Growing up when I did made me among the fortunate generation that became aware of the X-Men just as their star started to rise. The original cartoon series was as much a part of my childhood as neon coloured wind breakers and an absence of polio in the classroom. As I got older it was the X-Men comics that got me into the industry while my friends and I spent months worth of recesses playing "X-Men". There was one thing that always bothered me throughout this early time with the X-men, no one liked Cyclops except for me. I was baffled as to why people kept telling me to be Cyclops without challenge while they argued over Nightcrawler, Colossus, and most of all: Wolverine. Even now people continue to whine and moan about Scott Summers. I believe that such a view comes from a lack of giving this character a chance and an unwillingness to see him as anything beyond what he first appears to be. Well I'm here to tell you that Scott Summers deserves your respect.
Let's start with his powers. Cyclops's optic blasts fire concussive energy in a straight line with the degrees of power dependent on how wide he opens his eyes. He grew up not having control over this ability and so needed to wear ruby quartz glasses for most of his life to prevent him from killing people at random. The fact that a teenager manages to be as well adjusted as Scott is while knowing how much of a danger he is to others is in and of itself harrowing. What's more, he manages to do away with the laws of physics more than almost any other mutant. Because of a quirk of his genetics Scott doesn't actually have eyeballs but rather portals that link to an alternate universe in which all energy expresses itself as force. The whole of this reality is one ludicrously huge optic blast that Scott fires out of his eye sockets. He can also somehow still see out of these eye-portals things. Almost every other X-man makes sense compared to that. Rogue and Wolverine? Biology. Kitty Pride and Nightcrawler? Physics. Cyclops? We need to make a whole other reality just for you. What's more is that this is his only super power. He's athletically and defensively just as strong as any regular human being. Colossus and Wolverine have no issue taking on any number of criminals since they are either immune to their weapons or will just heal any damage done. Cyclops isn't so lucky but you will still see him on the field often leading the assault or fighting on when everyone else is down.
Nevermind just the weight of his uncontrolled powers Cyclops has had more than his fair share of tragedy, almost rivalling Peter Parker for the title of "Most Understandably Suicidal." As a child he watched his parents and brother die (turns out it was just mom) and nearly killed an orphanage when his powers activated. Being brought into Xavier's school wasn't all that great either as he was put in charge of a group of super powered teenagers and told to lead them into and then back out of mortal danger on a weekly basis and that's NOT counting the literally death trap filled Danger Room training regimen. The woman he loves dies, is reborn as Phoenix, goes crazy, comes back and they get married. Their son is then infected with a techno-organic virus and taken away from them to save his life, then his wife turns out to be a clone who then turns evil and starts wearing her "special nights" outfit in public. She dies and the original wakes up, is possessed by the Phoenix again and then sacrifices herself to save everyone. Through all of this one of his best friends is routinely either trying to steal her away or take over as leader. His son also comes back as a grizzled war veteran and tells his dad that the future that he's suffering for doesn't care for his idealism and that people need to die. How's that for your college years?
Amazingly, despite living from his teen years onward as a child soldier Cyclops doesn't just survive, he thrives. He shows himself to be a capable leader saving the world over and over again. What's more is that he becomes a better leader than his father figure. After it comes to light that Xavier has been warping the memories of the X-men for nigh on a decade he is forced to leave and Cyclops assumes leadership of all of the X-men teams as well as the school itself. Shortly hereafter House of M happens followed by an attack on the school that kills dozens of students. Cyclops not only re-opens the school, he goes on to establish the first proper Mutant Nation since Genosha. He actively takes on the responsibility of keeping his species alive. He continues to push for Mutant rights very publicly and goes directly to the heads of states demanding recognition for their right to survive. Eventually he too is possessed by a fragment of the Phoenix Force and something amazing happens. He creates paradise on Earth. Under Scott Summers the Phoenix Five end world hunger and all major conflicts. Things actually don't start to go awry for them until the Avengers and the remaining X-men actively try to take them down. Everyone is utterly convinced that it's only a matter of time before they go power mad and I would argue that in doing so they create the very conflict they fight so hard to stop.
Here though is where a lot of the complaints about Cyclops, particularly the modern one, come to their highest volume. He always seems whiny and he ends up going over the deep end becoming a terrorist. To the first objection I say, look up. Look at what his life has been. Cyclops chose very little of the responsibilities and tragedies he ended up being saddled with and it's the mark of good story telling and complex character building to watch him lose it from time to time only to get back into the saddle.
As per the second objection, his character arc into the leader of a mutant terrorist group makes a certain amount of sense. Cyclops has supporters who remember how the Phoenix Five saved people and legitimately made the world a better place. What's more they don't blame Cyclops for what happened but rather the various other powers that opposed him. Really, this makes a lot of sense. Looking back at Schism Cyclops wanted to equip the next generation of Mutants to be able to defend themselves and fight back against a hostile world. Bear in mind that the idea of genocide against Mutants isn't a new notion. Over the course of his life Cyclops was himself trained to fight a defensive war for his people. Keeping with Xavier's idealism led to death upon death but Magneto's view was also too extreme. Scott's greatest achievements as a leader were when he found a balance point between the two views. Live in peace with humanity and be an example of co-operation but also have the strength to be able to defend yourself from any and all threats. Additionally, despite dedicating the vast majority of his life to his friends and his people, they are still utterly willing to throw him under the bus. Despite this when Kitty Pryde and other members of the X-men elect to either join him or fight alongside him he bears them little ill will and is more than willing to work together for the betterment of their people.
This is what I love about Cyclops. His character has a complexity that isn't often found. He accepts the responsibilities thrust upon him and continues to march forward for the betterment of his people, not his own conscious. He throws himself into danger alongside his friends and family even though he may be the most likely to die in that fight. He never stops in his quest to make the world a better place and he doesn't let a high minded idealism detract or distract from the realities of the world at large. He has the same mix of failings and nobility that made the characters in The Watchmen so compelling and he really deserves your respect.