Scott Summers is one of the most iconic X-Men, a character introduced in 1963 and still a key figure in the franchise today. But just what is he capable of? In this post, I want to discuss his powers and his skills, and see just how powerful Cyclops really is.
Cyclops’ main mutant power can quite simply be described as an ‘optic blast’, the ability to project beams of force (not lasers) from his eyes. But this raises a few tantalising questions…
First: where does the energy come from? Now, let’s take as read that the law of conservation of energy is as true in the Marvel Universe as it is in our own; namely, that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can change form. Given that this is the case, there are various theories as to where Scott’s energy derives from.
The first attempt to really explain Scott’s power was in X-Men #43, where we learn that Scott’s eyes essentially act as solar batteries, “in a process not unlike photosynthesis”. In fact, even moonlight is absorbed, as it derives from the Sun. So according to this, Scott’s eyes are batteries that contain vast reservoirs of absorbed energy. Here’s the catch; this explanation has a couple of serious holes in it. First of all, Scott is immune to the power of his brother Havok (and vice versa), and given that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it makes sense to argue that the two simply project energy that their bodies are able to absorb. So the ‘battery’, it is implied, is in fact Scott’s entire body, and his eyes tap into that energy. This may also explain why overuse of his optic blasts physically drains Scott, as his optic blasts may actually start feeding on his own biochemical energy. Supporting this argument is the fact that, on a couple of occasions, Scott has absorbed Storm’s lightning bolts – again into his body.
So that’s what we can call the ‘classic’ explanation. However, in 1983, the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe talked about how Scott’s eyes are windows into another universe, and the energy pours forth from them. The 1986 Handbook corrected this, but the idea resurfaced in the 2004 Handbook. Still, as Comic Book Legends Revealed observes, this Handbook – for all it has the word ‘official’ in the title – is still a fan-produced document.
So, Scott’s body is a battery of solar energy (although he can absorb other types of energy, too). Crucially, whatever process of energy absorption and transformation is going on inside Scott’s body seems to be getting more efficient as he ages. That process seems to have been accelerated by the Phoenix Force, with the result that Scott is more powerful than ever before, but is having to relearn control.
Second: how powerful is this energy? Well, it’s tricky to estimate, mainly because – as I said – Scott’s power-levels seem to have increased with age. When he started out his super-hero career, Scott’s force-beams were already powerful enough to penetrate Magneto’s electromagnetic shields (albeit with difficulty). He was, however, known for needing to take a rest, in order to recharge his batteries. As the years have gone on, though, the recharge time has disappeared, and the feats he accomplishes with his optic blasts have grown rather more impressive. Only a few years ago, Scott unleashed the power of his eyes on a Krakoa – yes, a living island – and cleaved it in half.
During the Civil War, Iron Man measured the output of Scott’s optic blasts as 2 gigawatts – let me put this in context: think of a nuclear power station. That’s the kind of energy Scott carries around with him; when Wolverine joked that he had a “nuke” in his eyes, he wasn’t exaggerating. When you consider that he packs this kind of power, it’s no wonder he generates enough energy to overload Bishop. In fact, it’s just amazing to consider how much Scott can do with his optic blasts.
Using his visor, Scott can tighten or widen his beams at will; his latest visor appears to have been redesigned to enable him to widen the beam still further, prompting a surprised reaction from Kitty Pryde recently. He has an intuitive grasp of spatial dynamics, meaning he can manage skillful ricochet-shots and even integrate use of the beams with gymnastics. Unfortunately the Phoenix Force seems to have increased the rate of change in Scott’s powers, to such an extent that he’s lost a lot of the tactical skill that he once had. On the other hand, what kind of energy output is Scott generating now?
In terms of tactical and leadership skills, Scott is easily one of the most capable tacticians in the Marvel Universe. During the Fear Itself plotline, he spontaneously dreamt up countless strategies in order to deal with the Juggernaut, including some very imaginative combinations of mutant powers (such as having Siryn supercharge Dazzler’s ability to generate powerful lasers). In fact, it’s surely no coincidence that Scott reformed the X-Men in the one city in the world where he had the fallback option of raising an island and declaring Utopia. Nick Fury considered him a prominent tactician in his ‘Secret War Files’, but did observe that Scott was better left with no time to think – he tends to overthink his options.
Scott’s mental defences are particularly formidable; he has received training on psychic defence from Professor Xavier, Jean Grey, and Emma Frost. In fact, he is able to hold a part of his mind under such strong mental defence that even Emma could not see into it; this ‘black box’ was so powerful a psychic repository that he could even use it as a sort of psychic prison for a shard of the entity known as the Void. This is a feat that has never been performed by a non-telepath in the X-Men comics before.