Comic Book Starter Guide: Cyclops The Ultimate X-Men Leader

Comic Book Starter Guide: Cyclops The Ultimate X-Men Leader

The X-Men franchise is filled with characters that are both strong and flawed. There may be no character that better defines the ups and downs the franchise has been through than Cyclops. While the X-Men core team roster has changed Cyclops has been one of the constants. He is the guy that you normally see as a leader. With how constant his presence is we’ve seen the character go through a lot. Everything from stepping up as leader of the X-Men to questionable scandals to leading the entire mutant race. 

Cyclops is someone that defines the multi-layered characters that exist in the X-Men franchise. To that point the following comic book stories are the best place to start understanding why Cyclops is both the ultimate leader and a flawed character who is synonymous with the X-Men.

UNCANNY X-MEN: MUIR ISLAND’S PROTEUS CRISIS

Uncanny X-Men #126

Cover of Uncanny X-Men #126. Click for full cover view

Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963 – 2011) #125 – #128

Creative Team

Writer: Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Artist: John Byrne 

Inker: Terry Kevin Austin 

Colorist: Glynis Wein 

When the X-Men franchise returned from a five year hiatus the roster was filled with newly introduced Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Banshee, and Thunderbird. Most of the original X-Men team, including Havok, decided to move on. The one original X-Men that stay was Cyclops. By staying, Cyclops continued to lead the X-Men and faced a whole new set of challenges in that job as the new team got settled, which included the Phoenix Saga.

One of the big challenges that Cyclops faced was when he led the team to deal with a crisis being caused by Proteus on Muir Island. This storyline happened right before things blew up with The Dark Phoenix Saga. Which was good timing as it really did test how well Cyclops understood his X-Men teammates.

Uncanny X-Men #127 Cyclops vs X-Men

Cyclops takes on his X-Men teammates so they can get their mojos back in Uncanny X-Men #127. Click for full page view.

The standout issue in this storyline was Uncanny X-Men #127. In that issue the X-Men find themselves at a very low point after Proteus defeated them. Seeing Wolverine’s body language in particular had Cyclops instantly understand he needed to do something to get his team back on track. To do that he started a fight with Wolverine to get him back into his normal “Best At What I Do” mode. The fight led to Storm, Nightcrawler and Colossus joining Wolverine in fighting Cyclops when they thought their leader went rogue. After a while Cyclops revealed to his teammates that this was a Danger Room session to test both them and himself after what their last clash with Proteus did to them.

While this was a small moment in the greater storyline that was taking place on Muir Island it was a big moment for Cyclops. It was a strong example of why Cyclops is the team leader. He has developed a strong understanding of all his teammates. That understanding allows him to quickly know what he should do to motivate them even when the X-Men face tough losses.

UNCANNY X-MEN: THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA

Uncanny X-Men #137

Cover of Uncanny X-Men #137. Click for full page view.

Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963 – 2011) #129 – #139

Creative Team

Writer: Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Artist: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Colorist: Bob Sharen

The Dark Phoenix Saga is not only one of the most iconic X-Men stories but is also one of the most iconic comic book stories. This is the storyline that all X-Men stories are judged by. And for good reason. Chris Claremont and John Byrne do a masterful job in building the Dark Phoenix Saga to get bigger with each issue that passes by. The story goes from a conflict with the Hellfire Club and blows up to be one where the X-Men end up clashing with the Shi’ar, Kree and Skrull Empires.

For Cyclops this is a massively important storyline that helps define his character for multiple reasons. Uncanny X-Men #129, the opening issue of this saga, in particular does a great job setting up how Cyclops is a key character in The Dark Phoenix Saga. With this opening issue we see Cyclops’ relationship with Jean Grey is reestablished, Professor Xavier returns, and part of the X-Men team is captured by the Hellfire Club.

Uncanny X-Men #129 Cyclops vs Professor Xavier

Cyclops clash with Professor Xavier over the X-Men’s direction in Uncanny X-Men #129. Click for full page view.

The return of Professor Xavier is a particular big part of this storyline that is not talked about enough, especially with how it relates to Cyclops. At this point, this version of the X-Men have been tested over and over again without Professor Xavier around. And after overcoming the conflict with Proteus on Muir Island you could see that Cyclops had built trust with his teammates. Professor Xavier returning threatened to tear the team apart because he still saw the X-Men as a group of teenagers in need of training. Cyclops does his best to remind Professor Xavier that the X-Men are all  adults who are battle tested. This early back-and-forth shows that Cyclops has grown up and is ready to be more than just the X-Men’s field leader.

Then there is of course how The Dark Phoenix Saga utilizes Cyclops and Jean Grey’s relationship. From starting the event with the two strengthening their bond all the way to them being the final two X-Men standing against the Imperial Guard, we see the strength of their relationship shine. The unique psychic bond between them is well highlighted in multiple ways throughout the story as well. We see how the bond helps Cyclops use his powers without the use of his visor, it helps when Cyclops is trying to talk to Jean while she is Dark Phoenix, and during the battle with the Imperial Guard. The entire story spotlights how important the relationship Scott and Jean share is special.

UNCANNY X-MEN: THE DUEL

Cover of Uncanny X-Men #201. Click for full cover view.

Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963 – 2011) #201

Creative Team

Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: Rick Leonardi

Inker: Whilce Portacio

Colorist: Glynis Oliver

After the events of The Dark Phoenix Saga Cyclops understandably had to take time and step away from being the X-Men leader. It was one of the rare breaks the character has had from the X-Men. During that time Scott Summer settled down and had a son (Cable) with Madelyne Pryor. 

The story with Madelyne Pryor is a whole different topic for another day. But a key issue for Scott in particular during this period was Uncanny X-Men #201. This issue showed that the pull to not only return to the X-Men but also be their leader again was growing inside Scott. But there was a big question as to if Scott should return with the state of his relationship with Madelyne and them having a newborn son.

Uncanny X-Men 201 Cyclops vs Storm

Storm shows Cyclops she is the best person to lead the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men #201. Click for full page view.

That’s where Storm steps in to answer that question for Scott. While she was depowered at the time Storm was able to use her skills and confidence as a leader to show Scott that she is the one that should be leading the X-Men. The fight was a blow to Scott’s ego but he did not try to go for round two or make an argument. Scott accepted the results of his fight with Storm and grew to understand that Storm was the rightful leader of the X-Men.

ADVENTURES OF CYCLOPS & PHOENIX

The Adventures Of Cyclops And Phoenix #4

Cover of The Adventures Of Cyclops And Phoenix #4. Click for full cover view.

Issues: The Adventures of Cyclops And Phoenix #1 – #4

Creative Team

Writer: Scott Lobdell

Artist: Gene Ha

Inker: Al Vey, Terry Austin, Mark Pennington and Joe Rubinstein

Colorist: Kevin Somers

With how crazy the 90s were for the X-Men as The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix is a key comic book in that era. Freshly off getting married, Scott and Jean’s honeymoon turns into an adventure 2,000 years into the future. In the future they get the chance to raise young Nathaniel Summers, aka Cable, as Slym and Redd, respectively, while the threat of Apocalypse still hangs over this future timeline. 

It is extremely rare to find a story solely focused on Scott and Jean together alone. Their prominent positions in the X-Men have meant that is where they dedicate most of their time towards. Which makes The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix stand out even more. It is a comic where we get to see Scott and Jean together and get the chance to raise a young Cable together, something they never thought they would get to do.

The Adventures Of Cyclops And Phoenix #2

Scott Summers and Jean Grey get the chance to be parents to a young Cable in The Adventures Of Cyclops And Phoenix #2. Click for full page view.

Being placed in the future where they have no idea of what’s gone on is also a unique chance to see how resourceful both of them are. For Scott we see how even in another timeline he is still the ever present leader ready to be on the front lines to lead others. It also highlights the importance of family when it comes to understanding who Scott Summers is.

GRANT MORRISON’S NEW X-MEN

New X-Men #118 Cover

Cover of New X-Men #118. Click for full cover view.

Issues: New X-Men (2001 – 2004) #114 – #116, New X-Men (2001 – 2004) #139 – #141, New X-Men (2001 – 2004) #146 – #150

Creative Team

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Frank Quietly, Phil Jimenez

Inker: Tim Townsend, Andy Lanning

Colorist: Brian Haberlin, Dave McCaig, Chris Chuckry

Grant Morrison’s run on the X-Men franchise is one that has divided many fans. But one thing that there is no doubt is the mark Morrison had on Cyclops’ character. Coming fresh off being merged with Apocalypse for an extended period of time we saw Scott Summers’ personality change. Morrison gave a lot of weight to the emotional trauma that Scott suffered in the aftermath. At the same time, Morrison made sure to continue to highlight Scott’s leadership capabilities throughout his run.

The stories in particular that standout as important in understanding Cyclops’ character during Morrison’s New X-Men run are “E For Extinction,” “Murder At The Mansion,” and “Planet X.” Collectively these stories don’t necessarily star Cyclops but hold specific moments that inform you of this key chapter of Scott’s life. Morrison does not hold back in how he explores Scott’s emotional state during this period and how it ends up affecting his relationship with Jean Grey, Wolverine, Emma Frost and the X-Men in general. 

New X-Men 150 Cyclops Optic Blast Magneto

Cyclops does not hold back when Magneto makes his latest attack in New X-Men #150. Click for full page view.

The psychic affair with Emma Frost is likely the thing that stands out most in fans eyes. This was a huge character development that Morrison chose to go all in on. In doing so Morrison showed how much Scott had changed and that there was no going back to the regular Cyclops he was. That also meant tackling the marital affair stuff and how complicated that gets when dealing with psychics. All of it added to the complex and flawed nature of Scott’s character.

At the same time, we got to see plenty of chances where on the field Scott as Cyclops was still the leader of the X-Men. In many ways we started to see him grow up even more as an adult. He was more confident in his decisions. And we see how the anger inside him was not going to be contained, as we even see him give Magneto an optic blast directly in his head. So even as Cyclops wasn’t in every issue the character beats in “E For Extinction,” “Murder At The Mansion,” and “Planet X” all tell a greater narrative of the characters evolution to this point in his life. 

ASTONISHING X-MEN: GIFTED & DANGEROUS

Astonishing X-Men #7 Cover

Cover of Astonishing X-Men #7. Click for full cover view.

Issues: Astonishing X-Men #1 – #12

Creative Team

Writer: Joss Whedon

Artist: John Cassaday

Colorist: Laura Martin

Due to the events in Grant Morrison’s run the X-Men were left in a bunch of rubble. Jean Grey died at the hands of Magneto/Xorn. Professor Xavier left to live in Genosha because of Jean’s death. And the Xavier Mansion was completely destroyed. With no more foundation it was up to Cyclops to pick up the pieces and he became the new Headmaster of the Xavier Institute while still leading the X-Men on the field.

There is no better example of how Cyclops was able to rebuild the X-Men than in Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men. Taking the idea that Charles Xavier started in Morrison’s run about the X-Men becoming more public, Cyclops went forward with establishing the team to be viewed like the Avengers and Fantastic Four. In doing so Cyclops takes on the responsibilities within the mutant community that he, Professor Xavier and Jean held. Understanding he could not do it alone Cyclops did what every great leader should do and assembled a core team in the Astonishing X-Men that would symbolize this new foundation for the franchise. In doing so we saw Cyclops think more of the bigger picture as he was the one in charge of the entire thing.

Astonishing X-Men 1 Cyclops Forms The Team

Cyclops sets up the new mission statement for the team in Astonishing X-Men #1. Click for full page view.

One big decision that Whedon has Cyclops make early on is making Kitty Pryde the face of this new era of the X-Men. From there he took the team back to wearing updated versions of their superhero suits to give the X-Men more individuality, going away from the generic yellow and black costumes. It’s small decisions like this that show Cyclops is not the teenage kid who turned to Professor Xavier when a big decision needed to be made. Cyclops was a full grown adult and took whatever criticism there may be. He stood his ground with all of the X-Men and established himself during the first two arcs of Astonishing X-Men, “Gifted” and “Dangerous,” as the guy in charge.

While he got his fair share of screen time in these stories it was not just about him. For this era of the X-Men to work Scott played to the strength of Emma Frost, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and Beast to make this a complete team. Things weren’t always smooth or easy but Scott played to everyone’s strengths. Everyone on the Astonishing X-Men team were more or less equals which is what you want to see a leader create a sense of in a team.

X-MEN: MESSIAH COMPLEX

X-Men Messiah Complex 1

Cover of X-Men: Messiah Complex #1. Click for full cover view.

Issues: X-Men: Messiah Complex #1, Uncanny X-Men (1963 – 2011) #492 – 494, X-Factor (2005 – 2013) #25 – #27, New X-Men (2004 – 2008) #44 – #46, X-Men (2004 – 2008) #205 – #207 

Creative Team

Writers: Ed Brubaker, Peter David, Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, and Mike Carey 

Artists: Marc Silvestri, Billy Tan, Scot Eaton, Humberto Ramos, and Chris Bachalo

Inkers: Joe Weems, Marco Galli, Danny Miki, Allan Martinez, John Dell, Andrew Hennessy, Carlos Cuevos, Victor Olazaba, Al Vay, John Sibal, and Tim Townsend

Colorists: Frank D’Armata, Edgar Delgado, Brian Reber

When Cyclops took over as headmaster in the mid-2000s it was one of the toughest times in the X-Men’s history. For one, it started with the previously mentioned death of Jean Grey and Professor Xavier leaving for Genosha. Things got even tougher for Scott Summers and the X-Men as the House of M event reduced the number of mutants to just about 200 left in the whole world. While these events were out of Scott’s hands he nonetheless made sure to stick things out and keep hope alive for what was left of the mutant race.

And we see that leadership come into play big time as Scott leads all the X-Men teams to find the first new mutant born since House of M’s M-Day. Building off from what we saw in Uncanny X-Men #129 early on in Messiah Complex Professor Xavier’s attempt to lead this mutant finding mission is quickly shut down by Cyclops. In this early scene in Uncanny X-Men #492 Cyclops reminded Professor Xavier that this crisis is what he was groomed for and he is not going to wait or argue with his mentor about what to do. It set the tone for what would be the relationship between Professor Xavier and Cyclops for the remainder of the Messiah Complex story.

X-Factor 26 Cyclops vs Professor Xavier

Cyclops tells Professor Xavier that it is his time to lead the X-Men in X-Factor #26. Click for full page view.

Speaking to Cyclops’ growth in the leadership position he was groomed to take on was how he united all of the X-Men teams, including Multiple Man’s X-Factor, who he had some tension with. Something that speaks volumes to Cyclops at this point in his life is how even Wolverine gives him props for pulling the trigger on X-Force and later getting everyone refocused after a terrible loss in the middle of searching for the mutant baby. Decisions like this make his final big decision when it comes to what to do with the new mutant baby and trusting his son, Cable, all is part of the greater growth of his character.

X-MEN: SCHISM

X-Men Schism #1 Cover

Cover of X-Men Schism #1. Click for full page view.

Issues: X-Men: Schism #1 – #5

Creative Team

Writer: Jason Aaron

Artist: Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis

Inker: Cam Smith, Mark Farmer

Colorist: Frank D’Armata, Jason Keith

For as much as Cyclops has grown as a leader it has been shown many times that he is not perfect. Due to many events we saw Cyclops turn more into Magneto in terms of thinking as things became even worse for the mutant race. It is all part of the greater narrative of Cyclops’ character whether fans hate it or love it. And it is X-Men: Schism that really sets Cyclops on that dark path that we saw the character go through during most of the 2010s. 

At its heart the event was played into the relationship between Cyclops and Wolverine. At this point Cyclops and Wolverine have actually grown to at least become friends who respected the others’ skills. While there was still some tension both characters grew up in part because they both took on greater responsibilities within the X-Men since Professor Xavier and Jean Grey weren’t around. But with X-Men: Schism we do see how the difference in ideologies at this point in their respective lives really comes into play.

X-Men: Schism 4 Cyclops vs Wolverine

Cyclops and Wolverine come to blows in X-Men: Schism #4. Click for full page view.

While it does start the descent into painting Cyclops in a not pleasant light it does highlight how much pressure was on Scott at the time. He was the guy in charge of an era where the X-Men were fighting against extinction. It was clear that the weight of that was getting to Scott and forced him to make decisions many, including Wolverine, did not agree with. But it is all part of the character’s narrative that is important to understand his overall character narrative. It’s why his current position as Captain Commander of Krakoa is so fitting for his evolution as a character.


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