Nola Pfau’s Redeye for That Cyclops Guy

Cyclops fires his optic blasts

In an effort to trick WWAC contributors into writing profile essays about their favourite character, I may have bitten off more than I can chew when it comes to Nola Pfau and her love of Scott Summers. While I don’t hate the character, I’m certainly not fond of him, and there are those who feel far more negatively about the leader of the X-Men, but Nola is convinced that she can turn me to her point of view. Let’s see how well she does.

What is Scott’s current status in comics?

He’s alive and dressing like it’s 1993, so I’m gonna go ahead and say “mid-life crisis.” I’m kidding–the costume is apparently all that was left after the mansion got destroyed again, so he’s kind of making do, which is also why the visor doesn’t match. Anyway, he’s currently running a small team out of the back of Harry’s Hideaway because “the X-Men are dead.” Presumably when the Age of X-Man event wraps up this status quo will shift again significantly.

How did you first meet this character, and what have they come to mean to you?

Oh gosh, uh, it’s murky? I can’t remember whether I saw the cartoon first or got the comics, but I got a spread of issues in the mid-’80s, around the time he was ceding the team to Storm and trying to run off with Madelyne Pryor.

I identify with Scott a lot. I mean, I was never in an orphanage, and I was never manipulated by an evil geneticist, but I did have kind of a rough upbringing, and I understand losing parents as a child. It’s hard not to be a little maudlin when you carry grief with you from a young age. Like Scott, I have a distinct problem with properly balancing priorities in my life; I tend to hyper-fixate on whatever I’m working on, to the detriment of habitual human behaviors like eating or sleeping, and I spend too much time considering variables and hypotheticals.

I mean I’ve never used my space-given god powers to assassinate my father figure in front of the world (yet), but I really appreciate a character who is super-competent in some areas of his life and just completely inept in others. I think that’s eminently relatable, as a reader. I also appreciate that that flaw has never been fixed in him, because I think it would break his ability to be interesting. With a perfect life he’d be just another boring white dude. Instead, he’s his own problem, and how many team leaders get to be that?

What is your ideal vision of this character?

Is this a pun? It feels like a pun.

I guess I’m not sure how to answer this though. Like, are you asking “If I would write Scott, how would I interpret him,” or “What is my understanding of his primary traits,” or just “What are his qualities that most appeal to me”? These are distinct questions that have distinct answers.

See, the thing about Scott is that his optic blasts might or might not have been intended as a thematic curse for him when he was created, but that’s certainly what they’ve become. Scott’s vision is unrelentingly powerful and destructive unless controlled, and so he has developed control of it to an impressive degree. He can narrow it down to a pinpoint. He can bounce and ricochet it with the kind of accuracy that requires him to do intense geometrical calculations on the fly, in his head. That’s what’s impressive about him, really. It’s not that he can shoot beams of force from his face. It’s that he can literally see all the angles. A lot of folks don’t realize that about him, but on a team with both a telepath and a literal, multiple-times-over doctor, Scott’s mind might just be the fastest.

Cyclops assesses the actions of his teammates to determine how to incapacitate them
Uncanny X-Men #175 (Marvel Comics, November 1983)

That’s also his primary flaw—he can only see things from his viewpoint, and what’s the thing a camera can never film? Itself. The visor that gives him control is also symbolic of his inability to step outside of his role, to see himself in the scope of things, which is why he doesn’t know how to function as a person. He’s lost without a mission; he screws up constantly, he’s got a head full of weird perceptions of relationship dynamics, and rather than learn the things he’s lacking he’s relied on people who can read his mind, which has led to him taking shortcuts or focusing on other things entirely instead of fixing his damned problems.

Scott has developed a bad reputation ever since Claremont was forced to bring him out of retirement. Do you feel that reputation was deserved? Why or why not?

“My high school sweetheart is back from the dead, better abandon my wife and child to once again join a paramilitary organization, thereby accidentally almost causing the demonic takeover of Earth!”

“My high school sweetheart is back from the dead, better abandon my wife and child to once again join a paramilitary organization, thereby accidentally almost causing the demonic takeover of Earth!”

Scott gets a lot of shit for abandoning Madelyne (and it’s deserved!), but also everything about his character makes that choice an entirely natural one for him to have made. If Scott were a real person, I’d call him an ass, and I’d think a lot less of him, but he’s not. He’s a character, and characters making terrible decisions for even worse reasons is what makes stories fun. In this case, it led to one of the greatest comic events of all time.

Scott doesn’t know how to be a person. Scott knows how to be The Leader of the X-Men. Some of that is his fault, some of it is Xavier’s, and some of it is Sinister’s. It’s hard to develop into a stable adult when you’ve been groomed from a traumatic childhood into a child soldier. Scott’s been taught his entire life that The Dream is the most important thing, and 90% of his conflict as a character comes from other things in his life getting in the way of that. This leads to a lot of people not liking him—characters and readers both. Hell, I don’t think Scott likes Scott, but I also think he doesn’t figure that matters.

Professor Xavier did indeed groom Scott to be a leader and, for better or worse, he has fulfilled that role. What makes him a good leader?

The thing about Scott is that he’s a planner. There’s a panel that gets referenced as a joke about him numbering his plans instead of using letters because letters would limit him to only 26. But that’s the thing—this guy has contingencies for contingencies. We’ve seen stories about this kind of thing for Batman (JLA: Tower of Babel) and even for Xavier himself (The Xavier Files), and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cyclops has the same sort of approach—the difference being that I don’t think Cyclops writes his down.

Anyway, for better or for worse, Cyclops views each and every teammate as his responsibility. It’s his duty to allocate them to missions appropriately to ensure they complete their tasks as efficiently and safely as possible, and to make sure that they come back home in one piece. This is why he’s always out in the field with them. He could never bear running ops from the mansion when he knows his presence could make the difference.

Drenched in red light, Cyclops, without his visor, his eyes glowing red, stands with his foot on his defeated enemy and says, "To me, my X-Men"
Astonishing X-Men Vol 3 #23, (Marvel Comics, January 2008)

Essentially, leading the X-Men is his life, not because he wants to lead but because he (believes he) carries the entire mutant cause on his shoulders (thanks, Professor). It’s super arrogant of him to think so, but also he has no perception of himself, which is also why he’s always ruining his personal life.

He’s also always the leader the X-Men need him to be at a given point—be that the too-serious taskmaster for his four teenaged friends, the tactical genius training a new team, the slick figurehead of an international phenomenon, or even the mutant revolutionary on the run, wearing the symbol of his ideals directly on his face, so that you never mistake what he’s about.

All that said, I still don’t think he’s the best leader they’ve had. I mean, Storm exists.

How do you feel about his relationship with his brother, Alex Summers, a.k.a. Havok?

I think it’s at its best when it’s tumultuous, but I don’t think that tumultuousness should be relegated to a simple tension between older and younger siblings. I think they both envy each other. Havok is not, and will never be, the leader that Cyclops is, but Alex can function in a society in a way that Scott will never be able to. The fact that Havok sucks is a different conversation altogether.

Cyclops and Havok fight each other
All-New X-Men #12, cover by Stuart Immonen (Marvel Comics, June 2013)

He’s constantly being romantically teamed up with telepaths. Why do you think that is? What would you like to see for Scott in terms of a relationship?

This ties some into what I was talking about with his personal life. Scott doesn’t know how to be a person. He doesn’t know how to talk—or have—feelings. I mean he has them, but he has them the way a cishet man holds his wife’s purse in a department store. Is that mean? It feels mean. I stand by it.

Scott surrounds himself with telepaths because despite those problems, he desperately, desperately wants to be understood. Who can do that? A mind-reader.

Scott surrounds himself with telepaths because despite those problems, he desperately, desperately wants to be understood. Who can do that? A mind-reader. He never has to worry about misspeaking with Jean, Emma, or Charles, because they know what he intends to say before he’s even formed the words. A lot of people would find that really annoying, but I think to Scott it’s a relief. I think he relies on them to keep him honest, to tell him when there’s something he might not have accounted for, because part of seeing all the angles means seeing that some might slip by. He does, after all, value precision, and remember what I said about a camera being unable to film itself? The exception to that is when there’s a mirror present. Telepaths give him that. This brings me to my grand point about why, whether you like him or not, Scott is a great character. Everything about him ties together thematically. It’s always about what he sees and doesn’t see—it’s always about clarity, and precision, and angles.

Magneto sits in a trance while Emma Frost explains why Scott envies him
Uncanny X-Men #522 (Marvel Comics, May 2010)

I should say that none of this is healthy for him. The boy needs to learn some interpersonal skills, and stat. Also, he never will, and I find his ineptitude in this arena charming. Probably because I know I’m never going to have to suffer the consequences of it.

Besides, healthy, happy people don’t lead mutant revolutions, do they? I’d like to see Scott with someone who’s not a telepath for a change—sorry, someone who’s a.) not a telepath, and b.) not a clone created specifically to fuck with him. As much as I like him with telepaths, I think forcing him to step outside that box and grow in new and uncomfortable ways is the next natural step for him. Which means he’ll probably end up with Betsy, instead.

How do you feel about the evolution of his relationship with Logan?

Have they kissed yet? If not, I don’t care.

Honestly, they both fulfill extremely different roles with the X-Men, and while they might be a personality mismatch sometimes, I don’t think the conflict that usually exists between them feels natural at all. Also, end the Jean/Scott/Logan love triangle. It never worked. It was never good. Just forget about it.

Well, Nola hasn’t completely turned me into a Scott-lover (good thing, because I’m a horrible telepath and I’d hate to have my love go unrequited), but she certainly raises some great points about the importance of flawed characters. 

Series Navigation<< Batman: Ideals vs Reality With Ardo OmerPhoenix Rising: Kayleigh Hearn on X-Men’s Jean Grey >>
Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.