December 1989/January 1990
In a Nutshell
A glimpse of Cyclops' time in Mr. Sinister's orphanage.
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Mike Collins
Inker: Joe Rubinstein
Letterer: Mike Heisler
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Issue #41: At the orphanage where he lives, Scott Summers intervenes in a fight between his roommate Nate and a bully named Toby, then is treated by orphanage's new doctor, Robyn Hanover, who takes an interest in the boy. That night, Scott has another recurring nightmare of falling and flames, while Toby is accosted by Mr. Sinister. The next day, a crowd gathers after Toby climbs up onto the roof of a building, preparing to jump. Despite Nate's objections, Scott rushes up after him and tries to talk Toby down. But Toby jumps, and Scott is unable to save him. Later, Dr. Hanover tries to comfort Scott, much to Nate's apparent displeasure.
Issue #42: Dr. Hanover takes Scott to a nearby airshow, along with friends of her, Trish and Rick Bogart. Scott continues to spend time with the Bogarts, who decide to adopt him. They leave for a short trip, hoping the adoption application will be finalized when they return. One night, Dr. Hanover awakens in a strange place and comes face to face with Mr. Sinister. The next morning, Scott approaches a much more reserved Dr. Hanover, asking after the Bogarts, who have now been missing for weeks. Dr. Hanover coolly tells him if they can't be bothered to follow up on their application, it will be dropped. While Scott doesn't know the Bogarts have died mysteriously, he believes the orphanage has gotten to them, just as it did Dr. Hanover, and vows to leave it as soon as he can. That night, Scott is telepathically visited by Professor Xavier and a young Jean Grey, who was drawn to Scott. He believes the encounter to be a dream, though an aspect of Jean stays with Scott to comfort him.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is essentially Chris Claremont's combo Cyclops/Mr. Sinister origin, building on the hints from "Inferno" that Sinister was involved in Scott's life as far back as his time in the orphanage (which was run by Mr. Sinister). Picking up after the Shi'ar abducted his parents and sent him and his brother crashing to the ground via a burning parachute (events all previously established by Claremont), little in it directly contradicts the old backup story origin from the 60s (which featured Cyclops leaving the orphanage and falling in with Jack O'Diamonds before Professor X recruited him).
Scott's roommate in this orphanage is a boy named Nate, first mentioned during "Inferno", who seems to both dislike and be obsessed with Scott, and knowing that Claremont intended for Mr. Sinister to be the manifestation of a child-like mutant (something he never got around to revealing), it's easy to see that he intended Nate to be that boy (given what was later established of Mr. Sinister's motives and MO, in retrospect it seems likely that canonically the inverse is true, and that Nate is a disguise of Sinister's, enabling him to keep a closer eye on Cyclops within the orphanage).
These two stories ran as backups to reprints of X-Men #135 and #136, the penultimate chapters of "The Dark Phoenix Saga", and issue #42 ends with young Cyclops being telepathically visited by Professor X and Jean Grey (who was a student of Xavier's before he formed the X-Men), with the eventual Scott/Jean romance being retroactively teased.
At the time of this story, it's already known that ruby quartz lenses seem to ease Scott's headaches, with Dr. Hanover speculating he'll eventually have to wear them all the time. For the most part, this still fits with the notion that a doctor discovered the connection (as revealed in the original Cyclops origin backup story in X-Men #39), though that story suggested the connection was made when Scott was older, as well as the idea that Mr. Sinister discovered the connection (as suggested in "Inferno"), as Sinister could have tipped off the doctor (or been the doctor in disguise).
It's also established that Alex was adopted away from the orphanage almost immediately after arriving there (something later stories establish was arranged by Mr. Sinister as a way to keep Scott isolated).
Art comes from Mike Collins, who will fill-in on a few issues of X-Men in the near future (including the first appearance of Gambit). I don't recall liking his art much in those issues, but it's not too bad here.
A Work in Progress
From the beginning, we see that Scott has a heroic streak to him, and that even though Nate is essentially his only friend at the orphanage, he doesn't exactly like the kid.
Scott is having recurring dreams of falling and fire, repressed memories of his escape from his parents' burning plane.
Dr. Hanover thinks that Nate acts like he runs the place, a hint towards his true identity.
Another hint comes later when she likens him to a changeling or a demon taken the place of a child.
In issue #42, Scott subsconsciously recalls the events that separated him from his parents, calling out for his mom, remembering somebody shooting at him, and telling Alex to hold on.
Scott spends several pages throughout the story spouting off about airplane stuff, clearly serving as plane-o-phile Claremont's mouthpiece.
Build Up Your Vocabulary with
\ji-ˈjün\. Adjective. Naive, simplistic and superficial. (Of ideas or writings) dry and uninteresting.
Aside from representing Chris Claremont's biggest attempt at a direct origin story for Cyclops, this two parter is also the closest Claremont will ever come to presenting his intended origin of Mr. Sinister as the manifestation of the dark side of a powerful, child-like mutant obsessed with Scott. However, Claremont is appropriately vague regarding Mr. Sinister (nothing directly connects Nate to Sinister in these issues - presumably, Claremont would have made that connection more explicit in a later story - but if you know what to look for, the hints are there), such that nothing presented here contradicts or gets contradicted too much by how later writers develop Mr. Sinister.
Even better than the continuity nods and the "might-have-been" teases, this is just a really well told story. Claremont crafts a suitably creepy narrative, starring a Scott Summers despondent over his seemingly poor lot in life (as the broken, unwanted boy destined to be alone forever, which is for the best anyway) but still possessing an inclination towards kindness and heroism, and the level of restraint Claremont shows in the storytelling is admirable. Knowing what we know now, we can make a connection between Nate and Mr. Sinister, but the narrative never spells it out, and leaves it open to interpretation just how creepy Nate truly is, and why. Similarly, Claremont doesn't get in the way of the art, letting the images make clear in the end that Sinister has stacked the deck against Scott, somehow altering Dr. Hanover's mind and arranging the deaths of his would-be adoptive parents without dropping any clunky narration into the mix to spell things out.
Really, the only misstep in the story comes in the closing panels, as Claremont shoehorns in a Phoenix reference, trying to thematically connect the "Dark Phoenix Saga" unfolding in the book's A-story to adolescent Scott's fear of fire. The reprinted story ends with Scott proposing to Jean just before the Shi'ar whisk the X-Men off Earth to execute Phoenix. The desire to close the backup story with a nod to that event is understandable, but whether it was an editorial mandate or something Claremont himself felt was necessary, it's a little clunky and ham-fisted. But that aside, this is a well-crafted, suitably atmospheric tale that paints a strikingly sad picture of one of the X-Men's most significant members, an oft-overlooked little gem of Claremont's. And I'm not saying that just because I'm a huge Cyclops fan.
Next week, things return to normal around here with Uncanny X-Men #253, New Mutants #82, and X-Factor #47.