Bobby, Are You Queer? X-Men’s Iceman Comes Out
For those who haven’t been keeping up on the 52-year long soap opera that is the X-Men, the founding members of the team—as they were in the 1960s—have traveled to the present and got stuck there, potentially damaging the whole of space-time continuum if they remain. And in the latest issue of All-New X-Men (#40 to be exact), Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, is outed by Jean Grey, his mind-reading teammate. He’s gay… and crushing on teammate Angel to boot!
It adds a new wrinkle into this already complex storyline. Readers have spent decades with a heterosexual Bobby Drake. How can his younger self be gay? Writer Brian Michael Bendis already has the difficult task of putting all the toys back into the toy chest and, at some point, returning these displaced X-Men to their proper timeline. Now Bendis will also have to tackle the questions raised by this new revelation and I couldn’t be more excited.
Comics tend to jump from one “nothing will be the same!” event to another. Some are better than others, and the status quo of these characters are “forever altered,” until it all has to change again in six months. It gets exhausting. There’s even a term for it: event fatigue. A centerpiece of these events is always the death of a major character. These days it’s a given the death will be reversed at some point. The character will come back to life. One writer—forgive me, I can’t recall who—said given the impermanent nature of death in comics, the compelling focus has to be on how the character comes back. While that’s an optimistic approach, it doesn’t leave room for much drama. I have my own take on how to squeeze some more excitement out of these deaths and resurrections but that’s for another article. I bring up the overused “death” event stories to emphasize just how great this latest twist in the X-Men saga is.
I know some readers will complain that Bobby being gay will ruin him, or that he was turned gay for the sake of diversity. I’m just going to ignore the former, but in a way I agree with the latter. Bobby now gay is a sign of striving for diversity, but not in terms of inclusiveness; it’s diversity of narrative. We’ve seen characters die and come back. Others have turned evil and then returned the side of good. Many have traveled to the future and/or the past. Others have greatly altered their appearances and costumes. The fact Bobby is gay isn’t exciting. What’s exciting is Bendis and Marvel now have an opportunity to tell an entirely new story, unlike any told before. Let that sink in—an entirely new story.
We now have young gay Bobby existing in the same time period as his older “straight” self. The past 50+ years of comics haven’t been ruined or undone but now we might have a new perspective on the character. The older Bobby has to look the younger version of himself in the face and for the first time, and might not recognize himself in there. New questions have to be asked. Has the Bobby we’ve been reading about been in the closet this whole time, never experiencing the moment that now afforded to his younger self? How does that affect his older self? Will it allow the older Bobby to come out? Will he address having to suppress his true self, and that even by being an outsider (i.e., an X-Man), the taboos/fears of homosexuality were far greater? Or will he insist he’s straight and argue that young Bobby must really be from an alternate reality (it’s a comic, after all)? And how will others react? Disbelief? Happiness for their friend? What’s his ex-girlfriend Kitty Pryde going to say?
For those who don’t want their X-Men comics focusing on things like sexual orientation, find another book to read. This series was constructed as a civil rights allegory. I’ll point you to the reading line on the main X-Men page over at Marvel.com, “Feared and hated by humans because they’re different, the X-Men are heroic mutants, individuals born with special powers who’ve sworn to use their gifts to protect mutants as well as humans.” If any comic were to address these issues—as civil rights for all still need to be fought for—X-Men is the book to do it.
In a statement released via Marvel, Bendis states, “There are thousands if not millions of stories of people who, for many different reasons, felt the need to hide their sexuality. The X-Men, with the conceit of time travel, give us a fascinating platform in which to examine such personal journeys. This is just the first little chapter of a much larger story that will be told.”
With those few words, Bendis nails it. Using Sci-Fi tropes, he gets to explore sexual identity in a way it’s never been explored before. It’s a huge promise and all bets are off. If you’ve ever complained that comics are always the same, here’s something else. We don’t know where this story will go, and have to pick up subsequent issues to find out. In a serialized medium, nothing is more irresistible than not knowing what happens next and counting down the days until you can learn more. Marvel, you have my attention.