Rowan Kaiser
Sep 1, 2015 · 8 min read

Meet Cyclops, the comics fan’s most disliked mutant. There are a few good reasons to hate Cyclops. First, he’s boring as hell. Like vanilla on mayonnaise, but if they were the same substance — this faux-interview captures the uselessness of Cyclops through the early years. He’s also a leader who doesn’t lead, and a goody two-shoes to boot. Second, he rather famously bailed on his wife Madelyne in order to go back to his ex, Jean Grey, which doesn’t even begin to mention that Madelyne looked identical to Jean, bore Scott’s child, and turned into a supervillain because of this betrayal. Third, being with Jean prevented her from hooking up with Wolverine, her obvious OTP. He’s boring, he’s in charge, and he’s in the way. Very hate-worthy. All of these are great reasons to dislike Scott Summers, and even his defenses mostly describe just how bad he is. I agree with most of them — yet after reading the bulk of the X-Men comics of the 2000s, Cyclops was suddenly my favorite character.

Here’s Cyclops’ butt, from Marvel Puzzle Quest. This is his special move, “Mutant Revolutionary,” where he shows his butt and recruits some help to his cause. Still clearly Cyclops, but if you didn’t know his story outside of what I mentioned above, this doesn’t make sense. He’s a revolutionary? He’s wearing a threatening red suit instead of his usual comforting blue and yellow? He’s….sexy?

Cyclops’ turn to sexiness is directly connected to his turn into great characterization. Simply put: Scott Summers became a three-dimensional character when he got a three-dimensional sex life. It’s this combination that led to Cyclops becoming a worthwhile leader of all mutants and superb anti-hero.

It all starts at the point that anyone looking to get into modern X-Men comics should start: Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. In the early 2000s, Marvel was recovering from bankruptcy, and gambling with talented indie comic writers, like Morrison. His New X-Men were allowed to be a simple, coherent team of Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Beast, Emma Frost, and Xorn, and they didn’t have anything to do with any company-wide crossovers. So the New X-Men series is self-contained and focused at a level that most Marvel comics aren’t — and in a way that helps Cyclops.

Cyclops, at this point, is recovering from being corrupted by Apocalypse — he’s found a darkness inside himself. He tries to continue in his marriage to Jean Grey, but she — as goody-goody as him, except for the potential evil of the Dark Phoenix — can’t help him be anything but good. So he’s bad. Scott Summers starts a “psychic affair” with Emma Frost, a former villain and telepath with comparable power to Jean.

In the (presumably all-ages) comics, this is portrayed as simply a betrayal of marriage. Scott’s having sexual ideas with another woman, and Jean is upset. But there’s much more subtext here. Emma, historically in the comics, had always been portrayed as a dominatrix: beautiful, sexual, cold, and powerful. Her relationship to Scott isn’t just an affair — she’s tying sex to power, even going so far as to “dress” like Jean at her darkest (role-play is a consistently-depicted part of their relationship). What comes through relatively clearly is that Cyclops wants kinky sex, and he can’t get it from his wife. He’s also clearly a submissive — a bottom, as it were. And New X-Men considers this a good thing! In the series’ last gasp, hooking Scott up with Emma and all her villainous and sexual baggage is the thing that saves the X-Men and saves the world from a dystopian future.

The process also makes Scott, well, cool. In one of the better arcs, a tortured Cyclops gets drunk with Wolverine, has some self-examination, and goes on a heist. Scott Summers on the edge is fun here. Morrison’s successor on Astonishing X-Men, Joss Whedon, takes this and runs with it. His Cyclops has arguably the character’s best sequence ever when an argument over sex and power with Emma Frost leads to him becoming depowered, picking up a gun, and having a very bad day.

This unhinged, breakup-obsessed, stubble infused anti-hero becomes the model for Cyclops moving forward in all of the X-Men books. It needs to, because Cyclops becomes the moral leader of the almost-extinct mutantkind, thanks to the double whammy of the “House of M” story that depowers almost all the mutants in the Marvel universe and “Deadly Genesis” which removes Professor Xavier as the moral center of mutantkind. And at his side? Emma Frost. (Here’s a timeline if the chronology is getting confusing— highly recommended if you haven’t read these!)

Here’s Cyclops at the height of his post-Whedon, post “House of M” importance. He is the grandmaster, moving the pieces around, trying to save mutantkind. He’s playing a role, being the leader, toying with power and control and manipulation, for a good cause.

There is a master plan. After the events of “Messiah Complex” it becomes clear that powerful forces are working directly to extinguish the few remaining mutants, Cyclops shifts from reaction to action. He moves the mutant population to San Francisco, and embraces anti-heroes/villains like Namor and Magneto, who publicly swears allegiance to the new leader of the mutants. He moves toward anti-hero himself, as he empowers Wolverine to create a death squad called X-Force to destroy anti-mutant paramilitary forces like the Purifiers. Cyclops is aggressive, direct, and not all repressed.

His sex life becomes more explicit as well. One of the first challenges the X-Men face in San Francisco is the return of Madelyne Pryor, Summers’ first ex-wife. She manipulates Scott into having sex with her, using Emma’s kinkiness as a cheat to bypass his skepticism, which encourages Emma to start a psychic examination of Scott’s mind. Deep in his mind, Scott holds a black box, surrounded by the sexy women. His leadership power, his secrets, his impulses, and his relationship with Emma are inextricable from one another.

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Yet Scott still has those secrets. When he starts X-Force, he explicitly tells Wolverine that it needs to be kept from everyone, especially Emma — the hero is too dark for even the slightly reformed villain. And it is dark — X-Force’s story is told almost entirely in greys and black, with red its only color.

This is a complicated era for the X-Men books. The story’s serialization isn’t entirely welcoming, especially when the crossover events take over every X-book, while the line between villains and heroes is deliberately blurred to the point where traditional rooting interests don’t help much. Yet Cyclops, the grandmaster, gives the story its anchor regardless of whether it’s the grittiness of X-Force, the teen drama of New X-Men Academy, or the colorful New Mutants.

When the climax comes in “Second Coming,” Cyclops’ aggressive choices, leadership role, and dependence on Emma Frost are redeemed and justified. The New Mutants throw aside their moral code to destroy an army. X-Force is exposed, turning Beast and Nightcrawler, the mutants’ moral centers, against Cyclops — but it’s X-Force who wins the war. And there are very few more inspiring moments in Marvel’s history than Cyclops standing on the Golden Gate Bridge, holding the damn line against the futuristic super-Sentinels, sending god-like mutants like Namor, Storm, and Magneto to skirmish with the unlimited enemies as he, Hope, and whatever ragtag band of mutants are around defend the ground. The U.S. government even gives Scott a medal!

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Comics being comics and telling serialized stories of crisis after crisis, Cyclops’ victory cannot last. Some of this is legitimate. Scott’s consequentalism, so successful in the short-term, leads to Beast’s departure, then the “Schism” where Wolverine and half of the mutants depart due to Cyclops’ willingness to throw minors into harm’s way. Initially this works well — writer Kieran Gillen, given control of Scott’s side of the story, has him create an “Extinction Team” of high-powered mostly former villain mutants, to both save the world and scare it into recognition. Note Emma’s sly cutdown of Scott — she’s both undermining and reinforcing him in the middle of one of his toughest pitches. She’s playing power games with him as he plays power games with Magneto, Colossus the Juggernaut, Storm, and more.

But this era of the X-Men, with all its complicated greatness, ends on a down note. “Avengers versus X-Men” is an absolute mess of a crossover, lacking both the X-Men crossover’s narrative coherence and the Avengers crossover’s joyous variety. But its biggest sin is that it uses a possession storyline — the Phoenix Force taking over five members of Cyclops’ Extinction Team — to bypass the story tensions built up over years of drama. Both Cyclops’ single-mindedness in trying to save mutantkind and his complicated relationship with Emma, built on sex and power, hit their point of disaster during the event, and both are severely weakened by the fact that the Phoenix Force makes it impossible to judge characters’ true motivations.There’s also an unfortunate subtext that the BDSM nature of Scott and Emma’s relationship prevents it from being being sturdy enough to survive the Phoenix Force, leading to Scott betraying Emma.

Yet even that couldn’t fully damage Cyclops’ anti-hero turn. Gillen salvaged as much as he could with the superb follow-up series “Consequences.” This led directly into a new Uncanny X-Men, with Cyclops the mutant revolutionary rock star at its center. In a little over a decade, Scott Summers went from boring boy scout to jaw-dropping, unapologetic cover boy. All it took was a little kinky sex.

Rowan Kaiser is a freelance writer living in Oakland. Follow him on Twitter for unimportant pop culture musings and very important cat picture. This post made possible by Patreon — if you liked it, consider becoming a donor yourself!

Rowan Kaiser

Written by

Contributing writer @TheAVClub, freelance game critic. Owner of #twokitties, tabby & black. Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/rowankaiser

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