X-Roulette: Uncanny X-Men #391

In which Cyclops races off into the woods to recover his mind from a severe trauma. The trip involves meeting up with his long-lost father, Corsair, to attempt a spot of father-son bonding after years of each thinking that the other was dead – and things get more awkward from there.

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Scott Summers enters Uncanny X-Men #391 as the returning hero, racing through the beautiful wilderness on a futuristic motorbike, big muscles, hair flying in the wind, and a cool black variation on his superhero costume. He ends it in a childlike state, crawling over to his dad so he can fall asleep in his lap.

It’s often thrown at the Cyclops character that he’s unfeeling, and that he’s an emotionless tactic-machine, organising and demanding the X-Men around whilst holding all his own passion in reserve. That seems like a shallow reading of the character, really. Cyclops may have taken the leadership role within the X-Men, but that doesn’t mean he can’t also offer some heart to proceedings. With Uncanny X-Men #391, Scott Lobdell and Salvador Larroca put a little bit of disorder into the life of the unmoving centre of the X-Men’s mission.

The issue is largely set away from the school and any ongoing storylines, in favour of showing Cyclops head off into the woods on a camping trip with his somewhat estranged father, the space-pirate Corsair. Although Cyclops begins by noting – as one does – his recent merging of essences with a near-immortal force of evil, it’s really his remembrance of Colossus which resonates most at the start of the issue. Colossus has just died, sacrificing himself to save mutantkind, and this is our first chance to see Cyclops really dealing with that.

A key part of Cyclops’ character is his ability to assess any situation and see how everything fits together. When in a fight, he can instantly get an idea of where he’s needed and how he can use his optic blasts to bounce around so they only hit those opposing him, and not his teammates. But more important than his ability to assess any situation… is his ability to not be able to properly assess himself. Cyclops has never been able to properly judge himself, and it comes out whenever he thinks about others. When thinking about Colossus, and his sacrifice, Scott can’t help but slip in a personal worry about his own attitude.

That small flicker of doubt, broken up in a jumbling pile-up of narrative boxes from Saida Temofonte in a way which shows his conflict and self-doubt to the hilt, is the key to getting into Cyclops’ head. From that point onwards, the rest of the issue plays out directly as though the reader is Cyclops, witnessing everything through his visor as he attempts to bond – and fails, largely – with his father.

Corsair emerges on his floating space bike thing and he’s every inch the hero Cyclops was in the first page, but ramped up to eleven. His costume is flamboyant, the bike literally flies into panel, and… it’s all lost on Cyclops, who doesn’t care. Corsair hopes to impress his son from the moment he appears, but Scott is so matter-of-fact that it throws his dad off – a status quo which continues through their trip together. Corsair can’t rattle off war stories, crack jokes, or make fun of Cyclops in all those friendly ways that dads try to lighten the mood with their sons. Cyclops has already assessed everything about the way his dad acts, and sees right through him.

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Almost. Throughout the issue, we’re aware that Cyclops has a question he wants to ask his dad, and the frustration at not being able to articulate it threads through each interaction they have. Cyclops wants to be able to make their trip something deep and meaningful, which is why he keeps deconstructing his dad’s attempts to make things light and comfortable. But as those jokes keep crashing – at one point he asks Scott to use his powers to start a fire, unaware that Cyclops’ powers don’t generate heat. It’s a horrifyingly awkward moment, rooted in misunderstanding, but it serves a purpose in that it allows Cyclops to dig into his anger.

It takes one more failed reconciliation – which Corsair again tries to do in a light-hearted way, rather than by earnestly talking to his earnest son – for Scott to kick off. And when he does, it’s to ask why his dad never came back for his sons, to see if they were still alive. He went off to the stars, and essentially abandoned his children and past in favour of a more exciting adventure. And he doesn’t have a particularly good reason for it! As demonstrated here, Corsair repeatedly fails to offer Cyclops any kind of really decent answer for why he did what he did. We have a character who has dealt with so much loss in his life, and his father can only offer half-hearted apologies and unimpressive story. It’s tragic.

And in these scenes you see just who Cyclops is. Realising he can’t get what he wants from his dad, he turns to the same light-hearted nostalgia that Corsair can actually deal with. The issue ends with a reconciliation of sorts, which feels like Cyclops making all the compromises to keep his father’s sense of pride intact. That might sound unfair on Corsair, and perhaps it is, but the issue allows a lot of leeway in your interpretation of their relationship and this is the way I fall: Cyclops, who can assess any situation, realises that the best way to make some kind of peace with his dad is to just stop trying to make their relationship anything more than a friendship. They had years of parenting ripped from them both and what they need is time as friends before they can try to be family again.

When Cyclops falls asleep in his dad’s arms at the end of the issue, Corsair quietly looks up to the stars and says “rest easy, son”. It’s the most important and sentimental thing he says the entire issue to Scott. Cyclops has to be everything to everyone all the time, and he never gets time to himself. At that time, in that moment, he can just be a tired child getting rest in the protective arms of his dad. It’s a lovely thing for him to have, even if the relationship they have is still far from being repaired and rebuilt. That’s how it is with dads, though. You can’t have a complex and deep relationship with them, but you don’t want a lightweight and throwaway relationship with them either. That uneasy and awkward balance is the best most people can ever have.

Uncanny X-Men #391: “Dad”
Written by Scott Lobdell
Pencilled by Salvador Larroca
Inked by Tim Townsend with Lary Stucker
Coloured by Hi-Fi
Lettered by Saida Temofonte

Number #391 was chosen at “random” by Al Kennedy.

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