How ‘X-Men ‘97’ Is Finally Bringing Comics’ Badass Cyclops to the Small Screen

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The turn of the millennium wasn’t kind to Scott Summers. The mutant hero better known as Cyclops took a reputational beating throughout the '90s and early aughts at the hands of uninterested creatives. His portrayal across X-Men: The Animated Series and Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies taught viewers to believe he was an uptight sad sack who existed to cramp Wolverine’s style. But Disney+’s X-Men ‘97—the new streaming sequel to the beloved 90s cartoon—has showed us a decidedly different Scott. That sound you heard when the premiere dropped was Cyclops fans breathing a giant sigh of relief—finally, a non-comic book medium has gotten him right.

Throughout X-Men: The Animated Series, the ‘90s cartoon that X-Men ’97 revisits, Scott’s role is functional at best. Despite being the team leader, Scott often feels like set dressing, and is primarily defined by his relationship with Jean Grey. In many ways, he’s the team’s punching bag (metaphorically, but also sometimes literally, as in the endlessly memeable moment where he's literally sucker-punched by Wolverine.) He’s a generic character, a thinly sketched portrait of the real version of the comic book version.

James Marsden’s Scott doesn’t fare much better in the Fox X-Men films. Even before he’s unceremoniously killed off in The Last Stand (reportedly a consequence of Marsden’s decision to make Superman Returns), Scott plays second banana to Wolverine. It’s an understandable decision: Hugh Jackman’s Logan was as memorable an alchemy of character and performance as any casting in superhero-movie history, which is just one of the many reasons why Marvel is about to bend time and space to bring him back. Scott’s role, especially in the first film, is to serve as an authoritarian Boy Scout, the voice of the establishment, a foil confirming Logan’s outsider status.

But these depictions don’t all match the way comics writers have shaped and reshaped Scott, especially in the past two decades. As Professor Xavier’s first pupil and the leader of the X-Men, Cyclops is ostensibly Captain America to the mutant nation, an idealist endlessly devoted to Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence with humanity. That began to change in the 2000s, particularly when a (pre-cancellation) Joss Whedon began writing Scott in the pages of Astonishing X-Men and Scott began to adopt a more radical approach as a leader, functioning like a grown-up child soldier for Xavier’s principles.

“I just think that this guy is so interesting in his struggle against mediocrity,” Whedon told the comics fan magazine Wizard; Scott’s evolution into an “unabashed tough guy” became the narrative spine of his Astonishing run, culminating in the reveal that Scott’s learned how to control his powers without using his visor, unleashing an optic blast so massive it illuminates the sky like a beacon.

Scott becomes more ruthless in protecting the mutant race, going so far as to develop and deploy a new incarnation of the X-Men offshoot X-Force, as a mutant black-ops team to distribute justice to mutant enemies as he sees fit. Oh, and when possessed by the cosmic Phoenix Force that once controlled Jean Grey, he kills Professor X in cold blood (although it’s been suggested that Xavier had it coming.) Soon enough, Scott would become unpossessed and Xavier would return from the dead—we are talking about comic books, after all— but Cyclops’ new outlook boiled down to one of pragmatism. In dealing with humanity, mutants wouldn’t strike until provoked, but if they were, the response would be swift. This became doubly true once the X-Men established the sentient island of Krakoa as a sovereign utopia for mutantkind, and Cyclops made it known that they’d had enough of being hated and pursued — especially when they’re genetically superior to humankind.

This approach is more in line with the Scott of X-Men ‘97, who is no longer a passenger in the proverbial X-Men car. The episode’s first action sequence—storyboarded to Norega’s “Superthug,” according to an animator working on the show—shows off Scott’s powers in tandem with his unparalleled tactical prowess. That’s also to say nothing of his badass entrance into the Master Mold fight at the end of the episode.

But the new status quo is evident in the show’s quieter moments, too. Sure, Wolverine still pokes fun at Scott, but not in a way that feels designed to build up Logan at Scott’s expense— and there’s an acknowledgment that with Xavier out of the picture, it’s Scott’s leadership that’s holding the team together. Meanwhile, Scott’s relationship with Jean exists to bolster the character development between the two instead of just servicing her arc. This version of Scott isn’t an extremist, but he’s not going to sit around and mope either; that change in and of itself is enough to align him with a version of the character that is more familiar to one comic readers know and love.

In one 30-minute episode, X-Men ‘97 does a lot with a little. These moments are small but impactful, leveraging the tone and spirit of the recent source material to rehabilitate a character most considered a punchline. We’re only a handful of episodes into the show, so who knows what other stories we may see for Cyclops, but one thing’s for sure: the days of the Scott Summers sucker punch feel as far away as the 90s themselves.

Originally Appeared on GQ