Iceman Is Gay: On Changing Characters in Comics

Iceman Is Gay: On Changing Characters in Comics

Posted by on Apr 23, 2015 in Comics | 0 comments

So if you’re an avid comic reader or follow comic news, perhaps you’ve heard that Iceman is gay.

It’s complicated.

The Iceman in question is a younger Bobby Drake, who currently stars in All-New X-Men, written by Brian Michael Bendis. The premise of All-New is the original X-Men – Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel, and Iceman – have pulled from their early days in the 70s and dropped into the modern era. Shenanigans ensue and now they’re trapped in the modern day, alongside their older counterparts.

The point of this is they can see where their counterparts went wrong in their lives and put things right. In practice, it just means they make new mistakes. The biggest of these is Jean Grey, who’s been ushered into her telepathy without the guiding hand of Charles Xavier. This means she has no sense of privacy and is prone to simply read people’s minds without permission, something she’s been taken to task for again and again over the course of the series.

Like the time she mind-wiped Angel to make him not want to return to their original time.
Or when she read older Beast’s mind and found out he loved her. Then she used that info to go get with younger Beast to prove she wasn’t like her older counterpart, i.e. in love with Cyclops.
That was a lie of course, so eventually she dumped him.
Then there’s the time she jumped to the Ultimate Universe and read Spider-Man’s mind.
The thing is, she’s been told repeatedly not to do this, by friends and professors alike.

She simply doesn’t care. Which lead us to today’s issue of All-New X-Men, where she confronts young Bobby Drake with his sexuality. It’s a rather tone-deaf outing, which makes perfect sense with young Jean Grey. Luckily, Bobby rolls with it and we’re left with a situation where Jean promises not to tell anyone about it. Young Bobby has the benefit of being able to explore his sexuality in our modern day, a place that’s far more understanding than the 70s he originally hailed from.


The outlying problem with this issue is older Bobby Drake, who has been presented firmly as heterosexual for his long publishing history. In fact, he just left a relationship with Kitty Pryde. This leads us to two different possibilities:

1. Older Bobby Drake is closeted and has never come to terms with his sexuality.
2. Younger Bobby Drake is from a divergent timeline.

The former is the most likely option, and Marvel’s already said that they’re going to be following up on this particular story.

“We would be foolish not to deal with that,” Alonso told MTV. “That was the second part of my conversation with Brian. Time travel gave us a platform to discover the journeys of the young characters. The obvious question is that once the young Bobby Drake has accepted and embraced who he is, what are the ramifications for his adult counterpart? It’s safe to say that will be dealt with.”

About the change itself, I’m largely lukewarm. I’m glad there’s another gay character in the Marvel Universe, as I’ve always found representation to be important, but I don’t know the full extent of the story’s outcome. This could lead to great stories for Iceman, a character who’s largely treaded water in the X-Universe, or it could lead to nothing.

I’ve found a number of people have professed a dislike for the change because it’s heavy-handed (it is) and because it seems arbitrary. It’s the latter point I want to tackle.

Viewed as they’re happening, many character and story changes are completely arbitrary, based on the preferences and biases of the creative team.Many people spent the past two weeks lauding the television adaptation of a character who’s completely based on an arbitrary new direction. In this case, I’m talking about Daredevil. Before Frank Miller, he was this.


Angry anti-hero Daredevil? Catholicism? Ninjas? The Kingpin as a primary villain? Stick? The Hand? That was all a complete retcon by writer-artist Frank Miller when he began on the title. Miller was put onto Daredevil after doing a few issues of Spectacular Spider-Man guest-starring the hero.

“I had done a couple issues of Spectacular Spider-Man and I looked at Daredevil, [who] was blind. All of a sudden I realized that I could do all my crime stories through this character,” Miller said on learning about Daredevil.

Prior to all this, Daredevil was swashbuckling character. He was happy and upbeat. His father taught him his athletic ways and he gained his powers in his teenage years, prior to that training. He was essentially blind Spider-Man. Miller changed all that. Why? Because Daredevil was on the verge of cancellation, so Miller was allowed free reign to do whatever he wanted. If he failed, the book would die like it was supposed to.

“Miller was given the book because he was cheap,” says Dez Skinn, founder of trade publication Comics International. “The guy had been doing a couple of jobs here and there, he didn’t have his own regular strip and they were short of artists. They gave him a free hand. If a book isn’t selling well, you can’t really do any harm on it.”

“The book was coughing blood,” says Alan Moore, the revered Watchmen and V For Vendetta creator. “They were going to cancel it in a couple of months. When Daredevil was down to about 15,000 and it was obvious that no one could actually make it sell any less, well, they might as well give Frank Miller a go.”

Miller remembers it slightly differently. “I’d been lobbying for the job. [Previous artist] Gene Colan went screaming off it, he’d done so many issues. I thought Daredevil was kind of cool because he couldn’t do anything. I mean, he’s blind. It wasn’t that he could fly. His major power was an impediment. So I was intrigued. When I took over he was kind of like Spider-Man-lite, but I was able to project a lot of my Catholic imagery onto it. And I’d always wanted to do a crime comic.”

“But that opened a Pandora’s box of all the crime stuff I wanted to do. I borrowed liberally from Will Eisner’s The Spirit and turned Daredevil into a crime comic.”

So he brought together two things he loved crime noir and manga – a girlfriend had given him Lone Wolf and Cub prior to his time on Daredevil, which began his long love affair with Japanese concepts like samurai and ninja, as noted by his follow-up work, Ronin – and it worked. Elektra was a direct ripoff of a Will Eisner character. Miller made arbitrary decisions based on what he liked. For example, Matt’s loving father became an abusive alcoholic, something Marvel later walked back a bit. Miller’s work is always a product on his current emotional state.

Some of those changes by Miller taken today would get fans riled if done with an established character. In fact, back in the day the changes were controversial with prior readers of the title. They stuck around because they were popular though. New, larger readership always trumps old faithful.

But Mike, this character’s had a long publishing history! Frank Miller’s first issue of Daredevil was #158 in 1979. Daredevil was created in 1964, meaning he was around for 15 years before Miller decided it was time for a change.

But Mike, are you comparing Miller’s changes that led to one of the best Daredevil runs ever with Iceman being gay? Not really. The point is that changes that can be viewed as arbitrary aren’t the problem. Writers make huge changes to characters all the time. Warren Ellis has made a career on changing Marvel characters for 6-12 issues. The point is the execution is what matters.

We have no idea where this story is headed. No one expected Frank Miller to light up the charts with Daredevil and if editors could pinpoint awesome stories all the time, we’d never have bad, bad story arcs. We may gain a wealth of stories due to Iceman being gay. We may not. I have no clue. Young Avengers is a brick-stupid idea. I remember hating it when it was first announced. Now I have the Omnibus on my bookshelf. Execution is everything. Decrying a change because it’s arbitrary is missing the point; they’re all random changes.

So I’m looking forward to seeing the follow-up of Iceman’s new sexuality, in younger and older forms.

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