The final line in New X-Men’s recent Murder in the Mansion arc: “Now where the hell is Scott Summers?”
Good question. I’ve been asking that one for months.
Down through the last forty or so years, one could easily make the argument that none of the X-Men have led as fascinating a life as the man called Cyclops. Originally introduced in 1963’s X-Men #1 as “Slim” Summers, a quiet young man with a gangly build, Cyclops seemed to be an outcast among outcasts. While his classmates Angel, Iceman, and the Beast laughed, joked, and competed for the affections of Marvel Girl, Cyclops usually stood off to the side, aloof and quiet. While the other X-Men reveled in the use and development of their powers, Cyclops alone hated the fact that he was a mutant. Only Cyclops, of those original X-Men, had powers that were a burden and curse, instead of a fantastic and useful ability.
There were a lot of readers in the 70’s and 80’s that complained that Scott Summers was often too stereotypical of a leader. What they didn’t realize was that Cyclops was purposely built that way by creator Stan Lee. After all, for the first forty-two issues of X-Men, Scott wasn’t the leader; Professor X was. Sure, one could argue that Scott was the “field leader” or the second-in-command, but there was absolutely no doubt in those days: it was Professor X who actively led the team (even in battle; back then, Professor X was able to project his thoughts to currently-undreamed-of distances, a feat he is no longer capable of thanks to an atmospheric psychic scrambler laid by Magneto). The Professor gave the team orders, planned tactics, and handled overall strategy. Yes, Cyclops may have made a few quick decisions, but it was pretty clear that Professor X was the one who was really in charge.
With that model in mind, Stan Lee purposely created Scott and the Professor to break paradigms of superhero leadership. The stereotype of the superhero team leader was (and still is, mostly) a tall, strong, powerful man, actively involved with his team, a successful role model for the others to emulate. For early examples of this mindset, just look at the way Lee wrote Reed Richards in Fantastic Four, or Captain America in Avengers. So it was that in X-Men, Lee created a leader who was not tall, strong, or powerful; he was handicapped. The leader was not actively involved with his team; he was sidelined from active duty. The leader was not immediately seen as a role model; his status as a solitary cripple immediately gave him the impression of weakness (especially in the less enlightened sixties).
Similarly, since Lee had always planned for Cyclops to be the X-Men’s second-in-command, Scott was imagined to contrast the stereotypes of the happy-go-lucky, battle-eager second (check the Thing’s behavior in early Fantastic Four for an example of this). Scott had more traits that you’d imagine a leader as having, with the Angel exemplifying more of what you’d expect from a team’s vice-chairman. These juxtapositions differentiated X-Men from every other superhero team book on the market in those days, and made for some fantastic (if, admittedly, poorly selling) stories.
When Len Wein, Dave Cockrum, and Chris Claremont revived the X-Men franchise in 1975, it was known from the start that of the old field team, Cyclops alone would be returning. He would remain in his role as squad leader, a role that would expand when Magneto later blocked the Professor’s mental abilities, as mentioned earlier. In the first few issues of these new X-Men, it was a real joy to read the difficulties Scott had in working with the completely different team. He was basically only used to working with his high-school buddies; now leading a squad of both teenagers and adults, experienced people from different cultural backgrounds, gave the poor guy a lot of trouble. Especially in the early issues before Jean Grey rejoined the team as Phoenix, Scott was particularly withdrawn, seeming to open up only to one teammate: fellow “my powers are a curse” mutant Nightcrawler.
As time went on, a new vision for “The All-New, All-Different X-Men” began to take shape, created by the brilliant Chris Claremont (later joined by his artistic partner John Byrne). In this new concept, the book revolved mostly around Cyclops, in his role as the withdrawn but supremely effective team leader, and Wolverine, in his role as the mysterious rebel. Scott Summers had never been more fascinating than he was in these early issues (say Uncanny X-Men #100-150), and in this writer’s opinion, he’s never been that interesting since. Whether their fights were over Jean, battle tactics, or what to have for breakfast (and they were always fighting about something), the rivalry between Scott and Logan was consistently intense, adding an energy to the book that many comics tried to emulate in the years that followed. Indeed, Mark Millar has been heavily playing up that original friction between the two in his Ultimate X-Men, but his attempts, as good as they are, can’t compare to the great stories that Claremont first gave us.
A core component of Scott’s character seemed to arise during this era: the idea that although Scott is a solitary man, he can’t bear the idea of truly being alone. Cyclops seemed to spend more and more time with Jean when Claremont took over, and as time progressed Scott’s thoughts were increasingly monopolized by her (even more so than in his classic Lee “Jean-pining” days of the sixties). However, when Phoenix was thought dead after a battle in Magneto’s Antarctic refuge (in X-Men #113, the last issue before the book’s title would be changed to Uncanny X-Men), it doesn’t take Scott long to start flirting again. Just nine issues later (which, bear in mind, is like three weeks in Marvel time!) Cyclops hooked up with a young lady named Colleen Wing… a relationship that gets so serious that she soon gives him a key to her apartment!
Of course, it’s not long before the X-Men discover that Jean is alive and well, so that’s pretty much the end of Scott and Colleen, but not the end of Scott’s wandering eye. Before long, Phoenix sacrifices herself on the moon and Cyclops leaves the X-Men to deal with his grief… again. This time, instead of ending up at Colleen’s apartment, he finds himself working at sea on a boat captained by the attractive Lee Forrester. And wouldn’t you know it… even though Scott originally tells her that he doesn’t want to get involved again so soon after Jean’s death, it’s just two issues later (a few hours, Marvel time) that we see Scott and Lee being awfully huggy and kissy with each other.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The fear of isolation that made Cyclops such a fantastic character has its origins, and they were revealed in two of my all-time favorite Marvel stories: “Little Boy Lost” and “When Dreams Are Dust”, told brilliantly by (again!) Claremont in Classic X-Men #41-42. It was here that we readers finally got to see just how screwed up Scott Summers was as a kid… and we also got to see just how terribly he was manipulated by the villain called Sinister. The issues are hard to find, but they’re a real treat if you can track them down, as we see the cycle of loss begin in young Scott’s life. After losing his parents and then his brother, Sinister causes even more destruction in the life of the young hero. From the suicide of a childhood acquaintance, to the disappearance and death of his foster family, to the final betrayal of his only real friend, it’s easy to see why Scott grew into a man afraid of being alone. Add destructive mutant eyes and a deep-seated fear of flight to the mix, and it’s a wonder that Professor X was able to make Scott so relatively normal.
Of course, these days, Scott isn’t afraid of flight, and he’s come to terms with his unstoppable mutant power. The one area where his childhood dementia seems to remain, though, is his fear of solitude. Because of his status as an X-Man, his dangerous power, and his own psychosis, Scott’s always had a lot of trouble keeping normal, steady relationships. Instead, he exhibits a tendency to immediately search for the next partner in his life, apparently subconsciously assuming that something terrible will happen to end his current relationship. He seemed to notice this in Uncanny X-Men #168 when he ended his relationship with Lee Forrester (claiming that he didn’t want to make a commitment he couldn’t keep). Wouldn’t you know it, though, it’s only two issues later that he’s fallen head over heels for a Jean Grey lookalike named Madelyne Pryor. Perhaps determined to not let this redhead get away from him, it only takes him five issues to marry her. (side note: Uncanny X-Men #175 is the greatest Cyclops story ever. Go read it.)
Happiness is, of course, not to last for Scott and Maddy… and wouldn’t you know it, it’s all Scott’s fault. They fight about Jean, they fight about Scott’s involvement with the X-Men, they fight about their new baby… and when Scott gets a call saying that Jean is alive, he jumps ship on his wife immediately. Sure enough, Jean’s alive… and for the next few months, Madelyne might as well be dead (except for that priceless moment where Scott accidentally calls Jean by his wife’s name). Of course, years later it would be revealed that Madelyne was an evil clone sent my Sinister to have Cyclops’ child, but that doesn’t change the undeniable fact that Scott Summers cheated on his wife and abandoned his family. Yes, it was later hinted that Sinister may have been manipulating Cyclops at the time, but I can’t buy it: the pattern of behavior had already been established.
It’s a pattern that would continue. Not long after Madelyne died, predictably, Scott proposed to Jean… who intelligently turned him down. Later, Scott’s roving eye would settle on Psylocke and they’d come fairly close to beginning an affair. Then, Scott and Jean finally would get married. From that point on, the oh-so-marketable nineties kicked into high gear, providing high-octane, bubble-gum action stories with a horrible lack of character development. Thus, I have to credit Scott’s fidelity during this period not to his own willpower, but instead to the prevalent writing and editorial trends of the time.
And now, in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, Scott has been revealed as having a psychic affair with Emma Frost. It’s no surprise to me that this happened: Scott felt isolated after being cut off from his wife due to that horrible Apocalypse storyline, so, true to his character, the first woman that approached him was elected as his new ladyfriend. What is surprising to me is the vast quantity of people I discuss it with who are outraged by “Cyclops acting so far out of character.” This isn’t out of character; this is Scott’s character. I’m glad that Morrison understands that, but it’s a shame that he hasn’t taken the time to more fully illustrate this side of Cyclops to fans who only know him from the movie and/or the comics of the nineties.
Which brings us back to Bishop’s last line, “Now where the hell is Scott Summers?” Virtually missing from the recent movie and nearly non-existent in the pages of New X-Men, one of Marvel’s most popular and fascinating characters is hard to find these days. Cyclops has always been one of my favorite X-Men, due to his strong characterization and conflicting nature: a strong leader with a weakness for solitude. Yet since the revolution of Marvel began, I think I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen him fire an optic blast. There was a time when you could count on Cyclops to headline at least one Marvel title per month, and at one point he was starring in as many as three at once. The character hasn’t lost his popularity, yet now he’s nowhere to be seen. He’s a fantastic character, and it looks like his current writer understands him very well… yet doesn’t seem to have a huge urge to actually write him.