Back in 2015 Marvel made waves (and a fair amount of controversy) when writer Brian Michael Bendis revealed in the pages of All New X-Men #40 that the time-displaced version of Bobby Drake/Iceman, an original X-Man and fan favorite character, was in fact gay. This creative decision was met with a mixed reaction from both fans and the media.
Whether you like it or not, Iceman possibly being in the closet was teased years ago and makes quite a bit of sense when you scrutinize his romantic history. It was later revealed that, yes, both the current and teenage versions of the character are gay. It’s something that present-Bobby has struggled with mightily since literally being faced with that part of himself. We get to see this further explored in the pages of his new ongoing series with ‘Iceman #1’, courtesy of writer Sina Grace and artist Kevin Wada.
For all of his relative (ahem) coolness, Bobby Drake has always been hindered by his own repression. Of Xavier’s original students he was the class clown, more focused on pranks than his studies and training as an X-Man. In the development of his ice-based powers, he seldom attempted to tap into the greater range of his abilities as one of the few Omega-Level mutants in existence. Thematically, the fact that Bobby has also repressed his sexuality his entire life makes perfect sense and issue #1 we get a glimpse into why exactly that is.
We open with Bobby attempting to complete his bio on a dating website, signaling he’s embraced his orientation and is now ready to mingle, but he struggles in being able to accurately describe himself. This is inter-cut with Bobby training his younger self in the Danger Room, which naturally sees the elder Bobby come out on top. However, it’s he who seems to have more to learn from Bobby the Younger. He’s due for a night out with his boyfriend after their training session. Young Bobby is out in the open, happy and uninhibited. Shortly thereafter, Old Bobby rushes off to visit his father who is in the hospital after suffering a mild heart attack.
As we meet Bobby’s parents and everything about the X-Man’s life starts to make sense. Bobby’s parents are stodgy and haven’t completely embraced his existence as a mutant. His father in particular is especially bigoted. They are still unaware that Bobby is gay. It doesn’t take long before the family starts to bicker and outing himself to his parents is certainly the furthest thing from Bobby’s mind.
His parents can’t accept him as a mutant and he can’t possibly expect for them to accept him as a gay one. It becomes evident that Bobby’s relationship with his parents is the root of his repression. Beneath his cool, sarcastic exterior Bobby is in constant turmoil — ever at odds with himself and what he wants in life. It’s surely something many in the LBGTQ community will resonate with.
Indeed, there is something novel about this approach. Typically, queer comic book characters land squarely in “out and proud” territory. This may be our first instance of following a gay character, a well known and popular one to boot, in their journey of acceptance. This makes Iceman’s story an important one, but ultimately it doesn’t seem to warrant a full series run.
The rest of the book plays out as standard X-Men fare. An unexpected assault within the hospital places mutant and human life in danger and Bobby must rise to the occasion. The conflict is a clear analogue for Bobby’s internal conflict. There’s a mutant that wishes to express herself, an assassin that wishes to exterminate her, and all those in between that just wish they weren’t involved. It’s brief and overall this story easily could have taken place in the confines of an X-Men comic.
Social commentary aside, this book doesn’t seem particularly rife with potential. Iceman isn’t a hero with a rogue’s gallery, or a dark and mysterious past to explore. He’s not Wolverine or Cyclops. Hell, he isn’t even Nightcrawler. He’s the consummate “amazing friend” — lovable enough for guest spots, but sorely lacking the depth to fill an ongoing title.
This isn’t to discredit Grace or Wada. Their work here is top notch and the book is a solid read, but it would be hard-pressed to even get 12 issues out of this story as constituted. No overarching plot is introduced, no new threats, not even any old enemies. This title will be solely focused on Iceman’s personal development, with heroics taking a backseat to drama.
In that way there is a sense of demographic pandering so present with Marvel’s other recent titles. It’s far too soon to pass similar judgement on Iceman, but what Grace has displayed is a deft hand at tackling a tricky topic, all with nuance seldom seen in comics. Even if Iceman isn’t an exciting comic, it promises to be an interesting one. For fans of the character that will have to serve as cold comfort.