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Oct 12

Iceman vol 1: “Thawing Out”

Posted on Thursday, October 12, 2017 by Paul in x-axis

Brian Bendis has a tendency to leave undeveloped ideas in his wake, and in an era where incoming writers tend to treat their first issue as a fresh start, those undeveloped ideas tend to stay that way.  But deciding that a character who’s been around since the 60s is actually gay is the sort of thing that has to be followed up.

And it has been, for the most part, in All-New X-Men and latterly in X-Men Blue.  But that’s the teenage version who travelled through time; we also have the original, who’s had rather less attention.  Sensibly enough, that’s the version used by Sina Grace and Alessandro Vitti.  Grace is an interesting choice; as a creator, he’s mainly known for autobiographical indie books, but he was also an editor for Robert Kirkman titles like Invincible.

I’ve covered this before, but there’s an obvious appeal and logic to finding a long established character who can be plausibly gay.  Marvel and DC both have superhero universes based heavily around stables of classic characters who were created half a century ago or more; reflecting the time of their creation, they are overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, and universally straight.  By 2017, this no longer looks good.

But nor is this straightforward to fix.  In theory you could cycle in new characters and sort out the balance over time, but in practice few new characters stick, and besides, it’s not that easy to come up with new ideas strong enough to displace the real classics.  Not every concept lends itself to legacy characters.  And while you can tinker with the demographic balance in a reboot like the Ultimate Universe or the MCU, it’s rather harder to change the race or gender of a character within the Marvel Universe itself.

Sexuality, though… well, people do come out, and it does happen after previous heterosexual relationships, so that’s a possibility.  And in some ways Iceman is an ideal candidate.  Yes, he’s had a bunch of girlfriends, but they’re mostly storylines that tailed off into not very much; his relationships are not as fundamental to him as they would to be, say, Scott Summers or Peter Parker.  Frankly, they’ve often felt like something a writer gave him for want of a better plot.  When you stop to think about it, in fact, Iceman has done remarkably little since 1963.

So here’s the thing: Iceman is a good candidate for this because he’s as close to a blank slate as you’re going to find among major Silver Age characters.  But he’s a blank slate because, aside from the visual of the ice slides, creators don’t seem to have found him desperately inspiring.  His original role in the sixties was as the team juvenile; but over time, as he became one of the older generation of X-Men, nothing so well defined came along to replace that.  And that’s not a great start for the star of a solo series; there needs to be more to him than just “the one who came out relatively recently”.

At the same time, the plot can’t help but focus on the fact that he’s the one who came out relatively recently, because it needs to be followed up and it’s the main point of interest.  Still, there needs to be another angle.  Loosely, I think this book’s solution is to play him up as an everyman, grounding the series much more clearly in the real world and making a point of putting him back in touch with the domestic lives of the parents we rarely see.

This could work.  There’s a sensible take on Iceman which would have him as the X-Men capable of working in the real world; he’s the one who actually went to a regular university and qualified to do a normal office job.  But then he got sucked back into the X-Men.  He could have been the one who still had a foot in the real world and helped to ground the team, but that’s not the way things went; instead, in the last twenty years or so the X-Men have become further and further isolated from the real world, and the scope for anyone to actually be an everyman figure is greatly reduced.  Bobby’s parents do have at leat one fair point in this story, when they complain that their son got sucked into the X-Men’s world and never really came back.  So viewed from a certain angle,  Bobby’s attempts to start dating and so forth are also about him reconnecting with the regular world more generally.  And I really like the way Vitti draws the domestic scenes; he does really good work with the parents and their home, the sort of thing that a lot of artists seem to struggle with.

This isn’t exactly a single five issue storyline, but the central thread is about Bobby trying to come out to his parents, partly for the obvious reasons, but partly because he’s so out of touch with them that he didn’t even notice they’d moved house.  So we get a very awkward dinner at the family home where dad doesn’t want to talk about “mutant stuff”, and Bobby has to politely explain that he really doesn’t have very much else to talk about.  The Purifiers show up, partly for the obligatory fight, and partly because this gives an opportunity to show dad in a better light; he may be a grumpy homophobe but he’s genuinely contemptuous of the Purifiers and willing to say so to their face.

Of course, we’ve been through this in the nineties when Scott Lobdell did a rather similar arc, and to an extent we’re repeating it here by going through the whole thing again with Bobby’s parents coming to terms with him being gay; but it was twenty years ago and you can’t complain too much about recycling stories on that timescale.  It’s the material with the parents that really works in these five issues.

Alongside that we’ve got some more routine plot elements, which aren’t always so well fleshed out.  Issue #2 has Iceman bringing in a new small town mutant called Zach who can power up technology and superpowers.  He’s a fairly thin character and his story feels like a backdrop for Iceman to have an awkward conversation with Kitty, who gets some very clunky dialogue like “I just felt rejected and left out of your process”.  But in issue #4 Zach’s back, and runs away to become Daken’s protege.  It’s good to see threads being laid for the future, but Zach remains stubbornly one-dimensional.  The main point of this story seems to be to have Daken deliver a too-close-to-home speech about how Bobby can’t carry the respect of his students because he doesn’t convince as an alpha male.

Issue #5 has Bobby’s parents reading his letter while he fights the Juggernaut.  Why is he fighting the Juggernaut?  Because the Juggernaut is a symbolically unstoppable force for Iceman to beat at this important moment.  If you’re looking for a better reason than that, then you might be disappointed, because the answer is simply that Juggernaut shows up looking for revenge on the teenage X-Men, even though that’s the wrong team.  I’m not sure this quite works; it feels undermotivated for the climactic fight, and there’s some really wonky pseudo-science on top of that – what does “freezing the speed of light” even mean?  Since when can Iceman turn to vapour, and what does that have to do with ice?

Still, the book does carry off the important bits between Bobby and his father, and it does a decent job of re-establishing a clear voice for the character.  On the whole, this is pretty good.

Bring on the comments

  1. Joseph says:

    Nice to see this series generating so many comments here.

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the films, however. Any chance of retiring Bobby/Iceman was likely exhausted after being portrayed in the films (by Shawn Ashmore). Obviously the rights issue is complicated, but nonetheless the films raise the public awareness of the character, as do his appearances in various animated properties. Spiderman and his Amazing Friends is unlikely to generate any sustained interest beyond an issue here or there, but the character is firmly embedded in the popular culture by now.

    And I have to agree Kitty would have fit that role much better and they’ve tried to do that several times (going to U of Chicago, etc) but nostalgia clearly wins out time and again.

  2. Brendan says:

    I find Iceman’s revelation more believable than the romance between Gambit and Rogue, past and present. Continuity, while important, isn’t necessarily the gold standard for the suspension of disbelief.

  3. Cory says:

    Always been an Iceman fan. Yeah, he’s a B-list hero at best and wallpaper at worst, but he’s always had a lot of potential and can be pretty entertaining. He’s the team’s Spider-Man or Human Torch except the creators tend to be more drawn to dystopia and tragedy and drama and angst, so a bachelor everyman comic relief type tends to ground things a bit too much.

    Still, I checked out the first two issues of this, and was pretty turned off. Bobby’s outing is a bit of a hard sell regardless of suspension of disbelief or whatever logical gymnastics Marvel plays, but I love the guy and I support the agenda, so I figured why not. I didn’t like the art much at all and felt the dialogue was pretty bad, and some things didn’t make sense. Like a gun toting zealot in hockey pants is giving Bobby a fight? Seriously? A mob of humans being a threat? Bobby punching out an annoying kid and Kitty being impressed?

    Ah well. I’d be curious to see where the sales are for this title. Some critics are giving it overwhelming support, but if the comments section of reviews or message boards are any indicator they’re kind of in the minority. I won’t blame homophobia. I really think it’s just kinda… bad.

  4. Col_Fury says:

    Iceman #3 sold roughly 15,000 to 16,000 copies to comic shops, about the same as Spider-Man 2099 #25 (which was cancelled as of #25).

    For comparison, Generation X #4 sold about 22,000 to 23,000, Jean Grey moved 26,000 to 27,000, All-New Wolverine #22 did 34,000 to 35,000, and Old Man Logan, X-Men Blue & X-Men Gold sold in the 47,000 to 48,000 range, all to shops, all in the same month.

    I have no idea what the sales floor is (Unstoppable Wasp #7 (same month, last issue) did around 7,500 copies to stores), but Iceman’s obviously not doing well.

    I don’t think that’s necessarily the book’s fault, though. Marvel pushed out several new X-series’ at the same time and didn’t give the market time to focus on any of them. I mean, just imagine if in 1990 they put out New Warriors #1, Night Thrasher #1, Firestar #1, Justice #1 and Speedball #1 all within a month or two of each other? And they were all ongoings? Would New Warriors have lasted 75 issues, or been cancelled within a year or two instead? Marvel new the answer back then; for the most part they spaced out their new books about three months apart from each other (with a few exceptions, of course). By the mid-90s they forgot about that strategy (they started expanding lines like crazy all at once) and the market collapsed. And look at that, we’re back to Marvel expanding lines like crazy all at once.

    If you give people too many choices all at once, it just becomes a wall of noise and people tend to choose nothing. In my experience, anyway.

  5. Chris says:

    Shawn Ashmore who?

  6. Cory says:

    Interesting to hear about Iceman’s sales. Marvel used to cancel when titles dipped below 35k or so, but admittedly that was 5-10 years ago when the market was healthier. I can’t imagine the title lasting much longer if Spider-Man 2099 was canned at around the same numbers. It’s unfortunate because it seems most writers aren’t interested in the concept of doing much work with him these days. Bendis outed him two or three years ago now? He’s gotten less attention than when Carey and Aaron were working with him.

  7. SanityOrMadness says:

    Ten years ago, the cancellation mark was more like 20-25k than 35k. You’d have to go back quite a long way to get a purely-sales related cancellation for 35k – maybe late-90s?

  8. Dazzler says:

    I definitely think it hurt the character. I think they’ve undermined many of their own stories and done a disservice to the character. And I’m a fan of various LGBTQ leading characters, plus I don’t think I’d be bothered at all if they made the character bi.

    I think changing a character’s sexuality willy nilly is a bad idea and a slap in the face to everyone. Add to that the fact that Bendis dropped this idea on an editor, convinced Marvel to go through with it, and didn’t stick around to actually write the story.

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