A Real (and Relevant) Coolness
No character ever becomes iconic without doing something to set themselves apart. For years, going all the way back to the Lee/Kirby era of Uncanny X-men, Iceman never gets that chance. Despite being a member of the iconic Original Five X-men, he never gets his own Phoenix Saga. He never undergoes a transformation like Angel or Beast. He never even goes through the twisted melodrama of marrying a clone or have a time-displaced child. In a sense, Iceman is like a capable backup quarterback on a team of pro bowl players. He can hold his own. He just never gets a chance to show his skill.
That all changed after the events of All-New X-men #40. In what is, without a doubt, the biggest upheaval in Iceman’s 50-plus year history, Jean reveals that he’s gay. Now, there’s a lot that can be said about how his outing was handled. Jean’s somewhat callous approach to the situation, as well as the circumstances in which it occurred, are somewhat troubling. There’s also the issue of Iceman’s past entanglements with women. Some of them even count as serious. One of them, namely Mystique, almost got him killed.
However, that only makes the reveal more powerful because it reflects the real-life conflicts that many homosexuals deal with. Sometimes, they spend decades of their lives pretending to be something their not. Adding this on top of the underlying themes of the X-men, which is somewhat analogous to LGBT issues, it puts Iceman’s story in a whole new context. It does more than set him apart from the rest of the Original Five X-men, who’ve already done plenty to distinguish themselves. It puts Iceman in a position to forge a unique path, one that few characters of his status have ever attempted.
Iceman #1 isn’t entirely structured around Bobby Drake’s homosexuality or how he deals with it. It’s not built around him just going on solo adventures, either. He’s not Wolverine, Iron Man, or even Squirrel Girl. His path has the potential to be both unique and revealing. Sina Grace doesn’t try to fit Bobby into another Phoenix Saga, a Dark Angel Saga, or any kind of saga. More than anything else, Grace tries to focus on Bobby’s very human struggles while still giving him a chance to be Iceman.
In setting up the story, Grace establishes a distinct difference between Iceman and his time-displaced counterpart. Whether due to recklessness or immaturity, the teenage Iceman does a much better job of accepting his sexuality. He even has a male love interest that he’s been exploring in other X-men comics. Ironically, the older, adult Iceman is behind the curve of his teenage self. He’s admitted that he’s gay, but he hasn’t done anything with it yet. He’s still more focused on being Iceman rather than Bobby Drake.
Iceman #1 puts him in a position where he has to be both. He doesn’t face a cosmic entity or a killer robot. Instead, he faces a very real, very relevant issue with his parents. Unlike the rest of the X-men, they don’t know that he’s gay. His mother even asks about whether or not he has any girlfriends. It establishes that while Iceman may be out as a gay character, he’s not quite out with the world at large.
It’s the kind of situation that real homosexuals with real families deal with, not knowing how to talk to their parents about their sexuality. Bobby’s parents make it even harder because they’re not necessarily proud of his mutant status either. They give the impression that they’d much rather see him holding down a steady job as a garbage man rather than regularly saving the planet from apocalypse. It’s not so much that they have unreasonable standards as much as it is they want a “normal” son.
It’s a concept that resonates with both mutants and the LGBT community, the idea of being so not normal that it undermines friends, family, and everything in between. In Bobby’s case, he’s got a double dose of non-normalcy. He’s a minority within a minority, a homosexual man, and a mutant. That means he can expect double the hate from every racist bigot, of which there are plenty in both the real world and the Marvel universe.
Fittingly enough, the main conflict in Iceman #1 isn’t a killer robot or invading aliens. It’s a wannabe Purifier, who are basically Marvel’s that anti-mutant version of the KKK. While they don’t make their position on homosexuality known, it’s hard to imagine that would make them any less hostile to someone like Bobby.
It gives Bobby a chance to be a hero and, strangely enough, that’s the most normal thing he does. When he’s fighting a rogue Purfier, he’s the same Iceman that people have known and loved since the Kennedy Administration. It’s only when he has to be Bobby Drake that he faces an insurmountable conflict, of sorts. His parents don’t accept him. The world, as a whole, doesn’t accept him. Even other mutants seem more “normal” by comparison.
It’s a powerful message that makes for a story that feels real and relevant. That’s the greatest strength of Iceman #1. Grace tells a story that real people can relate to and Alessandro Vitti’s artwork makes it visually appealing. Anyone who is LGBT, an outcast, or just not (or something more than) “normal”, if you will, will find something to appreciate.
While the story may feel real, it also lacks the kind of dramatic impact or emotional upheaval that so many other major X-men characters have enjoyed in their 50-year plus history. That may be too much to hope for in one issue of a solo series for a character who hasn’t had one before, but while the plot feels real and relevant, the substance is somewhat lacking. It’s a competent, cohesive story that delivers a powerful message. It just doesn’t go much further than that.
What gives this series promise, though, is the way Grace and Vitti frame Bobby’s story at this point in his history. He’s a minority within a minority, still trying to be a hero while trying to find his place. Being a hero is the easy part for him. Trying to find his place is a far greater challenge, one that he’s very uncertain about. It’s easy to be certain when there are killer robots to smash and evil mutant racists to fight. It’s much harder to live a distinctly non-normal life that still feels normal. For mutants and LGBT individuals alike, it’s an important story to tell.