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Mar 16

Iceman #11

Posted on Friday, March 16, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

It’s cancellation season again, the familiar result of Marvel’s practice of relaunching the whole line at once, and quietly planning to give the lesser titles twelve issues or so to see how they last.  Almost inevitably, the answer is “twelve issues or so, give or take”.  And so this is Sina Grace’s wrap-up issue, joined by Robert Gill on art, though with Grace himself drawing the flashbacks.

This is what you’d call a thematic wrap-up issue.  Bobby is out for lunch with Rictor when Bobby’s parents phone up to say that the old reclusive guy next door seems to be a mutant whose powers are going crazy.  Mr Poklemba seems to have been a harmless if paranoid eccentric, anxiously covering his house in drawings of mutants – “apocalyptic drawings and news clippings about X-Men”, to be precise.

Well… so we’re told.  The art does a decent job of conveying that it’s the house of an unstable obsessive, but the pictures are shown in far too small a scale to convey what they actually show.  Which means this rather important plot point has to be conveyed in dialogue.  And by the time it’s clearly explained, they’ve been in the house for seven pages.  And that is not good.  Anyway, the idea seems to be that Mr Poklemba’s paranoia and anxiety about mutants is linked to his denial of his own mutant powers, which is ultimately driving him mad.  So Iceman has to talk him down and persuade him that he’ll be happier by coming to terms with being a mutant.

All of this is interspersed with flashbacks, mostly to Bobby’s childhood, with him becoming increasingly anxious and paranoid about denying his own mutant powers in the face of the obvious alarm and disapproval of his parents.  And naturally enough, when he’s that worried about the mutant thing, he’s not even going to try to raise any other worries with his thoroughly unsympathetic family priest.  But the flashbacks go beyond that.  There’s a vignette of 1991-era Iceman tentatively trying to put himself forward in the X-Men, and getting overshadowed by his louder, cooler teammates.  (That one has perhaps the best line of dialogue in the series: “Can we talk later, Iceman?  Wolverine is angry.”)  And there’s an Iceman from the tail end of the Bendis run still stalling about actually doing anything in response to his younger self coming out.

The art style on the flashbacks varies widely; the idea is presumably to render them in era-appropriate styles.  This doesn’t altogether work.  It’s not a story that particularly cries out for meta to begin with, come to think of it, but you can see how a Kirby pastiche would work for a “simpler era on the surface” scene.  Grace’s Silver Age style isn’t bad; the early nineties is a bit of a mess; and the final couple of flashbacks just seem to drop the gimmick, which is a bit weird.

Obviously, this story reprises the traditional 1980s metaphor of mutant as minority group, with Bobby and Poklemba’s respective agonies over being mutants standing in for the coming out story.  Teenage mutants developing their powers were always a very serviceable metaphor for certain aspects of that experience, even if it’s less frequently invoked for that purpose in 2018, when the theme can be approached more directly.  Plainly, Iceman has been heavily invested in the whole subject of Bobby – effectively outed by his younger self in the Bendis run – coming to terms with his sexuality and trying to build a life around it.  In recent years, he had been defined largely as a second tier X-Man 24/7, who had no real outside social life to speak of and didn’t get much in the way of storylines either.

Clearly, any Iceman solo title had to foreground this sort of major event in the character’s life; it’s going to be the main thing on his mind.  So the bigger issue for this series was not so much to find a direction for the character – that was predetermined – but to find other dimensions to a character who has been quite bland for quite some time.  With Iceman himself, the book has done well.  There’s his relationship with his parents, a broader theme of him trying to reconnect with civilian life of any description, and a suggestion that his historically B-list status is tied in with his failure to come to terms with himself and realise his full potential.  All these things are closely linked to his sexuality, to be sure, but they’re still distinct.  It’s probably the most rounded that Bobby has been as a character in decades, before he slipped into being a familiar face who could round out the cast and make your X-Men comic look more X-Menny.

With the rest of the cast, though, the book’s record is more mixed.  Bobby’s parents have been well developed on the whole, but have suffered occasional lapses; Judah wound up as a generic boyfriend; and in this issue, Rictor is pretty much Another Character Who Also Likes Men.  I’m really not sure what else he’s bringing to this issue at all, unless you count providing Bobby with a sounding board for his exposition.

It’s possible this is a truncated ending – X-Men Gold #23 is written on the assumption that Iceman is coming back to New York to lead the stand-in X-Men team, as if he had relocated to Los Angeles last issue after all.  Still, while this has been a patchy title in some ways, it has succeeded in redefining a hazy character as a potential lead and telling a convincing story about him coming to terms with himself.  I would have liked to see that second year in LA.

Bring on the comments

  1. Diana says:

    The problem I’ve had with this angle, from the start, is that Bobby isn’t any more nuanced or developed now that he’s gay – Grace (and Bendis before him) couldn’t have picked more cliched, generic tropes to work with, up to and including throwing in other characters simply because they’re gay too (lest we forget that Daken popped up a few issues prior). He isn’t any less of a one-trick pony because he’s changed his trick.

  2. Mikey says:

    I’m hoping he gets more play over in X-Men Gold.

  3. Brian says:

    I’m still waiting on the tales to be told of Bobby the Accountant. Given how the X-Men still have that giant mansion and supersonic jet despite getting everything blown up so often (and so publicly) in a fashion that would obliviate any other hated group’s insurance coverage, Iceman must be the greatest financial planner and manager of his generation!

  4. Thom H. says:

    I thought this series was just OK on the whole, and some of the gay-ification of Bobby seemed a little stereotypical and out of character (West Hollywood — really?). It *kind* of makes sense as the explorations of a gay man coming out later in life, but that’s giving Grace a lot of credit.

    In any case, the one thing I did really like was throwing in other gay/bi mutants. I think Bobby’s relationship with Daken, in particular, could have been explored in much more depth.

    Bobby’s a straight-laced founder of the most public group of mutants on the planet. Daken is a bad boy legacy character who isn’t taken very seriously these days. They should have so many points of contention and ways to bounce off each other. I’d like to see that explored a little bit.

    At the very least, Daken’s pheromone power should have some effect on Bobby now that he’s out about liking men. Daken still has that, right?

  5. Moo says:

    Well, now I have a completely different read of X-Men #1 (1963). Specifically, the scene where Scott, Warren and Hank are ogling Jean through the window upon seeing her for the very first time and Bobby says, “A girl… who cares?”

  6. jpw says:

    Rictor is a terrible choice for this role. He is like 10 years Bobby’s junior and wasn’t he one of X-Factor’s students/wards in the late 1980s? Kinda creepy, really, but how am I going to remember Bobby is gay unless he spends all his time with the three other gay dudes? I guess Northstar was busy?

  7. wwk5d says:

    So…what’s been canceled, what’s being relaunched, what’s new? It’s annoying trying to keep up with things…

    Yeah, the Rictor meet-up felt a bit odd. I don’t mind if that was something that they bonded over, given their past history (even if it seems most people forget that Rictor, Boom Boom, and Skids were wards of the original X-men for a while). But yeah, Rictor seemed to there more because he is gay than any other reason.

  8. Chris says:

    Iceman dating Rictor is a bit too Woody Allen for an X-MEN title one would think….

  9. Ronnie Gardocki says:

    Aren’t like three generations worth of X-Men now aged to be vaguely “mid 20s” though?

  10. Voord 99 says:

    True — and meanwhile, Artie and Leech haven’t aged a day as far as I can tell.

    Still, the former mentor/mentee relationship does make it a little questionable, no matter Bobby and Rictor’s relative ages. It’s something that the issue should definitely at least have addressed.

    For what it’s worth, in theory, the relative ages might not be that different. Bobby was about 19 in UXM #145 in 1981, so (in theory) he shouldn’t be all that old by the time of X-Factor, allowing there to be much less than a decade between him and Rictor now, if you think in terms of how Rictor has *mostly* been portrayed, aside from his original X-Factor period. A late 20s, early 20s relationship that might not seem particularly problematic.

    But when one looks at just how young Rictor was portrayed as being when Simonson introduced him (and God knows, when Simonson wants to write a character as young, she does not mess around), it turns the ick factor very far up indeed.

  11. Stuart says:

    Re: the part about hanging out with other gay dudes (jpw), that’s one of the things that actually rang really true for me here. It’s pretty normal when you’ve come out to connect with others who have already been through it, especially in your pre-existing social circles. This kind of cross-generational mentorship and connection isn’t “creepy,” it’s absolutely necessary when there’s no one else helping you figure out how to be.

    Meaning, roughly, yeah, they’re probably hanging out because they’re both gay and not for many more points-in-common than that. Sometimes that actually is enough, especially when that connection is at such a developmentally important moment (as this obviously is for Bobby).

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