[Quarter Bin Opinions]

Superheroes Behaving Badly IV: Cyclops

[Scott marries the woman that he abandoned his first wife to pursue.] The picture to the right represents something we could recognize as a happy moment. Two characters who had danced around the question of romance had taken something like twelve years (from 1963 to 1975) to admit the bond between them. These characters had seen their love shattered by death by the turn of the 1980s. By the time that they actually managed to get through the rites of matrimony, the thirtieth anniversary of their first appearances in superhero comics loomed on the horizon, a span of time that belongs in the same league as the romance between Superman and Lois Lane that took over fifty years to take that couple to the altar.

The happiness of the moment does not seem so clear, nor so benign, in the context of what came before it. The happy groom in this picture had visited the altar before. When the pictured bride reappeared after a seeming death some years before, he casually and crassly walked out on his wife to take up a shattered romance where it had left off.

Romance and Death

Message boards and the Usenet sometimes resound with threads about the rogueish behavior of Cyclops, from the X-Men, a character of Lee-Kirby vintage who, like others, would find new directions in the hands of later creators. Jack Kirby preferred to cast characters either as incorrigible bachelors or as avuncular family men; his stories did not enter the disturbing domains of divorce, infidelity, and abandonment.

It would require the later, and considerably less innocent, explorations of Chris Claremont to direct Cyclops into a life track that would qualify him for epithets like "abandoner."

To reach this point, one must connect Lee and Kirby's Cyclops to the man he became in the hands of Chris Claremont through the history that lay between. Even in the earliest days of the X-Men, in the first twelve issues of their original title, Lee and Kirby worked their soap-opera formula and had Scott Summers mooning over an unrequited love for Jean Grey, known then as "Marvel Girl," who seemed most attracted to the alpha male traits of Warren Worthington, the X-Men's Angel. Warren enjoyed good looks, confidence, wealth, and the gift of gab, all traits that trumped Scott's withdrawn personality and a face he had to hide behind huge lenses to contain the dangerous energies of his eye-beams.

Scott managed to moon through the pages of this title until X-Men stopped printing new stories. Thus, the romance continued in its unrequited form through seven years of the original X-Men title, presumably continuing during the period when X-Men reprinted the its first year or two of stories, and through the gap of several years during which X-Men ceased publication altogether.

After Len Wein and David Cockrum jump-started the X-Men title in the mid-1970s, Chris Claremont inherited the writing chores for that title, and early on he brought the Scott Summers - Jean Grey romance out of the closet. If, at this point, Claremont seemed to act out of a desire to allow these characters a happy ending to a relationship that had spent years dragging one of its principals through recurring storms of melodramatic angst, he soon disabused readers of any such hope.

Claremont built the romance between the two in order to heighten the impact of the "Dark Phoenix Saga" story arc. As a man might raise a glass over his head to get the momentum to break it into shards in the hearth at his feet, so did Claremont elevate the happiness of both Jean Grey and Scott Summers in order to enhance the tragedy of the suicide of Phoenix.

Readers who remember the impact of X-Men at the end of the 1970s recall this, arguably, as one of the best sequences that John Byrne, Terry Austin, and Chris Claremont would ever craft. That Marvel Comics subsequently had to tamper with it in a way that undid its ending strikes some as a crass, merchandising-driven, betrayal of comics readership.

However cheaply Marvel chose to undo this sequence, however, only a few years would pass before later comics began to unravel it.

Inconvenient Secret Twins

After the (revocable) death of Jean Grey as Phoenix, Byrne and Claremont decided that Cyclops needed a break from the title, or that X-Men readers needed a break from the character, or that they themselves wanted to rid themselves of him for a while, so they sent him packing at a plausible point in the book, following Jean's funeral during which flashback scenes anthologized the history of the X-Men between 1963 and 1980 (John Byrne would not begin to tackle the missing years until the dawn of the 21st century).

However, Cyclops couldn't really stay away from the book, even if, for some months, he stayed away from other X-Men. Instead, he took to the life of a boat bum, and, still too early to trust his judgment, started a fling with the youthful female captain of the ship. This culminated in a few stories, including the nth return of Magneto and an unnecessarily ugly tale in which a psychic vampire character did away with his new belle's father.

By the time that David Cockrum had said his second goodbye to the book, and Paul Smith had assumed the art duties attending thereto, Claremont and company had begun a really bizarre plot thread. Cyclops, it seems, met a female who looked exactly like his recently defunct Jean. He therefore went on the fast track to matrimony and within less than a year had married Madeleine Pryor. Later attempts to explain the altogether unlikely existence of this woman would ultimately contribute to the largely incomprehensible story of the Grey-Summers line (the names "Goblin Queen" and "Cable" come into it), but she initially served mainly as an awfully convenient bait to lure Scott Summers into some life outside the activities of the X-Men.

Marry him off and get rid of him, the equation seemed to promise; and this might have provided the desired vacation from said old-school X-Men. Another development of the mid-eighties at Marvel Comics would throw much confusion into this arrangement, however. Marvel had decided to relaunch the original X-Men in a new context, to appear in a new monthly book called X-Factor.

The Return of Jean Grey

Up to this point, Cyclops normally behaved in a responsible, if not necessarily responsible or likeable, fashion with a consistency that justified his sometime-role as leader of the X-Men.

Not long after he met Pryor, and in spite of the doubts that Claremont seeded through the early stories that featured her, Cyclops married this doppelganger of his onetime significant other. This marriage predictably culminated in the production of a child, Nathan Summers (later renamed), born in Uncanny X-Men #200.

However, cascading editorial consequences would throw a monkey wrench into the whole process. As mentioned in a "Revolving Door of Death" column (found here), Marvel Comics decided to feature the original X-Men in a title called X-Factor, and to this end they brought Jean Grey back from the dead (again) by a plot device involving the expected array of silly and unlikely coincidences and strokes of luck.

Scott had acted out his goal of making Jean Grey his partner in the years immediately preceding her death; he had taken Pryor as a spouse for the same reason, given that she resembled Jean in the particulars that mattered to him; and, with the original back in action, Scott remorselessly abandoned both wife and child for the sake of acting out the carefree scene pictured at the top of the page. No concern for his wife and child would slow him down.

Exit the Family Man

Marvel probably threw a large monkey wrench into the story Claremont had intended to write by bringing back Jean Grey. However, this amounted to adding another clone to a story that had one already. Once clones enter a tale, they tend to propagate with unfortunate zeal. Therefore, Claremont revealed the origins of the jilted Madelyne Pryor. X-Men nemesis Mister Sinister, a schemer who appeared occasionally to manipulate scenarios designed to work mayhem with the mutant team, had, at some point in the past, somehow managed to obtain a tissue sample from which to grow a duplicate of Jean Grey's body. With the original (evidently) dead, he saw his opportunity, and arranged for his creation to meet Cyclops through the connection of his parents' air freight company.

Bringing back Jean Grey only required the introduction of a new copy. Instead of becoming a host to the "Phoenix force" that took to devouring worlds in the then-classic "Dark Phoenix Saga," a retcon claimed that said force had warehoused Jean's body at the bottom of a harbor, in a protective cocoon, and had created a duplicate body that readers saw destroyed when Dark Phoenix stepped in front of a ray cannon to destroy herself rather than resume a life as a stellar parasite. Thus, we might say, Marvel ended up with four beings with claims to the Jean Grey identity: the original, who appeared in X-Men #1-#100; the second and third, as the Phoenix body (2) and the Phoenix mind (3), that would face destruction on the moon (#3 survived); and the fourth, Mister Sinister's clone Madelyne (4), who would perhaps become a host for the Phoenix force (3), which had appropriated Jean's identity.

In that Maddie began as a clone implanted with the false memories necessary for her to impersonate her prototype just enough to attract Scott Summers such that he might produce a child with her - later stories revealed this as the master plan behind the actions of the manipulative Mister Sinister, to whom Claremont later attributed Pryor's creation - we can essentially absolve her from much of the judgment that would attach to a mutant who goes bad and attaches herself to the other side.

[A spurned woman goes bad as Cyclops abandons wife and child.]

Before long, she would adopt the name "Goblin Queen," as if her implanted personality had a tendency to lose its taste as very little time passed. In pursuit of this new identity, she would adopt a typically skimpy costume of the late eighties and early nineties, unhindered by the gravity that affects women of flesh and blood. She would come to serve as a sometimes-potent instrument of various schemes directed against the X-Men.

No Regrets

If Cyclops ever regretted abandoning his family, or if he blamed himself for their subsequent turn to purposes contrary to his own supposedly-heroic mission, it would not remain apparent in the books where he would subsequently appear. Therefore, we have here a good example of the unrepentant Superhero Behaving Badly; unlike the others featured in this series of columns, Cyclops did wrong and does not regret it, beyond the occasional inevitable zapfest in which he may have to confront his onetime wife.

Redemption absents itself from this sequence. Other heroes tried, in various ways, to redeem themselves after their falls. They either fought the problems that beset them (and others), such as substance abuse or spousal abuse problems; or they sacrificed their lives in heroic efforts to do right after doing many wrongs unto others.

Scott Summers, however, seems to do little more than smirk and wink at his own misdeeds. Perhaps he should set a precedent and appear before his likely accusers on a daytime talkshow; then we would have the first Jerry Springer superhero.

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