Before we start, this is a tweaked version of an article I did for my old website three weeks ago regarding AvX #11 and Uncanny X-Men #18. As of the events of AvX#12 and Uncanny X-Men #19, I’d like to offer my opinion in defense of Scott Summers, better known as Cyclops. You can read the original article here as a comparison if you like.
Yes, I’m a Cyclops defender. I wear the badge proudly. You may ready your opening salvo of “Wolverine’s awesome, Cyclops is a dick!” Granted, it’s not an original line, but it seems to be the one thrown around the most. A friend of mine once referred to Cyclops as the “Leonardo” of the X-Men. I’ll admit, it’s not always easy making a case for Scott Summers, especially with Marvel’s philosophy of keeping, for the most part, ALL OF THE CONTINUITY. So, for every awesome thing Scott does, you can easily go back a few years and find something not so awesome. Although, for the record, Wolverine ain’t no saint either, bub. But that’s part of the beauty of the X-Men Universe and some of the greater Marvel Universe. The characters exist in the moral gray area where the rest of us live. It’s part of what makes Marvel heroes more relateable, but also ellicits discomfort when we’re confronted with those facets of humanity we try to hide under the rug. Scott Summers is no exception.
In the pages of Avengers vs X-Men, the two groups started fighting over how to treat the on-coming possible threat of the Phoenix Force. The Phoenix Force was first introduced in The Phoenix/Dark Phoenix Saga extending from 1976-1980, resulting in the first of many “deaths” of Jean Grey who played host to the entity. Ever since, the Phoenix Force kept coming back, possessing people and causing general mayhem. So, it is not surprising that when it seems to be on a collision course for Earth, presumably to possess the mutant messiah Hope Summers, the Avengers are dead set on destroying it.
Complicating matters is Cyclops. Scott sees the coming of The Phoenix as a good thing. He thinks that maybe, just maybe, The Phoenix will jumpstart the mutant race once again. So, the major conflict comes from The Avengers and the X-Men fighting over how to deal with The Phoenix and its connection to Hope. In the midst of the battle(s), Iron Man, in all of his infinite wisdom, fires a missile at The Phoenix Force, which disperses it into five entities that latch on to Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magik. Dubbed The Phoenix Five (sigh), they go about improving the problems of the world while scaring the shit out of everyone at the same time. Because, as has been proven in the past The Phoenix Force ususally ends up corrupting those it possesses, resulting in death and destruction. The Phoenix Five similarly fall prey to this obvious plot point, but under the combined forces of The Avengers and The X-Men, the five are reduced to one as Scott takes the entire Phoenix Force for himself, kills Professor X, and becomes The Dark Phoenix.
The Lead Up
In a lot of ways, this was a long time coming. Not so much the Phoenix Force bit that wore out its welcome a long time ago, but Scott’s descent. While the current creative teams for The X-Men cite AvX and its aftermath as the ending of an era for the X-Men that began with Grant Morrison’s run, I’d argue that this has been building since the beginning of The X-Men in 1963.
Scott Summers was the first of Charles Xavier’s recruits. Like all mutants, Scott’s powers manifested at puberty, but due to an unfortunate accident when he was a child, Scott was unable to control the concussive ruby beams spewing forth whenever he opened his eyes. Knowing that he could literally kill someone just by looking at them, Scott developed a very controlled, “uptight” personality stemming from the burden of responsibility he felt to keep those around him safe. Xavier took Scott under his wing, grooming him as the leader of the X-Men and representative of Xavier’s philosophy of a peaceful mutant integration with the rest of society. For the longest time, Scott was the ultimate believer in Xavier’s dream. So, yes, the Leonardo comparison was very apt at this point. But for every accolyte, there comes a crisis and Scott’s crisis occurred over the span of several years worth of storylines. With every chip at the foundation, it was only a matter of time before it cracked entirely.
It begins, I think, with Apocalypse: The Twelve, a crossover event involving the end of the world and blah, blah, blah. The result is Cyclops sacrificing himself to save his son, Nate Grey (X-Man), by merging with Apocalypse. After being freed from Apocalypse during Search for Cyclops, Scott emerges a different person. He’s less confident as the leader of the X-Men and he questions his purpose and the priorities of Xavier’s school, which begins to distance him from Jean and Xavier, though the latter gives him more to question soon enough.
As I’ve said, the X-Men Universe operates in a moral gray area with Magneto and Prof. X at opposite ends of the spectrum. Problematic to these differing philosophies are the ways in which one can get caught up in ideas like “for the good of the many” or “the ends justify the means.” Professor X’s stance on peaceful integration through tolerance, understanding, and education fell prey to corruption because, of the two philosophies, it was easier to corrupt. In many ways, it was corrupted by its very creator. Xavier has straddled the line of morality multiple times, but there are two instances involving Scott that one, planted the seeds of doubt about Xavier, and two, ensured his distance from his mentor’s vision.
In the matter of the first, Xavier knowingly erased Cyclops’ memory of his presumed dead brother, Vulcan, after a failed rescue mission in Krakoa (X-Men: Deadly Genesis). After the events of House of M, Vulcan returned and revealed Xavier’s deception to Cyclops. Scott was, understandably, pissed. For a man so quick to spout that they needed to use their powers for the betterment of man and mutantkind, Xavier showed he was willing to overlook the moral implications of his actions. One could argue that Xavier did what he did out of love for his surrogate son, the pain of losing a brother and a fellow teammate delivering a double whammy of grief, but it was still a betrayal of trust, which caused Scott to banish Xavier from the mansion. The second occurs during Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men when the team learns that Xavier knew of the growing sentience of the Sh’iar technology enhanced Danger Room and ignored it, allowing Danger, as she dubbed herself, to take form at the expense of the lives of several students. After rescuing Xavier from Danger, Cyclops is clearly appalled at Xavier’s willingness to put his own school in such peril. It is Scott’s disillusionment that’s really significant. The one mutant always seemingly in Xavier’s corner can’t even stand the sight of him. The years that followed put Scott in a precarious position that would lead him down his current path.
First of all, in the aftermath of M-Day, Scott essentially went from being the leader of a team of mutant superheroes to the leader of the Mutant Race. A guy who was already tightly wound about his responsibility towards a small group in a larger population of mutants now had the added burden of leading a small group of mutants that encompassed his entire species. His strategy had to change, his entire way of thinking had to change. And it did. Scott became far more aggressive in his stance on protecting the mutant race at any cost. Weaponizing the legacy virus, creating X-Force, and treating the younger mutants like soldiers in a war all pointed to Scott’s increasing distance from Xavier’s philosophy in favor of a more Magneto-esque approach, which was touched upon briefly in Fear Itself.
And in distancing himself from the guiding principles of his upbringing, his relationships with those to whom he was closest suffered. The death of Nightcrawler while protecting Hope was especially brutal given that Nightcrawler was one of the few mutants who shared Scott’s belief in Hope’s destiny. His death is especially significant in the grander scheme of the X-Men Universe since Nightcrawler was a comforting source of faith and acceptance, a person Cyclops might have needed later on. Equally devastating is Beast’s decision to leave Utopia when he feels that Scott is going too far in his methods. Their parting of ways takes yet another confidant away from Scott, someone he’s relied on since he was a teenager. But Beast’s decision to leave doesn’t stop him from continuing to criticize and berate Scott for his decisions. Showing up at Nightcrawler’s funeral, Beast flat out tells Scott that Nightcrawler’s blood is on his hands. Later on, after another mission gone awry, Beast leaves a phone message for Scott that basically reiterates how many crappy decisions he’s made. Though Scott understands why everyone is angry with him, he doesn’t relent on his goal: the survival of the mutant race. It’s what drives Scott to do what he does because all he sees around him are people who want mutants to be wiped from existence. By this point in his life, after all he’s been through, after all the hatred and suffering, Xavier’s vision is nothing more than a pipedream. All that matters is survival and he’s the one who has to make sure it happens.
As you can see, Scott was already headed down a slippery slope, something that might have been prevented had some of his friends bothered to stick around instead of ragging on him at every turn. And, as tragic as it may be, The Avengers, The X-Men, and Xavier were pretty much pushing Cyclops to the point of no return. During the all out assualt on Cyclops and Emma in AvX#11, Cyclops screams at Xavier that the Avengers are trying to assassinate their people, not just through all the fighting, but in trying to destroy The Phoenix, preventing the possible salvation of mutantkind. And after killing his surrogate father, Scott, tears running down his cheeks, asks the gathered mutants and Avengers why they couldn’t “leave it alone.” Scott, even possessed by The Phoenix, only wanted what was best for his people. He believed he was saving his species and the thanks given to him was deception, pain, and death. Cyclops giving in to the Phoenix is far more tragic, in my opinion.
Presumptuous, I know. Scott certainly doesn’t redeem himself in the the concluding issues of AvX #12 and Uncanny X-Men #19, but he does get vindication. Taken down by combined forces of The Scarlet Witch, Hope, and Nova, Hope then receives the Phoenix Force and, with the help of Wanda, uses the deus ex machina of all Marvel phrases, “No more Phoenix.” The Phoenix Force explodes and dispurses all over Earth, creating “new mutants” in its wake. Now free of The Phoenix and imprisoned in a ruby quartz cell, Scott takes full responsibility for his actions, but when he learns from Beast that there are more mutants in the world, he very boldly states that he’d “do it all over again.” Since M-Day, Scott has been working towards the preservation of mutantkind. Whether or not you agree with his actions, his goal has always been clear and his faith in Hope as the mutant messiah is rewarded with the knowledge of the existence of new mutants across the globe. It’s a pyrrhic victory, but one that Scott accepts.
So, technically, yes, Cyclops was right all along. The Phoenix was meant for Hope and Hope was meant to reboot the mutant race…albeit with some help from The Scarlet Witch. But it’s not about him being right, it’s about the end result. The conclusion of this chapter in X-history ultimately begins a new chapter in Marvel history, a cooperative effort between heroes built on the fall of others. Cyclops is in jail and Emma, Namor, Colossus, Magik, and Magneto are on the run, but there’s still hope and redemption on the horizon. Personally, I’d like to see where the writers take the fallen heroes, especially Scott. The complications of pride and regret in his own actions make for interesting avenues of storytelling. He won’t be out of the dog house for a long time – in the eyes of the Marvel Universe and a lot of the readers – but I don’t think he’s entirely alone. For every time Magneto fell, there was always someone like Charles Xavier to offer him another chance.
You may proceed to tell me I’m wrong, but it will fall on deaf ears. You have your fandom and I have mine, but I welcome the discussion nonetheless.
And just for kicks, here’s a video of me in live action talking with Grace Randolph, writer of Superbia, and host of Think About the Ink, about the penultimate issues of AvX and Uncanny X-Men before I started writing for Word of the Nerd. As a side note: Yes, I’m aware of the crappy audio on my end.