I originally started to write a piece about Cyclops and the convention of the ‘bland leading character’ a while ago, especially after recalling a debate my friend Andy and I had about Jack from Lost. It was too broad and went way too far. I didn’t finish the article and it remained half-written in My Documents for a year or two. Given recent events with Cyclops in “Avengers VS X-Men” with the character, and having to defend him multiple times, I’m going to break my original idea into two.
This is my first part, about Cyclops himself, giving reasons he’s liked & disliked, my perspective that X-Men is his story, and why I like Cyclops, the character people love to hate. My second will be about bland protagonists and the perceived need for them. There are merits and flaws, which is what I’ll be exploring.
When I read the X-Men as a child, and most of the time now, I read it with Cyclops as the leading character. Sometimes he’s off the book, sometimes he’s in an antagonistic role, but he’s the heart of the group, and the person who’s been there since day one. People hate him, and there are reasons, but he could easily be considered the lead character for most of the X-Men run.
IT’S HIS STORY
Scott “Slim” Summers, aka Cyclops was the very first X-Man, his parents ‘died’ in a plane crash which he attributed to his powers. He was bounced from orphanage to orphanage until his corrupt foster-father tried to make him use his powers to commit crimes. He fought back and was taken in by Professor Xavier. This is one noteworthy point for him, too. Unlike the other X-Men, he was an orphan, and even those with cruel parents had them. Scott had nothing, so the Professor became his ‘father’.
From the original era, he was trained to be their leader, the one to get serious about how to run the team. He was less fun to be around, but was the ‘rock’ of the group, allowing others to act out as he’d always be there to mop up for them. During this time, he also had a humanising trait in a time when most comic characters were one-note, especially in ensemble books. He was in love with Jean Grey. Everyone was in love with Jean Grey, even Professor X, but we saw Cyclops’ thoughts more than anyone else’s. Beast’s smarts and Angel’s bluster didn’t do much for her, and we even saw inside her mind that she was intrigued by him.
In the recent, “X-Men Season One” which will get a full review soon, the YA fiction love triangle casts Cyclops as the brooding one and Angel as the outgoing one, competing for Jean’s affections. They even ‘Meet Cute’.
When the All-New, All-Different X-Men appeared in the 70’s, Cyclops was the only classic X-Man with a full-time role. He took on their leadership while Professor X hung back, beginning to let Scott, his surrogate son, inherit the role. The other X-Men looked to him for advice, or in Wolverine’s case, clashed with him as the symbol of ‘authority’ on the team.
All the big stories followed Cyclops and Jean Grey, with their tormented romance, her madness and death. We saw Cyclops’ breakdown, his swift relationship and marriage with a woman looking suspiciously like his dead girlfriend, his ‘retirement’ and return to action when Jean returned, crazy clone-based love triangle. All the while, he was leader of X-Factor and the X-Men for longer than Professor X was.
The relationship between Scott & Jean was a major focus, even with a wedding issue in X-Men #30 and the tension of Wolverine & Jean’s mutual attraction. Even after Jean’s most recent death in the early 2000’s, Scott and Emma became the core relationship of the team. As the power couple of mutantkind, they took on the responsibility of their race’s safety. It was Cyclops who stared down Norman Osborn when he came knocking, and as a man with only concussive eye-beams as a power, he still fought Wolverine, a man constantly healing with a metal skeleton and unbreakable claws.
And of course Cyclops has gone evil and died. He’s come back, he’s had emotional breakdowns, physical breakdowns and still emerged as the leader of the X-Men. These are all the stories which would happen to a protagonist, even a serious ‘stick-up-the-butt’ kind like Cyclops. If you look at it dramatically, he’s the lead character, currently falling from grace and with the new dramatic horror of having killed his mentor, his ‘father’ while under the influence of the Phoenix.
WHY IS HE HATED?
Cyclops is, “The Man”. He’s the symbol of authority in the team, the straight-man to the rest of the team’s oddities and rogues. Our sympathies generally lie with the underdog, the person put upon by the authority figure, so it’s natural that Cyclops would be perceived as the enemy.
There’s “Ultramarine” syndrome, too, where Cyclops’ uniform provides the baseline for everyone else, so they get the interesting modifications and his only noteworthy change is the visor. His uniform stayed almost identical to his first one until the 90’s version, and then it was still the blue & gold it always was, but with straps and pouches like ALL 1990’s superheroes had.
Cyclops is the favourite. He’s the one the comic is fighting for, even when we’re not. He’s kept closest by Professor X, the ‘father’ of the X-Men, and he gets all the hot psychic women, despite being almost constantly in monogamous relationships.
Finally, he’s a hardass. Someone has to make the serious decisions, the awful decisions. Cyclops is better at being right than he is being liked, and in a soapy, emotional series, that makes him the bad guy. His emotional repression matches that of any Fisher family member from Six Feet Under, and while it’s an interesting character trait, makes people think that he’s a robot, that there’s nothing going on under the surface.
WHY IS HE LOVED?
Writers love Cyclops. Back when Grant Morrison was starting on New X-Men I was surprised to see in Wizard Magazine that almost all the X-writers they interviewed said Cyclops was their favourite.
Many writers have used him as a bland authority figure, but the best recast him, filled him with some of their personal touches. Grant Morrison’s Cyclops was relentlessly tough, uptight to a comedic level and a wreck when his façade was broken. Joss Whedon’s Cyclops was Mal Reynolds with super powers. Matt Fraction’s was the Bill Adama type leader, making hard decisions and leading a whole race (as well as kicking-arse in a jetpack). Kieron Gillen’s has been a great leader fraying at the seams thanks to extreme circumstances and a divided team outgrowing him the way he outgrew his mentor.
Cyclops is fine with being unpopular and that’s a good character trait. If the hero’s willing to be the bad guy, to be hated for the greater good, that’s an interesting plot point. It creates conflict and conflict equals drama.
Not everyone has to be external. Spider-Man wisecracks, Wolverine drinks and hangs around with teenage girls. Cyclops is a rigidly internal man, filled with self-doubt and torment, but as emotionally awful as his life gets, he can’t let the façade slip as he’s the core of the X-Men. If he slips, everything slips, and that means either result creates drama. If he doesn’t buckle, we see Cyclops give himself even more stress. If he does, we see the fallout internally and externally. For the audience, it’s a win-win.
Cyclops is also a pile-up of weird baggage. Spider-Man forgot his wife thanks to a deal with the devil? That’s nothing. Cyclops married a defective clone of his dead girlfriend who was all-powerful and a murderer of planets. He thought his wife (the clone) had died and raised their child with the resurrected formerly-dead girlfriend. The clone wife had a breakdown, animated all the inanimate objects in New York mainly to screw with Cyclops and kill her son, then died. The baby was infected with a techno-organic virus and sent into the future. He married the real girlfriend, had a psychic affair with a former villain. His wife died in the sun and chose not to come back to life. His new ex-villain girlfriend helped him corral all the remaining 198 mutants into one place and become the de facto leader of his whole race. He ordered a child to kill during a desperate situation, causing her to have a total breakdown and half his faction to leave. Now, he’s possessed by the same entity which possessed his dead second wife. The real one, not the clone one. He’s a messed up boy, and as silly as that all looks in a synopsis, it’s a hoot to read. Oh, and that’s not including his space-pirate father, constantly mind-controlled little brother and evil space-dictator half-brother.
SIDEBAR – REPLACING CYCLOPS
As I said here and in my last X-Men-based article, Cyclops now has murdered Professor X and turned into Dark Phoenix, like somehow he wasn’t dark before during this storyline.
That’s all happened, but there’s more to come this week with the end of Avengers vs X-Men. It’ll be interesting to see how Marvel deal with the character. The main options I can see are to kill him, turn him evil, banish him somewhere or imprison him.
No matter what, Cyclops is going to have to go away, at least as far as being a leader of the X-Men. The big problem now is who should take over? Who is willing to become everything I’ve discussed above? Who’s willing to lead the team AND the narrative?
* Storm – Second only to Cyclops as far as leading time, Storm is a bland character, despite being a former child thief, sewer-people leading, punk-rocker, with thinly-veiled bisexual tenancies and a former romance with Dracula all during the Chris Claremont era, of course. Then out of the blue she married a ruler of a nation. All of this somehow hasn’t made her interesting, hasn’t made her deal with events in a way which you could define as ‘definitely Storm’. Since the cartoon and film, monologuing to a supervillain extent is one of the few character traits the public knows about her.
* Wolverine – The concept of Headmaster Wolverine has been fun in Wolverine & The X-Men, but it works because he’s totally wrong for the role he’s in. Desperation made him leave Cyclops’ team and found a new school, but no one else would take the reins, not even Professor X. I don’t like Wolverine. I know it’s not a popular opinion, but in charge or on his own, I think he’s an awful character. He’s best as part of a team, as the opposing viewpoint, or the damaged veteran, or the wildcard.
* Magneto – It’s not like he’s not led the X-Men before (and the New Mutants AND been a member of the Hellfire Club, all at the same time). If he doesn’t die in Avengers vs X-Men #12, he’ll need a purpose. His dream has been realised in the worst possible way, and as he’s been a good guy for a few years, this is a definite possibility. He has had the requisite face and heel turns, he’s had one recent romance (with Rogue) and two kids in the Avengers & X-Men, which might help tie the two teams together post-crossover, an agenda Marvel are pushing for now.
* Beast – Might be a good leader. He’s had a lot of conflict lately, quitting the X-Men because of Cyclops, joining Wolverine’s team to annoy Cyclops, but he’s more of an Avenger now. He’s smart and a legacy, but there’s not enough behind him to make him good leader and protagonist material.
* Iceman & Havok – They’re not really noteworthy enough to even get put into separate entries. I like them both, but Iceman’s coasted through everything in life and Havok’s played a poor second-fiddle to Cyclops whenever he’s not been mind-controlled.
* Cable – I don’t know how he’s back. It was in a story written by Jeph Loeb so I won’t be reading that any time soon. If Marvel were doing the same as DC’s “New 52” and striving to bring back the 1990’s era of pouches, embossed characters, slicing people up and gritted teeth, “Grim & Gritty” writing then yes, he would be a shoe-in. It had better not be Cable.
* Hope Summers– A friend suggested Hope Summers, but unless they somehow age her, that’s not going to happen. I think he just wanted… not child soldiers, but definitely some kind of young adult militia. So yes, child soldiers. But with powers. I’m going with ‘no’ for this.
* Rogue – Surprisingly, she’s really come into her own. Rogue’s had the rough upbringing, face & heel-turns, tortured romances that Cyclops has had, but with a little less infidelity and more character development. The X-Men Legacy comic started about Professor X but moved on to her. She’s acted as a teacher, a guidance counsellor and one of the better leaders the team’s had. Rogue is probably my favourite for who should be the leader and principle perspective of the team.
(Of course I could be completely wrong, leave comments below about how right or wrong I am, or who else could lead the X-Men)
CONCLUSION – WHY DO I LIKE CYCLOPS?
I like the characters who have to make the bad decisions. I’ve said before, “People like to watch smart characters do dumb things,” (quoting either Joss Whedon or Amy Sherman-Palladino, I can’t find the original source) and I’m one of those people. He’s a person in a leadership role who has enough baggage alone for any human being, let alone one who has to keep it together for everyone else’s sake. And he probably doesn’t even need to do that.
Despite how Cyclops presents himself, he’s a fundamentally-flawed character. He’s an internal character, which isn’t as dynamic as, “getting angry and punching things”, like a lot of 90’s characters did, and now still do.
The archetypical X-Man is one with a lot of emotional baggage, powers which are a hinderance as well as a help, and the X-Men themselves as their main family, even if their biological family are still alive. Cyclops is all these things, and that’s why to me, he is the main character, and the heart of the X-Men.
All that said, I’ve been in the opposing side against the ‘generic protagonist’, too. My next article will show the positives and negatives of using such a character.
Avengers VS X-Men finished today (October 3rd) and I feel validated.
Yes, Cyclops was the enemy, he was the bad guy, possessed by the Phoenix, betraying his team, killing his mentor and father figure.
He was right. Cyclops was right. Phoenix is ripped out of Cyclops’ body, put into Hope Summers and she uses the power to deliver the Phoenix force around the world, bringing mutants back to Earth. If the Avengers hadn’t stopped the X-Men, then none of this would have happened.
Cyclops is in captivity at the end, trapped, but he’s unrepentant. He’d do it again, because no matter how awful it is, the mutants are back, and he was right. It’s sad that Professor X died, that so many people on Marvel Earth died, that Cyclops will spend the rest of his life in a ruby quartz prison, but still, according to Scott it’s worth the cost.
Kieron Gillen, a fantastic writer who once game my brother and I a satsuma each, ends Cyclops’ story brilliantly in Uncanny X-Men #19. He references the big events in Scott’s life (visible above in this very article), shows that he had reason, he had humanity, he had so much and ruined it all, but even he’s at peace with it. Now there are mutants, he’s fine with being the person everyone hates.
I’m pleased I wrote this article the day before reading AvX #12. Like Cyclops, I feel validated in having explained all of these things and then, one day later, seeing them in practice in the comics.
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PS: Cyclops was right.