When the time-traveler Bishop came from the future, he declared Cyclops ‘the X-Men’s greatest leader’. If ever that statement was to be tested, it was in the time after the Decimation. I’ve already shown how events had broken Scott Summers in Part 1; now let’s see how he took action.
Back on Earth, matters were getting out of hand. Sinister had been trying to kill off all possible sources of future knowledge for the X-Men, as he knew what was coming – the birth of one who would be known as the Mutant Messiah. When the child was born, a small Alaskan town turned into a bloodbath, and the X-Men – alerted by Cerebra – arrived too late, looking on in horror at the site of clashes between the Marauders and the Purifiers.
Scott took some unusual steps during this conflict, ones that mark him out as a growing leader. If Sinister didn’t want the X-Men to have knowledge of the future, then Scott knew what he wanted; and he had a Madrox duplicate sent to the two viable future timelines as an information resource. Meanwhile, he had Wolverine put together a top team of hunter-tracker-killers, which he called the X-Force.
Ultimately, it transpired that Cable was not dead – and he was the man with the child. Scott agreed to let Nathan take the baby into the future, away from the present-day where everybody had an agenda; during this climatic moment, though, a renegade Bishop made a last desperate attack on Cable and succeeded only in apparently killing Charles Xavier.
Now Scott had a chance. He used Xavier’s ‘death’ as a pretext for officially disbanding the X-Men, stopping only to send Wolverine on a mission to kill the shapeshifter Mystique who he had pegged as too serious a threat to live. Scott now chose to reform the X-Men in San Fransisco, and he had Emma Frost project a psychic message welcoming all mutants to this place.
It was a gamble. Scott knew that having all the mutants together would make San Francisco a target, and by welcoming any and all mutants he was also risking the arrival of mutant terrorists – accompanied by possible conflict with the authorities. But Scott judged this a risk worth taking; he was gathering mutants and mutant-sympathisers to his side, an army of defenders to champion the child, whose return he expected at any moment. He even built a cot for the baby; no doubt he assumed that the mutant race would need to survive for years before she was old enough to be the Messiah he had been promised by his son.
Even as Scott did this, he continued to send X-Force on a series of brutal missions; their goal was to kill those who wanted the baby dead, most notably to wipe out the Purifiers. Scott was playing a dangerous game, never more so than when the Skrulls invaded; he actually chose to use the Legacy Virus against the aliens. But matters were helped by the aftermath of the Skrull invasion, with S.H.I.E.L.D. falling into chaos. The odds of discovery were dramatically reduced. Still, Scott was convinced from the outset that he would one day be imprisoned for these actions, and even hid X-Force’s existence behind psychic defenses in order to avoid implicating Emma. The secrets didn’t exactly help their relationship.
That wasn’t the only problem. From the outset, Scott was clashing with X-Force’s team leader, Wolverine, over his willingness to use X-23 as a resource. Logan believed X-23 had no capacity to choose, and that the X-Men should be giving her – and all the younger mutants – a choice. Twice, he and Scott came to blows over X-23’s presence in the team.
It has to be noted that Scott was sometimes outplayed, even if only temporarily. The leader of the Sisterhood essentially raped him by telepathically convincing him she was Emma Frost; Daken, Wolverine’s son, tricked Scott into bringing the fabled Muramasa blade into the fray, and quickly took possession of it.
And it didn’t take long for things to go wrong in San Francisco. Anti-mutant protesters began to cause trouble, and next thing Scott knew, Norman Osborn had called a curfew and was rounding up mutants. Scott took the X-Men underground, and brought his fallback plan into play: the X-Club, Beast’s science team, raised Magneto’s old asteroid HQ from San Francisco bay, and the mutant race claimed this as their Utopia. Only when he was ready for the fallback did Scott have X-Force extract Osborn’s mutant prisoners, who included Beast and Charles Xavier, and he manipulated the media into giving him a win against Osborn.
In one sense, Utopia was a masterstroke, a fallback that Scott must have prepared when he first had the X-Men relocate to San Francisco. In another, though, it was a sign of desperation; as he told Madrox, there were no other plans. This was it.
Curiously, it’s now that I find myself criticising Scott the most –and for a comic in which he didn’t even appear. Shortly after Utopia was founded, Nate Grey returned; and Osborn’s Dark X-Men captured him. Scott would later show knowledge of this, and there is no evidence this knowledge was linked to S.H.I.E.L.D. in any way, so it seems likely Cerebra detected Nate’s return. Had Scott pursued Nate, he could have gained an Omega-level ally able to go toe-to-toe with the Sentry; instead, he let Nate be tortured and imprisoned, clearly not comfortable with confronting Osborn. It’s just another sign that Scott’s strategies were less about individual mutants than they were in awaiting the baby’s return.
Scott was getting rattled, though. One thing in particular disturbed him; the fact that his son had not returned. It was only when X-Force successfully captured Bishop that Scott found out what was going on; Bishop had rigged the timestream against Cable, who was fleeing ever-further into the future. In extracting this information, Scott again crossed several lines, much to Beast’s dismay; the telepathic interrogation he had Emma perform almost killed his prisoner, but Bishop escaped.
Finally, Beast developed the time-travel technology that Scott needed, and even got a lock on Cable. Scott sent X-Force into the future, even though it almost led to the deaths of two young mutants who they were rescuing at the time – another decision that led to conflict between himself and Logan, and also one that further damaged his old friendship with Beast. Scott learned that the Messiah child was called Hope, and that she had grown up in the future.
Shortly thereafter, Beast chose to leave Utopia, too uncomfortable with Scott’s methods and unable to forgive Scott for leaving him to be tortured. The animosity between the two men would only increase with time.
Meanwhile, Scott began to observe unusual phenomena; specifically, the fragments of the Phoenix Force trapped within the Stepford Cuckoos liberated themselves, briefly taking these three telepaths out of play. Choosing at last to be honest with Emma about X-Force, Scott freed her from a fragment of the deadly entity known as the Void that she had absorbed during the battle of Utopia. He felt that her telepathic gifts were too considerable an asset to not have in play. Before Emma had even recovered, though, Utopia fell under heavy attack by Selene, and Scott was disheartened at the casualties. X-Force neutralised the threat.
Scott’s plans all came to a head, though, when the Cuckoos detected the arrival of Cable in the present-day. Even though Bastion committed all his resources against the X-Men, Scott’s team successfully extracted Hope and Cable – at a price, and the revelation of X-Force’s existence to the X-Men.
This was the time when everything could have changed. Osborn had fallen from power; Captain America had replaced him, and he wanted the X-Men to come out of the shadows, even arranging for Cyclops to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Hope had arrived, and a handful of new mutants emerged on the scene. Scott disbanded X-Force, although he was unaware that Logan chose to continue it in a different form. But tensions were bubbling beneath the surface, and they built to a head when Juggernaut attacked San Francisco.
Empowered both by Cyttorak and by the Serpent, Juggernaut was a threat as never before; but Scott out-played the Serpent, arranging matters so that either Magik or Colossus – I personally suspect he always knew it would be Colossus – would become Cyttorak’s new avatar and fight Marko. It was a terrifying choice, given that Magik was, at the time, a prisoner for risking the very fabric of reality! More concerning, though, during the conflict Scott overheard the Mayor of San Francisco considering giving up on the mutants. I think that, at that moment, something in Scott Summers broke, and he began to give up on humanity.
There is no evidence that Utopia was ever formally recognised as a sovereign state, but Cyclops still managed quite a feat – he wound up with an audience at the United Nations, speaking out against anti-mutant technology.
Again, though, Scott was out-played – this time by a new Hellfire Club, who turned the U.N. into the start of an aggressive campaign against the mutant race. When Scott chose to field Idie, one of Hope’s young recruits, a divide formed between him and Logan. Wolverine believed that the children were not soldiers, and the two came to blows. The X-Men divided, half heading to Westchester to found a new Jean Grey School.
Already, Scott was putting his own strategies into motion. The centrepiece of his strategy was what he called the Extinction Team, a supremely powerful band who he aimed to take on high-level threats. He wanted them to be seen as super-heroes; but he also wanted the world to see just what kind of threats the mutant race could take on, and fear bringing the wrath of Utopia down upon their heads. It was cold, but it was also supremely logical.
Scott was increasingly isolated, especially when it became clear to the Avengers just how focused in upon Hope he was – willing to risk anyone or anything else in order to speed to Hope’s rescue when Unit tricked her out into the open. And then, in a devastating twist, Scott’s son Cable again returned from the future. Cable brought with him the realisation that Hope truly was the Phoenix, that the Avengers would oppose her, and that their success would doom the world.
The sad fact is that Cable arrived too late in the day. Had Scott had time to strategise, I suspect that the Avengers would have been hard-pressed to even land on Utopia’s beach. But he did not have much time, as the Phoenix Force was approaching, and he desperately tried to keep the Avengers away from Hope. Although the X-Men seemed defeated, Hope escaped, and Scott extracted his Extinction Team and quickly gained allies.
It all came to a head on the Moon, but Iron Man launched a devastating attack on the Phoenix, one seemingly inspired by a Shi’ar strategy some years ago. The Phoenix Force was splintered into five fragments, one being Cyclops, and Scott claimed them the Phoenix Five. Perhaps overwhelmed a little by the sheer immensity of it all, Scott declared Pax Utopia, and he and his allies began the task of systematically destroying the world’s weapons by right of their power alone. Some of his ideas seemed weird; he used optic blasts to weld the San Andreas fault, meaning pressure in the crust would only build and make an eventual earthquake worse, for example. To me, Cyclops at this time seems almost drunk on his own power.
Perhaps the most telling point is that he couldn’t bring the mutant race back. In fact, there is no evidence that he even tried; he believed that Hope could, but was reluctant to give the Phoenix Force to her. Ultimately, as his fellow Phoenix Five members took ever-more-extreme actions, Scott began to give up on the human race altogether. He went Dark Phoenix, and was barely defeated, at the cost of Charles Xavier’s life.
And here is the irony: when Hope took the Phoenix Force upon herself, she restored the mutant race.
So: the X-Men’s greatest leader? Or a stumbling, faltering and fallible hero, one who made many mistakes?
Marvel have always seemed aware of the ambiguity, and to their credit have done little to exploit it in plotline terms, preferring to leave him as a ‘shades of grey’. And yet, one marketing image for Fear Itself sticks in my mind: