Comics, LGBTQ, Reviews

Two Takes On Iceman #1-3

icemanIceman #1-3

Sina Grace (writer), Alessandro Vitti (penciler), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), VC’s Joe Sabino (letterer), Kevin Wada (covers)
Marvel Comics
June-July 2017

Kat Overland: Let’s start this off easy. Are you a Bobby Drake fan? 

Megan Purdy: Yes and no! I fell in love with Bobby when he was in a coma circa Uncanny X-Men #311. Emma Frost hijacked his body, and he had like a decade of angst over her using his powers better than he did. I’ve never hated him, but before then I’d always considered him the most boring X-Man by design. That story was the first time I considered that Bobby’s Strictly Average Lifestyle might be a shield for something else.

(It’s also when a lot of people started to wonder if Bobby was in the closet, something that Bryan Singer picked up on in X2, where he famously “comes out” as a mutant to his parents. Not to say that people hadn’t read queer subtext into Bobby’s many failed relationships since at least the ’80s, but that’s when we started to suspect that the comics agreed with us.)

Since the ’90s Bobby has mostly been in the background. It’s hard to stay a fan of a character who so rarely shows up, and when he finally does, he’s so relentlessly devoid of charm or life that I barely recognize him. I guess that all goes to say that I’m a fan of the Bobby Drake that could be, in the hands of a writer who truly loves him and has a plan for him. 

Kat Overland: I loved Bobby in the X-Men films; the swoon-worthy Shawn Ashmore playing a tortured metaphor really did it for High School Me. But I think I really warmed up (sorry) to Bobby in Marjorie Liu’s Astonishing X-Men. He’s been the subject of some in-book queer subtext (and good fandom meta), but canon Bobby was just kind of there, occasionally dating characters who were generally more interesting. But Liu’s run examined Bobby Drake as a goof who was clinging to a veneer of dad jokes to keep from coping with his unexamined trauma from having his mind and powers hijacked.

Megan: Liu’s run made me think that an Iceman solo title could finally be something interesting, but what we ended up with in Sina Grace’s Iceman, I think, is something that plays up Bobby’s least interesting qualities, rather than exploring the way he uses all-taupe-everything as a shield.

Kat: Grace’s Iceman is just missing something for me right now. I’m torn because his Bobby is really borderline cringe-worthy in a way that I think feels really appropriate for the character, but there’s not enough underneath there about how it’s not actually all he is. It’s so close to being something really interesting but is just a little off, which is frustrating! 

Megan: When I reviewed the first issue in The MNT I couldn’t help but compare it to Midnighter, a comic which had an incredibly clear sense of purpose from the word go. Iceman #1 has a similar structure to that first issue of Midnighter. We see our hero attempt online dating. We meet a few of his supporting cast. We see him ace a mostly pointless fight, but I couldn’t tell what this comic was going to be about. All I knew for certain is that Marvel thought that now was the time for an Iceman solo title, despite him not leading any major stories in the last few years. And all I could conclude was that they really wanted a win, one unobjectionable queer title they could sell to old fans and new, to prove that they cared about representation.

While I’m sure that for Grace the opportunity to write Iceman is about more than that, I still don’t know, after three issues, what his vision is, beyond an incredibly basic X-Men book where the twist is simply that Bobby is slowly (so slowly) coming out.

icemanKat: What I really liked about the first issue was finally getting a comic that used mutants as a gay metaphor while focusing on, you know, a gay mutant. It felt really soothing. It was like pretty good fanfiction, in that it was a structure that needed the reader to bring their own impression of Bobby for it to really work. But the second and third issues feel like they’re hitting the same mutants-are-a-metaphor beats that we’ve all read before.

I was really hoping for something similar to Hawkeye, which was slice-of-life, but still had forward momentum in character exploration. And Bobby is kind of like the X-Men’s Clint Barton–a quipster who’s perennially unlucky in love–so I can see where there might be hesitation in going too far in that direction. But I can’t really tell if it’s picked a direction to even lean yet.

Megan: Ah, Hawkeye is a great book to bring up here. I think I do want Iceman to be a less cool Hawkeye. A book where we really get to know the character and his world, one with a sense of style and purpose, but one that gets that Bobby is a bit of a Danny Tanner on his best days.

Kat: I think this is a good segue into talking about the art.

Megan: I hate it. It feels empty and generic. Like if Jim Lee was just dull.

Kat: It feels so wrong for the tone Grace is trying to set. It’s overly serious with the crosshatching, and everyone looks too old for the kind of dialogue they have, which I think might contribute to the cringey moments.

Megan: The colouring is so lifeless! Everything is shades of mud. And if a gag somehow manages to pick up a little steam, those oh-so-serious pencils and that bland palate shut it right down.

Kat: Exactly! It’s doing Grace a real disservice. Alessandro Vitti seems like he would feel more comfortable on a book with less interesting action, though I still probably wouldn’t love it.

Megan: I think we’ve established that while Bobby may think he’s funny, he’s not actually that funny. But an Iceman book should have a certain lightness. The art does at least half of the work just by establishing the tone. Grace is going for something quite lighthearted, but Vitti’s work is, like you say, too serious, actively killing the mood Grace is trying to establish.

He also, crucially, doesn’t seem to be all that interested in Bobby’s powers. Action scenes are muddy and disordered. There’s no sense of how Bobby’s powers feel, either for him or others. And there’s no wonder to this man who can safely land a plane using an ice slide, create an army of snow golems, or freeze a person alive. There’s no joy or pain or much of anything in the book’s action sequences. They’re just stuff followed by things.

Kat: You’re so right about the ice powers; they’re so flat! Kevin Wada’s covers make Bobby’s powers so appealing and strong, and they have such a style and movement to them, that they make the interior work look even more drab.

Not to keep pointing to Hawkeye, but a solo book should have a really distinct style. David Aja really did so much of the storytelling there, and the writing and art always felt complementary. Vitti’s art is so ill-suited he’s hampering the storytelling. Also, I selfishly wish this book looked more, well, queer. Bobby’s kind of a prep but he’s hip enough for a better haircut.

Megan: *Bangs table* Let this queer book have a queer aesthetic! And, my god, please let Bobby spend time with his queer friends. This dwelling on his stunted family relationships is doing Iceman no favours.  

Kat: So many interesting stories keep getting hinted at, like Jean-Paul demanding he and Bobby have coffee? Sign me the efff up for an issue that’s just Northstar bitching at Bobby about everything; it would be way more compelling than his dull and predictable family.

Megan: A cis, white gay man coming out to his disapproving family and miffed ex-girlfriends is the most DONE thing as far as queer representation in mainstream media goes. This book feels like it was lost in time, straight out of the ’90s and expecting us to still find it fresh. It’s not that I don’t want stories of cis, white gay men coming out–I still want those stories–but I expect them to do a bit more than just that. I want to see Bobby living his life, not just, well, starting it. I want to see him surrounded by a community of queer friends. What Grace’s Iceman feels like so far is the prequel to a much more interesting book, so let’s just skip forward and get the Bobby who’s already checked the boxes of the traditional coming out story.

Kat: Like I said, I enjoyed the retread initially, but by book three I wanted more of Bobby hanging out with Young Bobby, or going on a date, or going to a mutant gay club and running into his students! Or maybe getting to do something that wasn’t just a reminder that hey it’s hard to be gay/a mutant, I guess. The first issue had more hints of a world wider than the one issues #2 and 3 gave us, and I want to go back there and see something new.

icemanMegan: I agree that issues #2 and 3 somehow managed to have a narrower scope than issue #1. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to focus more on this Bobby than his time displaced younger self, or the ridiculous goings on in the wider MU. That’s the prerogative of a solo title, to kind of ignore everything else in favor of its lead. But Iceman doesn’t have enough going for itself without those connections. It still doesn’t quite get what it’s about, beyond checking those boxes, hitting the usual beats. Without the context of time displaced Bobby this book doesn’t seem to know how to justify itself.

Kat: Bobby is a reactive character; he’s more interesting with folks to play off of, and the Kitty issue felt so blah because it was clear she was a one-off cameo. I need him to have a supporting cast beyond his dour parents. But, not to be too snarky, the lack of commitment to anyone but Bobby makes it feel like it’s waiting to get interrupted by a crossover event.

Megan: Part of the problem with Kitty’s cameo, too, is that it really relies on us already knowing the characters’ history. Sure, Grace tells us that they used to be together, and sure there’s a little bitterness, but we don’t really get a sense of what their relationship was like when they were together. Kitty just passes through this book like the ghost of a more interesting character. If we’re going to do the bitter exes thing, make me feel it!

Kat: Yes! If Kitty felt like she was going to stick around then there would be the opportunity to delve into their past. And the beginning of issue #3 made me hope that she’d be the catalyst to a more regular cast appearing as he reached out.

I’m invested in the idea of sad gay Bobby, so I’ll probably keep picking it up for a while and hope Northstar and Kyle get to hang out. There’s so much potential. Other queer X-Men! Bobby with his cooler, more confident students (I’d really like to see more of him as a teacher, that feels like a nice perspective)! I really would like the prologue to wrap up.

Megan: Like I said above, I think the book would be better off if it had elected to skip the prologue entirely, but at this point I can only hope, like you, that it will end quickly. Just get to the good parts already.