Like Father Like Son: “Cyclops #1”

[12 May 2014]

By Jack Fisher

Being a father is like being President of the United States, minus the lifetime salary and personal jets. When things are bad, they get all of the blame. When things are good, they get none of the praise. They’re both firmly in the Rodney Dangerfield categories for both ordinary people and superheroes. It’s no coincidence that whenever some kid turns into a deviant or some disturbed individual becomes a supervillain, the first step for any psychiatrist is to blame parents. And nine times out of ten, the father is the one that gets the blame. In most cases it’s not fair. At some point, circumstances need to be taken into account and few families have had crazier circumstances than the Summers family.

Throughout the history of the X-men, the Summers family has been one part Roosevelt and two parts Kennedy. They are charismatic leaders with very human flaws that can lead to great victories in the battlefield and great shame in the tabloids. That’s a big part of their appeal and that appeal is the main selling point for Cyclops #1. Due the colorful and exceedingly convoluted history of the Summers clan, Cyclops and his father, Corsair, have rarely had chance to squeeze in some bonding time. They’re usually too busy leading their respective teams into battle or getting caught up with beautiful women. Now another set of crazy circumstances has given them a chance to actually be a real father/son unit with the time-displaced Cyclops deciding to stick around with his father after finding out he was alive in the events of The Trial of Jean Grey. The mere fact that time travel is necessary for Cyclops and Corsair to have some family bonding time is a testament to the extent their history is convoluted, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.

The time displaced Cyclops comes into this new series with a lot of emotional baggage, little of which involved his father not being there. There isn’t a sense of bitterness or neglect. Cyclops doesn’t blame his father for his problems and Corsair isn’t obsessing over making up for all of his mistakes. In other words, it’s almost the exact opposite of the narrative a father/son story often takes. At its core, it involves a teenage boy trying to be a better man and a man trying to figure out how he’s going to be a father to a teenage boy. The fact that this is all taking place in space with hostile Badoon ships is almost secondary. That alone demonstrates how well the narrative unfolds.

It’s a theme that almost seems too optimistic and upbeat for the circumstances. It stands in stark contrast to the distressing events that Cyclops has been dealing with. Since All New X-men began, he has revelation after revelation, each more unpleasant than the last. He finds out that the girl he loves ends up dying, the team he leads turns against him, and the man who taught him how to be a hero died by his hands. He hasn’t really had a chance to just be a teenager. The X-men began as teenagers. Mutant powers are a metaphor for the changes everyone undergoes as a teenager. Being with his father and the Starjammers gives him the chance to be that teenager. It even gives him a chance to entertain his inner sci-fi geek. He may be the future leader of the X-men, but he’s still a teenager at heart.

That’s not to say there isn’t some lingering angst from these long string of unpleasant revelations. He still can’t seem to write one complete letter to Jean Grey. He’s also still deeply disturbed by the man he grows up to be. This is the biggest issue for him. He doesn’t want to grow up to be the Cyclops that is currently a fugitive from SHIELD and wanted for murdering Charles Xavier. At one point, he lists all the things he wanted to be as a kid. It’s a list most kids make at some point. Astronaut and pirate are usually somewhere on that list along with ninja and cyborg. But unlike most kids, Cyclops is trust into the role of an astronaut and a pirate. And unlike most teenagers, he handles it in relatively mature way.

In this desire to be a better man, Cyclops turns to his father for inspiration. Again, it’s basically the opposite of the typical father/son narrative. That’s a big part of what makes it so compelling. When was the last time a story involved a confused teenager looking to his father to be great rather than rebelling against him? Moreover, when was the last time a story involved a father that actually rose to the challenge? While this issue might not contain quality parenting tips, it does create a unique and cautiously optimistic father/son dynamic between Cyclops and Corsair.

That’s not to say Corsair doesn’t have his share of angst as well. While Cyclops may be the one narrating the story, Corsair freely admits that he’s not sure how to be a father to a teenage son. Most fathers would probably share that angst. But being a Summers, he doesn’t run from the challenge. He confronts it and that involves letting Cyclops be part of a raid on a Badoon ship. Granted, it probably qualifies as being an irresponsible parent on multiple levels. But it certainly helps endear him to his teenage son. That alone is a greater accomplishment than raiding any alien ship.

The whole of Cyclops #1 is an accomplishment. This is a story that could have easily become just another story about a messed up teenage boy and an overwhelmed father. There are enough sitcoms, movies, and Star Wars rip-offs telling that story. This takes a different approach. It shouldn’t feel so novel, a teenage boy spending time with his father and learning to become a better man. But that’s what this comic accomplishes. In that sense, there might yet still be hope for fathers of teenage boys everywhere.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/181670-cyclops-1/