There is a term in the comic book industry known as “retconning.” Standing for “retroactive continuity,” it is the process of revising previously-established information in fictional work or universe – usually for the purpose of opening up dead-end storylines, or updating a character for a new era. Over the years, both Marvel and DC Comics have used retcons to bring characters like Flash or Green Lantern back from long periods of death; or to hit the reset button on characters like Spider-Man, who in recent years had his adult life (specifically his marriage to Mary Jane) erased by a mystical demon (can’t make that stuff up).
Well, nowadays comic book superheroes are running a serious diversity initiative, in order to keep up with a more diverse fan base. The Avengers NOW! reboot brought us a black Captain America and female Thor – but aside from minorities and women, there is another group that is seriously underrepresented in comics: The gay community. Well, Marvel has taken notice, and is making some major changes to X-Men to address the issue.
Today’s issue of All New X-Men (#40) contains the pivotal moment where Iceman/Bobby Drake (as a younger version of himself) is informed by Jean Grey that his thoughts reveal his homosexuality. The scene plays out with Bobby wondering why his older self (the one in present day X-Men comics) dated women for so long; he ponders bi-sexuality before being told, unequivocally, that he is in fact gay.
All New X-Men #40 is the final issue by series creator Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man), who knows why the change is of value (already certain circles are calling it “politically-correct pandering”), but wanted to go about introducing it in a much different (read: less controversial) way:
As Bendis told CNN:
“There are thousands if not millions of stories of people who, for many different reasons, felt the need to hide their sexuality. The X-Men, with the conceit of time travel, give us a fascinating platform in which to examine such personal journeys. This is just the first little chapter of a much larger story that will be told.”
However, as Bendis stated on Twitter:
i swear on my dogs, i wanted the issue to come out and just be. no press. no sensational headlines. no leaks. oh, well…— BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (@BRIANMBENDIS) April 21, 2015
Obviously there is no way to make such a change without there being SOME kind of reaction – but to Bendis’ point on Twitter, it’s likely that he (and others at Marvel) truly wanted this change to be about story and characters, and not the larger socio-political debate that can sometimes transform the actual item of discussion into a polarizing symbol it was never meant to be.
If it wasn’t generating headlines as a thing, few people would probably care where Bobby Drake (of all X-Men characters) spends his nights. But now it is a thing, and people who haven’t even read an X-Men comic in years will be taking up arms on their politicized side of the debate.
This is not the first time a character in major comic books has been outed as gay: Alpha Flight‘s Northstar came out in 1992, had a gay wedding when he joined the X-Men in the 2000s, and even had a crush on Iceman at one point (it was never acted upon… at least not yet). Mystique has been all over the sexuality map, and has had a longstanding relationship with Irene Adler, the precog mutant known as Destiny. DC has made major modern-day characters (like Batwoman) into openly gay figures – while characters like Catwoman and Harley Quinn have added dimensions to themselves, becoming openly bi-sexual. In short: Iceman is not the first, middle or last comic book character to come out.
As always, there will be some who argue that altering established characters (in any way) is wrong – especially when there are new characters waiting to be invented (see: Black Human Torch in the Fantastic Four reboot). However, the counter to such a point of view is that popular established characters stick around for a reason (staying power), while new ones are created and then forgotten every day; moreover, comic books are a constantly evolving medium full of retcons, so arguing against change in such a medium always seemed (to me) to be hypocritical.
If anything, there could be cynical question as to the choice of making a character like Iceman into the gay reveal; it’s not exactly as high-stakes as making, say, Wolverine, Cyclops, Magneto or Prof. X come out of the closet. It’s “bold” enough, but not so bold to be a major risk on the publisher’s part. Ironically enough, X-Men has always served as a metaphor for things like race and sexuality in face of societal pressures and conceptions of “normalcy” – so is tackling the issue of sexuality so directly – in comic that can already claim it as part of its metaphorical framework – a bit of overkill?
How do you all feel about Iceman coming out of the closet? Let us know (respectfully) in the comments.
All New X-Men #40 is now on sale digitally and in print form from Marvel Comics.