Friday, April 10, 2015

Comic Chronicles: Cyclops

When it comes to comic books, those of us who partake, always have certain characters that draw us in, that we cheer for and we watch their "lives" unfold on the page. They become our favorites. One of my personal favorites, has always been Scott Summers, aka "Cyclops", long-time leader of Marvel Comics' X-Men. Now, if you're familiar at all with comics, much less the X-Men, you're probably aware that of the most popular characters among fans (Wolverine, Gambit, Storm, etc.), Cyclops is pretty far down most people's lists. In fact, I have heard him variously described as a "boy scout", "boring", and even "an asshole". But to paint him so simply (and so negatively), to me, speaks of a serious lack of understanding, and thus appreciation, for the character on the part of people who would make such comments. And with that in mind, I am going to dedicate my first "comic character profile" type article, to Scott Summers, both as a way to prove those folks wrong, but also to honor what in my mind, is one of the best and most interesting superhero characters ever created.


His 90s look, the classic look.




Now of course, as with all things X-Men (or truly, all things super-hero), my first exposure to Cyclops and the X-Men, was the 90s X-Men animated series. Still probably my top favorite cartoon to this day (although Super Mario Bros. Super Show and The Real Ghostbusters are tied for a very close second) It was that show that made me fall in love with not only the X-Men (who would remain my favorite comic book even after I actually got to start reading the issues themselves), but it made me fall in love with the idea of super-heroes in general. Before this, I had surely liked the concept, going two different childhood Halloweens as Spider-Man and then Superman, but it wasn't until watching the X-Men cartoon that I really fell "head over heels" in love with the concept. I shall, of course, have to dedicate an entire article at some point to the X-Men cartoon itself, as I could talk about it and my memories of it alone for quite awhile. But we're here to talk about Cyclops. And while Cyclops wasn't my FIRST "favorite character" from the show (that was, surprisingly, Archangel, who only had a few cameos), I did like him from the start, and over the next few seasons he did gradually become one of my favorites.



The X-Men #1, September 1963


Now it strikes me that a lot of the people making comments like that about ol' Cyke, might only be drawing that impression of him from a limited experience with that same cartoon. And admittedly, if you've only seen the cartoon (and never read the comics), let alone seen only, say, episodes from the first two seasons or so of the cartoon, yeah, I could see how you might come away thinking he's "a jerk" or some other such silly nonsense like that. After all, early on in the show, he was depicted as the stern, serious team leader, always doing whatever Professor X said, and more importantly in the eyes of the uninitiated, he was always at odds with Wolverine, "everyone's favorite". But after I really delved into the world of the comics, beyond the show, in my teen years, I started to understand that while it very heavily borrowed from the self-same 90s X-Men comics that were taking place (both the costumes but also the themes and indirectly some of the storylines), it also borrowed certain elements from earlier eras. Such as, for example, the relationship between Cyclops and Wolverine. In the first couple seasons of the cartoon, especially, that relationship was shown as icy and antagonistic, with Logan being the perpetual loner who didn't follow orders (even to the detriment of the rest of the team), and Cyclops the "by the book" taskmaster who hated Wolverine's impossible attitude. I learned that that relationship was actually lifted straight out of the 70s X-Men comics, from their "rebirth" after Giant-Sized X-Men #1, when the "new kids" (Wolvy, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, etc.), were introduced. In point of fact, in those early days of Logan being an X-Man, he was a perpetual asshole, who barely got along with anybody, didn't follow orders, was just mad at the world and impossible to deal with. AND he did, back then, also have a major thing for Jean Grey, so his animosity towards Scott was two-fold, because he resented being told what to do, but he also resented that Jean obviously liked Scott and not him.

Fast forward to the actual comics of the 90s, however, and ironically you would find a totally different dynamic going on. Most importantly, that Cyclops and Wolverine were, while not best buds, much more agreeable to one another. The Wolverine of the early 90s X-Men comics was actually a lot more mature and calmer, and took Cyke's orders in stride (most of the time), as the accepted leader of the X-Men's "Blue Team" (the other being Storm's "Gold Team"). The two characters, in the 90s, had a high amount of respect for each other, really. Logan had even long since gotten over his "thing" for Jean, as he had a couple of his own flames since that time (in the 80s). And while Scott was still indeed stern and solemn, and Wolverine was still a wise-cracking rebel at heart, the point is, they didn't hate each other, and got along and operated as a team rather well. But, of course, for the purposes of the show, it was more interesting to draw upon that earlier, more "primal" Wolverine, and the contentious relationship made for more drama. Though it's fair to point out, of course, that even in the later seasons of the cartoon, it started to get a bit more up to speed with the 90s comics, as Wolvy calmed the fuck down (a bit), and he and Scott grew to accept and respect each other more.



New Kids. Same Fight, Different Decade (70s).



But moving away from the cartoon series, to really get at the heart of an issue, it often helps to go back to the beginning. Back in 1963, the X-Men were created by Stan Lee (and drawn by Jack Kirby), as an allegory in many ways to the Civil Rights era of the time. Instead of race, in the X-Men comics it was the new phenomenon of "mutants" who the world hated and feared for being "different", and on diametrically opposed sides of that issue, you had Professor Charles Xavier (Dr. Martin Luther King, if you will), and Magneto (Malcolm X), two men who wanted essentially the same thing, acceptance and rights for mutants, but saw that as two very different things and went about it two very different ways. Set to this backdrop, Scott Summers was the tragic loner of the original team, even though he was made field leader by Xavier. While his teammates all had stories of their own, insecure jokester (Iceman), deeper-than-he-appears rich playboy (Angel), smarter-than-he-appears brutish ape-man (Beast), and demure but powerful female (Marvel Girl), Scott himself was the only one with the truly tragic past. Jean (Marvel Girl), had experienced serious trauma and pain in her childhood, her powers first manifesting themselves when she psychically connected to her dying friend. But Scott, well, poor Scotty was a whole different bag of marbles, and to get to the heart of that, is where you really begin to understand, and thus, grow to appreciate just how complex and deep the character really is.



Optic Blast? (Spoilers: Not really)






So, Scott Summers, born in Alaska to air force pilot Major Christopher Summers and his wife Katherine Anne Summers. By all accounts, he and his little brother Alex (who would later grow up to become the X-Man known as Havok), had a pretty normal, happy childhood, until the fateful day when their family was vacationing in his father's rebuilt Mosquito airplane. The plane was unknowingly attacked by an alien Shi'ar spaceship, and as it was crashing, Katherine put Scott in the only parachute and told him to hold onto his brother for dear life, pushing them both out of the plane right before it exploded, seemingly killing their parents. The parachute caught fire, and thus the kids had a rough landing, in which Scott injured his head, which would later be accounted as to why he could not control his mutant power. Now orphaned, the boys became wards of the state, and were separated, placed in separate foster homes. While Alex would be adopted and have a somewhat normal childhood, Scott's fate was unfortunately far darker. He never got adopted by any prospective parents, much for the same reason that none of the other kids really got along with him: he was "strange". And at some point in his childhood, his powers began manifesting themselves, which further drove a wedge between he and humanity. Sufficed to say, he spent much of his childhood alone, isolated, and unloved, a horrible way for any child to grow up.

It was much later insinuated that Nathaniel Essex, aka "Mr. Sinister", a villain who would pop up in the 1980s, experimented on Scott, against his knowledge, during his lonely years in the orphanage, and in fact might have had some hand in making sure that Scott was never adopted, so that he could continue to have access to him. Regardless, Scott's life was a rather lonely and miserable one, until he eventually ran away from the orphanage in his teens and set out wandering. He was eventually found by none other than Charles Xavier, who not only took him in, but would become an unofficial father figure to him for the rest of his life, being the first person outside of his parents who actually cared for him. I would imagine, as such, that Scott grew fiercely loyal to Xavier, and out of all the people who would come and go from the Xavier Estate as X-Men in the years to come, no one was more loyal, nor believed more fervently in Xavier's dreams of peace and a better place for mutants in the world, than Cyclops.  


The early days....


So stepping back into those early days of the X-Men, when they were very young and still in training by the Prof. Here you had Scott, a skinny, awkward, quiet teen nicknamed "Slim" by his male teammates, haunted by a tragic and saddened past, as well as further reserved and afraid of his own mutant power, which he can't control, eye beams of deadly concussive force that could potentially destroy everything and everyone around him. Looking at that, you might start to understand Cyclops the character a bit more, realizing that beneath the "stern, overly serious jerk" that some might have come away from the cartoon seeing, was just a boy full of pain and fear, with a haunted past and a power that can kill anyone he cares about if he ever loses control (aka his special visor). And in spite of his insecurities and problems, Charles still chose Scott above his other teammates to be leader. That might lead some to wonder why, when he surely was never the obvious choice. I suppose that Charles saw things in Scott that he didn't even see in himself, such as a natural ability to lead (perhaps inherited to some degree from his father), as well as an unmistakable selflessness, and a firm belief in Xavier's own goals and dreams for the X-Men. Viewed through that lens, the choice makes far more sense.

Be that as it may, good leader or not, natural born hero or not, the fact remained that Cyclops was a very sad individual, and didn't connect very well to his fellow X-Men (though his closest friend on the team over the years would be Beast, and later even Storm), nor to any other human really. And knowing his childhood, it's not hard to see why. He was (and to some extent always remained) a very lonely and miserable individual on the inside, a character who, unlike many of his teammates over the years, who chose to be a hero because they wanted to be, instead appears perhaps to be a hero because deep down he needs to be. Someone who cares little for themselves, but in spite of a set of parameters from childhood into young adulthood (including super powers) that might well have led most to a path of villainy, some lingering, innate goodness and nobility remained which drove them (with Xavier's prompting) to be a hero instead. And that, I think, is the profoundness and complexity of Cyclops, more than anything else: he had every reason to grow up to be nothing short of a super-villain, yet he instead became one of the world's greatest heroes. And it wasn't simply a matter of Xavier finding him and instilling values in him before it was too late. I think, rather, that Xavier saw in Scott that which was already there, and merely fostered it.



Heart and Soul.



So, having said all that about innate nobility and the heart of a hero, it still needs to be said that something important was still missing from the equation. And that something entered into Scott's life in issue #1 of the X-Men, back in 1963. That something was the original female member of the team, Jean Grey. Now, naturally, being the only girl in a house otherwise full of young teenage boys, and on top of that not just being a teenage girl but a gorgeous redhead herself, Jean was certainly the focus of adoration and affection, at least at first, from all her young teammates. She, however, albeit in a rather quiet and unstated way at first, only had eyes for one of them, and again, not the one most would think. Hank (Beast) was strong and smart, Bobby (Iceman) was the funny jokester, and Warren (Angel) was both handsome and rich. But nope. While it took some serious time to ever really (FINALLY) come out, it turned out that she instead was attracted to the mysterious, quiet loner, Scott. The one who, not surprisingly, was the only one who didn't shower her with affection like a dumb teen, but instead more or less continued to keep to himself, even IF he too carried a silent flame for her.

The X-Men had a great many adventures, went through a great deal of adversities and hardships together (even at one or more points thinking their mentor Xavier to have died), before Scott and Jean's feelings for each other finally became more that merely unrequited. In that time, Scott's brother Alex wandered back into the picture, as well as the second girl of the team, the young Lorna Dane, who would become the "junior" members of the team in the 60s, Havok and Polaris. In fact, it wasn't until the comic's "rebirth" in the 70s (after spending many years simply being reprint issues), when a new pack of X-Men joined the team, and (because Chris Claremont felt like it) most of the original team went their separate ways, that Scott and Jean finally got their shit together and said those terrifying and all-important words, "I Love You". And wouldn't you know it, right when Scott finally finds some genuine love and happiness for himself, as Fate (or Marvel) would have it, it was not, for the time at least, to last....


Yup.


So yeah. Chris Claremont. He's gonna get his own article some day, trust me. But for now, I'll just throw out a few tidbits that pertain directly to Cyclops. It's a well known fact to most hardcore comic fans, that ol' Chris, whose 16 year stint writing X-Men comics is the longest of the franchise's history, didn't really like the original five X-Men characters (Cyclops, Angel, Iceman, Beast, and Marvel Girl). Hell, he didn't even seem to like the late additions (Havok and Polaris)! So what did that mean for the comics when he took over writing after that first new "Giant-Sized X-Men" issue that brought them back? Well, simple, he basically had the most unlikely thing happen, in which ALL of the original X-Men said "fuck this dude, I'm out", after the new X-Men Xavier assembled rescued them from the mutant island (yeah....) of Krakoa. As if a bunch of teens who had grown into adults fighting evil and saving the world, would suddenly throw in the towel because ol' Chuck had some new kids to be X-Men instead. It just didn't make sense, didn't jive well with what their characters had been before (voluntary, earnest heroes). Well, anyway, the only one who stuck around? Cyclops, who remained as leader of this new bunch of hoodlums, while everyone else went off their own way.

As I mentioned before, one of the only positive things to come out of this 70s period for Cyke, was that while Jean moved into the city (Manhattan) to "live her life", she and Scott remained in contact, and thus they eventually finally got around to revealing their full feelings for each other, and everything seemed hunky dory. That is, of course, until she got involved with the X-Men again, and went into space, and shit happened with "Erik the Red" and stuff, and on their way back to Earth, Jean was magically the only one who could (through her TK shield) maybe survive the radiation long enough to land the shuttle. But she was dying, and was then magically approached by this cosmic entity known as "The Phoenix Force", a being connected to all life, who at least initially appeared to possess Jean, giving her amazing new power (though she had already arguably been the most powerful of the original X-Men to begin with). Well, sadly, because it made for dramatic storytelling, and because Claremont just didn't like the original characters, "Jean", as Phoenix, eventually was driven mad from human desires and evils, thanks to the rich assholes from the Hellfire club (including Emma Frost, who by the way never truly changed into a hero later). So Phoenix goes "dark", threatens the universe, which causes the alien Shi'Ar race from billions of light years away to get involved, after the X-Men (and Phoenix) had helped save their asses already, and it all came down to a battle on Earth's moon between the X-Men and the Imperial Guard, as can be seen a couple comic covers up (with Jean and Scott on the front, fighting for their lives). And....yup.



Thankfully, shit would be set right eventually.


Long story short, the writers and editors of X-Men decide to "kill off" Jean, with every intention I'm sure of her staying dead, and then Claremont proceeds to further totally fuck up poor Scott's life, by having him leave the team, wandering around aimlessly before finally magically running into a cute redhead who looks JUST LIKE Jean, except Cyke (nor anyone else) fails to put two and two together and find that suspicious in any fashion, named Madelyn Prior. Maddie had a fake life (spoilers) all set up, with a background and history in Alaska, where she worked as a pilot (JUST like Scott's DAD, hmmm), so eventually Scott leaves the X-Men for good, after Claremont has him return to battle (and LOSE) to a powerless (long story) Storm for leadership of the X-Men. Just to, you know, make Scott look even more useless (or I'm SURE, it was actually just to make Storm look strong, right?). So he marries the mysterious exact copy of Jean that not a soul finds the least bit suspicious, and they eventually have a baby, little Nathan Christopher Summers. It's a big mess to be honest, and all thanks to what I will simply state is Claremont's growing insanity as he got further into the 80s. It gets worse, trust me. BUT, thankfully, some other writers (and editors) came along, and decided it would be a nifty idea to gather all the original X-Men, who had been spread out across other comics like the Avengers, Champions, and Defenders, etc., and make a new team of their own. The crux, and binding factor that would bring them all? Why, only one of the best ret-con (retroactive continuity) decisions in comic history.

Now it bears stating that ret-cons can be and often are rather silly, even terrible, in comics. It is often just one new writer or editor not liking what came before and wanting to change it. But every ONCE in awhile, the change they make is for the better, and this is one of those cases. They decided to take the whole Phoenix deal, and make it so that instead of Phoenix actually being Jean, and thus her literally dying on the moon, she instead was placed into a coma-like state in a magical cocoon at the bottom of the Hudson Bay by the Phoenix Force, and that the force itself had taken Jean's place, turned evil, and committed atrocities all by itself. So Jean was innocent. So the Avengers find the cocoon, and then later take an amnesiac Jean to the Fantastic Four to help her regain her memories. Turns out, she still retained memories from Phoenix, because when the force "died" as her on the moon, it returned the piece of her soul it had taken to take her form in the first place. Which of course also meant that Jean "remembered" the horrible things Dark Phoenix did, but she eventually copes with it. AND so, finally getting past the mess to get to the good part, as you can see in the comic above, it's revealed to (only) the original five X-Men (don't ask) that Jean is still alive, and Scott comes running from Alaska to help start a new team and be with his actual lady.



Yeah. That's right.



Now that last bit didn't sit right with some readers, that Scott would just up and leave his wife and baby to come be with Jean. And on it's face, I don't blame them, because it's a shitty thing to do. However, I will counter with the fact that his marriage to Maddie and the whole damn situation were all rather contrived and badly written to begin with. What you see above is the later results of Claremont's growing "80s madness", as I like to refer to it, in which his stories got more and more and more out there, to the point sometimes of near incoherency. Turns out, Madelyn Prior was actually a CLONE of Jean Grey *gasp*, so there's a reason she looks just like her, and while Scott did go back to find her and "set things right", she and the baby had disappeared, running off to hide with the X-Men at their secret base in Australia (another long story). Well, Maddie gets corrupted by bad demons, as you can see, to the point in the infamous "Inferno" storyline (where X-Factor and the X-Men FINALLY run into each other for the first time), where as the "Goblyn Queen" she willingly offers up her son Nathan as a sacrifice to the demonic forces, yada yada (I'll get to that shit in the previously hinted Claremont article). Ultimately, it is revealed that Mr. Sinister had created Maddie so that he would have a "copy" of Jean's genetics that he could control, and then used her to basically mesmerize Cyclops into marriage with a girl he just so happens not to notice looks like his love Jean, and produces offspring with her that Sinister can then later control as a member of a "new race of supermutants" or what have you. Jean fights Maddie, and they manage to save the child, and Maddie dies. The end.

If it comes off as confusing and contrived, don't worry, it is. Well, Scott and Jean take baby Nathan with them, to live with X-Factor and it's young wards, and Jean starts loving the child like it's her own (which technically he kind of is). The kid even develops an adorable little TK shield he uses to keep his baby self from harm. But as usual, it isn't to last, though this time it's due to the machinations of that bastard villain Apocalypse. Apoc. figures out (as is revealed later), that Sinister had seen to the creation of the baby, using Scott and Jean's "superior genetics", to create what would equate to a weapon, meant to fight and kill none other than Apocalypse himself, someday in the future. Not because Sinister is benevolent whatsoever, simply because his plans for humanity and Apocalypse's don't jive well. So Apocalypse, already hating X-Factor for interfering in his previous plots, kidnaps Nathan and infects him with a techno-organic virus that will eventually take over his whole body and kill him. The only way to save him (in true, often ridiculous comic fashion), is for Scott to choose to send his son far into the future, where their advanced ways "may" be able to save his life. Again, long story short, turns out it does, because not too long later, a mysterious older gentleman shows up in the comics, called Cable, and he later turns out to be Nathan Christopher, all grown up (in fact now aged older than his daddy).



The All-New, All Better X-Men of the 90s.



SO, getting beyond the quagmire that was often 1980s X-Men storylines, fast forwarding to the turn of the decade, into the 90s, after one LAST rather contrived crossover storyline involving Xavier and the Shadow King that I really don't need to get into here, all the X-Peoples, both the X-Men and X-Factor, decide to all come back together after a decade of silliness (though in all fairness many of X-Factor's own stories were rather good), to unite again as the X-Men, under Xavier, back at the mansion, just like the old days. And since the team was 10+ strong now, as I mentioned earlier in the article, at least for awhile, Cyclops would lead what was called the "Blue Team" (pictured above), while Storm, the de-facto leader of the X-Men during the turbulent (and absurd) 80s, would lead the "Gold Team".

That Blue/Gold dynamic was originally created so that the two existing X-Men titles, the long-running "Uncanny X-Men", and the newly minted, simply titled "X-Men" (created in 1991), could split the larger cast of characters between the two books, each comic having it's own separate team, with a bit of crossover of course, for consistency. But early on, at least, they tended to go on separate missions, except for the BIG battles. This only really lasted till, I dunno, the mid-90s, like 94/95 or so, before the team was just one big team again, and it was basically just a twice-monthly comic. One thing to note about the 90s X-Men, albeit a very important thing, is that over various disputes with Marvel, after the initial set-up story involving Magneto, Claremont left the X-Men comics for the first time in 16 years, and actually up and left Marvel for some time. This allowed younger writers with fresh vision to come aboard and prove themselves, namely Fabian Nicieza and my personal favorite comic writer of all time, Scott Lobdell. Nicieza's writing was good, and he stuck around with one of the X-Men titles for awhile, as well as writing his baby "X-Force", but he eventually moved on. Lobdell, on the other hand, stuck around for a very nice stint (that should have lasted far longer), from around 1991 til about 1997. He'll get his own article someday too, I'm sure. But for now, it's just important to point out that these young writers grounded the X-Men after a decade of silliness involving demons, and other dimensions, and the future, and space, and body switching, etc. etc. etc., that just got ridiculous in the 80s. The 90s saw the X-Men, and thus Cyclops, put back where they started in the 60s, being a more "serious" title with somewhat of a social commentary type of bent to them, and they focused far more on Earthbound mutant/human issues, which is what the X-Men were all about.



Yes, it did eventually, finally happen.


Out of all the hardships that the X-Men of course still had to endure, with battles involving Magneto, Apocalypse, some dude named Stryfe, and far more, one of the many positive things to come out of the early to mid 90s, was that, as indicated above, Scott and Jean did FINALLY get around to getting married, in 1994 to be exact. Similar to Lois Lane and Clark Kent FINALLY getting married over in the Superman comics after forever, it was a big deal to comic readers, and it further cemented the two characters as the "pillars", if you will, of the larger X-Men family. And that brings us back around, past discussions about absurd storylines and bad writing decisions, to what this article is about: the character of Scott Summers, Cyclops. As I intimated far earlier in this piece, Scott did indeed have all the qualities within him, whether he saw them or not, that Xavier obviously saw when choosing him to be the original leader of the team. Actually, Cyclops has actually been favorably compared in the past, to some of the great leaders in superhero comics, up there with the likes of Captain America, and that's awful lofty company. His leadership ability, tactical knowledge and attention to detail make him a very efficient and affective leader, and unlike some depictions of him (or certain fan opinions of him), most of the time he is actually, while reserved and certainly rarely forthcoming with his private feelings, very attentive to the needs and feelings of his teammates, and he genuinely cares for them as people, if not friends or even the family that they would eventually see each other as.

But with all that said, as I also intimated before, while Scott certainly eventually grew up into a great leader and a great hero (ignoring the mindless Maddie nonsense), it was also rather evident over the years that the one thing he was missing, for sure, was Jean. She is his rock, basically his soul mate, and he absolutely needs her. He was shattered and basically fell apart the first time he thought she "died", and it was the first time in the comics that you basically ever saw Scott act out against the interests of the team, and instead acted out for himself, leaving the team in agony and sorrow. He was never happy, or "right", again, until he found out she was alive. And thus he ran to her side. And while they had a lot of stupid writer decision bullshit to get beyond (aka "Why the hell did you marry a clone of me!?", etc.), they eventually grew close again, and as seen, got married. There are few comic relationships that last, and act as familiar "pillars" for fans in a sea of ever-changing storylines and characters. Relationships like Lois & Clark, like Peter Parker & Mary Jane, like Reed Richards & Susan Storm. Relationships that, while many writers try to (and outright have, because they're assholes trying to get shock value out of readers), to me, you just shouldn't mess with. Characters, these heroes we fall in love with, get fucked with SO much in these outrageous stories, that it's nice to have a SMALL handful of things that you can hold onto. Scott and Jean, to me at least, also belong on that list of "power couples" that matter in comicdom. They are not only an iconic couple to fans, but they also happen to be, in many ways both figuratively and literally, the "Heart and Soul" of the X-Men. The times they weren't around, it just wasn't the same. They need each other, and really, the X-Men need them. At least I've always seen it that way.


And now for something different.


The mid-90s also brought X-Men fans a couple of very different views of Scott Summers as well. The first being, right after he and Jean were married, on their honeymoon (as superhero honeymoons tend to go), they were whisked away, by the spirit of their daughter Rachel Summers (aka Excalibur's "Phoenix") from an alternate future, who then winds up flung WAY farther into the future (don't ask), to that far-flung future, to be there to help raise the young son they had thought they lost forever, Nathan. As the mysterious "Slim" and "Red", they raised Nathan, and provided him with the familial background and support he needed to help him become the leader he needed to be, in a harsh future far past the year 3000, in which Apocalypse rules. This all happened in a four issue stand-alone mini-series, mind you, and they were eventually returned to their own time, as their own selves, not long after they left. So they got to spend years raising the man who would become Cable (a fact they later acknowledge to Cable himself), almost in the blink of an eye. And THEN, as if that weren't enough, as you can see above, one of the better (in my view) major crossover storylines of the 90s (or all time really), was the "Age of Apocalypse" arc, which saw an alternate present where Xavier was killed (by his own son no less, don't ask), before he could ever found the X-Men. In that reality the mad ancient mutant Apocalypse, En Sabah Nur, manages to rise to power in a way that he was never able in reality (at least not for many centuries), where he conquered and ruled most of North America (at least the parts that weren't destroyed by nuclear fallout), and most humans lived in Europe, in fear of annihilation.

We saw an incredibly different Cyclops in that scenario, as you can see, one which had been, impossibly, raised as a "son" to Sinister, along with his brother Alex. A scenario in which he rose up the ranks to become a high lieutenant in Apocalypse's new tyrannical hierarchy. In a world where only those Apocalypse deems "fit" tend to survive, Scott was deemed one of the "fittest", and he was, in fact, a much darker, more violent and ruthless character, naturally, being raised by the likes of Mr. Sinister, mister Darwinian evolution himself. In fact, the Cyclops of that world (by the time we see him in the main stories), literally only had one eye, at some unseen past time having fought Wolverine (known there as Weapon X), a battle that saw Scott lose an eye, but not before he blasted one of Wolverine's unbreakable adamantium hands clean off. But even so, even being raised "evil", unlike Alex who became a total unstable bastard in that reality, Scott still retained some of that innate nobility that I've claimed Xavier must have seen, for he was never truly too harsh or cruel. In fact, at one point in a "prelude" tie-in issue, he had shown young Blink kindness when her X-Men were trying to attack his dread lord Apocalypse on the moon, and he even allowed them to escape. He ultimately had no love for his "master", he only had loyalty to the man who he wrongly thought loved him, Sinister himself. That of course also ultimately changed, when he and Alex learned that Sinister had secretly kept their father Corsair (Christopher Summers) imprisoned for years, experimenting on him. They found this out as they met their father, right before he died. Alex just went further into asshole mode after learning this, but something changed in Cyclops then, as he turned in his heart on his "father" Sinister. Not much later when (guess who) Jean re-entered his life, he helped her free Apocalypse's slave pens and tried desperately to lead them to freedom from Manhattan before (spoilers) their whole AoA world came crashing down in nuclear flames from a human bombing attack.


Shit happens. Especially between brothers.




So to finally start drawing this retrospective to a close, it is worth, I suppose, giving a passing mention to what would come later, in the late 90s and early 2000s. Two big events (among many other important things, like Anti-Mutant presidential runs and a Legacy virus that threatened to eradicate all mutants) took place after the "Age of Apocalypse" was over, and regular reality shifted back to normal, with no one the wiser except for poor time-flung Bishop. The first, was something that grew over time, and finally came to a head around 1996, called the "Onslaught Saga". A story in which Charles Xavier, having been forced to psionically wipe the mind of his former friend and enemy Magneto, not only being deeply affected by that act personally, also somehow managed to retain some dark, psychic imprint of the man within his own subconscious. This would grow over time into the ridiculously powerful being known as Onslaught, a being that at first possessed the full power of both Xavier and Magneto, and then later also absorbed the incredible psionic might of the young Nathan Grey (aka "X-Man") as well as the reality warping power of Reed and Sue Richards' young son Franklin. Getting through the (very well written) fluff, the X-Men are attacked and forced to eventually fight what they think is the man who founded the team, the man who is a father to many of them, Charles Xavier himself. It is later revealed that Onslaught evolves into it's own entity, as it lives on after they are able to free Xavier from it's body, and it takes the combined might of the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, the Hulk, and a few others, to finally destroy it. In the end, that destruction seemingly costs the lives of every single non-mutant hero in the battle, leaving only the X-Men and Magneto's son Quicksilver behind.



One of the sadder issues, ever.


After the trauma of having to fight their mentor, then saving him, but then seemingly losing most of the world's other major heroes to finally defeat his personal demon, the X-Men then receive another blow. Charles voluntarily remands himself to government custody, to ensure that Onslaught doesn't return. At that point, Scott becomes more the X-Men's leader than ever, having to more or less try to take Charles' place, something no one could really fulfill. Meanwhile, in what would (sadly) be Scott Lobdell's swan song, another year or so worth of issues builds toward the 1997 story arc called "Operation: Zero Tolerance", which sees the X-Men humbled even more, almost utterly defeated. A madman (aren't they all?) named Bastion, is leading a multinational paramilitary operation which seeks, with the shadowy funding of many Earth governments, to finally once and for all deal with "The Mutant Problem". He accomplishes this by unleashing an army of "Omega Sentinels", normal humans who are altered by nanotechnology into sleeper agent killers, cyborg death machines bent on capturing or ultimately destroying mutants. It turns out ol' Chuck wound up in Bastion's loving care, not real "government custody" as he was meant to, hidden out in an old New Mexico "Hulkbuster" base. With half the X-Men team off completing some random mission in space, the few X-Men left (Cyclops, Phoenix, Storm, Cannonball, and Wolverine) were attacked by Bastion's forces, and captured. They escaped, naturally, but not before the Operation attacked and totally stripped empty the Xavier Mansion, taking everything, the files, their belongings, the Danger Room, their whole lives. And to top it off, when they returned, it turned out that a nano-tech bomb had been planted in Scott's chest, set to go off and kill whatever X-Men remained near him. With severe struggle and a little help from some new characters, the X-Men, with Wolverine performing surgery, manage to get the bomb out of Scott without killing him. But he is of course severely injured after, and he and Jean finally take a long-deserved vacation (though of course it doesn't last).



Yeah, but never as cool without them.


So yup. They leave. Chuck's still gone. Dark times ahead for the X-Men, especially with Scott Lobdell mysterious leaving Marvel after that story, with other, not-as-good writers taking over and....kinda doing dumb shit. In fact? Kinda picking up where 80s Claremont left off, taking things back to space, and getting hella weird, etc. Chris Claremont himself even returned in 1999 or so, to start writing some of the X-Men comics again....and wouldn't you know it? The guy can't help himself, his stories were even MORE out there and bizarre and incoherent. At least in my humble opinion. There were still a couple decent tidbits here and there in that late 90s time, such as Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Colossus all rejoining the team. Scott and Jean do eventually return, after Xavier is found, and acts all weird 'n shit, pretending to disband the team, etc. etc. It's not really worth getting too into....except to say that Cyclops would soon be affected in a major way, in a storyline called "Apocalypse: The Twelve", an arc that started off super promising and mysterious, but then promptly shit itself by the end, and IN that end, saw Scott sacrifice himself without thought, once again, for another, as the spirit of Apocalypse was going to merge with the ridiculously powerful young body of Nate Grey (X-Man). Scott shoved his ass out of the way at the last second, and Apocalypse took HIM over instead, with everyone, even Xavier, believing Cyclops to be dead at that moment. Only Jean, through her psychic bond with him, knew he was still "in there somewhere", with the merged Apocalypse being, who naturally escaped through a portal. She and Cable eventually went looking for him (FAR too long after the fact and after many mindless Claremont adventures), found him, and helped free him from that dastardly villain's grip. He did not go, however, unchanged, as he was a darker Scott, not "evil" by any stretch, but definitely influenced by being touched by evil. 


Don't FUCK......with Dark Scott. No seriously....


He got an appropriately black suit to match his new attitude, and I thought maybe they might go somewhere interesting with it, just "freshen his character up a bit", but he would ultimately remain the same hero at heart, right? The comics would get better and I'd be a love-crazed X-Men fan for years to come, RIGHT? Well, not so fast. See, that issue up there? That was actually a really nice stand-alone issue, in which Scott FINALLY, after all those years, got to have a real heart-to-heart talk with his father Christopher (years after it had happened in an episode of the cartoon), and of course, same story, Scott was, to put it mildly, rather pissed at his dad. He wanted to know "If you had any idea, any at all, that Alex and I were still alive, that we survived that crash, then why didn't you EVER come back looking for us?". And the man had a good point, to be fair. Corsair's response? He was afraid. He was ashamed. Not only had he failed to protect his sons, but failed to protect his wife from being murdered by evil aliens. Even if they were alive, he just couldn't face them....he was too broken inside himself, and couldn't look his sons in the eye anymore. It was his own silly, human self doubt that kept him out there in the stars being a dashing space pirate, instead of trying to look for children that he did, deep down, dearly love. So Scott accepted that answer, to an extent, they hugged, and spent a night around a campfire talking, father and son. Even had a touching moment at the end where Scott fell asleep listening to one of dad's stories, and father got to hold his adult son and tuck him in. Really good, moving stuff. Incredibly well written, big surprise, by Scott Lobdell who briefly returned to try and clean up other people's messes and tie up some of his own loose ends (though Marvel gave him almost nothing to work with, so what could have been an epic final confrontation between the X-Men and Magneto, turned into "meh"). It's actually one of my favorite X-Men issues. But that's about it.

The X-Men very soon after turned to absolute shit, and I do mean that with all sincerity. A man whom I loathe as a comic writer turned up at Marvel, a man by the name of Grant Morrison, and after the popularity of the somewhat absurd, leather clad "Matrix" X-Men featured in the first ever (and highly grossing) X-Men film, Marvel let Morrison take over and totally change the X-Men, from top to bottom, however he saw fit, in ways that disgust me to this day. His writing was horrible, his plots so absurd and contrived that they make Claremont's worst work look fantastic (and yes I mean that). And his so-called sense of "style", making the X-Men "edgier" and "grittier".....was just utter trash as far as I was concerned. And I say this having bought every single issue the man wrote, because I stuck with my brand loyally, HOPING against hope that the bullshit would stop soon, and it would all get better. I stuck around to the bitter, god awful conclusion of Morrison's run, that I'm not even going to dignify enough to describe or bother getting into. And then after the first couple story arcs of TV show writer Joss Whedon on the X-Men? I finally broke. I actually gave up on my FAVORITE comic book of all time, and that actually led me to ultimately quit buying new comics at all. I haven't since 2005, and that's the truth. Shit got that bad, that it just broke me. I still love, and always WILL love, most of the classic Marvel and DC comics from the 60s through the 90s. Yes, even some of Claremont's absolutely ridiculous 80s stuff, in spite of my many problems with it. I'll always have the great 90s X-Men run (at least till 97 or so). With THAT in mind, know now that I am purposefully ignoring everything that happens in X-Land post "Eve of Destruction" storyline, circa 2001. It's not worth acknowledging, to me, because every time I look up synopsis of what's gone down...it just gets worse, and worse, and worse. And let's leave that at that.



We'll always have the good ol' days.....



So there ya go. That's the run down, as far as I go at least, with one Scott Summers, his history, the bigger moments of his life, and the finer moments, filtered through my own thoughts, of his character. Cyclops isn't one of the most popular among fans (even though, weirdly enough, he was apparently voted by IGN as #1 on the list of Top X-Men of All Time), but I personally think that's a damn shame. As I've so eloquently (at least I tried) illustrated, he is a pretty damn interesting character, very deep with plenty of layers beyond just being a goodie two-shoes "boy scout". I think part of some people's problem, might also be that, in this day and age at least, a lot of people are attracted to that anti-authoritarian "bad boy" type of character, like a Wolverine, like a Gambit, or even a raving (but hilarious) psychopath like Deadpool. But those same people also, on the flip-side of that coin, aren't attracted to more traditional HERO type heroes. It's "not cool" to actually just be a genuinely good dude, and sacrifice of yourself constantly, and save lives and save the planet, etc. Nah, sorry bro, you're still a dweeb. But hey, Peter Parker gets a pass, LOTS of people love Spider-Man right? Well, that's probably because Spidey is also a wise-cracking fool, loveable as all get out and constantly somehow down-on-his-luck (hard to "make that cash" when you're always fighting crime, right?).

Cyke definitely rarely cracks wise, though he certainly has, especially under Lobdell's care in the 90s. I really feel Lobdell understood the X-Men, all of them, and that's why his writing was so good, and stories were generally very well done. To me, he "got" Cyclops, and I'd like to think he saw him in a similar light to the way I do. A tragic loner, raised in a desolate, lonely orphanage with no friends, no family, and every reason to turn bad, but he persevered, fell into the craziest gig on the planet, being a super hero, with his natural born (uncontrollable) curse turning into some kind of blessing, as he was able to use those optic blasts to save lives and whup the asses of countless bad guys. And with all of that, he not only grew into a man, a hero, but he found his soul mate, and gained a family, made up of the weirdest, but still kinda coolest misfits the world has ever seen. The X-Men were all about Outcasts, and among those Outcasts, Cyclops was the ultimate. He not only embodied what Xavier's dream stood for, but he also embodied everything the X-Men were, unliked, unappreciated, but fuck it, they soldier on. And you know what? If he seems a bit uptight, well, just keep in mind that behind that tough, quiet exterior, he constantly holds the incredible fear that he could, if he lost total control, use his cursed power to kill everyone he loves. Hell, the dude could level a major world city with his visor off in under 20 minutes, easy. He can't ever look on his friends, or see the world, much less his wife, with his own eyes unshielded, so I'd say, all in all, cut the motherfucker a break.

To me, he's one of the greatest comic characters of all time, because he's the kind of character you really have to look beneath the surface to see how deep and complex and awesome he really is. He isn't "insta-cool" like Wolverine. But he's a more interesting kind of cool, to me, because he's cool without having to come off seeming "cool" to most. In a way, that part of me that is the eternal rebel, kinda likes the fact that my favorite X-Man is shared by so few. But I still want the world to appreciate him more. Thus I've given you just about all the reasons I can think of, as to why he's worth a first, or second, or even third look. He's a great character, and I guess, on a personal level, I always could kind of relate to him in some strange ways. I certainly always wished that I could someday find my own Jean, for obvious reasons. But regardless of all that, Cyclops rocks, and if you still can't see it after this gigantic article dedicated to the subject? Well....I can't help you.








2 comments:

  1. Mr Moak, I would like you to know that you wrote THE article on Scott Summers. Most , if not ALL, comics critics commit the appalling mistake of forgetting about the greatness that was the true Summers bloodline. If I had to rank them by order of preference I'd say it would go like this :
    1) Nathan
    2) Jean
    3) Scott
    4) Stryfe
    5) Rachel
    6) Alex
    7) Adam X
    Though they 're all fairly likable !
    I am also more than glad to see someone else that acknowledges the True Best x-men run of all http://devilkais.deviantart.com/art/Best-X-Men-Run-519531141

    " I stuck around to the bitter, god awful conclusion of Morrison's run, that I'm not even going to dignify enough to describe or bother getting into. "

    Ain't that the truth... http://devilkais.deviantart.com/journal/Comics-that-burn-me-MARVEL-edition-400284541

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well thank you very much for saying so. I think that this piece could have been more focused, looking back at it. But I do think, while wordy, that it infused the points I wanted to make, about the spirit of who Scott Summers is, and why I realized just this year, after never really thinking about it beforehand, that Cyclops actually is pretty much my fav. comic book superhero.

      I shall check out your own posts on these subjects for sure. And thanks for reading!

      Delete

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