Cyclops is one of Marvel’s first superheroes and deserves more attention and respect than he is currently given. Part of his hatred stems from the prejudiced role he shares with Superman and Captain America: a Boy Scout in blue with not an exciting bone in his body. Otherwise, he is remembered for his roles in movies and animation. In the classic 90s cartoon his character was portrayed as a corny hero who mostly just screams “JEAN” to the heavens, and in the movies, he was famous for being played by James Marsden, the go-to-guy for the romantic false lead. Cyclops (at least in the comic) may not be as grizzled as Wolverine, or as charming as Nightcrawler, but he definitely doesn’t deserve the hate or sidelining.
Most leaders follow the same character arc. The bad boys roll their eyes at the leaders’ morals, and convince them they’re boring. In the third act, the goodie-goodies learn that it’s okay to fight dirty, and once they adopt less than noble methods, they win in the end. It’s a safe read reaching a wider audience. Captain America and Superman fall into this role often, and readers seem to think Cyclops, as the leader of the X-Men, has to be this too.
Instead of looking at Cyclops as the charismatic face of a team with good PR, consider him as a general in charge of a band of mercenaries. Treat him as the Nick Fury of the mutants. The similarities don’t just stop at the single eye metaphor. He’s a leader of a no-nonsense group of powered individuals that have a mission to stop any threat that gets in their way. He is a tactician in numerous contingency plans and has the same response to any threat that knocks at his door. He gives one warning, and if the threat doesn’t abide, the gloves come off.
One of his greatest moments takes place throughout the four-issue tie-in series to Secret Invasion called X-Men: Secret Invasion. The Skrulls are taking over Earth, under the guise of superheroes and important figures. They attack San Francisco, unaware that it has recently become the home base of the X-Men. After a botched first encounter, Cyclops orders his team to leave no Skrull standing. He is given an invitation to converse with a Skrull envoy. Instead of conducting diplomacy, Cyclops demands an answer and quickly dispatches the messenger when he doesn’t comply. Cyclops, mutant-kind, and his city are at war. There is no comprise, only the mission. He coordinates multiple guerrilla attacks on the Skrulls, using Emma Frost as his telekinetic waypoint, and numerous teleporters to strike at key locations around the city. He shows no mercy. Cyclops knows the longer the war goes on, the more casualties lie on his already heavy conscience. Facing defeat, he decides to employ the use of a modified version of the Legacy Virus, a disease fatal to mutants. The decision is even more difficult because he asks Beast, one of his oldest friends, and the heart of the X-Men to manufacture this weapon. He is outing the mission before his friendship. It’s not a kind thing to request, but it surely is important. Before the final attack, Cyclops gathers his soldiers and gives a rousing speech
“Sometimes in war you have to do things you hate. Things you can’t even bear to think about. This is one of those times. Those buildings are not going to fall. We’re not going to let them. But we can’t win in a direct fight. […] So the way I see it, it’s this or nothing. But I’m not making the choice for any of you. If you have any doubts about what we’re going to do, stand out of line. ”
-X-Men: Secret Invasion #4
He’s not striving to be the symbol of hope or the paragon of purity. He’s leading a team of soldiers, his friends and teammates, to hit hard and destroy any monster. He’s asking them to comply with their duty. Fight, or stay out of his way.
One of the most exciting benefits of the leader of the remaining mutants is access to all the fancy power sets at your disposal in the arsenal. Throughout the years of training and studying with mutants Cyclops has come to know his people’s abilities, and weaknesses. He has created multiple team configurations to beat any situation. For a while, he created a team of assassins, led by Wolverine and other mutants who won’t blink an eye when bloodshed is required. It’s rare to see a boy scout employ a tactic like this. This team was employed to take down threats even before they rear their bigoted heads, that doesn’t sound very boy scout-like. He is so well prepared he showed no fear when a brainwashed Juggernaut was heading to San Francisco, (Uncanny X-Men #540-544). After his first plan failed to remove his helmet, his PR rep asked “Plan B?” His response was simple. With a coy smile, he replies
“No. Not Plan B. Plan 2. Plan B implies we only have 26”
Immediately after he returns he doles out new orders. He sends out wave after wave of tactical combinations to stop Cain Marko. After facing failure after failure, he plays his ace in the hole. His last attempt at success. With the help of a Magik and Colossus, he visits Cyttorak, the god of destruction, and tattles. He proves that Juggernaut is no longer his avatar, but follows a new god. Betrayed, Cyttorak offers the X-Men Juggernaut’s old power. Without hesitation, Cyclops lets Colossus become the new avatar, and drops him in front of the Juggernaut. Watching from the high-tower, Cyclops shows little to no remorse and makes no apologies. He understands that it’s all for the mission.
Cyclops is not an immortal assassin, a telekinetic ninja, or a billionaire genius. He doesn’t quip often, and on many occasions doesn’t know when to take a break. His early incarnations tended to make him look bland and at worst boring. When he’s given the right treatment, Cyclops is the genius tactician who barters with gods, threatens billionaires, and leads mass murderers. He knows when to stay cool under pressure, and will always take the helm when the stress is too much. I can understand people dislike him for his callousness or martyrdom. But it’s difficult to say he was always boring. It’s unfortunate that recently he has either been put to the sideline such as with The Champions, considered a war criminal and terrorist pre-Death of X. Right now his younger version has stepped down as leader of the X-Men. He has the potential to become one of Marvel’s coolest characters only if the fans give him a chance, and the companies write him as he is meant to be: the master tactician, and leader of the X-Men.
A Case for Cyclops, leader of the X-Men
Avengers vs X-Men
Bendis Run Uncanny X-Men (2013)
— David Harris