Iceman Vol. 1: Thawing Out
Writer: Sina Grace
Artist: Alissandro Vitti
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Review by Jameson Hampton
To see a character I love, like Bobby Drake, come out of the closet is always a great feeling. So naturally I was very excited about Sina Grace’s new run of Iceman, whose first trade paperback came out in January. But I felt cautious too. More queer representation in comics is definitely something I want to see, but coming out stories can be tough. There are so many of them, and they’re often the only type of story queer people are allowed to get in media.
However, there’s an interesting spin on Bobby’s story to consider: there are currently two Bobby Drakes running around in the X-Men universe! The younger one recently came out publicly and got together with his (aptly named) crush, Romeo, in last year’s Inhumans vs X-Men event. It’s fascinating to watch the older Bobby Drake try to deal with his emotions surrounding his younger self. Seeing young Bobby embrace who he is and allow himself to be happy affected older Bobby deeply and helped him realize what kind of life he wanted for himself. His coming out was also complicated by it. He lost the agency of deciding when to tell his friends in the X-Men because his younger self did it for him, and he was forced to deal with the fallout of that on someone else’s terms. It’s interesting because it’s a narrative that’s so unique to comic books and certainly a brand new take on the traditional coming out story.
That’s not to say it didn’t have many of the hallmarks of these types of stories that can make them difficult and painful. I found myself infuriated by the way his parents handled it, which is pretty typical, and honestly, it’s an aspect of the queer experience that I’m pretty sick of reading about. On the one hand, Bobby Drake’s parents have been historically terrible, always viewing their son as a freak and a disappointment for being a mutant, so it would have been unrealistic to expect them to react positively to news like this. On the other hand, did this have to be a story about him and his parents? Focusing more on his friends within the X-Men – like his ex-girlfriend, Kitty Pryde – would have been more compelling and allowed for a much more interesting about personal agency and self realization.
The villains of this arc were particularly infuriating as well: a group of human supremacists called the Purifiers who were not a very subtle metaphor in the current political climate. A religious group who hate mutants for existing, the Purifiers believe they’re doing the Lord’s work by snuffing them out. It feels real. It feels too real. They feel like they are the ones being persecuted, because Bobby got one of them arrested after he tried to kill a girl for having a minor mutation that turned her spit solid. They captured and almost killed Bobby’s parents just for being related to him – not ten minutes after Mr. Drake claimed that Bobby had nothing to complain about because mutants were fully accepted by society now. Too real.
At the end of the day, I love Bobby Drake. He’s a class act to the Purifiers, not letting his anger get the better of him even when it would be so easy. He’s a class act to his parents, opening up to them and sharing private pieces of himself even though they have done nothing but belittle him. Hearing Bobby reflect on finally getting to know himself is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The problem is that nobody else in his story deserves him and it makes all of the emotional moments that he shares with other people feel unearned.
Everything that bothers me about this book stems directly from the fact that I love Bobby Drake and think he deserves to be happy. Perhaps that’s the feeling that the book wanted to achieve and, if so, it does it flawlessly. It does occur to me that all of the reasons that this story was difficult for me as a queer person are exactly what would make it a good read, in my opinion, for someone who’s not part of the LGBT community. Like Bobby’s parents, who assumed mutants were fully accepted by society once they saw them on television, there are a lot of people who think the fight for LGBT rights is over now that gay marriage is legal. This book is very illustrative of why that isn’t the case!
All that said, the “coming out” portion of a story is always going to be difficult and I trust Sina Grace, who’s a gay man himself, to do it however he feels is most honest and use it as a jumping off point for greater things in the future. Unfortunately, through no fault of his, Marvel has decided to cancel the Iceman series, even after it was recently nominated for a GLAAD award, citing poor sales. It will end in March, giving Grace precious little time to achieve what I hoped he would with this book. Sadly, it appears Bobby will become yet another queer character who gets a coming out story – and not much else.
Read it! Despite my complaints, Iceman is still an important book. It’s unrelentingly real, brutally honest and astonishingly vulnerable. Plus, the more titles with diverse leads we read, the less excuses Marvel has to cancel them in the future!