Very few comics announcements can elicit the same reaction as the announcement of Jay Edidin’s Marvel Snapshots: X-Men. Which is to say, few announcements can get me to turn my camera off during a zoom call at my old job, mute my mic and shout “Fuck Yeah! Are You Kidding Me?!?! Fuck Yeah!” to myself repeatedly while scrambling to get to my online-pull list to pre-order the issue.
Jay Edidin is many things: part-time chicken dad, an activist, a writer, a talented critic, and a fierce journalist. He is also one half of Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men, “a weekly podcast that walks listeners through the ins, the outs, the clones, and the retcons of Superheroes’ Greatest Soap Operas.” Like many X-Men fans and comics journalists, I owe it all to this show, and to Jay’s commitment to building a thriving and transformative, discourse-driven online community.
Like Jay, I am a shameless Cyclops apologist, (somebody needs to give the guy a break because he certainly isn’t going to give himself one), so as you can imagine I was thrilled to get the chance to sit down and talk to Jay about his work on Marvel Snapshots: X-Men, a canonical one-shot that tells the tale of the young orphan Scott Summers, the boy who would grow up to be Cyclops.
If you haven’t read it yet, well I want to respect your autonomy but perhaps consider doing so or checking out my review before reading on.
WARNING: The following conversation contains spoilers Marvel Snapshots: X-Men. It also features discussions of neurodiversity, childhood trauma, swearing, orphanages, and orphanhood.
Scott Summers: Little spoon or big spoon?
Depends on the partner. Either way, I suspect that he pretty much never sleeps aligned such that someone else is in his line-of-sight.
Does he sleep socks on or socks off?
This is where I’m going to be VERY boring and say that canonically, I believe it varies. Socks off on Krakoa, though. Probably.
If ever there was a time and place…
For the characters I love, I’ve always held a “definitive” version of the character internally. For Scott Summers, I’ve come to implicitly view the Revolutionary Era Scott as my definitive Cyclops. Do you have a definitive era or version of Cyclops in your own mind? And did that play into the story that you wanted to tell here?
I have a few. Part of what I like about Cyclops is the ways he’s evolved over time–of all the X-Men, I think his gradual growth has been among the most believable, at least for me. Like you, I’m very attached to Revolutionary Scott; but I think the first time I really got invested in him as a character was during the first X-Factor era. In general, I think I tend to find him most interesting and engaging as a character when he’s working independently of Xavier–San Francisco and Utopia, the Whedon/Cassady arcs of Astonishing X-Men, and so forth–but that might be a coincidence. For teen Scott, my gold standards are pretty much always going to be Dennis Hopeless and Greg Rucka, but I’m also among the apparently rare folks who really enjoyed Bendis’s takes on both versions of the character.
What is Scott’s go-to comfort book?
It’s The Art of War. He has copies in various states of disrepair that have shown up in comics over the years. My bad running joke is that while this is technically Scott’s origin story, or part of it, it’s REALLY the secret origin of his first copy of The Art of War.
What do you think drew Scott to The Art of War?
In the context of Snapshots, it’s the obsessive drive to be prepared for everything, and the impossibility of that goal. He’s just figured out that he has actual agency–that he’s good at keeping a level head and thinking on his feet in emergencies–and concludes that the thing to do now is to learn as much as he can about everything, which obviously turns out to be a wildly impractical plan. A librarian points out that a more global philosophical approach might be more useful, and hooks him up with Sun Tzu.
Scott is a person who leans heavily on rules and systems, so having something that’s an introduction not only to how to do specific things, but angles from which to approach conflicts (and their absence) philosophically is a huge revelation.
He’s never, not felt lost, but suddenly he has this set of incredibly flexible and extendable principles he can apply in ways that give him some degree of control over situations, which is something he’s really never had.
Something I have always related to in Scott Summers is that he has almost deified the idea of preparedness.
Oh, hard same.
Let’s talk about the visuals for a minute. This really feels like a Marvel period piece. I found that everything from the art-style, tone of narration, and the ways that space is built-in panels felt equally nostalgic and fresh? Was this sort of “period piece’ approach something deliberate? And if so, what were the things that you felt were vital in capturing that kind of Silver Age storytelling? What elements of contemporary comics felt critical to retain?
There were a fair number of scenes depicting the Fantastic Four and members of the team embattled, speaking to the press, or dealing with Namor’s deep-sea shenanigans, did you pull from any particular pre-existing stories, panels, or pages for these references? Are these scratch-built scenes or should continuity sleuths be tracking down these references?
Over time, Scott Summers has been called “uptight” or “cold” often because of his constant devotion to that idea of being prepared and how it dictates some of his behaviors. In writing this story how much of Scott’s reputation in and out of the universe informed the story you’ve written?
The answer sits at the convergence of a lot of complicated trains of thought. My read on Scott’s contingency planning–and definitely the angle from which I approach it in this story–is that it’s more a coping device than anything else. It’s fairly clear in the comics that he’s dealing with a fair number of social barriers, and that a lot of them fall under the umbrella of things he doesn’t really feel like he can control. Both going further into my read of the character and projecting a little–I think that kind of obsessive planning is a pretty common experience among neurodivergent people, especially ones who do best in environments where they can minimize or curate variables; as is the broader experience of leaning into something like that knowing that it can be alienating, from the perspective that if the alienation is inevitable, at least this way it’s something you’re consciously doing.
All of which is to say: Scott’s contingency planning isn’t why people have trouble connecting to him. It’s a byproduct of the reasons people have trouble connecting to him. The things he needs in order to be okay don’t necessarily read as that to other people; and when they do, they aren’t relatable in the ways that a lot of folks rely on to generate empathy.
I was delighted by just how many of Scott’s behaviors and attitudes had their roots already firmly dug in at this point of Scott’s life; his uncompromising devotion to precision, his constant self-interrogation, that trademark balance of having an immense trust in himself while simultaneously incessantly second-guessing himself. How did you approach taking a character with such a rich history & continuity and work retroactively to plant all of the seeds for the Scott that we would come to know?
That makes me think a lot about how in various forums, conversations, and works like Ruby Quartz Panic Room, you’ve spoken about how it’s these things that play a major part in why some readers find him to be unsympathetic and how there’s overlap between that read of the character with some of the stigmas & biases against neurodivergent people. Was there any goal in writing this story to help break down some of those biases, even if somewhat indirectly through how you were writing and characterizing Scott?
Inasmuch as I’m an Autistic writer trying to write a story from the point of view of an arguably Autistic or autism-adjacent character whom I want to be accessible and sympathetic to a wide range of readers, yes. In terms of a deliberate, conscious goal beyond that, not particularly.
Honestly, if there’s an experience that I want to make relatable in the context of this story, it’s figuring things out about yourself gradually and largely through recognizing them elsewhere and trying to puzzle through why they mean something to you.
It seems like Scott almost sees the Fantastic Four as some form of fulfillment. In the way you’re calling back between the F4’s voyage and subsequent disaster with Scott’s family and their subsequent disaster, with the “Four People Climb Into A Cockpit” motif, it feels like Scott looks at them and almost sees what could have been.
Yes, and no. It’s important to know that Scott, at this point, doesn’t actually remember the plane crash–he doesn’t actually see the parallels. What he does recognize is that something unfathomable happened to these people, and they chose to take it and do something really direct and good with it; and that feels critically important to him, even if he’s not entirely sure why.
I mentioned agency back at the beginning of our conversation, and that’s really, really key to what Scott’s reaching for by way of the Fantastic Four. At the point where they debut, he’s stuck in this nightmarish place where his memories never quite match up with reality, in a life he has no apparent control over. Things happen to him; he doesn’t do things. He’s still fundamentally the same Scott who’s going to become a hero–he’s got a profound sense of right and wrong, he’s incredibly driven–but the idea that this is a thing he could choose has never really occurred to him. “This” being more deliberate action in general, not just being a superhero. Even that connection doesn’t come immediately.
They’ve become a blueprint almost it seems, for Scott to transform his own traumatic experiences into something that can give him back control.
Definitely. Which–sort of works. That said, it’s less the idea of choosing to do what the F4 did than the entire idea that you can choose what to be
He doesn’t want to be like them, but he does want to take control of his own narrative in the same way that they have done?
He totally wants to be like them! They’re superheroes and an incredibly tight-knit family and he’s a depressed 15-year-old orphan who thinks everyone around him is his responsibility. But he’s also very aware that–at least initially–that’s not something that’s really in his reach, so he looks for what his equivalent might be.
Remember, at this point–as far as he knows–he’s a) a regular human, and b) disabled in an extremely ableist context, a lot of which he’s internalized.
The latter part isn’t really going to change until, like, the ’00s.
Let’s change gears a bit. Going from a self-proclaimed “Cyclops apologist” and uber-fan to the author of Scott’s origin story, have you been impacted by what the process has been like? Are there lessons you learned, challenges you faced, places you felt particularly confident, and/or parts of your own experience personally/professionally that became deepened?
So, I am a huge Cyclops fan; but I’m also a professional editor, writer, and critic; and I am painfully aware of the difference between loving a character and being able to tell a good story about them. Ironically, if anything, I overcompensated for that too hard at first, and limited myself more than I needed to because I was so leery of putting anything on the page that either was drawn from my own experience or too specifically reflective of my personal read on the character.
Was there something, in particular, you felt helped course correct from that initial overcompensation you mention?
Kurt [Busiek], generally. At a few different stages, I got variations of a lecture that boiled down to “Seriously, what do you think we hired you to do, here?” I remember I was particularly leery of first-person captions, and I kept writing myself into awkward corners trying to avoid relying too heavily on them.
It sounds like you were cautious to avoid a characterization that could be interpreted as almost being “autobiographical” or “self-insert”? But were there moments where your experiences as a fan of the character felt like assets to you?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I am exhaustively familiar with Scott in canon; and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him as a character; I went into this with a very clear sense of how to approach both of those.
What was the most important part of Scott Summers that you wanted to bring into this story? What felt essential? Or was there anything from your knowledge of Summers lore that you came in really wanting to flesh out, call back to, or plant seeds for?
Oh, gosh, it’s hard to distill that down to one thing. I think, for me, the biggest thing was probably how fundamental his identity is–the guy who can claim agency even when it’s not in his best interest to do it, because it matters so much to him that someone do the right thing, and he’s not going to ask anyone else. I’m not going to spoil the climax of the story–it’s a thing that’s not new to canon, but its context here is–but it involves what in a lot of ways is the decision to become Cyclops, even if the code name, costume, and Xavier School are all a fair way off; and that decision is all about acting on and externalizing things that are in no way new to him or who he is.
Thank you so much, Jay sitting down to talk with me about this. This one of the books I’ve been most excited about since it was announced and I’ve been honored to have the chance to discuss it with you!