Cyclops of the X-Men is a wet blanket. He whines about the responsibility he shoulders and is perpetually miserable about the life he is thrust into. His personality is more that of a bad manager than a decisive general. Cyclops could find the cure for cancer and still be overwrought with guilt over how to use it.
Within comics, significant changes to the bedrock of the characters is rare. Comic-book characters are like old dogs: no new tricks. This is why some of Matt Fraction’s changes and updates to the Uncanny X-Men, specifically Cyclops, have been so significant.
Since his start as sole writer, no longer sharing writing chores with Ed Brubaker, Fraction has consistently pushed all his chips in. After turning in to the “de facto presence of law and order in the Bayside area,” as Emma Frost explains in Uncanny X-Men #515, the X-Men quickly found themselves used as pawns in Norman Osborne’s schemes for domination.
Instead of leaving the X-Men as scapegoats or counter-culture icons, Fraction changed them into tools denying this fate and setting a new course. Fraction takes the X-Men into an uncertain future, but one that is decidedly grim.
During the crossover event “Siege,” the X-Men jet off from America, away from the madness, to their new empire. Knowing the war would find them, they set off to build their own state, stocked with resources supplied in part by the mutants themselves. Perhaps off panel, but taking a page of Roman history, Cyclops absconds the mutants to a citadel.
Past writers have typically allowed Cyclops to whine and lament to the point of nausea. Yes, the circumstances of his life are tragic (mutant orphan who has lost so many family members that the name Summers is like a red shirt in Star Trek). But most people would still trade positions with him. After all, Cyclops is always portrayed as a tall, good-looking white male with a more than a little bit of money, a symbol of affluence in America.
The problem with Cyclops has always been authenticity. He is a character that can seem, at best, completely disingenuous. While most readers might get sick of Wolverine, there is a genuineness to that character that people attach to.
During his run, Fraction has taken Cyclops and transformed him, fleshed him out. His whining is a bit more understandable now. He has to care and protect the last remaining mutants.
He still questions and laments, but he also takes action. His actions seem like the logical, if not necessary, results of the pressures and options placed upon him.
When Cyclops, with a majority of mutantkind, take off for Asteroid M, we truly see the new Cyclops. The statesman and general, trapped in too many worlds. Cyclops’s whining is now warranted.
Fraction, instead of digging into the past of the X-Men or retconning a detail, goes to the history of Julius Ceaser to craft this new, bold direction for the character of Cyclops as well as the X-Men.
January 10, 49 BC: Ceaser shouts “lacta alea est,” or “the die is cast” in the Latin. This is an allusion to the idea that the dice have been rolled and fate, and the future, are now uncontrollable. But this ushered Rome from republic / protectorate to empire.
Mirroring this crossing metaphorically, Fraction’s return of Magneto stands as Cyclops own crossing. Particularly on page 13, when Magneto gets on his knees and announces: “I come not to bury Ceaser, but to praise him.”
Matt Fraction is anything but a careless writer. He is wild. He is manic. But somehow the man is damn precise. Magneto is not comparing Cyclops to Ceaser. Cyclops has become Ceaser of the mutants. He has crossed the Rubicon and cannot return to Rome, so to speak, for fear of death. Not just his death, but the death of almost every last mutant left.
Instead of a war for survival, this is now a war of politics. This is a war of statehood, but done through cunning and not brute force as Magneto had tried so many times. While this could all be chalked up to the overreading of a page, the fact that a splash page was used to highlight the efficacy of this moment is significant. After all, splash pages are generally used to spotlight a powerful moment in a battle, but rarely character development.
This is not the only salient aspect of this page. Furthering the allusion to Ceaser crossing the Rubicon is that, on this page, Magneto is perfectly cutting Cyclops off from three important figures to his mutant state: Madison Jeffries, Charles Xavier, and Wolverine. The three seem most apt for representatives of the three poles of an important, controlled administration: science, philosophy, and defense.
Instead, like Ceaser, Cyclops is casting the die. Taking a chance that once this bridge is crossed, even metaphorically, there can be no return. Unlike Grant Morrison’s run, this story will not be so easy to retcon out within a few issues.
He has made a significant change to many of the characters and their M.O.s.
But maybe we suspect Fraction just pushed this part in to seem smart, to seem urbane. The seeds of this empire and change have been in since Fraction first started co-writing the series.
Back in Uncanny X-Men #500, Brubaker and Fraction moved the X-Men from Westchester to San Francisco, where they became counter-culture super stars and, for all effects and purposes, went native. They belonged, but this would soon be shattered as the X-Men faced violence and persecution from the world.
Due to the rising tide of insanity due to Norman Osborn’s presidency, the X-Club (consisting of the smartest mutant minds in the world) go to the Pacific ocean and resurrect Magneto’s Asteroid M and quickly move all willing mutants to safety aboard.
Part of the reason for such a bold move, conducted under order by Cyclops, was the realization that the politics of America at the time did not include them. Further ostracized to the point of almost dangerous obsolesce, the mutants, under Fraction, gather themselves together and cross the Rubicon.
The mutants could not return to their homes for fear of being killed. Similar to how Ceaser could not yet return to Rome due to the same fear. Fraction had this metaphor in mind from the start. This is bolstered by Cyclops relationship with the mayor of San Francisco Sadie Sinclair. A mayor that pushed for the integration of the mutants with the rest of San Francisco.
Like Ceaser at the Rubicon, Cyclops has always been stuck between action and decision. Fraction leads Cyclops down a path of no good choices, but perilous action. Cyclops must act and he must cross the river. Even if they were to return to land and attempt integration, their core philosophy of peace and co-existence put forth by Xavier has been shown to be cracked and antiquated.
What is left after the choices are made is still unraveling. Cyclops, although becoming a great general, is still a emotionally scared boy. But under the care of Fraction, he is allowed to grow into something he hasn’t been: a man. A development of his character so great that it can hardly be taken away so easy. I imagine it will be very difficult to reasonably establish retconning away Fraction’s character development. Here is to hoping it truly is irreversible.