The Burden of the X-Men’s Cyclops
One of the most striking aspects of Chris Claremont‘s early run on X-Men is the characterization of Cyclops. I want to focus on the first three issues after Giant-Size X-Men and the insight it gives us into the mind of Cyclops. The defining character trait of Cyclops in those early issues is his sense of duty and his commitment to the life of a hero above all else.
In X-Men #94, the members of the pre-Giant Sized team leave. Angel, Iceman, Havok, Polaris, and Jean Grey decide they have outgrown their role as X-Men and that it’s time to finally graduate from Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters. Cyclops decides to stay with the team, he feels an obligation to the life of a hero, a sense that if he doesn’t lead the X-Men what would happen? What is the cost of failure?
Cyclops drives the new team hard and himself harder. He puts them through rigorous training to shape them into a well-oiled machine. However, he butts heads with fellow X-Man Thunderbird. Thunderbird is hot-headed and has a desire to prove himself. While the two are arguing they are called away on a mission to stop Count Nefaria from unleashing a nuclear holocaust on the world. During the ensuing events in X-Men #95 Thunderbird dies taking down Nefaria. The X-Men are devastated but no one more than Cyclops.
Cyclops personally blames himself for Thunderbird’s death. As the X-Men’s leader, he holds himself accountable for the loss. He tortures himself and goes over the events again and again in his head. He holds himself to an unrealistic moral ideal and when he fails he takes it personally. For as hard as he is on the X-Men ultimately he does it because he cares deeply for them.
It’s become somewhat of a joke in the current Krakoa era of X-Men that Cyclops has a plan for every contingency. Here a similar obsessiveness is present but played much more seriously. He prepares because if the X-Men fail it means death, and the consequences of failure are dire. Cyclops has something almost akin to Catholic guilt. He holds himself up to an unrealistic moral ideal and beats himself up when he inevitably fails to maintain it. But even when he fails Scott Summers doesn’t stop, he needs to still be Cyclops, and he needs to still be a X-Man. Because if not him, who else? Because Cyclops is the X-Men.