-Men openly blaming him for unspecified terrible actions in his final days.
With Marvel promising to show the circumstances leading up to his death in their upcoming “Death of X” series, it seems the perfect time to take a chronological look through the years to definitively answer the question once and for all: is Cyclops a jerk?
Grab your ruby quartz glasses and read on!
12. Used His Friends for Target Practice (Uncanny X-Men #1)
Back in 1963, the very first issue of “X-Men,” not only introduced readers to this strange new team but also to their Danger Room, where the X-Men could test their powers against a variety of obstacles. While Angel practiced hovering, Beast honed his agility and Iceman did his best impression of a snowman, Cyclops had a rather different way of honing his powers. Ordered by the Professor to use his powers on Beast and Iceman, he complied with gusto.
Iceman took an optic blast to the back of the head, but that was nothing compared to the punishment doled out to poor Beast. A full-on blast left him embedded in the wall, complaining to Cyclops that he almost knocked him clean through it. And what justification did Cyclops give to his flattened comrade? Only that he, “just wanted to show the Professor what I can do.” This first appearance set up two aspects that defined the early portrayal of Cyclops. His fierce loyalty to the Professor and desire to please him, and the willingness to do this even if it isolated him from his friends.
11. Accused Iceman of Being a Traitor (Uncanny X-Men #51)
The original five X-Men are often characterized as a close unit, more like family than teammates. However their relationships weren’t always harmonious, and Cyclops was responsible for instigating much of the conflict. At first this took the form of a fervent desire to do things in the same way that the Professor would have done. In later issues, as the group matured and he took on more of a leadership role, it was common for him to order his friends about with scant regard for their feelings.
When Lorna Dane was revealed to be the daughter of Magneto, the smitten Bobby was determined that the team should waste no time in rescuing her. Unfortunately for him, Scott had other ideas. He attempted to bar Bobby from the mission, claiming that his feelings for Lorna meant he’d lost his objectivity, leaving him vulnerable to divided allegiances. The fact that Cyclops thought this a possibility, despite Bobby only having known Lorna for a couple of days at most, hardly suggests a great deal of faith in his old friend. Regardless of how good his intentions may have been, the blunt way that Cyclops handled this incident undoubtedly made him come off as a massive jerk.
10. Abandoned Colleen Wing (Uncanny X-Men #126)
For someone who has been portrayed for the majority of his existence as a buttoned-up, repressed sort of guy, Cyclops doesn’t seem to have any difficulty in attracting beautiful women. One such instance was after the supposed death of Jean Grey, with neither group of X-Men aware that the other was still alive.
During this period Cyclops met Colleen Wing and the two quickly struck up a rapport. She accompanied him back to the mansion after an adventure in Japan and he was shown to confide in her, enjoying her company. When she had to leave to return to work, she presented Scott with the key to her apartment and a hand-written note to drop by any time. The next issue they were shown on a date in New York before being captured by Arcade, walking off together hand in hand when the story concludes. A happy future for the couple surely beckoned…
But, no. The very next issue Cyclops found out that Jean was still alive. He immediately rushed to her side and never mentioned Colleen again. What a jerk.
9. Chose the X-Men Over His Family (Uncanny X-Men #201)
When Scott married Madelyne Pryor in “Uncanny X-Men” #175 it seemed like a new beginning for him: a chance to leave behind the superhero madness and live a happy life with his family. This may have been Madelyne’s hope, but Scott never seemed as committed. He soon returned to the X-Men, and in the wake of Professor X leaving for the stars attempted to regain the leadership of the team.
This concern over the fate of the X-Men was in sharp contrast to that shown for his wife and family: Madelyne bitterly confided in Storm that nearly all the X-Men had called her in the latter stages of her pregnancy, but she hadn’t heard a word from her husband. This pattern was continued when baby Nathan was born. All the X-Men delighted in his arrival, queuing up to hold him and congratulate his mother. In contrast, Cyclops had barely any reaction, neither holding his son nor showing any emotion.
Before Cyclops fought Storm to determine who would be the X-Men’s leader, he and Madelyne argued about the question of responsibility. He protested that he had a responsibility to the X-Men, but Madelyne asked whether he was just scared that they really could get along without him. In the end Cyclops lost the duel with Storm and pondered whether, after all he’d said and done, there was still a place for him with Madelyne. If not, he could have blamed no one but himself.
8. Abandoned His Family to Join X-Factor (X-Factor #1)
It’s fair to say that throughout his marriage Scott had not been the ideal husband, and rarely put Madelyne and baby Nathan first. However, even with the bar set so low, his behavior when the team discovered Jean Grey was still alive is truly shocking. It was understandable that Cyclops would want to see Jean with his own eyes, but it’s what he did next that’s hard to justify. He not only failed to tell Jean that he had a wife and family, but failed to make any sort of contact with Madelyne to explain his absence.
As the days rolled on Scott agreed to join X-Factor and joined them on their first mission, still without having made any attempt to contact Madelyne. He soon convinced himself that he belonged with his old comrades and that only with them did he stand a chance of doing something good, again conveniently forgetting about his wife and infant son.
It’s this sequence of events that irreversibly colored Scott Summers as a jerk in the eyes of many fans, but it also encapsulated one recurring theme in his life. As a superhero he’s one of the best; as a man he’s often somewhat less so.
7. Was Tempted by Psylocke (X-Men #8-20)
A therapist would have a field day delving into Scott Summers’ affinity for telepaths, having at various points been attracted to Jean Grey, Betsy Braddock and Emma Frost. Is it that, as a private individual who finds it difficult to express his emotions, he appreciates women that can read his thoughts? Or is it merely the fact that the majority of mutant telepaths are darn attractive? In the case of Scott’s flirtation with Psylocke, it’s clear that physical attraction was the main driving force here. Every time that Scott looked at Betsy during the Jim Lee/Andy Kubert-drawn runs of “X-Men,” all that was missing was the cartoon eyes popping out of his head and his heart beating out of his chest.
To be completely fair to Scott, while he was undoubtedly attracted to Psylocke and fantasized about taking things further, she was the main instigator in their flirtations. However, he loses points for not being honest with Jean, and for leaving the X-Men to follow his tried and trusted tactic of clearing his head, rather than staying to confront his issues head-on.
6. Kicked Professor X Out of the X-Mansion (X-Men: Deadly Genesis #6)
Professor X and Cyclops have had a fascinating relationship since they were both introduced in “X-Men” #1. Over this time they have been teacher and pupil, friends, adversaries, and as near as could be to father and son.
Professor X has been linked with his own share of questionable behavior over the years, but from Grant Morrison’s run on “New X-Men” onwards revelations and retcons about his past came thick and fast, many of which affected his relationship with Cyclops. One of the most important was the revelation that the Professor had trained another team of X-Men who had all died on Krakoa, including Scott’s brother, Gabriel. After their death, the Professor had erased all knowledge of this group from Cyclops’ memory, including all knowledge of his brother.
The hurt and anger felt by Cyclops was fully merited, and he could hardly have been expected to forgive the Professor and carry on as normal. However, his reaction felt spiteful and oddly petulant. He used his position as leader of the X-Men to make Xavier leave the Institute, forcing him to leave behind all the people that he cared most about in the world. Cyclops may have convinced himself that he was taking this decision in the interests of everyone, but in reality he was letting his own hurt dictate his actions.
5. Had a Psychic Affair with Emma Frost (New X-Men #138)
When Cyclops first embarked on a relationship with Emma Frost, few could have predicted the staying power of the couple. It’s an interesting “what if” to ponder how Cyclops’ actions might have differed in the post-“House of M” period if he had still been with Jean, and not a more morally complex character like Emma.
Continuing his long-established habit of sabotaging his relationships, Cyclops embarked on a psychic affair with Emma, confiding in her that his life seemed dull and boring. His conscience may have been eased by her assurances that it was just thoughts, not really cheating, but he must have known that he was setting out on a slippery, morally questionable road. Then there was the very fact that he was cheating on a telepath in the first place — did he really think that his actions could go undiscovered? Or was that perhaps his underlying wish: to provoke a confrontation that he was too scared to instigate himself?
That Cyclops felt his life with Jean had grown stale isn’t the issue here: sometimes marriages do fail, despite the best efforts of everyone involved. What isn’t defensible is the deceit and the fact that yet again, when confronted with the impact of his actions, Scott’s first reaction was to leave the X-Men to avoid facing up to the consequences. Regardless of the happiness that he and Emma later found, the beginning of their time together shows Cyclops to be a real jerk.
4. Assembling X-Force (X Force #1)
Sometimes being a leader is about making the tough choices, and as the mutant population was faced with extinction following the events of “House of M” the methods employed by Cyclops grew ever more extreme. Scott had originally put together a new X-Force team during the “Messiah CompleX” storyline, uniting some of the X-Men’s best trackers in a bid to locate baby Hope. In the aftermath of the event Cyclops reformed the team as a proactive mutant strike force, seeking out threats to mutant kind and dispatching them by any means necessary.
The very concept of X-Force highlights how far modern day Cyclops has travelled from his beginnings, with the man who once insisted to Wolverine that “X-Men don’t kill,” now forming a team specifically for the purpose of killing threats. This approach is questionable by itself, but more troubling was Cyclops’ belief that the end justifies the means. His choices for the team included X-23 — a killer who had worked so hard to escape her past and gain her humanity — and Wolfsbane, the ex-New mutant with the religious upbringing whose sweet nature was at odds with the ferocity of her wolfen form.
Cyclops may have told Wolverine that both girls asked to be on the team, but in the end it was his decision to take them, placing the success of the mission above what was best for individuals.
3. Used a Modified Legacy Virus to Kill a Skrull Fleet (Secret Invasion: X-Men #4)
When the X-Men’s island home of Utopia was under threat from a Skrull invasion force during the “Secret Invasion” event, Cyclops displayed all of his prowess as a commander. Ingenious battle plans, last ditch rescues and innovative uses of powers were all on display, but eventually the superior numbers and powers of the Skrull fleet took its toll. When they took multiple hostages and demanded that the X-Men surrender, a new approach was called for.
Cyclops’ solution to this dilemma is either “inspired tactics” if you’re feeling generous, or “ethically troublesome” if you’re not. He proposed to use a modified form of the Legacy Virus to infect every Skrull, a plan he decided on after Beast told him that the disease would spread like wildfire, killing every Skrull in this fleet and beyond. It could be argued, of course, that desperate times call for desperate measures, but two things make Scott’s determination to use the virus rather uncomfortable.
First, the Legacy Virus had, for years, been the closest thing the mutant population had to a plague, wiping out mutants indiscriminately, whether young or old, good or bad. Using it on others, knowing the effects it has, feels almost heartless. Which leads into the second point. Scott sanctioned the use of the virus without knowing whether Beast had a cure. Which meant that he was willing to kill every Skrull — good, bad, fighter or non-combatant — in order to save his people.
Cyclops may have won the day, succeeding in his attempt to destroy the Skrull fleet, but his behavior was one of the main instigators in Beast’s later decision to leave the X-Men, prompted by his distaste for the kind of man that Cyclops was becoming.
2. Allowed Idie to Kill (X-Men: Schism #3)
War is often equated with the loss of innocence and it’s therefore not surprising that so many of the X-Men’s younger members have seen youthful idealism or childish ideas beaten down by the realities of the continual conflict that they’re engaged in. Idie Okonkwo was somewhat different: the manifestation of her powers caused villagers to consider her a witch, targeting her family. She was shown to view herself as a monster for her powers, but found friends within the X-Men and a wider family that accepted her for who she was.
When the Hellfire Club attacked the launch of the mutant museum in San Francisco, incapacitating the mutants that were present, no senior members of the X-Men were near enough to stop the terrorists before they killed the hostages. When alerted to Idie’s presence, Cyclops had a clear choice. He could have told her to engage the terrorists or he could have told her to stay hidden and wait for back-up. Instead, shamefully, he told her to “do what you feel you have to,” putting the weight of the decision on her shoulders.
Idie engaged the terrorists and killed them all. The hostages were freed, but at the cost of another piece of her soul. Later, when Wolverine tried to comfort her, she was sanguine. Yes, she killed these men, but that was okay. She was a monster, and that’s what monsters do…
1. Killed Professor X (Avengers vs. X-Men #11)
Scott’s journey during the “Avengers vs. X-Men” crossover, and indeed in the months leading up to it, is one where countless mitigating circumstances could be highlighted, including diminished responsibility due to possession by an alien entity. But in the end, the result would still be the same. Professor Xavier, his teacher and mentor, was dead at his hands.
It may seem like there was an inevitability about Cyclops’ fall and the Professor’s death, but in reality there were several occasions where this course of events could have been prevented by Cyclops. If he had given the Phoenix Force to Hope, if he had not taken the Phoenix energy from Emma, and if he had not retained the conviction that only he could help ensure that the mutant race survived.
As Professor Xavier lay on the ground, his life extinguished and his friends and colleagues looking on in disbelief, Cyclops cried that he hadn’t wanted this to happen. As Wolverine would argue later on, Scott started walking on that road knowing where it would lead, but kept walking anyway. Fixated on the end result, he came to believe that the ends justified the means.
Have we missed any defining moments where Cyclops acts like a jerk? Or have we been too hard on ol’ one eye? Let us know your feedback in the comments!
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