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By: Trisha Gregorio/Andy Writer
Last Wednesday, Nov. 5, right in the middle of our very own Mac Pride week, Uncanny X-Men No. 600 came out with an important reveal nestled in its pages: character Bobby Drake, better known as Iceman, is gay.
As one of the X-Men franchise’s oldest and most beloved mutants, the Iceman’s sexuality has been a contested topic since the release of All-New X-Men No. 40 on April 22 of this year. Time travel and its many capabilities in the X-Men universe has allowed two versions of the Iceman to exist — a younger one and an older one — and last April, the younger Iceman officially came out as gay. While this alone is a big step for Marvel and the superhero genre, long-time X-Men fans are quick to point out one issue with this sudden revelation: why is it, then, that the older Iceman is dating Shadowcat, a female teammate?
The explanation that Wednesday’s issue provides is simple: Bobby “Iceman” Drake has been in the closet for 52 years. Vol. 600 features the older Iceman’s tell-all confession as the younger version of himself calls him out on his sexuality. The coming out scene, though monumental in many ways for characters and readers alike, is casual, even quirky. It’s a tad underwhelming, considering the six-month wait for the issue, but the lovely characteristic portrayal gets the point across. The older Iceman admits that, having spent most of his life ridiculed simply for being a mutant, his sexuality was not something he wanted to be reason for even further judgement. “And the years go by and it gets easier to put that part of yourself away,” he says, frustrated, “And then so much time goes by that you say to yourself late at night: one day, maybe.”
Uncanny X-Men writer Brian Michael Bendis adds his own touch to the confession, and what readers get is a touching scene framed by humour and dialogue that’s not too out of place in the universe as a whole. It’s simple, shockingly realistic and human from a character in a genre that’s usually as detached from reality as the plot would allow. A superhero he might be, but the Iceman’s sexual orientation goes far beyond whatever fantastical plot Marvel could have cooked up for his situation. It’s straightforward: he’s gay, and though he’s long past the insecurities of his younger, teenage self, he is still as terrified of the ridicule he might face.
In this case, the significance truly lies in the X-Men franchise’s decision to take one of its fan favourites, instead of just as easily creating a new one, and explore issues of sexual orientation using a character that’s been a familiar face to the comic book community for decades. Hints have been around in the X-Men universe long before April’s All-New X-Men issue: Iceman apparently having to deal with bigotry in the family, his love interests implying a fluidity in his romantic and sexual orientations. And it’s nice to know that Marvel did not shy away from the controversy that’s sure to follow this reveal, and instead hammered the revelation home without room for half-hearted implications and unfortunate queer-baiting. It’s adding a new layer to a character that’s been dear to fans from the beginning that really makes a difference. In doing so, Marvel also peels back some of its history to make room for significant representation of the LGBTQ+ community. With this revelation, Marvel brings down the walls that the stereotypes of the action genre have built, and reminds all its LGBTQ+ readers that the comic book community is no less accessible to them than other forms of entertainment and pop culture are.
For a series that has relentlessly tackled themes of being ostracized, this reveal adds on to a long history of it being an allegory of sorts for recent and relevant civil rights issues. The X-Men universe is full of rich, diverse characters that each represent problems that are very much real in the world we live in, whether it be personal insecurities or politics. X-Men is defined by the differences of each character — differences that make them relatable to readers, and allow them to be multi-faceted beings with their own human fears and desires. None of the characters are perfect, and Iceman’s coming out scene is simply yet another realistic addition to what is only the beginning of increasing representation in the media.
In changing the X-men history, Marvel has also contributed to the history of the LGBTQ+ members of the comic book community. In changing the Iceman’s history, Marvel is also changing ours.