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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Shades of Grey: My Rambling Opinion about Cyclops's Current Characterization

So, I was talking about a crazy fan theory on twitter and the subject of Cyclops's current characterization came up (specifically the whole X-Force, assassin squad thing), and I decided it'd make a good blog post because unlike most people I know, I actually like the development.

Of course I'm not saying all the writing was great mind you (especially in X-Force itself) but I still like the development on an overall level.

I like it because, in a sense, it (like Whedon's Astonishing X-Men did as well, Nation X too) really gets into what place the mutants have in the Marvel Universe and how to deal with it.

Astonishing for example actually brought up the fact that superheroes, and even mutants on the Avenger teams, are/were (pre Civil War) actually pretty accepted by the general populace. They're recognizeable, accountable, and the people have gotten to know them. For all of Xavier's grand speeches, he never seemed to realize that a mutant army that popped up out of nowhere and disappeared leaving destruction behind was not going to do anything more than terrorize the "normal" populace of the Marvel Universe. And over the "ten" (or forty) years that the X-Men have existed, things have only gotten worse rather than better. And while not all of that is Xavier's fault, a lot of that is.

Now of course, given Wanda's bit of mojo and the chaos of Civil War, and Hammer and all that, the old tactics are even less workable. There are what? 250 active mutants total? Something around that number? And the government outright declared war on them. Which means that the mutants have to take extreme measures to ensure their survival. And when survival's at stake, sometimes conventional morality has to give.

I've seen the argument that the stuff with X-Force is out of character for Cyclops, who's generally one of the most moral of the X-Men (for example, he was strongly against killing Wanda in House of M, when even Xavier was ambivalent). And well, that's kind of the point. Because the consequences of Wanda's actions, and Civil War, and Hammer, and all that aren't getting swept under the rug. We're actually seeing the consequences here. These decisions HAVE to be made, and some heroes can't really BE heroes anymore. Desperate times, desperate measures. They need a team who can make the hard calls and take out the enemies that need taking out anymore. They can't afford to be nice anymore.

And it's Cyclops making the call because, well, he's the leader right now. But also because it means something. If Emma's the one scheming and sacrificing, weighing lives and sending strike forces, it doesn't have the same impact. Emma's kind of a bitch, after all. She might be a good guy now, but she's never been portrayed as a character who'd shy away from a "whatever is necessary" mentality. She might be willing to do it even if the circumstances weren't so dire. Magneto's similar, provided he's sane enough to make that call. Cable, if he's in the present, well, let's face it, Cable's done a LOT worse under less provocation. And Xavier, well, for all his good press, is kind of a manipulative son of a bitch.

So Scott's our sacrificial lamb. Because as much as he's a prick, more than a bit crazy, a lot more devious than he gets credit for, and keeps fucking up his interpersonal relationships, he's also CYCLOPS. He's probably the closest thing that the X-Men have to a Lawful Good type character.

And now he's kind of Lawful Neutral. And it's a tragedy. And I think it's supposed to be.

But I also don't think he's being dragged through the mud just for the sake of the story either. Or at least, I actually think the change fits the long term growth of the character, and has been building for a long time.

I mean the poor guy's got the kind of origin story that makes serial killers, a power that makes him unable to be anything BUT a weapon, and pretty much barreled from evil father figure-trying to use him as a weapon to evil father figure-trying to use him as a weapon before getting saved by Xavier...who promptly set him up in charge of his mutant army. And for all that, he manages to be a fairly upstanding, moral guy. With periods of varied stability and assholishness, granted, but still pretty steady. And by the late nineties, he'd pretty much gotten as settled as he was going to get. He was married to the woman he loved, comfortable in his leadership position, right hand man to the best of his father figures. Heck, he even had kids who were alive and...sorta well. Or at least improving.

And then the whole Apocalypse thing kind of shot that all to hell. And then when THAT was getting settled, Jean was dead again. That's kind of a key element because Jean was always fairly good at providing a perspective he lacked. She was a symbol of everything good, but also as a character was more than willing to bitch him out when he looked like he was going to cross a line. It's a role that Emma can't QUITE manage, as much as they love each other, because she's a lot more of a ends justify the means kind of character. It's possible maybe that if Jean were still alive, Scott would not be where he is today. But who knows.

However, he was still doing pretty well once they restarted the school. A bit darker, a bit snarkier, a bit more openly crazy, but still functioning. But then there are the two events that I think really brought the change about. That turned him into someone who WOULD set up an assassin team for the good of the mutant race.

The first was Wanda's Edict. Mutants went from being a fairly populous, growing subset of humanity, to numbering to barely more than some high school graduating classes. That's a huge deal. Overnight extinction. It's what led to a lot of the changes that started setting up the X-Men and surviving mutants as more of a unified, if very tiny, nation than what they were.

But I think the real key was in Messiah Complex. And the two important things that happened at the end of that: 1) giving the baby Hope to Cable, (explicitly referencing his own failures with Nathan in the process), and 2) seeing Charles Xavier get shot in the head and "die".

And those two events are the real triggers, I think. As much as Charles and Scott had fallen out at that point, he was still the closest thing he had to a father. And he "died" not two SECONDS after Nathan and Hope disappeared to parts and times unknown with a LOT of would be killers on their trail. And that's when I think he snapped.

We knew he would die for his family, and now we know he'll kill for them too. X-Force isn't just a mutant assassin strikeforce, they were also incorporated into Scott's increasingly machiavellian attempts to save his son's life. And it's kind of understandable, really. And of course, then you get the fun of Hammer and Exodus, and the desperate measure that was founding Utopia, along with a benevolent generalissimo-type dictator that even Magneto can admire. (And why not? He might be crazy, but the mutants are still alive to complain.)

So right now, I actually think the characterization makes sense. It's not always the best written (I'd have liked to see a lot more second thoughts/doubts in X-Force for example, but they have been covered elsewhere), but it works for me. And it isn't the end either. Scott's gone a bit dark and that's awful for him, but he's salvageable. If Hope grows up and Nathan returns. Or if they manage to reverse Wanda's edict. Or hell, probably even if Xavier would actually get up off his ass and be a damn FATHER as opposed to complaining waspishly about how he never taught Scott to see people as collateral (shut the hell up, Xavier), that might help too.

(On a tangential note: Hank's departure bothered me. Not because he was mad about the getting tortured during Utopia thing, as that's understandable, even if it didn't seem like Scott had much of a choice. But that he answers it by going with Abby Brand, who much as I like her DID know that the Breakworlders had Colossus for months, if not years. JUST a tad hypocritical, man.)

But yeah, I'm actually enjoying it. I want to see where it goes from here.


  • At January 20, 2010 10:35 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    i don't dislike Scott's characterization because it seems like a moral departure -- i take issue with it because he's been turned into a militant extremist. i know that the X-Men have always walked the line in regards to that stuff, but Scott's previously been shown as a more masses-minded leader rather than a narrow-focus "save only the mutants" type. he was always conscious about how his actions fit into an overall social agenda, and i feel like that aspect of his character has been scuttled for this new secretive quasi-terrorist persona.

  • At January 20, 2010 11:13 AM, Blogger Seangreyson said…

    I personally have loved the characterization of Scott since the move to San Francisco. While I agree with Nick that the focus on saving mutants (rather than saving humanity as a whole) is a change for Scott, it's also a logical one.

    The Avengers as a group are stronger than ever, he can leave the general world saving in their hands at the moment. The X-men's mission has always been to protect humanity from evil mutants. By consolidating all of the mutants into the X-men, while trying to protect the survivors until they can figure out a way to break Wanda's edict, he's actually completing the mission.

    As for commissioning a strike team that kills, yeah it seems a little strange, until you remember that he's been using Wolverine, old X-force, and other teams for that same purpose for years. He's just never put it quite so bluntly before.

  • At January 20, 2010 11:50 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Nick: It IS a change in focus for now, but well, when your race has dropped to 200 some-odd people, I think that's natural.

    When they finally get around to undoing Wanda's whole no more mutants thing, then I think the character will be able to go back to looking at humanity as a whole.

    Seangrayson: agreed! :-) Heck, right now, evil mutants aren't much of a threat. Sinister appears dead. Magneto's back to good (for now). And they're dealing with the others as they pop up. So the shift in focus isn't THAT jarring, I think.

  • At January 30, 2010 7:27 AM, Blogger UraniaChang said…

    Thank you for this well-written opinion on Cyclops - my favortite superhero of all time.

    The thing I like about him is that he is never pictured as perfect, all of his fans accept that he makes mistakes and learns to move on with them, which makes him a lot more realistic than other superheroes.

    If you don't mind, I'd like to share this post to others.

    Thank you~

  • At February 02, 2010 12:46 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't see your comment right away.

    And please, I have an open linking policy, so share away.

    (It's good for my ego. :-))

  • At August 20, 2011 3:29 AM, Anonymous Ernest said…

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