All this month we are hosting articles focusing on different aspects of LGBT culture in comics in support of LGBT History Month. Today we’re taking an in-depth look at the coming out of X-Men character Iceman.
Bobby Drake, Iceman
Robert (Bobby) Louis Drake is an Irish American of Catholic / Jewish heritage, and a founding member of the X-Men. He is an Omega Level Mutant which means that his power has no appreciable upper limit. Bobby’s main mutant ability is cryokinesis – the ability to negatively manipulate the temperature of any matter around him – which allows him to freeze objects, create constructs out of ice by condensing moisture from the atmosphere, and turn himself into “organic ice” giving him an almost indestructible body along with the ability for limited shape-shifting of his form. He also has some hydrokinetic abilities that allow him to travel through bodies of water by for example merging his molecules with the ocean on one shore and reforming himself on the opposite side of the ocean. The signature use of his power is his “ice slide” where the travels around at great speed and over great distances by generating a constantly growing mass of ice at his feet and he can use this to propel himself around.
For such a powerful mutant, Bobby has famously been known as a bit of a slacker – even though he has been a hero for years he does not use the full extent of his powers all that often nor was he seen to have any desire to learn how to control them better in the early days. A lot of this stems from his lack of acceptance by his parents who have regularly been shown to be ashamed that their son is a mutant (and then doubly ashamed when he comes out as gay). Coupled with this, his parents are written as everything from overtly conservative religious people, to straight up racists, with the implication constantly that Bobby is a disappointment and Bobby continually trying and failing to gain their approval. This characterisation has resulted in Bobby having a “coldness” to his character that manifests as someone who is apparently carefree and jokey like Spider-Man, but who lacks warmth and can be difficult to get close too. Famed comics writer and one-time X-Men writer Mike Carey described this as “one of Iceman’s best personality traits is that emotionally Bobby Drake is like the ice he manipulates—not cold but transparent. ‘He’s devastatingly honest. He is very up-front with his emotions and his thoughts all the time.”.
Bobby appeared in The X-Men #1 in 1963 as part of the original five students of Professor Xavier. He was in the book continuously until its cancellation in 1970. When the series was relaunched in 1975 most of the original team left the X-Men and Bobby decided to give up being a superhero and become an accountant to please his mother (yes, really).
When Chris Claremont took over the X-Men with his famous run from 1975-1991 Bobby rarely featured – he was not a favourite character of Claremont who rarely used him at all over the 16 years on the book. Bobby would next been seen regularly in two teams of also-ran heroes – first the Champions and then the Defenders – before eventually the original five mutants reunited in 1986 to form X-Factor (this event also necessitated the resurrection of Jean Grey and opened the door to a decades-long set of stories involving her many deaths and resurrections relating to the Phoenix.). X-Factor lasted until 1991 and saw many events that would go on to be central pat of X-Men Lore – the first appearance of Apocalypse being among the most significant.
After this books finished in 1991 Bobby re-joined the X-Men where he mostly stayed (though notably absent from the Grant Morrison run on the book) until 2019 when Jonathan Hickman-led Krakoan Era of the X-Men begins in House of X / Powers of X and Bobby joins the newly formed Marauders with Kate Pryde, Storm, Bishop, and Pyro.
Bobby is outed as a gay man in 2015 in a convoluted Time Travel storyline involving an extended period working alongside his younger self from the original comics. Showing a classic character coming to terms with his sexuality proved massively divisive at the time and that’s what we’re going to look at though the rest of this article.
The Convoluted Time-Travel Plot
You might need a pen and paper here; it’s a whole heap of Because Comics but you need to understand this before we can talk about Bobby coming out as gay.
The Teen 05
Brian Michael Bendis took over the X-Men with All-New X-Men #1 in 2012 after the Avengers vs X-Men event had finished. Part of his setup was that Beast had grown upset at how fat Cyclops had come from his heroic ideals that he uses time-travel to go back in time to the era of the original comics, round up his teenage self along with the teenage versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, and Iceman, and bring them to their future / Beasts present so that he can warn the kids of all the horrible things that will happen to the them and remind the adults of these reason they worked together as heroes in the first place. Of the many side-effects of the time displacement is that Jean Grey’s telepathy is activated prematurely (she was telekinetic in the original comics and didn’t develop telepathy until later) so she ends up with all the mind-reading ability of the later Jean Grey, but without the training and preparation necessary to control it.
The book remainder of the run of the book centres on the 05 (as they become known) living in “the future” rather than following the adult characters. The major drama comes from the kids realising that their futures aren’t all that great:
- Beast realises that his ongoing future mutations will take him from looking like a bigger-than-average Human to an animalistic creature and that his life will be ruled by his inability to fit into human society…
- Cyclops finds out his his future self is either a valiant freedom fighter or murderous terrorist leader depending on your leanings…
- Angel discovers that his power (having wings) isn’t all that much in a future where mutants regularly have the ability to reshape the universe at will…
- Jean learns that she will become the Phoenix one day , be responsible for the deaths of billions, before dying herself…
- and Bobby discovers that he has wasted most of the potential of his life by hiding his true self from everyone….
Never Trust a Telepath…
This run while presenting itself as being about all five of the teen characters, is really one long story about the younger Jean Grey coming to terms with her older self. As such most of the emotional core of the stories rest on her, her experiences and her point of view, which is what makes the major revelation involving Bobby so controversial.
All-New X-Men #40
In All-New X-Men #40 (2015) Jean Grey calls out the teenage Bobby for making inappropriate comments about other female characters, questioning why he does this in these (in)famous panels:
These pages have been written about extensively with the argument about whether of not Jean was right to do what she did, and whether her actions count as “outing” Bobby. Seen with a modern eye for consent we can see Bobby repeatedly telling Jean to stop digging into this mind and literally resorting to building a wall between them in a vain attempt to keep her out; while this is obviously painful for Bobby I don’t consider this as her “outing” him on the purely semantic grounds that she doesn’t tell anyone else about Bobby’s closeted sexuality, but she does force him to confront it when he clearly isn’t ready to.
The bigger issues for me is that in this scene it is Jean that is made the emotional centre piece of the conversation; she instigates it, she causes the revelation, she deals with the fallout, and both in universe and in commentary the story is now that “Jean Outed Bobby” and not that Bobby came to terms with his own sexuality in a healthy and fully developed way. His agency and important character growth are removed so that a straight author, writing for a mostly straight audience, can provide stories centred on a straight female character, with whom he has considerable interest. Bobby’s sexuality is revealed to drive Jean’s plot – and the overarching plot about the impact that the teens have on their future selves – rather than Bobby getting to be the main star of his own very important arc.
In Bobby’s original timeline he never had this interaction, so he stayed in the close as a teen and grew into adulthood with the truth buried. The fact that it takes months in print for Past Bobby to confront Present Bobby about this shows that his journey was not the focus of this story but a by-product of it. Notably – again – Jean Grey is made part a core part of this conversation.
Uncanny X-Men #600
Past Bobby confronts Present Bobby about why he styed in the closet all this time and how Past Bobby doesn’t want to live his life like that – except that’s exactly what he wanted to do until Jean pushed him to confront it, because that’s exactly what he did do (Because Comics).
Again here though look at the language used; Jean either appears in or is mentioned in every panel in the conversation between both versions of Bobby – and her feelings are the ones that Bobby is trying to manage. Instead of a story where he comes to a deep emotional realisation of his own history, we get one where in a few panels they’re hugging it out with Jean to make her feel better. Again, Bobby is denied agency in his story. Next up Bobby goes to talk on of the few other gay characters in the X-Men, but because this story is not Bobby’s own he doesn’t go an talk to one of his own close friends – like for instance the already out and adult mutant Northstar – Bobby, a teacher, instead goes to talk to one of his own pupils about his sexuality.
Extraordinary X-Men #6
It cannot be stressed enough how inappropriate this conversation is; yes Anole was out and gay and cool with it, but Bobby isn’t anyone – he’s Anole’s teacher and an adult in a position of responsibility. This is more evidence that Bobby’s journey wasn’t the consideration at all as this scene is played more to show Anole’s growth rather than Bobby’s.
I’m focusing on Present Bobby in this discussion so its important that you know that Past Bobby starts heading out to gay clubs with some of the other X-Kids (even though he’s far too young for that but again – these aren’t Bobby’s stories so who’s worrying about the details?), gets a boyfriend who’s an Inhuman, and then is almost forced to murder him at the hands of the rest of the X-Men.
Eventually this era of the books comes to an end because the kids have spent so long in their future that they are doing irreparable damage to the timeline and are forced to return to their own time. By now Present Scott has died and Present Jean Grey had been resurrected, so the paradox is solved by both versions of Jean creating a mindwipe and transfer scheme where the Past X-Men have their memories of everything that happened to them extracted, they are then sent back in time to the point they left and their memories transferred to the Present X-Men.
For the others this means that they get to live out their teenage years in relative happiness as they don’t know what lies ahead, but Teen Bobby is sent back to a time where he has to live in the closet again and doesn’t get to keep any of his experiences. The era of the X-Men ends here and again Bobby isn’t given any real thought as the adult Bobby now has a head full of memories of his possibly sexual relationships with teenage boys that are currently in the school he teaches at but this isn’t considered important enough to write about until Sina Grace picked up Bobby’s story in his miniseries a few years later.
Certain sections of the fandom weren’t happy at all with Bobby coming out. This was seen as evidence of “pandering” to a “market that wasn’t there” because it’s not like The X-Men ever appealed to a diverse audience. The main argument was that this was a change out of nowhere and there had been no evidence to support it in the past. Really dear reader, really?
But He Wasn’t Gay Before!
Here is where we talk about a little something called coding. Coding is where traits and experiences are expressed indirectly in an media form where direct representation is either not possible or not desirable and has been happening in art for a very long time. This type of coding is in itself neutral, and came comes across as positive of negative depending on how well it is handled. When it comes to Iceman, any gay man could see a mile off what was going on with Bobby. Now remember, we’ve already talked about how between the comics code and Marvel’s specific editorial demands they weren’t allowed gay characters.
In the very first issue of the X-Men, way back in 1963, we first meet the boys (Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel) in Professor X’s school. The other three boys all fall over themselves trying to win the attention of Jean when she arrives halfway through the issue (Jean again being a driving factor in Bobby’s sexuality) – but what does Bobby do? Leaves the boys to it because he’s not interested in girls that way. Now you could argue that he does this because he’s much younger than the other boys – but you could also argue that this, right from the start, is Bobby’s sexuality playing out.
Next we’re going to jump forward to 1994 when Scott Lobdell wrote this page in X-Men (vol 2) # 46, he is on record as saying this was his attempt to have Bobby come out but Marvel wouldn’t allow it.
A further exhibit your honour is this famous scene in Uncanny X-Men #331; Emma Frost had in a previous issue used her telepathy to take control of Bobby’s body and exhibited a far wider and more impressive range of powers than Bobby every had. Demanding to know how she did it Emma states that Bobby knows full well he’s hiding a secret and its the fact that he’s not acknowledging his full self that is stopping him accessing his full powers. Bobby doesn’t take this advice well and lashes out at Emma instead.
Mike Carey was next up to the Bobby Bat when his storyline with Northstar (who had recently come out himself) falling in love with Bobby. Mike Carey is on record that he wrote Bobby as a closeted man but while Northstar wasn’t a big enough property it was too much for Iceman to be gay.
Finally we have Marjorie Lie who in her run on on Astonishing X-Men in 2004 has Bobby – who by this point is so incapable of facing with his internalised issues – nearly freeze the whole world solid because he cannot admit his feelings about “something” that is inside him. Marjory Liu is also on record saying that she saw Bobby as being in the closet but wasn’t allowed to out him at this point.
But there’s no evidence in the books that Bobby is gay. Unless, as I say you were a gay man reading these – and then its so obvious it breaks your heart. That’s why Bobby’s coming out was so problematic, not because “Jean outed him” or because “it came from nowhere”, but because this young man struggled against bigotry and pain, hiding his sexuality to try and please parents who would never accept him, giving up chance to excel so he didn’t draw attention to himself – and when he finally, finally does get to come out? It’s as a side show to someone else’s story and Bobby’s just an afterthought.
Happily, since Bobby came out, the boy has been catching up. Sina Grace wrote a great miniseries where Bobby confronts his parents for their treatment of him, confronts Jean for what she did to him, processes the memories of Past Bobby, and gets himself laid. It’s a busy book but the boy deserves it. These days he’s on board the Marauder sailing the pirate seas and in a relationship with Emma Frosts’ brother Christian. Good on you Bobby, you deserve it.
Another of the major arguments against Bobby coming out that the “fans” trot out is that Bobby has had a lot of girlfriends. These women include:
- Magneto’s daughter Polaris, who left him for another man because Bobby wasn’t showing her any interest – and as we all know anyway, dating Polaris is Gay
- A woman who he could not touch or he would drop down dead
- A genderfluid cloud-being who regularly presented as male and female
- A genderfluid shapeshifter who regularly presented as male and female (and who tried to murder him with their poisoned “lips and other things”)
- An Asian human woman who he mostly dated to rile up his racist father (not Bobby’s best work there)
So yes, Bobby is and always has been totally 100% straight and these poor woman weren’t beards at all.