Captain America is now an African American, Thor is now a woman, and in All-New X-Men #40 Marvel continues is push for diversity within its cast of character. While there was some pushback when the changes regarding Cap and Thor were announced, the way the stories were handled were actually very well executed and fairly seamless within the story’s continuity. Steve Rogers lost his super solider serum and had aged into an old man, so who better to take over the mantle than his fellow soldier Sam Wilson. After the events of the Original Sin event, Thor became unworthy to wield the hammer, and a still unknown woman discovered that she was worthy and has taken up the title of Thor. These shifts and added diversity among the big names in Marvel didn’t feel forced, whether they were or not. Unfortunately, All-New X-Men #40 does not quite hit the same hit the same mark.
This issue picks up at after the events of Black Vortex, and begins a new arc for the present-stranded X-men of the past. Needing some relaxation after their intergalactic adventure, Iceman (Bobby Drake), Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast, Angel, and X-23 are having a nice mountainside picnic. After their professor, Magik, drops off some food and heads back to the school, Bobby jovially comments on the professor’s “hotness”. Jean then pulls him aside and asks why he does things like that, when she knows that he’s gay. He initially denies it but Jean persists and reminds him she’s a mind reader.
The conversation between Jean and Bobby takes up nearly the whole first half of the issue, which is good because this was not something they needed to rush through. But on the whole, the way it was handled is a very mixed bag. On one hand Jean is outing Bobby, which is not something that is generally looked fondly upon, but that also can be chalked up to them being teenagers, and her telling him that no one else needs to know until he’s ready for them to also makes it easier to swallow.
But there are two bigger problems with this, the obvious one being that this seems completely out of left field, not only has there been little to no signs of Bobby being gay in the past, there hasn’t even been any indications in this current run that is 40 issues in. That being said, writer Brain Michael Bendis does at least attempt to explain why Bobby’s older self (got to love time travel) has never been presented as gay. He posits that Bobby couldn’t handle being gay and a mutant, and that one was easier to “put away”. The second is the continuation of bisexual erasure in popular culture, perpetuating the bifurcated notion of sexuality that someone is either 100% gay or 100% straight. It would have made more sense within the narrative to make Bobby bisexual, which would have explained why older Bobby had been with so many women over the years, also adding to the ranks of the incredibly scarce bisexual male. Instead that is just pushed aside with a response from Jean when Bobby says “but he dated women”, to which she replies, “not well”.
Despite the overall negative impression this left me, there were certainly some positives too. There is an affecting line where Jean points out that people now are far much more accepting than the past that they came from, and won’t even care that Bobby is gay. The friendship displayed between Jean and Bobby is quite powerful as well, and any young reader who is struggling with their sexuality will not only be lucky to see a well known character their own age come out, but also to see how accepting one’s true friends can be.
Story-wise Bobby’s coming out was the main thrust of the issue. The back half consisted of a far less interesting romantic plot between Angel and X-23, which is followed by a brief teaser of where the rest of this arc is going.
Continuity qualms aside, Bendis’ writing is spot on in this issue. He continues to capture the young voices of all the original X-men, consistently maintaining not only their age but their individual personalities as well. He especially nails the vulnerability of Bobby’s coming out, and the awkwardness not only for him, but for Jean as well. He also made Angel’s professing his love much less sappy than it could have been, and gave his character further development coming out of the events of Black Vortex.
The art by Mahmud Asrar is absolutely breathtaking. The way he utilizes bright colors and a more cartoonish feel fits this issue perfectly. He brilliantly captures the emotions of Bobby and Jean’s awkward but heartfelt conversation and of Angel and X-23’s more sentimental one. It is some of my favorite art from an individual issue so far this year, and I really hope he stays on the series and this is not just a one-off.
Despite the continuity issues, and a more culturally related concern, this is still a very good issue of All-New X-Men. And what it lacks in its attempt at seamlessly diversifying the Marvel universe, it makes up for in truly touching character moments, beautiful art, and a cast of characters that continue to be the heart and soul of the series.