As often happens just before a notable change in Marvel status quo, several pages were leaked online from this upcoming Wednesday’s All-New X-Men #40, in which an original member of Marvel’s mutant team the X-Men is outed to us as gay by a teammate. More specifically, a past incarnation of an original member (currently hanging out in the present) is outed.
As of now we only have a handful of pages from the issue, so both the character’s statements and the applicable label (if any) for said character, as well as the authorial intentions behind both, are up for debate.
Ready for it?
Apparently, Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, is gay. After commenting on the attractiveness of present X-Men member Magik, Bobby is drawn aside by fellow time-displaced teammate and psychic Jean Grey, who attempts to get Bobby to acknowledge the truth himself before spelling it out for him.
Readers will note that Bobby’s present day self has never addressed being attracted to the same gender, and actually has a long (if unsuccessful) history of relationships with women, including Lorna Dane and Kitty Pryde. Bobby and Jean actually discuss this fact, with Bobby suggesting, “Maybe he couldn’t handle being a mutant and gay in a society that had issues with both? And one is easier to ‘put away’ than the other?”
The characters go on to debate Bobby possibly being bisexual, given his older self’s inclinations, with Jean stating, “They say everybody is […] But I think you’re more… full gay.”
This kind of problematic phrasing–claiming “they say everyone is [bisexual]” and thereby dismissing it as phase, fad, or somehow inherent to everyone–especially given its sweeping disavowing of preexisting sexuality for the purpose of monosexual labeling, is a bit cringe-worthy.
Erasing or dismissing the notion of bisexuality–as well as elevating the value of so-called “full” gayness over other portions of the queer spectrum–is a frequent occurrence in media. Characters shown to be attracted to multiple genders are usually portrayed as either transitioning into “full” gayness (or reverting back to straightness), eventually writing off their prior relationships; or as being confused, as though being attracted to more than one gender is a mindset to be shaken off before pursuing the “right” gender for them. Likewise, news media tends to sweepingly label anyone with same gender attractions as “full” gay, whether or not that person has chosen to identify themselves as such.
It’s an unfortunate and disappointing angle for the conversation to take, especially given the importance of an original member of the X-Men coming out. But whether or not this conversation is indicative of writer Brian Michael Bendis’ perception of bisexuality (unlikely, in my opinion), or is instead just a display of ignorance and uncertainty on the characters’ part, isn’t something we can do more than speculate on.
But while the question of present day Iceman’s stance remains unclear (whether he is, like his younger self feels them be, simply deeply closeted, or if perhaps he is just choosing to pursue only one gender to which he’s attracted), teenage Bobby seems to have less reservations about eventually acting on his same gender attractions, even asking Jean if their teammate Angel is gay. (Spoiler: Jean thinks he is not.)
“That’s one of the good things about being here as opposed to back where we came from,” Jean says of the time era the pair are actually from, “I don’t think anyone here cares […] Not like back then.”
This point of view is unsurprising coming from series writer Brian Michael Bendis, who discussed writing for queer characters on Tumblr in 2013, saying, “What I don’t do is make a big giant thing of things. I’m sure it’s a reflection of living in Portland where no one gives a crap about anyone’s sexual orientation or religion or race. [E]verybody just does whatever they want and nobody cares.”
And while Bendis may not feel a character’s sexual orientation is a big thing, readers will likely feel otherwise. Queer characters in mainstream comics are notoriously disposable, with Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler writing in 2013:
Few of these heroes occupy positions of importance in the Marvel Universe. They remain highly disposable. Like Northstar before Astonshing X-Men, like Hulkling and Wiccan in the hiatuses between Young Avengers series, LGBT characters don’t often crop up in other books when they don’t have books of their own. If Wolverine or Captain America disappear or die, it’s an event. If Northstar disappears or dies, it’s a panel.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual characters aren’t vulnerable or disposable because they’re LGBT. They’re vulnerable and disposable because they’re relatively new and relatively unimportant to the grand narrative. They’re in the same class as all the other B-list characters, and like those characters their presence in a story is generally tied to an individual author’s affection for them. When that author moves on, the characters get dropped back in the toy chest to wait for someone else to come along and pick them up.
Iceman, however, is far from being a secondary or “B-list” character. He’s a staple of the X-Men, with a long history and a large pre-existing fanbase. Beyond being consistently utilized in comics, he’s been featured in movies, video games, and cartoons. The character coming out as queer in any capacity offers hope that a queer character will remain in Marvel’s spotlight as an integral part of its cornerstone properties. And that’s kind of a “big giant thing.”
But with Bendis set to depart from the X-Men titles with upcoming Uncanny X-Men #600, and Mavel’s company-wide Secret Wars event leaving fans worried their favorite characters may be re-imagined in the same way that DC’s 2011 “New 52” initiative repackaged their line, there’s still a risk that this big giant thing might become just another ‘thing that was.’
“[Secret Wars] puts an endcap to decades of stories and starts a new era,” Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort stated during a press conference earlier this year. Fingers crossed that includes an end to stories starring “disposable” queer characters and the start of a new era of consistently important queer characters, including Bobby Drake and whatever label he winds up choosing for himself–if he winds up with one at all.
See the full leaked pages for yourself here.