Comics

Iceman May Be Out as a Gay Character, But He's Not Quite Out With the World at Large

His parents don't accept him. The world, as a whole, doesn't accept him. Even other mutants seem more "normal" by comparison.


Alessandro Vitti

Iceman

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Sina Grace
Publication date: 2017-06-07
Amazon


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.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

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8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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