All Things in Context: A Definitive Defense of Scott Summers
An Editorial From Christopher Franey & Rafael Encinas
With the resurrection of Scott Summers in Extermination and Uncanny X-men Annual #1 (2019) there has been major buzz surrounding this iconic character. Specifically, many are buzzing about the old age question: Was Cyclops Right? According to Renaldo Matadeen in CBR.com’s article “Cyclops Finally Settles Marvel’s Most Popular X-men Argument,” the author goes straight to the end result of Cyclops, himself, saying he was wrong. Although Matadeen makes some good points about the decision, we argue that in the context of Scott’s full story not only was Cyclops right in his actions, but these decisions were paramount to the survival of the mutant species. It is easy to criticize Scott out of context and as a hero, but Scott is more than that. He is ultimately responsible for the mutant population’s survival during their most perilous time.
Why Cyclops Was Right
If you go back and look at the crossover event, House of M (2005), with the New Avengers and the Astonishing X-men, we can see that both teams faced hardships and essentially had to fight for their existence. However, once reality gets restored to normal, the Mutants have to deal with Scarlet Witch’s curse of ‘No More Mutants.’ So, did reality really go back to normal for the X-men? This was a turning point into the way Scott Summers saw himself; basically, Cyclops the hero was traded in for Cyclops the War Time General; Scott was the man who inherited the crisis after M-Day. In a time where fellow Mutants he counted on were gone, missing, or depowered, a time when powerful enemies were empowered to wipe them out, and a situation where fellow heroes like the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. were not as sympathetic as they could have been, Scott and the Mutants had their backs to the wall. During this time, the Avengers were getting ready for their split with the upcoming Civil War event, which did spill into the lives of the remaining Mutants; and S.H.I.E.L.D. was just suffering losing Nick Fury from his actions during the Secret War and were now adapting to new leadership under Maria Hill.
Scott wakes up to a “Days of Future Past” scenario played out on his front yard with the O.N.E. (Office of National Emergency) Sentinels assigned to protect the remaining Mutant population; an action, by the way, that the X-men were not asked about beforehand. The sentinels after all were monstrous reminders of genocide to the mutant population, so this action was not okay on both a psychological and cultural level. Though O.N.E. was created due to the sudden drop in population of the Mutants, the safe haven of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters now resembled a reservation camp with death machines as guards. One could argue that this was done in the best interest for the Mutants, especially considering that this time, the sentinels would be manned and controlled by humans. However, the Sentinel program doesn’t have a good track record with anyone, and ultimately, the O.N.E Sentinels did lead to the destruction of the Xavier mansion during Messiah Complex when Bishop comprised them. With the X-men and the rest of the remaining 198 Mutants on Earth being guarded, this raised tensions and did cause the 198 Riot. Needless to say, the little help that was offered was poor, and the Mutants didn’t feel safe amongst themselves.
Then the Superhero Civil War happened. After this debacle, Steve Rogers was an enemy of the state and then presumed dead before he could make it to the courthouse for his trial. Tony Stark had become the Top Cop and in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. and finally goes to the Mutants, a.k.a. Scott, and instead of offering aid or protection, he wants the Mutants to register. Scott tells Tony, “Being a Mutant isn’t what we do Tony- It’s not a choice. So, do you want us to register for being born? Is that really who you are now?” (Uncanny X-Men #495, 2008)
All these hardships were further complicated by Scott’s lack of support, specifically from his mentor, Charles Xavier. Charles was not in good graces with Scott and the X-men since he lied about Danger, an A.I., being sentient and then imprisoning her. He also erased the existence of Gabriel Summers and the X-men team before the All New All Different team. And more evidence was discovered by Scott and Emma that showed Xavier was manipulating people for the greater good, as he would call it, and also manipulating memories. Therefore, Scott’s surrogate father and longtime ally was both absent and at odds with the X-Men at the moment when Mutants were most vulnerable and in most need.
Not only that, but this was a time of a more aggressive campaign to exterminate the Mutant population. For example:
- The Purifiers killing Xavier students on school grounds, including the explosion of a school bus filled with depowered mutants.
- The return of powerful enemies, Apocalypse and Belasco.
- Nimrod’s attack on the younger New X-men team.
- The return of an angry Hulk looking for the head of Professor Xavier for his role in The Illuminati; a scenario where Scott did still stand in defense for Xavier.
- Violent campaigns of Mister Sinister’s Marauders and Exodus’ Acolytes.
- The extermination of the Grey Family line by the Shiar Empire.
In this context, one can see that Scott was on the defense of a never ending onslaught of extermination events. Therefore he had to change tactics, Cyclops the Hero would now have to become a Compromising Commander. The days of coming in and saving the day, astonishing the public, and fighting for Pro Human Mutant relations had to take a back seat to survival. No one could do that, except Scott; the Hero the Mutants needed, but not the Hero Scott had ever been before. It is during this time in comics from Messiah Complex, to the diaspora to San Francisco, to the founding of Utopia, and to the development of Scott’s Extinction team, that we see a more proactive and militant Cyclops.
After the Cooperstown tragedy, Scott went from the defensive to a full on offense to protect the preservation of the Mutant population and the newly born Mutant since M-Day. This lead to Cyclops to reform X-Force and have them recover the new baby from whoever had it. The twist is that Cable was the one to save the baby from Marauders, Purifiers, Acolytes, and Bishop so this would come to an apex when the X-men finally caught up to Cable. When Cyclops is confronted with all of this and hears Cable’s plea to go to the future with the new baby, Scott does something different, instead of playing it safe and demanding the baby stay in current times, he decides to trust Cable to protect the baby in the future.
This is a big moment for Scott because he understands the dangers Mutants are facing in the current timeline, and this new baby represents Hope for rebirth. Instead of striving for absolute control by keeping her, he takes a leap of faith and trusts his son even when his trust in others is shattered by Bishop’s defect. It says something to the perilous times Cyclops was in that he would let his last hope for Mutant survival be risked away into the future where Scott had no say; remember Cyclops is a man of total control.
This is important because now whereas Cyclops was originally trying to keep his people alive, he now has the goal of doing the same thing but with the added hope of bringing the Mutants back to safer numbers and reviving the species. Cyclops disbands the X-men after Messiah Complex in hopes that they will now find a new safe haven since the mansion was destroyed and Xavier was killed. We believe that Cyclops has three main objectives at this point:
- Migrate the Mutant population to a more accepting community to live and thrive.
- Build up a PR department that will humanize the Mutant struggle.
- Actively neutralize Mutant threats through the X-Force team.
Scott gets focus and clarity of vision in creating a better world for mutants, especially for when Hope, the mutant baby, eventually returns. These goals are met when Scott has the mutants migrate to the tolerant San Francisco area, when he joins forces with Katie Kildare in creating a positive PR department making the Mutant menace image go away, and by having X-Force eliminate Apocalypse on their first mission. Scott leads his people into a new age of hope and prosperity, but like all X-Men stories, the good times do not last long, especially when a threat from Outer Space comes along, the Skrulls.
The Secret Invasion event occurs, and the heroes have an identity crisis. But not the X-Men. In a world where no one knows who to trust because they may be a Skrull in hiding, the X-Men get ready to defend all the people of San Francisco, not just the mutant population. Cyclops knew that the X-men wouldn’t have to worry about a Skrull in hiding since he knew the X-men are more than a team. If a sleeper Skrull was in the X-Men ranks, they would have approached San Francisco differently. Here one can see the Skrulls miscalculated Scott Summers, and that was costly as this was the battlefront where they lost ground and troops.
Interestingly, this is one of the moments in where fans feel uneasy about Cyclops since he does threaten Skrull genocide by weaponizing the Legacy Virus. That is understandable, but let us not forget that the Skrulls are a highly aggressive alien invading force with a track record of absolute savagery. The stakes were also at an all-time high because the Skrulls almost successfully conquered the Earth since the Avengers were uneasy trusting themselves after the Civil War. And lastly, instead of choosing to purge themselves, the Skrulls could have surrendered and left earth because Scott did offer them a cure for the virus, which technically, was a bluff since it wasn’t created…yet.
We want to note that in the context of keeping his people alive, Cyclops did do and sanction un-heroic acts in the name of Mutant preservation. With the classic heroic Cyclops and the X-men, we would have seen them fight the Skrulls in a typical comic book fashion that would’ve been more ethical and close to the wire as the Skulls would have had a sleeper. However, we are watching Cyclops transcend from heroic leader of the X-men to face of the Mutant nation; just like Black Panther to the Wakandians, Black Bolt to the Inhumans, Namor to the Atlantis People, and Odin to the Asgardians. So holding Cyclops’ actions as despicable and vile hold no weight when he does these things for his peoples’ survival. After all, what is the age old rule? If it is in self-defense, you have the right to defend yourself. So, why does he get painted as Marvel’s Mutant menace? He starts to be seen as a menace because of rising tensions and crime in Human/Mutant relations in the San Francisco area. This means that the new Top Cop has to come in and fix these issues, so Norman Osborn comes to town.
Now, we as fans know that Norman Osborn is a bastard, killer of Gwen Stacy and many, many other horrendous acts. The super human community knows this as well, but can’t do anything since Norman becomes the Government after the events of Secret Invasion. So when Scott and Norman come to blows in public, Scott’s already controversial image is now amplified and public fear rises when Scott successfully secedes from the United States and creates his own Mutant nation of Utopia. This is important to his public image because Cyclops has now beaten Norman, aka the Government, and surrounds himself with other controversial figures such as Magneto, Namor, and Emma Frost (fellow Mutants and X-men) on the island of Utopia which was once Asteroid M. In context, the reader who has perspective into Cyclops’ actions sees what Scott is doing. He is furthering the cause by showing strength, by raising Mutant defensives in a hostile world. However, to the general public in the Marvel universe, they see Cyclops becoming aggressively militant with a group of powerful mutants, and they are right next door. Both characterizations of Cyclops’ actions have truth to them, but the image is a necessity in Cyclops’ actions for the Mutants in their survival.
Just to keep a track on the other major players in the Marvel universe, we see that Steve Rogers is about to return from his “death” and will become Captain America again to help stop Norman’s Dark Reign; after that Steve gets to be the Top Cop in the MU. Tony Stark had to go into running since he knew all the heroes’ information about their secret lives which led to him being reset in terms of his memory. Xavier had to rebuild himself after being “killed” by Bishop, which led to him rediscovering his memoires and now just being another Mutant on Utopia.
Things look pretty good right? Cyclops has effectively united the mutants and created a fortified safe haven to protect his people. Well, things go from zero to one hundred real quick with the events of Second Coming. Cable returns to the current timeline from the future with an older Hope. However, they are not welcomed by the X-Men, but instead an onslaught of militarized mutant hate groups, specifically the devilish Stryker and his Purifiers. So, in this event, Cyclops pulls out all the guns in order to extract Hope and Cable from hostile territory. Many casualties amount, including the notable deaths of Nightcrawler and Cable, and then there is an epic showdown on the Golden Gate Bridge with a horde of Nimrod Sentinels led by the relentless Bastion. To put it simply, Second Coming is a very serious and important moment for the mutant population. It showcases that Cyclop’s faith in a mutant renaissance was not in vain. This proved to be Cyclops’ most important gamble and battle for the survival of the Mutant species, which paid off in the form of the Five Lights. To give credit, the Fantastic Four and Avengers did try to assist but were blocked from the battle by a force field, and after the battle, Steve Rogers wanted to give a good public image to the Mutants by giving Scott the Presidential Medal of Freedom award. Ultimately, Cyclops’ faith paid out and the Mutants have a fighting chance.
So, where do we hear the voices that claim Cyclops was wrong? First, they begin in the actual Marvel Universe. Up until this point, Cyclops has been gradually painted in a negative light by the press, especially considering the world’s intolerance of mutants. So that means that the press has deemed Cyclops the villain, especially after the psychic attack of Quentin Quire at the U.N., where Cyclops was asking the rest of the world to suspend their production of Mutant killing sentinels. Quentin’s outcry for attention negatively puts the Mutants back to the wall once again; leading to world leaders recommissioning sentinels in lieu of this childish outburst. Now the face of the Mutant menace has returned, undoing the good PR by Katie Kildare.
Mutants are once again attacked in the streets and even at public events, which we saw with the new child led Hellfire Club as they put Idie in a situation where she might have to kill in order to survive. Cyclops understood this and wanted her to do what she deemed best, while Wolverine wanted her to do nothing at all and figured he would make it in time to save her. Ultimately Idie did kill the Hellfire Soldier in self-defense, which would be the schism between Scott and Logan’s ideology. It is important to note that many claim Scott’s use of child soldiers as an unheroic act, even villainous act; however once again in the context of his situation, he always gave his students a choice and one could argue that the X-men were always founded as child soldiers. So, at best Cyclops used children in worst-case scenarios as a last means of defense; at worst, Cyclops was only doing what Xavier taught him to do, what he himself was raised to do. Let us not forget that Cyclops himself was a child soldier who has fought for his life and the lives of others for a very long time. Whether this is ethically correct is mute. Scott acts for the preservation of his species which is put above all else.
The Schism event weakened the Mutant population by having half of the residents relocate back to New York in the newly founded Jean Grey School for Higher Learning; which Wolverine used Jean’s name as a dagger against Cyclops. This would further make things difficult for Scott because he was now facing a war on two fronts; so he created the Extinction team as a nuclear deterrent to keep the students at Wolverine’s school safe. Cyclops was once again thinking of Mutant Human relations only this time, if humans weren’t going to respect Mutants out of equality, they would respect out of fear. Basically, the X-Men would become so essential to the earth’s survival, that the world wouldn’t want them dead; they would need them. Was this the best move for Cyclops? The real question was, “What was Cyclops’ alternative?”
Another talking point of Cyclops’ decent into full villainy is in his villainous role in Avengers Vs. X-Men. Does Cyclops kill Professor X? Yes. Does Cyclops go full Dark Phoenix? Yes. Does Cyclops distrust and refuse help from the Avengers? Yes. In this frame, one can say that Scott could have better choices about his actions. Especially in letting his fellow heroes help him combat the most destructive force the X-men have ever seen, the Phoenix. But why should Cyclops do this? Especially with the track record the Avengers have had in helping with Mutant catastrophe. What many people fail to realize is that Scott’s hostility toward Captain America isn’t just because he believes Steve is trying to take control of a situation he doesn’t understand or have experience with, but Cyclops is warned of the upcoming conflict between the Avengers and X-Men from his son Cable in the X-Sanction event.
At the start of this event, we see a newly returned from the dead Cable who goes on the hunt for Avengers. After successfully capturing Captain America, Iron-man, Falcon, and Red Hulk, Cable then sets a bomb to go off thus eliminating the AVX event. Spider-man, Wolverine, Cyclops, and Hope all arrive to stop Cable and save the Avengers. In the conflict, we see Cable be fully taken over by the T.O. virus and lose. Cyclops asks to take care of his son back at Utopia, and when they get him there, Scott witnesses Hope absorb the T.O. virus from Cable and burn it out like a Phoenix would. Cable and Cyclops then have a telepathic conversation in which Cable points this out to Scott and tells him that the Avengers cannot win this or the future is doomed for everyone.
This is interesting because many who blame Scott pinpoint his isolationist approach at combating the Phoenix to be his most arrogant, thinking he is the only one who can handle the Phoenix threat. For being such a great tactician, how can he possibly have faith that Hope Summers could contain this fire bird? However, he doesn’t blindly believe. He has seen the positive regenerative aspects of the Phoenix firsthand when Hope heals Cable, and also, he has no reason to distrust his son, a successful time traveler who hasn’t be wrong before and who has never betrayed Scott. So, Cyclops sets in motion events that will finally bring back the Mutant population. As he says the Phoenix is coming back to rebirth the Mutant population, and so he gets Hope ready. Everything he has done for the mutant species has led to this moment.
But things don’t go as planned. Because of interference from the Avengers, the Phoenix Force is split into five pieces and is thrust upon Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Illyana, and Colossus creating the Phoenix Five; a super group of mutants with the power of the Phoenix! Oh no, one would expect these individuals to run wild and destroy everything, considering that the Phoenix Force has a very bad track record.
But even with the destructive force of the Phoenix, does Scott lose control? No.
He leads the Phoenix Five into creating Pax Utopia, a world with sustainable energy and plentiful crops for everyone. They start working at making the world a better place for humans and mutants alike. They stop all conflicts and become the world’s nuclear deterrent. In this world of his, we see Xavier and Magneto meet with no hostilities and no reason to fight. Cyclops, who at this point is painted as a Mutant Supremacist, could have easily created his own version of House of M, thus making Mutants superior and Humans lesser. But, he does not do this. Under his leadership the Phoenix Five make a better world. However, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark do not like this, as the age old adage goes: Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. Therefore, they assemble the Avengers and join with Xavier to provoke and challenge the Phoenix Five. One by one, Namor, Illyana, Colossus, and Emma fall apart and give into the fiery passion of the Phoenix, leaving Scott as the only one left in possession of the cosmic bird’s power.
At this point, it can be argued that Cyclops would have eventually lost control and could have gone full Superman from Injustice by initiating absolute and total control and fascist rule, even without the interference from the Avengers. However, from the evidence we have and the actions taken, Scott doesn’t lose control and legitimately tries to bring Xavier’s dream to fruition; even when his other compatriots with the Phoenix power give in. Only when the Avengers Vs. X-Men event succumbs to Everyone versus Scott Summers, do we see Scott pushed over the edge. We see him succumb to the influence of the Dark Phoenix, and he murders his mentor, Charles Xavier, in cold blood. But why does this happen? What evil had Scott actually done up until this point? He worked so hard for so long to help his people, to be a hero to all the world, and he accomplishes his goal by making a better world, by harnessing a destructive force for good, even with the fear and knowledge of what that power did to the first one he loved. He sacrificed so much and lost so many to get to this point. And what did he get in return? He gets hate, fear, and rejection from the people who are supposed to be his friends, allies, and family. He gets rejected by the very world that he was trying to save; Scott can’t win.
Needless to say, the Avengers are the favorites in the Marvel Universe, and they ultimately lay the smackdown on Cyclops. Broken and dejected, imprisoned and slandered, he is given no trial and becomes enemy number one. He becomes a war criminal in the aftermath of losing complete control of the Phoenix Force, but Scott is much more than himself and realizes Mutants still need him; especially with the new Mutants that will need him after their rebirth from the Phoenix. Cyclops was right. He was right about the Phoenix being a tool of rebirth for the mutant species, but there was a price and he had no time to wallow because he now took his character assassinated image to start the Mutant Revolution.
Again in this context, Cyclops can be seen once again as pushing the tensions between Mutant and Human relations. He was branded a war criminal by the Avengers and the world, escaped prison, and was threatening police and the world in general in favor of Mutant equality. Though he speaks of Mutant Revolution, which is a powerful word, and can understandably make people uncomfortable, Cyclops never advocated for Mutant Supremacy. His back was to the wall once again and these circumstances led him to be more revolutionary as the media turned him into a monster. So he played the part; but what did he really ever do? During Bendis’ Uncanny X-men run, with the help of Emma, Illyana, and Magneto, Scott liberated Mutants from government containment and homicide. At this point there was nothing Cyclops could do to better his image, so again he went on the offensive to proactively train and protect new Mutants, all while having a mental breakdown for killing his surrogate father (who, arguably, was acting like a bastard).
In the end, he still did right for his people even though a great majority of them now hated him for the execution of Xavier. He would go onto doing his best until finally succumbing to character assassination at the hands of the Inhuman Royal family’s retelling of the Terrigen Mist Cloud crisis.
So this leads us to Uncanny X-men Annual #1 (2019) which gives Scott a new chance for redemption. Does he need it? Yes, because, in universe, Marvel has painted him out to be a Mutant Hitler, which can be understandable due to the events as they are interpreted from the media and from a population that already discredits, fears, and hates Mutants.
Does Scott deserve redemption? The simple answer is no.
Yes, Scott does terrible things, it’s hard to rationalize some of his decisions, but in context everything he does, he does with his back to the wall. He uses strategy and tactics to keep his people alive; in times of war, which arguably, the Mutants were constantly in. Scott could not be the hero, and he understood that.
We are a bit upset with the Annual for Scott stating that he was wrong. In what context is he saying these words? We like to think that he believes he was right in what he did, but honestly what else could he have done when the deck was so stacked against him? He might be wrong in the fact that he ultimately lost sight of the future of Human and Mutant relations, especially considering that his heavy handedness could be problematic, but we are hopeful. This annual gives Scott the chance to change his public image. The world may no longer need Militant Cyclops, leader of the Mutants. Instead this is a chance for Scott Summers, the Astonishing Hero, to return and set it right.
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