There's a reason the X-Men's greatest leader, Cyclops, can't control his optic blasts - even now he's been cloned in Jonathan Hickman's X-Men reboot. One of Marvel's most famous mutants, Cyclops is secretly a lot more powerful than most readers realize. Cyclops' power levels seem to have increased with age; by the time of the superhero Civil War, Iron Man was measuring his energy output at 2 gigawatts a second, the equivalent of a nuclear power station. When Wolverine joked that God had given Cyclops a "nuke" in his eyes, he wasn't exaggerating much.
Unfortunately, as powerful as Cyclops may be, his mutant abilities come at a cost. He is completely unable to switch his optic blasts off, and their energy can only be restrained by ruby quartz. As a result, Cyclops wears glasses at all times, or - when in costume - a visor. Cyclops is a tactical master, and over the years he's learned how to manipulate that visor in order to pull off some pretty impressive tricks.
It's generally believed that Cyclops' lack of control over his powers is a result of brain damage. But Jonathan Hickman's House of X has left readers with a lot of questions; Hickman has introduced a clone of Cyclops, but one who still needs to wear a visor. So how do Scott Summers' powers really work, and what control does he have?
How Cyclops' Optic Blasts Really Work
Marvel has always tried to market its characters as existing in "the world outside your window," albeit with the addition of superpowers. That's meant the comic book publisher has always been interested in defining its powersets in pseudo-scientific terms. The first attempt to explain away Cyclops' powers was in X-Men #42, which explained that Cyclops' eyes act as solar batteries, absorbing sunlight "in a process not unlike photosynthesis." Later comics implied that Cyclops' entire body is the battery, not just his eyes, explaining why he's been able to absorb Havok's energy blasts and even, on occasion, Storm's lightning. The eyes are simply the channel through which said energy is released, as devastating force beams.
This is the "classic" explanation for Cyclops' powers, and it holds with the evidence of the comics themselves, even fitting with some Claremont-era stories in which Cyclops began to lose his powers when he'd been underground for too long. In 1983, however, Marvel offered an alternate explanation. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe attempted to explain away superheroes' powersets in a more detailed way than ever before, and it introduced the idea that Cyclops' eyes are essentially a portal to another dimension. The 1986 Handbook corrected this, but it came up against in the 2004 edition. While this theory is generally accepted online, however, it's never been referenced in the comics themselves; at present, all evidence from the comics suggests that the classic explanation is the correct one.
Assuming the classic theory is right, then the Cyclops of House of X is weaker than the Cyclops readers are familiar with. There's a simple reason Cyclops' power levels appear to have grown with age; it's because his body has had more time to metabolize sunlight. The clone, however, has only been exposed to the light of the sun for a far shorter time, meaning his powers are far less formidable.
Why Cyclops Can't Control His Optic Blasts
But why can't Cyclops control his powers? Curiously enough, that question never even occurred to comic book writers until the 1970s, when Cyclops explained to Jean Grey that it was a result of being caught up in a plane crash when he was just a kid. In Uncanny X-Men #138, Cyclops explained that he'd been left in a coma for over a year and had sustained brain damage; this, he reasoned, was the explanation for his inability to control his optic blasts. Chris Claremont fleshed out the story in Classic X-Men #41 and 42, in backup stories that revealed Scott Summers' origin.
That was the status quo for decades, until Joss Whedon penned Astonishing X-Men #24 in the 2000s. Whedon's book saw Emma Frost join the X-Men as Cyclops' lover, and she wound up under the influence of a corrupting force. Emma dove deep into Cyclops' mind, and learned the real problem was a psychological one. She revealed that the young Scott Summers had been traumatized by the experience of the plane crash, and that his developing powers had made him ever more afraid. "The world is a traumatic place for some children," Emma explained. "That lack of control, that fear of abandon... It was always in you. The only way to be sure you would always, always hold yourself together... was to make it impossible not to." For a time, Cyclops overcame this subconscious fear, and gained control over his optic blasts. It didn't last, of course, although Whedon was never entirely clear why. The truth is that he probably didn't have permission from the editors to make such a lasting change to such a prominent X-Men. As a result, this has pretty much been forgotten by most X-Men fans.
Jonathan Hickman's House of X apparently settles the question once and for all. If Cyclops' lack of control were simply due to brain damage sustained during a plane crash when he was a teenager, then the clone wouldn't need a visor. The injuries wouldn't be reproduced during the cloning process, and as a result the Cyclops clone wouldn't have to cover his eyes with ruby quartz. However, it's clear that isn't the case; which strongly supports the Whedon idea, that Cyclops' lack of control is psychological. There's an aspect of Cyclops' subconscious that fears and even hates his own powers, and that long-buried part of his mind will never allow him to control his optic blasts. Ironically, it's reasonable to assume that repression also means Cyclops is unlikely to stop to ask the question in the first place, while his fellow X-Men are far too used to his powers to question just why the clone still requires a visor.