Although the news leaked earlier this week, in All New X-Men #40, which hits store shelves today, it’s revealed by writer Brian Michael Bendis that Iceman is gay, or at least the sixteen-year-old version of Iceman that’s stranded in our time is gay. If you’re a lapsed reader of the X-Men universe for whom that sentence makes zero sense, I’ll try to give you the Reader’s Digest version: About three years ago, as a way to shock his former teammate Cyclops out of his recent disturbing behavior, founding X-Men member Beast used time travel to bring the original five founding members of the X-Men into the present, including teen versions of Cyclops and himself. Think of it as a sci-fi version of that TV show Intervention. The original X-kids were supposed to go back immediately afterwards, but refused, and we’ve had young teen versions of the original five hanging around the present alongside their adult counterparts ever since. It is this sixteen-year-old version of Iceman who came out as gay, after Jean Grey telepathically picked it up from him and finally confronted him about it. The reveal goes a little something like this:
Make no mistake, Marvel has repeatedly assured us that these younger X-Men aren’t alternate versions of the team, or from the Ultimate universe, or any other universe. They are the classic 1963 X-Men, and the reason their future selves don’t remember this little excursion into the present is still a mystery. But this Iceman is a younger version of the adult Iceman, who still is straight. Or at least thinks he is. (He most recently dated Kitty Pryde, although that relationship was the latest in a long string of them for Iceman to fizzle out fast). When young Bobby asks Jean how his older self can be straight if he’s gay and they’re the same person, he seems to figure it out pretty quickly for himself, as the following panels show:
Now, this revelation is a pretty huge deal. Sure, Iceman isn’t Wolverine or Spider-Man or even Cyclops…but he’s a founding X-Man, and one of those sacred Marvel characters that can lay claim to the words “created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.” That alone makes him Marvel royalty, even if it’s a lesser degree of royalty. Of course, as soon as it was announced, fans everywhere had opinions, and although most were positive, there were still the naysayers — the ones who screamed bloody murder on internet message boards and Twitter about this seemingly sacrilegious retcon. After all, Iceman has had girlfriends! Why…we can count them all on one hand even, it’s that many. “I’ve never once thought how anyone could think Iceman is gay.” I actually read that on a message board.
Unless, of course, you happen to be a gay reader, in which case the debate about Bobby Drake’s sexuality has been going on for years, at least since the early days of the internet, and probably even before that. For us, the evidence was completely stacked against Iceman really being straight for decades, and the evidence is all over the pages of Marvel Comics. The reason is that Bobby Drake’s behavior in regards to his romantic relationships with female characters just feel like the awkward attempts at heterosexuality that so many gay men make when they’re in deep denial. Poor Robert Drake showed just about all of the symptoms.
Iceman’s first real girlfriend was the green-haired mutant Polaris. Although they dated briefly, they quickly drifted apart for reasons that were never really clear, and she ended up in a much longer relationship with Cyclops’ brother Havok. Of course, that relationship alone ending with a whimper and not a bang means nothing on its own. However, as you’ll see, this is the first of many instances of this happening. In a comic book world where romantic relationships are soap operatic to the highest extreme, where love affairs almost always end in death, betrayal, amnesia, or, occasionally, marriage (I’m lookin’ at you Reed and Sue Richards), very few relationships end with a male hero’s female love interest just….quietly moving on. Unless you’re Iceman, in which case it just kept happening over and over and over again.
Iceman’s next significant other of note wouldn’t come along until the 1980s, when he’d reunited with his original X-Men classmates and formed the X-Factor team. This was the Asian-American Opal Tanaka, and while she and Bobby had a relationship that lasted several years, similarly to Polaris, she eventually just drifted away from him because she didn’t feel her relationship with Bobby was right. If you’re the average young straight male reader reading this, none of this would register as odd at all. However, if you’re a gay reader… this is where the alarm bells start to go off. Why do all of Iceman’s girlfriends just seem to casually lose interest?
Marvel then tried to create a romantic relationship with his teammate Rogue in the mid-’90s, and that’s when tongues really started wagging. Bobby ends up with the perfect beard for a closeted gay dude: a beautiful woman by his side, but one with whom he doesn’t have to worry about ever having physical intimacy because she cannot be touched. Ultimately, even that relationship never got off the ground romantically, and the two just came off as good friends, although Bryan Singer would later make Rogue/Ice-Man a thing in the X-Men movies. This is around the time that the Internet really began to be a thing, and it was the first time I started seeing the question of Iceman’s sexuality being brought up by fans on a regular basis. It wouldn’t be the last.
Of course, having awkward relationships with women doesn’t automatically mean you’re gay, even if it happens several times in a row. Yet, unlike classic awkward Marvel characters like Foggy Nelson or Hank McCoy, guys who can never seem to catch a break with girls, Bobby is anything but a lovable schlub-type. In his youth, Bobby always has been drawn to look like an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog model, and older Bobby has always looked like your average GQ hunk. Add to that all the suggestive remarks he makes about women, and you’d think a hot guy like that (well, so to speak) would be swimming in women, but it’s just never been the case.
Again, if you’re a straight reader, none of this is going to register as being gay and in the closet to you, but if you’re a gay reader, it’s going to raise all kids of flags — the rainbow kind. It was even stated that in the early 2000s, during writer Chuck Austen’s run on Uncanny X-Men, that the plan was to finally out Iceman, but Marvel nixed it. Openly gay X-Man Northstar was even into him, but when it was clear that Bobby wasn’t, he just assumed that meant Bobby was straight. A school nurse named Annie, an X-Men cast member of the time, left the door open though by saying, “Maybe he just doesn’t know it yet?”
In short, writer Brian Michael Bendis didn’t just pull this notion out of his ass, no matter what some angry fans may be saying now. The idea that Bobby Drake was a closeted gay man living a lie has been around for decades before Bendis finally decided to make it official. Just because you ignored the signs doesn’t mean that they weren’t there. The idea that Bobby can convince himself of a huge lie is canonical — after all, in the wake of House of M, when 98% of mutants lost their powers, Iceman was one of them. Until Emma Frost poked around in his head and revealed that he still had his abilities, he had just unconsciously repressed them on his own, perhaps in an effort to be “normal.” This is a character clearly capable of massive amounts of self-deception. When you factor into all of this that Iceman has a bigoted, disapproving father, well, the writing is on the wall.
Iceman is now one of the more believable gay superhero characters. He is one that hasn’t really been seen yet, and one that has a very real-world counterpart. While it’s great (and empowering) to have gay characters who are out from the moment they appear on the comics page, like Hulkling or Batwoman, the truth is that there are millions of gay people who live years in denial before admitting it to anyone, and they can be heroes too. Having Marvel confirm that Iceman is gay isn’t just a chance for us gay readers to scream that we were right all along — this is a fictional character after all; we’re only right because Marvel or, more to the point, Brian Bendis, finally decided we were. It’s a chance for a certain segment of the audience to see themselves and their struggle accurately portrayed in a fictional setting. So think about that before you arrive at the gates of Marvel with pitchforks and torches in hand.
Oh, and Marvel, it might be time to update your answer on the reader question on Iceman’s wiki page on Marvel.com. Your answer is now officially dated.
Stay tuned to tomorrow’s Nerdist News for even more on the Iceman news, as well as some other big developments in the Marvel universe!