He’s been a leader and a revolutionary, a husband and a father, a hero and a villain–He’s Cyclops, the first X-Man. The many roles Scott Summers has played since his debut in 1963 have made him one of the X-Men and comics’ most complex characters. In honor of Slim’s full-fledged return from the dead in this week’s Uncanny X-Men Annual #1, AiPT! is proud to present: CYCLOPS WEEK!
There’s a moment in Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men run where Scott Summers gives us a rare glimpse into his thought process. After having moved the mutant population to the resurfaced Asteroid M, he’s discussing the need for basic necessities such as food, water, and power with his team. When Namor bluntly asks Scott what exactly he’s trying to establish on the floating rock, it makes him falter. Has Asteroid M become a hostel? A fortress? A sovereign state? The political implications for mutantkind are huge.
Scott doesn’t know. In fact, he admits he’s pretty much making things up as he goes. This is an important moment because it underscores the fact that Scott is a much better tactician than he is a political operative. He doesn’t have the patience, tact, or political savvy to engage in typical international politics. Instead, Scott moves moment-to-moment making the best choices he can and coping with compromises that left friends dead and morals undermined.
I’ve spent a lot of time sticking up for Cyclops this week, haven’t I? Too many moments of his life have been influenced by factors beyond his control, and too few people take the big picture into account when looking at his actions. Well, that buck stops now. The big picture doesn’t do much when you’re threatening genocide, after all.
Today, we’re talking about Cyclops as a figurehead of mutantkind. It was a position that Cyclops held from the decimation of M-Day to the ideological split of “Schism.” Scott would carve a new path for mutants when annihilation was an all-too-real possibility. In doing so, he would make a handful of critical decisions which would leave his reputation in tatters.
If you haven’t been keeping up with AiPT!’s Cyclops Week, this is actually the fourth article on the life of Scott Summers. I encourage you to read the breakdowns of Scott, “The Boy Scout,” “The Lousy Lover,” and “The Bad Dad.” Now let’s dig into the controversy.
Scott, The Mutant Leader
Imagine planning your entire life around taking your father’s mantle only for things to fall apart when he’s finally gone. To become the leader of a race on the brink of extinction.
House of M is a pretty divisive event among X-Fans. Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, suffers a mental breakdown and alters the fabric of reality to recreate her “lost” children. Professor Charles Xavier and her father, Magneto, have been trying to get her to accept reality as it is but her powers are creating an uncontrollable situation. With the Avengers and X-Men debating whether she should be killed, her brother, Quicksilver, convinces Wanda to create a new reality where everyone gets exactly what they wanted. The only problem is the failsafe inclusion of Layla Miller, a mutant who is able to restore the memories of those she comes in contact with.
It doesn’t take long for a gaggle of superheroes to meet Layla and have their memories fully restored or for those heroes to mobilize into a resistance. When the House of M finally collapses under the will of dozens of rightfully pissed heroes, Scarlet Witch says three words that would have dire consequences for the future of mutantkind:
The mutant population is reduced from millions to hundreds. Several mutants are depowered and in the confusion Emma Frost enters Cerebro to discover the mutant race on its last legs. Emma’s psi-scan of the Xavier Institute then revealed the number of active mutants on campus fell from 182 to 27. The future of the X-Men was now at stake.
These were the problems Cyclops inherited. Professor Xavier was gone (again) and with news of mutantkind’s vulnerability, its enemies were lining up to wipe them out. Scott and Emma, now co-heads of the Xavier Institute, made some fundamental changes. Residents who were no longer mutants were sent home for their own safety, and the school’s doors would open as a refuge to all mutants around the globe. Meanwhile, the government had assigned a squad of Sentinels, manned by humans, to protect the mansion and its inhabitants. Is it so surprising that the mansion would be destroyed again?
Hope threw things into chaos. As far as Cyclops was concerned, her birth, as the first new mutant baby born since M-Day, was a symbol of Mutantkind’s future–something that had to be protected at all costs. Perhaps Hope was a herald of things to come for mutants; the first lucky break in over a decade of standing on the edge of a knife. This notion of a “Mutant Messiah” would mobilize friends and enemies in the fight over her custody.
When the X-Men seek out Hope, they find her town destroyed, already having been visited by the Purifiers and Marauders. When Scott discovers that his son, Cable, had kidnapped the newborn, he orders the reformation of X-Force to hunt him down. This is the first of many controversies around Cyclops’ leadership. X-Force wasn’t just a team of totally rad X-adjacent characters; it was a death squad. A group dedicated to proactively silencing potential threats to mutantkind. Although this team would have Wolverine as a field leader, its orders were signed, sealed, and approved by Cyclops. It was a secret he would keep from the rest of the X-Men.
How did Cyclops get to the point of greenlighting an assassination team? There’s a few factors to consider. The first is that Cyclops had become much more calculating and cold in the years since merging with Apocalypse. Jean Grey was dead and the morally ambiguous Emma Frost was one of the few X-Men who still held influence over his actions, although even she was unaware of X-Force. With an entire race now under his protection, Scott, like many world leaders, began seeing shadows in every corner. A belief that would be supported by Bishop’s betrayal.
Bishop, a renegade time-cop with complete knowledge of the X-Men, feared Hope would become the monster his parents told him about. The person responsible for his dark future. He infected the manned Sentinels that guarded the mansion with nanites and the mansion was destroyed when he finally showed his hand. After Xavier convinced Cyclops to allow Cable to escape into the future with baby Hope, Bishop attempted to shoot the child and hit Professor Xavier instead. For a while, it had appeared as though the X-Men were over.
With the mansion destroyed and mutants in disarray, Scott successfully led his people to the West Coast. He and Emma had saved San Francisco from a mutant and the mayor offered to help the X-Men establish themselves in the city. From their new headquarters, Cyclops sent word to all of the world’s mutants that San Francisco was a safe haven for mutants. I’d joke about San Fran being a land of free-spirited hippies, but it was a pretty appropriate relocation. Many residents welcomed the mutants with open arms, with city tours even taking tourists to X-Men patrol roots. All was not well in San Francisco, though.
You can rationalize a lot of Cyclops’ actions during this era as “desperation,” but the way he acted during the events of Secret Invasion is pretty damning. When the Skrulls arrived in San Francisco expecting no resistance, they found the X-Men. Moving ahead with their invasion plans, they’d set up a telepathic black-out and flooded the city with Skrull soldiers. In response, Cyclops takes a page out of Che Guevara and leans on guerilla warfare, using teleporters to pop up throughout the city and take out as many Skrull units as possible. Meanwhile he asks Beast to find a doomsday weapon.
Days of research bring Beast to only one viable WMD: a modified version of the Legacy Virus.
If released, the modified Legacy Virus will kill every Skrull who comes in contact with it. Releasing it among the Skrull fleet would be tantamount to ethnic cleansing. The Skrull commanders, fatigued by Cyclops’ guerilla tactics fill skyscrapers with tens of thousands of innocent civilians and demand the surrender of the X-Men. Cyclops decides that it’s time to engage in biological warfare, rationalizing this as the Skrulls “forcing his hand.”
Cyclops feigned surrender to the Skrull invasion commander. He had the X-Men spray themselves with the Legacy Virus, exposing every soldier, squadron, and ship that had been in contact with an X-Man. This gave the entire fleet a total of three days before inevitable death. If the invasion force had left San Francisco to join the main fleet, it would have damned the entire Skrull race. Seeing no way out and not wanting to infect his family, the Skrull commander orders the self-immolation of the entire fleet. Tens of thousands of Skrulls commit suicide.
This is the second great controversy of Cyclops’ leadership. Not only did he engage in what could have been an act of ethnic cleansing, but he did so without knowledge of a Legacy Virus cure. He also weaponized something that holds significance to his people and friends. The Legacy Virus was a mutant-specific infection, which some have called a clumsy AIDS allegory. What’s important to this discussion is that the X-Men, Scott included, lost friends and family to the virus, most notably Magik and Colossus. I can’t stress enough how problematic it is that he weaponized a plague that had been used to victimize his own people.
Although Cyclops was still supported by the mayor, the Bay Area had seen a rise in anti-mutant hysteria. Riots were occurring throughout the city and the media had been portraying Cyclops as the driving force. Scott was increasingly seen as the figurehead of the mutant race, making his next play a polarising one.
Under Scott’s orders, X-Club had resurfaced Magneto’s former headquarters which had crashed into the Pacific Coast, Asteroid M. Scott moved every X-Man and mutant to the landmass and declared it the mutant haven of “Utopia.” In a press conference, Cyclops informed the world that Utopia would now exist as a sovereign state of mutants. Scott had succeeded in uniting the mutant race where Xavier and Magneto had failed, but this would not be good PR for mutantkind or the X-Men.
Cable and a teenage Hope returned from the future during the events of Second Coming. Cyclops endeavors to get Hope to the safety of Utopia, but the costs would be severe. Nightcrawler, feeling betrayed after discovering Scott’s consent of X-Force’s action, wouldn’t get a chance to reconcile with Scott–he died trying to protect Hope from Bastion. In his attempt to thwart Bastion’s use of Sentinels, Scott orders X-Force on a suicide mission into the future. Had Cable not sacrificed himself, the entire team would have been lost.
When the conflict between the X-Men and Bastion had come to a close, Scott had a lot to answer for. Cable was dead and both Hope and Beast were disgusted by his increasingly militant actions. Scott took full responsibility for X-Force’s actions as well as the deaths of every X-Man since Hope’s birth. X-Force was disbanded, Beast left, and Logan and Scott were now on bad terms. Amidst all of the tragedy, Scott was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States.
This brings us to the final damning act of Scott’s leadership before the division of the mutant race. It was during the events of Schism that Cyclops asked the leaders of the United Nations to have all of their Sentinels decommissioned. After all, there were now more Sentinels in the world than mutants. When the speech is interrupted by Quentin Quire, forcefully making the politicians admit their darkest secrets, it sends mutant relations into a freefall. Several countries mobilize their Sentinels and while the X-Men are attending a PR event at the Museum of Mutant History, the building is attacked by the Hellfire Club.
Seeing few options out of the situation, Cyclops tells the new mutant Oya to “do what she has to do.” She kills several Hellfire Club soldiers.
This event has several folds of uncomfortability. Firstly, Oya is a 14-year-old girl and as Logan points out, people like him exist to do the dirty things so kids can keep their hand clean. Secondly, Oya is a devout Christian who already sees her mutant abilities as “demonic,” with the trauma of this incident being used as self-confirmation of her monstrocity. Finally, it wasn’t the first time Cyclops advocated the use of child soldiers and it wouldn’t be the last.
When the Hellfire Club activates a gigantic Sentinel to destroy Utopia, Wolverine is rightfully against the idea of putting children on the front lines. Cyclops insists that everyone who wants to fight should fight. In response, Wolverine threatens to blow up Utopia if everyone doesn’t evacuate. Frustration had been building between the two since Scott’s decision to include Laura Kinney (X-23), Logan’s daughter-clone, in X-Force. When Cyclops brings up Jean Grey’s fear of Logan, the two men begin tearing each other apart while the Sentinel encroaches on Utopia.
Although Utopia would ultimately be spared, the damage to the mutant race had been done. With ideological differences at a fever pitch, half of Utopia’s mutant population would follow Wolverine back to Westchester for the opening of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. Cyclops would form an extinction team with those who chose to stay in Utopia to deal with worldwide threats and try to make some new inroads with humanity. The desperation that he felt as mutant leader would morph into a new kind of imprudence.
No longer his people’s sole figurehead, Scott’s rashness for mutant opportunities would lead to the most significant status quo shift of his character. We’ll get to that tomorrow when we discuss his Mutant Revolution, but for now, it’s important to acknowledge how blemished Scott’s character had become among the global community. Whether his actions were warranted by the circumstances or not, he was seen as a reckless and dangerous man–a far cry from the Boy Scout he once was.
To quote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.” I don’t think Scott Summers is an evil man per se, but that doesn’t mean that his actions during the Utopia era of X-Men weren’t evil. Scott signed off on the murder of mutants and humans. He took advantage of Laura Kinney’s former life as a weapon. He weaponized a virus used against his own race to commit an act of genocide and raised global tensions between mutants and humans. And you know what? He succeeded as a leader of his people.
You have to question how many people would have died had Scott’s death squad not intervened in the resurrection of Apocalypse. It’s also uncertain whether the mutant race would have repopulated had Cable not been supported by Scott. The decisions Scott made always had collateral damage but he was able to shepherd mutantkind through its most catastrophic era with relatively few casualties. This is why I think Scott doubles-down on his “ends justify the means” approach post-Schism. We’ll discuss Cyclops’ philosophies during Avengers vs X-Men in tomorrow’s article, but for now I want to leave you questioning how many mutants would’ve survived without Cyclops’ firm hand.