Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it.

These days, Cyclops is just about the coolest cat with an X-gene.

It doesn't sound right, does it? I mean, Scott Summers has a long tradition of being the X-Men's wet blanket. He was the wedge that separated the simmering passions of Wolverine and Jean Grey. He lacked charisma or personality; he was Captain America-lite; he was boring. But in Matt Fraction's "Uncanny X-Men," he's finally become the bold leader of a race that he was always destined to be. He's all grown up, and frankly, he's grown up pretty hot.The character's changes began a few years back. It was in the ill conceived mini-saga "The Twelve" that X-creators first toyed with darkening up the character's personality. Summers became host of Apocalypse, and even after the ancient mutant was thought to be expunged from the recesses of Cyclops' mind, Summers' perspective was different; harsher and colder. It was a clumsy attempt to reinvent the character, but the intentions were true, and foreshadowed the changes to come.

During Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" run, the writer explored the moral compromise in the character. Married to the then-still-living Jean Grey, he engaged in a "psychic affair" with notorious bad-girl Emma Frost. The two shared trysts that existed only within their own minds, and while Scott could rationalize them as indicative of the growing chasm between he and his on-again-dead-again wife, it was a pretty clear act of infidelity. Now, cheating isn't cool, per se, but for the eternally conservative, safe-playing Summers, it was a big departure and a major development as he experimented with his own independence. And instead of being told how "dark" he was, as readers were after the events of "The Twelve," it was his actions that revealed the loosening of his rigid moral fiber.

In Joss Whedon's "Astonishing X-Men", after Jean Grey died for the latest time, Summers and Frost were engaged in a stable, pretty much healthy relationship. Again, stability, unto itself, isn't all that "cool," either, but let's be honest -- it takes a certain amount of swagger to keep a woman like Emma satisfied, even when the excitement of an affair has passed. And Emma Frost must have been doing something right, because he wasn't tortured by the memories of his dead-again wife, and wasn't showing any signs of his typical angst or tension.

But it was during Messiah CompleX that Scott finally became liberated from his eternally deferential role as a mutant leader. Disillusioned by his mentor and the leader of the mutant movement, Charles Xavier, Scott took the reins as the primary decision-maker for what was left of the mutant race. By finally stepping out of Xavier's shadow, Scott took his most significant step forward as character

It was his deference to the dreams and desires of others that had limited his scope, because he was constantly defining himself through others. He defined his life's work and philosophy through someone he believed was smarter. He defined his capabilities as a lover through someone he could never protect, never fully measure up to as an equal, and was destined to leave him a widower. He was, quite simply, never his own man. But when he made the decision to pack up shop, and move the X-Men westward, to San Francisco for a fresh start, he finally became a leader, not just in name, but in action.

Which brings us to today. During the "Uncanny X-Men"/"Dark Avengers" crossover "Utopia," head honcho of H.A.M.M.E.R. and general king of the world Norman Osborne has descended on the Bay area, policing a riot that broke out after an anti-mutant march. Laying blame at the feet of the X-Men, he sics his team of dastardly Avengers after the mutants. As one might imagine, a throw-down ensues.

Cyclops has been at the forefront of big-time brawls before, and long been known as a master tactician and field general, so that isn't what makes this significant. What is significant is the matter of scale. Norman Osborn has ascended to being, basically, the chief supervillain of all the world, and he's sitting across the chessboard from Scott. And Slim has risen to the challenge as his equal.

There is a confidence and conviction in Scott under Fraction's pen that oozes coolness, and presents him now as the antithesis of his former self. When commanding a strike-force of Dodson-rendered buxom mutantettes in "Uncanny X-Men" #514 both forcibly and convincingly, Summers exudes a comfort in his role, and skin, that is simply more appealing than he's been in the past. He also commands an undeniable simmering sexuality, as when he tells one of Emma Frost's protégé Stepford Cuckoos, known to be as mercurial as their mentor, "I need you to get arrested."

"Whatever you say, Mr. Summers," she responds coyly. He's in charge. He's fine with it. He talks. You listen. They follow. It's the part he was born to play.

Ultimately, Cyclops has been liberated from the burdens and the lameness that limited his potential as an character. He's the head mutant in charge, and he's not shirking. He's just doing it, and doing it, and doing it well. And that's cool.

Or maybe it's just the stubble.