Because a leader knows, it’s not so hard to die for your people. It’s hard to order your people to die for you.
Just days ago, Marvel announced May 2015’s Hero of the Month to be none other than Cyclops, leader of the X-Men, who beat out runner-up Silver Surfer by over 800 votes.
That guy? But how?
It’s a fair question when the public generally knows him as the underdeveloped, stick-in-the-mud third side of the Wolverine-Jean Grey-Cyclops love triangle.
Even X-Men fans who dare delve deeper than the movies and cartoons might hear the name Scott Summers and recoil. He’s an ass, they think. He’s boring. The human equivalent of bread crust. And maybe there was a time when he was, but the Cyclops of the current era no longer qualifies for such degradation. He’s a highly conflicted, emotionally repressed character who’s had to carry the weight of a species for years while on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
My aim here is to enlighten the uninformed about the details of Scott Summers that might escape his image in pop-culture. If you come away from this article understanding, and even sympathizing, with his actions, then that’s just gravy.
We come out the gate with the big one. The singular event that has shaped Scott for the last few years, earning him condemnation from former friends and allies–the death of Charles Xavier at his hands. The death of the teacher by the hands of his first student.
Driven insane by the Phoenix Force or not, conscious of his actions of otherwise, this incident nevertheless fueled Scott’s guilt and the anger of those he once called friends for years to come.
To understand and fully appreciate how we arrived to this point, we’ll have to take a step back. Back to 2001, when writer Grant Morrison took over for the X-Men, kick-starting the modern development of Cyclops. At the start of the run, Scott was still reeling from a half-year bout of possession by the evil mutant Apocalypse, the effects of which still lingered inside him. All the notions of who he was and what he’d done were made so small and insignificant. This, however, merely laid the groundwork for what Morrison had in store for Scott, which also included:
- The growing distance from his wife, Jean. She was becoming more and more godlike as the Phoenix started to manifest in her once more. She couldn’t relate to Scott, she could hardly find his anxieties significant.
- His psychic therapy sessions with Emma Frost took a turn for the erotic, when she began to take advantage of his broken mental state. This resulted in a psychic affair between the two, as Scott finally found the emotional connection he’d been searching for.
- After breaking off the affair, Scott and the X-Men find themselves in a hectic battle in the center of New York, which culminates in the death of his wife. This causes him to abandon the X-Men and reject Emma’s offer to keep the school open (both choices are soon turned around by cosmic intervention. Hey, it’s comics!).
Cyclops underwent some massive changes in the following years.
He discovered his mentor–and surrogate father–Charles Xavier, wasn’t the saint he appeared to be. Aside from a number of ‘minor’ mental transgressions, it turned out that Xavier was indirectly responsible for the death of an early X-team, one member of which was the third Summers brother. Xavier erased the incident from Scott’s mind, leaving him ignorant of the event for years. When it came out, it enraged Scott, prompting him to take over absolute leadership of the X-Men, effectively booting Xavier out.
Around this time the reality-altering Scarlet Witch suffered a mental breakdown, which resulted in the infamous words, “No more mutants.” And just like that, the mutant population of Earth, well into the millions, was decimated, depowered to only a scant 198, with no hope of new mutant births.
Extinction was on the rise, and Scott’s mission shifted from integration to survival. But he swiftly learned that one’s actions as leader of a superhero team and one’s actions as leader of an entire people don’t always reconcile.
But he managed. It was difficult, but still he managed. He accomplished things that were far above the call of a hero, but right now, Cyclops wasn’t a hero. He was a leader. What occurred over the next few years shaped him, molded him into the man he is now.
- A depleted mutant population motivated the Purifiers, a mutant-hate group, who decided now was the time to wipe them off the face of the earth. One of their first acts of horror was killing a bus full of depowered mutant children.
- In response to this, Cyclops took Wolverine aside and secretly authorized a mutant kill-squad, led by Logan, designed to preemptively kill their enemies.
- After a few years on the edge of extinction, a new mutant is born, and several interested parties all converge to reach the child before the others. Scott has firm faith that the child is the mutant messiah, and will signal the resurrection of the mutant gene. In end, they recover the child and he allows his time-traveling son Cable to take her into the future so as to keep her safe until she’s old enough to return to the present.
- After their mansion in New York is destroyed for the umpteenth time, the X-Men go west, relocating to San Francisco, where they find themselves embraced by the city, ‘freakish-nature’ and all. Cyclops and Emma work closely with the mayor, running patrol teams and generally doing what they can to increase public perception of mutants.
- Soon they were faced with opposition from SHIELD and evil counterparts to the Avengers (both taken over by Norman Osborn in a year-long dark age of Marvel). They came to San Francisco to subjugate the mutant presence.
- Osborn captured Beast, torturing him for weeks. Instead of rescuing his friend immediately, Scott waited, biding his time until he could strike a significant blow to Osborn and save Beast. This caused a rift between the once-close friends, Beast leaving the X-Men soon after.
- Cyclops founded the mutant nation Utopia off the coast of San Francisco, where he accepted the presence of all who sought sanctuary. He accepted a reformed Magneto, to the annoyance of Xavier.
- Cable and the mutant messiah, now a teenager named Hope, arrive in New York, where they thought the X-Men would be. Both the X-Men and the Purifiers were made aware of this, and what followed was a race to reach Hope while she and Cable crossed the country to reach Utopia. Cyclops made his stance clear: any one of the X-Men were expendable at this point, only Hope’s survival mattered. He soon found his words realized when his longtime friend Nightcrawler was killed rescuing the girl, and his son died defending San Francisco from a Sentinel siege not long after.
- He and Wolverine found that they had too many ideological differences between one another to work together anymore. The Schism arose because Wolverine believed the students should be kept away from the violence. Cyclops believed that they had a right to chose whether or not to fight, and in a world where mutant-kind couldn’t really afford any non-combatants, fighting is what they chose. Wolverine left, taking most of the students and half the X-Men back to New York where he rebuilt the school.
Enter the Phoenix. The all-powerful cosmic force was heading straight to Earth, its path tracked by Iron Man. Fearful of the destruction it could cause, Captain America led the Avengers to Utopia, where they believe it’s headed to find and merge with Hope. Captain America urges Scott to hand over the girl, in which case he’d take her to an unpopulated moon or planet to stave off destruction.
Cyclops refused, believing this was always meant to happen. The Phoenix is a cosmic force of rebirth, and Hope was the first mutant birth in years. He had faith that the two coming together would mean the revival of the mutant species, which is why he’s been training Hope, so she’d be ready when it happened.
Both leaders refused to see the other side, and it soon came to blows. Avengers vs X-Men began.
To somehow stop the Phoenix Force, Tony Stark began working on a Phoenix-Buster, something that could destroy it before it reached the planet. As it closed in, he activated it, but it didn’t exactly go as planned. Instead of destroying it, the Phoenix was split into 5 pieces, all of which fell into five X-Men: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magik.
Thing is, these five weren’t ready for the power. They weren’t trained for it. But they still did the best they could. Ending droughts and famine and war, the Phoenix Five, as they were called, did their best to change the world. But they also happened to be an unchecked power, ruling the world without democracy, and that sort of thing rubs Captain America the wrong way.
The Avengers and the remaining X-Men worked together, training Hope to take the power and utilize it as best she could.
One by one, the Phoenix Five fell, and when they did, their portion of the power fled to the remaining members. Soon Cyclops was the sole Phoenix host, left with all its power, driving him to near-insanity. It was during that final assault, when backed into the corner by a collective of his former allies, that he lashed out and killed Charles Xavier.
Hope took the Phoenix into herself and with the help of Scarlet Witch, they banished it once and for all (maybe).
Cyclops was imprisoned, content to live the rest of his life paying for his actions. But it’s never that easy, is it?
One of the effects of Hope’s fusion with the Phoenix was the reignition of the mutant gene, which was exactly what Scott had insisted would happen. This led to the in-and-out-of-universe meme…
After a mutant inmate was murdered in a guard-sanctioned attack, Cyclops realized it was no longer a viable option to stay a prisoner. Not when there were so many new mutants blooming. New mutants who will face fear and hatred. New mutants who will need protection and guidance. With the help of those very few still sympathetic towards him, he broke out of prison, and made it his mission to gather as many of these new mutants as he could.
He declared a mutant revolution, wherein mutant-kind would no longer be complacent as humanity’s punching bag. They won’t attack first, they won’t violently depose mankind, but if hit, they will hit back. The time has come, in Cyclops’ eyes, for mutants to secure their place in the world.
For months he collected new mutant after new mutant, training them to be his X-Men in the Canadian wilderness, all while avoiding Wolverine’s school and his former teammates.
While unpopular with superhero community, many citizens loved Scott and what he stood for. Here was a man who represented an entire oppressed race, a race constantly and consistently suffering at the hands of bigots. Here was a man who saw all this, lived it, and said “No more.”
Time dragged on, however, and Scott’s revolution still had yet to transpire. He kept the world–and SHIELD–on its toes, waiting for the inevitable spark to hit the gunpowder.
But it never did.
Cyclops, Emma, Kitty Pryde, and Magik were summoned to Wolverine’s school where the Last Will & Testament of Charles Xavier was to be read. In the end, Scott inherited the Institute, to the frustration of Storm, Beast, Iceman, and whoever else worked there. He refused it, surprising everybody, abdicating the throne so-to-speak and giving the keys to the kingdom to Storm.
He revealed to Emma that his revolution was a lie. Mutants have been pushed down and kicked around, despite years of helping people and saving the world. With new mutants being born and revealed, Scott realized something had to be done to prevent this. He was lost, pressed against the wall by everyone he knew, vilified for his actions while under the influence of a phenomenal cosmic entity. People believed he was a dangerous man.
So he let them believe. He got in front of cameras and promised war if any more harm came to his people, and hoped the world wouldn’t call his bluff.
After the revelation, he alienated himself from everyone. No more Emma. No more Magneto. Scott retreated to his facility in the mountains, where’s he’s been ever since.
During all this, the larger Marvel universe has been undergoing some major developments, developments that leave no corner of their world untouched. Cyclops is no exception.
The comics skip forward eight months into the future, where the “The End is Nigh” is no longer a slogan pushed around by delusional fanatics–it’s fact.
The world is ending, or will end soon, in a collision with another. Universes are crashing into each other, with two Earths at the focal point. The only way to avoid universal destruction is to destroy the other world before collision, so the two universes can pass one another safely. For the last year, these incursions have been a secret, known only to Marvel’s Illuminati–Iron Man, Reed Richards, Black Panther, Namor, Beast, Hulk, Black Bolt, and Dr. Strange.
Eight months later?
The world knows, and that means Cyclops knows. And he’s not content with idly waiting for the end times.
It all comes back to the Phoenix.
We’re shown the results of Cyclops actions in the eight month interim, with no explanation for any of it. He not only gets ahold of a Phoenix Egg, but establishes Nation X, a place seemingly recognized by the world officially, as Beast is given immunity from Captain America’s reach. Additionally, he’s found and apparently reprogrammed a few Sentinels, basking in the irony of their protection. He’s been a busy man of late.
Not long after this, the world comes to an end. Only the main Marvel universe (Earth 616) and one other (the Ultimate Marvel universe, Earth 1610) remain, set on a collision course with each other. Earth 1610 decides, that in order to survive, they must launch a preemptive attack. This, however, was a distraction enacted by 1610 Reed Richards, a genius megalomaniac who later launches his personal fleet of perfect, ever-evolving people entitled The Children of Tomorrow.
The battle outside raged on as the Earths moved closer. The Children devastated everything in their path, seemingly unstoppable.
Cyclops arrives alone to an invaded, ruined Manhattan, with only his Sentinels by his side. A few words from Iceman seem to imply Cyclops is a wild card, his intentions unknown. If that’s true, that means Scott accomplished all the above while on his own. A nation founded and consisting of just a single person. Certainly impressive, if nothing else.
Cyclops hatches the Egg, and infuses himself with the Phoenix once again. This time, however, he’s able to bring the Force to heel, controlling it without issue, and single-handedly destroying the Children of Tomorrow.
616 Reed Richards recently learned that there was no stopping the incursion, and with the help of Black Panther, they created a ship designed to survive in the wild space between universes, aka whatever will remain after these two universes are destroyed.
A Life Raft.
The plan was, that after the devastation, they would rebuild civilization somehow. But time ran out. They didn’t have the time to construct a raft capable of holding any more than 60 people, so with heavy consciences, they were left to choose who was important enough to save. Families aside, they chose geniuses of mainly practical fields–genetics for population rebirth, chemists, engineers, and so on.
During the final battle, the transport carrying the selected people was attacked and destroyed, leaving the plan awash. Geniuses that they are, Richards and Black Panther had a backup plan.
And that plan was Manifold. Another hero who is a constant presence in every universe and whose teleportation abilities are based on a metaphysical, cosmic sense of need. With his permission, they strapped him into a machine that amplified his powers, and he was to teleport onto the Raft those the universe deemed necessary.
In the middle of his rampage, Cyclops is teleported onto the Raft by Manifold, standing among the other heroes the universe judged essential–Spider-Man, Thor, Captain Marvel, and Starlord.
And that’s all there is for now.
Cyclops has had his fair share of tragedy, and it’d be optimistic to believe he won’t have more, but for the time being he’s at an all-time high. A hero among heroes.
So congratulations to Marvel’s May 2015 hero, Cyclops!
I’m interested to hear what you guys think of this. Thoughts?