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Sep 22

X-Men: Marvels Snapshots #1

Posted on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 by Paul in reviews, x-axis

“And the Rest Will Follow”
by Jay Edidin, Tom Reilly & Chris O’Halloran

The Kurt Busiek-curated Marvels line is difficult to keep track of, not least because so many of the books have such similar titles. As you might expect, much of it consists of well-handled character pieces written in the margins of past history; the original Marvels series was largely about revisiting the history of the Marvel Universe from a different perspective, after all.

This book – the cover says Marvel’s Snapshots X-Men, the digital copy says X-Men: Marvels Snapshots, and does this stuff really have to be so confusing? – takes a rather different approach. It’s an origin story for Cyclops.

Hold on a minute, you may be saying. Cyclops has got an origin story already. He’s had one since the sixties. And of course Jay Edidin knows that very well – he’s been podcasting on X-Men history for years. The thing about Cyclops’ back story, though, is that it’s not so much an origin story as a big pile of baggage that Scott is expected to lug around with him.

Historically, there are three main components to Scott’s back story. There’s the original mid-60s “Origins of the X-Men” backup, in which he’s run away from the orphanage, he stumbles upon the Living Diamond, and he gets rescued by Professor X and recruited as the first X-Men… all mostly by being in the right place at the right time. There’s the 1970s revelations that his parents were abducted into space and that he survived a traumatic parachute jump to earth with little brother Alex. And there’s the weird 1980s stuff that inserts Mr Sinister as the evil mastermind behind the orphanage.

But all these are things that happened to Scott, not so much things that motivated him. For many years, it was possible to interpret Scott as the middle manager of the X-Men, a basically decent fellow who had drifted into the superhero life by blind chance, had a real talent for it, and stuck around mainly out of a sense of responsibility and a lack of ideas about what else he could do with his life. There was some logic to the Age of Apocalypse take on Cyclops, in which he gets raised by Sinister and becomes a middle-manager supervillain instead. In the last decade or so, Cyclops has been refitted as a crusader for his people, but he’s never really had a back story to go with it.

That’s the gap which this story seems to be addressing, and which it deals with very nicely. It’s set at the orphanage, in the period before Scott gets his powers and his glasses. In theory, Mr Sinister’s in the background for all this, but Scott won’t find that out for years, and since he’s the point of view character, the story wisely just ignores the guy – this is the orphanage at face value. And all the better for it, because this story would not benefit from trying to sell it all as part of Sinister’s grand plan.

The idea – simple but very effective – is to make Scott a muted, monochrome character in the orphanage, isolated from the other residents, somewhat bullied but mainly just unable to connect with anyone. He’s not distanced from us – he’s the point of view character – but there’s never any sense that he has friends or any real close relationships within the orphanage. He remembers Alex but everyone insists to him that Alex didn’t exist (the closest the story comes to gesturing at Sinister). And when the first Silver Age superheroes show up, Scott becomes quietly, politely obsessed with the idea of them not just as a more colourful, better life, but also as something intangibly important to him. Part of that – a clever little parallel – is that the Fantastic Four’s origin story (four people in a flying machine, something goes wrong) serves as a nagging reminder of what happened to his family.

It’s not that anything drastic happens in this story, but it convincingly plugs the gap of explaining why Scott has always been so drawn to the superhero life, simply by making it into something that symbolically offers him a more interesting and inspiring life and a vaguely-defined re-connection with his past. Scott is too introverted to be conventionally suited as a superhero, but the iconography makes sense to him. Naturally, Scott is rather more impressed with Reed Richards than with the gauche Tony Stark, but still draws the lesson that heroism is about being able to get things done, and getting things done is about planning and preparation. Scott is heroically diligent, and as he starts to develop that side of his personality, and gets his red glasses, he starts feeling more comfortable in who he is.

Tom Reilly and Chris O’Halloran’s art nails the tone for this; it calls for a restrained and muted style in order that the superhero elements can offer an escape from it, and that’s what they deliver. The tricky bit is to make the orphanage visually interesting even while you’re saving the bright colours and the grand scenes for the token action sequences. The issue pulls that off with the character work, some good use of spot colours, and a strong sense of what Scott’s thinking. Granted, he’s not hugely recognisable, but that’s inevitable when you’re doing a story without his glasses.

This is very good. It’s a character piece rather than a story that adds any earth-shattering events to continuity. But what it adds is a rationale for who Scott is, which wasn’t really supplied by his pre-established history. It’s a genuine gap where there was something worthwhile to add. Scott’s pre-X-Men history is largely about how he wound up as Cyclops; this is about why, and it finds a very convincing angle on that.

Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    I don’t know. I thought it was all laid out without bringing in the superhero trappings.
    Scott is an orphan. He is socially isolated from everyone, and has a hard time connecting with other people. Then, he finds out he is a mutant also, which makes him more different than everyone around him.
    Professor X rescues him, gives him a home, gives him a purpose. Xavier is like his father-figure.
    He becomes Cyclops to please his “father”.
    His life is lived in the shadow of Xavier, the only person who he feels has ever really cared about him.
    It’s pretty succinct.

  2. Chris V says:

    That’s also why Claremont’s plans for Scott we’re so great.
    He was going to marry Madelyne, retire, and start his own family.
    He was no longer going to live under Xavier’s shadow and be the good soldier anymore. He had grown up. He was now his own man. He had healed and could finally move on.

    So, of course, he ended up being written as emotionally stunted. Making the same mistakes as his genetic father and running back to the safety of the only life he had ever known…the X-Men.

  3. Daniel says:

    Didn’t Scott and the X-Men know Alex existed and where he was? I seem to remember Havok’s first appearance in the Silver Age; the X-Men just sort of made plans to go visit Scott’s previously unmentioned brother at college. Is this not correct?

  4. Chris V says:

    I believe there was a ret-con.
    Scott knew he had a brother named Alex. Alex was adopted very quickly.
    I think the Silver Age issues just sort of glossed over this fact. I think the X-Men knew he was at university.

    Then, Claremont wrote something about how Sinister was trying to keep the brothers apart, and he wanted to keep Scott isolated. So, Sinister did something to make it seem like Alex didn’t exist and Scott was hallucinating.

    I don’t think Claremont ever explained away Havok’s first appearance.
    It’s easy to explain, I guess. Scott tells Xavier he had a younger brother before X-Men #1. Xavier believes him. Xavier does research and finds out what happened to Alex Summers.
    It happens behind the scenes with Xavier telling Scott the good news.
    Then, the X-Men go to meet Alex at university.

    It’s not a perfect explanation.
    I remember Scott not knowing much about Alex when they first met in Uncanny X-Men.
    It doesn’t seem like Scott knew Alex or had spent time with him.
    There’s not a lot of information, because it was the Silver Age.

    The age issue isn’t even addressed. Alex is younger than Scott, but I think he’s a senior in college in that story. Scott just graduated from high school.

  5. Zoomy says:

    This is a really great Cyclops story, and it’s a long time since we’ve had one of those!

  6. joshua corum says:

    One of the things I loved the most about Marvels was how it carefully weaved together the disparate pieces of Marvel continuity into one tapestry. As such, I was completely distracted the whole time reading this story, trying to figure out how Scott could possibly have been *so* inspired by all these heroes that debuted so closely to the X-Men. I was caught off-guard by how much praise the issue has been getting after my frosty response. Glad others enjoyed it but I just don’t understand the hype.

  7. Ben says:

    What a good comic.

  8. Sol says:

    “Granted, he’s not hugely recognisable, but that’s inevitable when you’re doing a story without his glasses.”

    I thought that it was an interesting (and handy) touch that in the orphanage pages, Scott’s almost always the one kid wearing blue and white. Though this pattern falls apart once the other kids start wearing FF t-shirts…

  9. Adam says:

    Huh. Might be I give this a shot, then.

  10. Nu-D. says:


    I don’t see why this issue couldn’t easily fit into the silver age landscape. If Jean Grey arrived at Xavier’s school, say, six months after the FF made their public debut, then this story fits just fine.

    Anyhow, what’s the story referenced at the end of this issue, with the early ‘90’s era X-Men rescuing the FF?

  11. Joseph S. says:

    Cyclops had a good day.

    Let me add my voice to the chorus: This is very good.

    This is a well-paced single issue story. Rare enough, these days, but exceptionally executed. The parallels between the Summers and the Fantastic Four in the cockpit is a really clever touch.

    But the story works beautifully on multiple levels. As a story about superheros, it should have something to say about us, about why we read comics. I certainly was an introverted and obsessive young person, and I can only assume the same can said about most of us here. Thus I found Scott’s obsession with superheroes an appropriately meta choice.

    And of course a choice which makes sense for the character as well. You can squabble over continuity all you like, but Scott’s youth and the orphanage in particular are already full of contradictions. Jay managed to fit this story in a way that makes good sense and builds on key elements of that backstory, such as young Nate who we say in the backups to Classic X-Men 41-42.

    But most importantly, I think it matters that this isn’t a story about coming to terms with powers. Scott transfers his obsession with heroes into being prepared. He takes his differences (neurodivergence, introversion, obsessive tendencies, whatever) and owns them, he is empowered by having confidence in himself and being prepared.The introduction of Scott’s copy of The Art of War is a really nice touch.

  12. Adam Farrar says:

    @joshua corum,
    Yeah, the timeline bothered me too. I know publication dates don’t translate perfectly to the in-universe timeline but:
    Scott becomes a fan of the FF after watching them fight Namor and Giganto in Fantastic Four #4 published May 1962.
    The conference Scott attended had to take place after Tales of Suspense #40 published April 1963 since Tony Stark was wearing the second armor.
    Scott did not have a lot of time to do much reading before hitting the road, meeting up with Jack O’Diamonds, being found by Xavier and recruiting and training with the rest of the team before X-Men #1 is published in September 1963.

    One other thing that bugged me is Marvels and these Snapshots have been focused on the regular people who observe or come into contact with The Marvels. Here Scott is both the observer and a hero. It’s kind of a cheat.

    All told, I thought it was a good and solid comic book. But I can’t deny these things nag at the back of my head.

  13. Nu-D says:

    If you insist on treating the issue cover date as the date for the events depicted, how do you cope with multi-issue arcs? What did the X-Men do between Uncanny #136 when Dark Phoenix blows up the quintet, and Uncanny #137, when the X-Men are falling through the air after the quintet explodes. Did they all just sit in the air and have tea for a month?

  14. Adam Farrar says:

    “If you insist on treating the issue cover date as the date for the events depicted,”
    I didn’t. But the original Marvels series kinda did. Busiek estimated when the event took place as made sense for their publication date and place in the general Marvel chronology. This is under the “Marvels” banner and it’s not unreasonable to expect it to play by the same conceit. Even if you just go by the Marvel sliding timeline, there’s not a lot of time between FF #4 and X-Men #1.

    “how do you cope with multi-issue arcs? What did the X-Men do between Uncanny #136 when Dark Phoenix blows up the quintet, and Uncanny #137, when the X-Men are falling through the air after the quintet explodes. Did they all just sit in the air and have tea for a month?”
    Yes. Exactly. Physics and time are weird in the Marvel Universe.

  15. Karl_H says:

    “Yes. Exactly. Physics and time are weird in the Marvel Universe.”

    Tell me about it! Atlantis has been Attacking for six months now!

  16. Chris V says:

    That’s ok. The farther you get from the event, the more time speeds up.
    Currently, they’ve been attacking for six months. Five years from now, the attack will have occurred within one minute.

  17. Joseph S. says:

    Marvel continuity. It has to mean something. I need it to mean something.

  18. Luis Dantas says:

    Regarding Marvel Time, it is not quite as cut and dried these days, but comic books in trouble due to low sales would sometimes become bimonthlies. Or they would become incredibly decompressed in order to give the editorial and writing teams time to consider the path forward and course correct according to recent sales trends, reader feedback, announcements from higher offices or what have you. Or both.

    A side effect was that when I noticed that any given book began to pile up ultimately unimportant plots that went by for months on end with very little advancement and no resolution to speak of I expected it to be cancelled soon. Because, of course, a book that has many unappealling plots and does not even advance them for most of a year is not very likely to sell well.

    The three most clear examples that come to mind are Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) in the mid to late 1970s; Quasar in the last half or so of its 60 issues; and pretty much all of Cloak and Dagger’s third series circa 1989 or so.

    That last one was a weird series. It lasted 19 issues during a time period when everyone and their third cousins had their own solo books at Marvel. But it put a lot of effort indeed into, well, not being a Cloak and Dagger series. It went out of its way to have (very pointless) interference from Inferno, Acts of Vengeance, and Infinity Gauntlet; it phased Cloak out entirely for a number of issues, and had Dagger blinded for much of its run; it saddled the title characters’ origins with weird continuity implants involving silly aliens and D’Spayre, while also insisting that the two totally were mutants all the time; and the Acts of Vengeance issue had more to do with the Avengers than with the title characters.

    If Marvel had any idea of why it wanted to publish a Cloak and Dagger series at that time, they did a pretty good job keeping that idea apart from the actual published series.

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