Comics

Iceman's Gay, Thor's a Lady, and Captain America's Black: The Constant Culture Shifts of Comics Continue

Fretting over diversification of heroes? It's just a sign of the times.

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Then there was the time he was attracted to a woman who turned out to be the daughter of a personification of non-existence. No, really.
Marvel

It looks like it took Robert Drake 50 years and several girlfriends to figure out he was gay. Fortunately for him, because he's comic book superhero, he's nevertheless young enough to still get to sow his wild oats.

As had been hinted in a comic book a couple of months ago, Drake, also known as Iceman, one of the original X-Men, is gay. There was not a lot of build up to it. There weren't really hints that Drake questioned his own sexuality throughout his comic history, though there was some fan speculation based on the fact of his troubled history with girlfriends (I always found that an odd argument because every male hero who is not married has troubled histories with girlfriends). Well, there was that time he had a romantic interest who suddenly turned herself into a man. But then it turned out she was actually a sentient nebula who had taken on the form of two humans injured in a car accident. It happens.

In any event, those who have read Marvel comics all their lives know full well that Iceman was neither conceived nor written for decades with the idea that he was gay, regardless whether he openly acknowledged it or acted on it. Even his appearances in the recent X-Men movies seem to be written with the idea that he's heterosexual.

But now he's gay, confirmed in this week's Uncanny X-Men No. 600. In comic book fashion he is forced to confront his sexuality by a teen version who himself who has been sucked into modern day (also the teen version himself was forced to confront his sexuality by the teen version of telepath Jean Grey, who read his mind). The retcon (that's comic speak for "retroactive continuity"—storytelling that alters previously established history) explanation is that Drake decided to suppress dealing with his homosexuality because he had too much other crap to deal with.

That this decision is transparently a choice to fundamentally alter who Drake is for the sake of diversity has both its supporters and its critics. Marvel has actually been introducing gay characters to the comics for years now (as has competitor D.C.). Over time, though, casts of these comic companies have bloated to massive numbers, and it's difficult for new characters to gain traction and develop fan bases.

Periodically, the complexity of the stories and casts gets so large that the comic companies plan out major stories to serve as resets or reboots, clearing a lot of the past storytelling away and setting a new status quo. Marvel is in the middle of doing such a thing right now with a miniseries called Secret Wars. The issue of the X-Men in which Drake is revealed as gay is the final issue of that volume. All the old X-Men-related titles have ended and a new set of series are being launched.

It's happening all over the Marvel universe, and it's not just Iceman seeing changes. Thor has recently lost his hammer, and it has been picked up by occasional romantic interest Jane Foster. Captain America is no longer blond bohunk Steve Rogers. Former sidekick Sam Wilson, who is African American, has taken his place, abandoning his codename of Falcon. Ms. Marvel is now the name used by Muslim Pakistani-American teen Kamala Khan.

It's easy to dismiss this all as a marketing ploy. Well, yes, it is, but superhero comics are a popular culture form of entertainment that partly lives or dies based on successfully understanding its audience and marketing to them.

And it's absolutely not new. Marvel has made gestures toward cultural diversity for ages. Comic fans know full well that part of the metaphor of the X-Men—mutants whose powers originate from genetic abnormalities—was about cultural diversity, civil rights, and fear of the "other." The original Ms. Marvel herself, introduced in the 1970s, was clearly a nod toward the feminist movement of that era.

WARNING: NOSTALGIA.
"Spider-man and His Amazing Friends"

When I first started collecting comic books back in the early 1980s (actually drawn to them by Iceman's inclusion in the Spiderman and His Amazing Friends Saturday morning cartoon, go figure), genius inventor Tony Stark was not the guy filling out the Iron Man suit. It was James Rhodes, an African-American man, substituting because Stark had become a drunk. Long-time hero Captain Marvel had recently died, and his name was taken by Monica Rambeau, an African-American woman who would go on to lead The Avengers for a stint.

Even at the time the reason there weren't any gay heroes was because the restrictive Comics Code Authority didn't permit references to homosexuality. Nevertheless, writers managed to put in enough subtext to make it clear to smart readers that Canadian hero Northstar and X-Men nemesis Mystique were not, in fact, heterosexual. Northstar would later get huge publicity for Marvel when he came out of the closet, but unlike Iceman, it was pretty obvious to readers that he was gay. The X-Men's metaphor that mutants were hated and feared did a lot of heavy lifting. The vicious climate of human fear of mutants rose in the comic books at the same time the world panicked in the 1980s over the spread of AIDS. Professor Xavier was beaten nearly to death by a mob. At one point in the mid-'80s the X-Men even hid out in San Francisco, where the citizenry seemed to openly welcome them. Eventually the metaphor would be stretched to its breaking point when a disease was introduced that targeted only mutants.

Iceman wouldn't have been my choice to make gay. (I'd have gone with Colossus. What can I say, I have a fondness for big lugs.) But I'm no longer a comic book reader, and I'm certainly no longer the target demographic for the main X-Men comics. As a teen I was, and Marvel (particularly writer Chris Claremont) knew exactly how to appeal to me and my peers. Now that I'm much older, complaining about changes to comic books is like complaining that Taylor Swift is nothing like Cyndi Lauper. Taylor Swift isn't singing to me. Why should she?

Iceman's shift is rather abrupt, but it's certainly not unusual for the comic book environment. Changes (and then occasional reversals of said changes) are embedded in comic book industry DNA, and they're keyed into the zeitgeist of the day.

Below, from ReasonTV, X-Men screenwriter Simon Kinberg explains why we get so attached to characters like Iceman:

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  1. There is no justice until Wolverine is a transsexual

    1. But how would that work with his healing factor?

      Actually, that would work in favor of the plot point – you could have 24 issue mega-arc, with six crossovers and couple of extra-special Annuals!

      1. Hmmm. Cut off your junk, it grows back, rinse and repeat. Drown your enemies in a sea of your junk.

        1. Also known as “the Warty Stratagem.”

        2. You may have an R. Crumb superhero concept there!

    2. They make Black Widow a tranny I’m out.

      1. Phrasing!

    3. There will be no justice till Moo-Ham-Boner, Mohammad (Blessed Be His Holy Name), supposed Founder of IslamoFascism, is “outed” as a secret FemiNazi, Lover of Gays, Moose-Limb-Non-Believer-in, pacifist, skeptic-about-Government-Almighty, and Despiser of Goat-fuckers. WHO will publish THAT cartoon, oooops, I mean, graphic novel?

      SOMEBODY, somewhere, needs to publish THAT “graphic novel”, but not me, I like to keep my head attached to my body!!!

  2. What is this silly stupid fascination with taking established characters and “adjusting” them to modern sensibilities?

    Just go create a fucken gay or transgender character if it means so much to someone.

    Bat-Man fought for justice in society but it doesn’t mean he’s open to interpretation to suddenly become a trans-gender SJW.

    1. Because they know no one will give a shit about new character. The whole point is to take existing character, change it to what they want, then hold it up as a trophy. It’s basically how people teabag in FPS, taken offline.

      1. It’s retarded.

        1. More retarded the better. Let me see if I can find the Havel quote…

          The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

          Obviously the greengrocer . . . does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone. The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.”

      2. Basically, most new characters don’t catch on. Plus, most creators are unwilling to give original creations to Marvel or DC anymore, opting instead for creator-owned imprints.

      3. And once you go away from straight white male, you can never go back.

        Remember the kerfuffle last year over the Little Orphan Annie promotion that used the traditional white girl when the character in the new movie was played by a black girl?

        1. Well, because they wanted to set the film in modern times, they could not have Annie be a girl born in the early 1920’s. Once her date of birth was moved, all bets were off.

          1. That is such a complete non sequitur, I just can’t even. . . .

      4. Because they know no one will give a shit about new character. The whole point is to take existing character, change it to what they want, then hold it up as a trophy. It’s basically how people teabag in FPS, taken offline.

        And, IMO, should be regarded by everyone as the ultimate spineless move.

        Fuck the longstanding relationship with dedicated fans while simultaneously fully acknowledging the personal characteristics of your new social cause du jour can’t stand on their own.

        New and edgy without sacrificing tradition and fan base is a recipe for luke warm. Which is why Marvel is now best known-for two-hour-long characterless CGI demonstrations.

        1. See, by changing the nature of an established character, they figure people will be FORCED to accept their new gender identity. Like if you suddenly found out a long time friend is gay. Because they assume that comics fans are that stupid, that somehow they are going to interpret that as “wow, I’ve admired this gay guy for 20 years” instead of “wow, they just totally rewrote that character for purely political reasons”. Because thats really how fucking arrogant and retarded the SJW crowd is.

          1. Why do people think this? That SJWs are somehow forcing this down our throats? Granted, SJWs are the most annoying people I’ve ever met, but this is Marvel and DC we are talking about, here. They flop around their superheroes every 8-12 years. Every. Eight. To. Twelve. Years. Sometimes, Batman is a simpering wuss complaining in every frame about his emotions, other times he’s a consummate bad-ass – because sometimes people just need a good couple of bat-kicks in the face.

            Who in the heck cares if Batman is black this decade? What about the closeted-but-really-not decade that Batman and Robin were very obviously going at it in the 70s?

            So Iceman is gay. Are they going to write storylines where he hip-thrusts his ice onto his opponent’s faces or something? Or is he just going to go home and kiss a dude instead of a woman?

            BFD – there are actual troubles in our nation and the world we should probably focus on instead of the fact that a few writers want to pretend to be edgy and “in touch.” If it’s really that much of a problem, feel free to just not watch.

    2. Thanks, Rufus. And this has very little to do with “society changing”: it’s really about SJWs wanting to change society, which is not really the same thing.

      1. Sometimes it makes sense and is done well, but executed poorly, it just comes across as shamelessly pandering to a particular set of political tastes. Done very poorly, it comes across as an attack on audience members who don’t hold those views as ardently, which is exclusive rather than inclusive.

        1. Pandering to popular tastes and trends is one thing, but the stench of the didactic is strong here. It’s partly just propaganda.

  3. Great,Just great! Now who the fuck are us white, straight, men, who can freeze the water all around into fun and exciting slides and walls and such gonna idolize? Who huh? Mr Freeze? I don’t think so.

    1. Ya need to chill.

    2. I’d say Frozone but he was black and a mentally abused spouse

  4. In honor of Iceman, here is the gayest rap ever.

    And of course he’s gay – he’s an X-Man other than Wolverine.

  5. Neeerds! NNNEEEEEERDS!

  6. “Thor has recently lost his hammer, and it has been picked up by occasional romantic interest Jane Foster.”

    As long as we’re going there…

    12 OTHER CHARACTERS WHO HAVE LIFTED THOR’S HAMMER

    1. I’d still like to see any justification for why Steve Rogers was not able to life the hammer with ease

      1. He’s a WW2-era (read: racist) white male.

        Instead of lazy, decades-late pandering like this Iceman SNAFU, some enterprising young writer should take a shot at giving Rogers the Alan Moore treatment. In Watchman land, Captain America would be a racist big-government goon who hates the Japanese and beats up old black ladies who dare to sit at the front of a public bus.

        Maybe they could do a What If? story where he goes around beating up all the unpatriotic hoarders who refuse to hand over their gold to FDR.

        1. Well, seeing as we are on a libertarian site, I have to remark that I much prefer the Steve Rogers who is truly patriotic, in the sense of defending his country from its rogue government. We have seen THAT Steve Rogers in the comics, and I think it is the character’s purest, best form. As much as I enjoy Alan Moore’s approach and love his work, a “Watchman”-style racist government good would simply not be Steve Rogers, although he would certainly be a valued Federal employee.

          1. xxx racist government GOON

  7. So I says to myself, “I wonder if you can find an MC Hammer Thor song on Youtube?”

    You’ll be surprised at what I found.

    1. But I couldn’t find Thor doing the Weavers’ If I had a Hammer.

      1. Except for this one.

  8. God, I fucking hate Bendis.

    1. So much this.

  9. I want Superman to be gay and Clark Kent to be straight.

  10. I never knew Richard Kuklinski was gay.

  11. One thing,Thor is a man’s name.I really enjoy mythogy,norse,greek.Thor is a male god,and not a very bright one.As for the other two,who cares.

    1. What would really piss me off is if Wonder Woman turns out to have been born Sven Sigurdson.

      1. Damn that’s funny

      2. I know – she clearly belongs in the Greek, not Norse mythos!

      3. The new Super Gril is hot though

        1. Super Gril? George Foreman is facing some competition!

          1. Especially if the new gril is as hot as they say.

            1. I laughed at that, and my laughter fills me with shame.

        2. dyslexia is a terrible disease

        3. Aha! a new DC character – the Bizarro version of Super Girl!

          1. Already been done. At one point during the 60s, there was a whole (cubic) Bizarro World, including Bizarro versions of Super Girl, Krypto the Super Dog, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, and many more. On the other hand, Bizarro Super Girl has very little con that would require retting.

        4. The old Super Girl (“Kara” in Smallville) was hot. The new one is cute. BIG difference! I’m watching the show, but still not a fan of the casting (and what about that hunky black James Olsen, given that, before now, the character has always been the ultimate bow-tied ginger?).

  12. I’d have gone with Colossus.

    Anyone with “Putin” in his name couldn’t possibly be gay.

    1. I don’t know,no shrit,tight pants,on a horse? Me thinks he’s a macho man

    2. The Colossus from the Ultimate Marvel universe was (is?) gay.

  13. Saying that the characters have been “changed” implies that there was any coherent continuity for them in the first place. In reality the characters have been repeatedly reinvented for decades.

  14. Kultural approps? Only when white people do it.

    1. +1 jedi

  15. sjw’s to current 8 year old white boys… F’you oppressor!

  16. As had been hinted in a comic book a couple of months ago, Drake, also known as Iceman, one of the original X-Men, is gay

    How does this help him fight crime? Besides looking good in Lycra?

  17. No, but it helps him resist the lures of Yuki-Onna, the sinister snow-spirit of Japan, who lures men to a freezing death.

    (pictured in the lower right of the picture: John Lennon /obligatory joke)

  18. I always hate when they change existing characters, but the characters I knew from the comic racks in the late 70s/early 80s had already gone through various changes from their original incarnations. So what it really boils down to is if the writers can make good, logical reasons for the changes, but still retain the core elements of the character. Without actually reading the comics, I can’t say if a gay Iceman, a female Thor or a black Captain America make sense or not, although I like the idea of Jane Foster picking up the hammer, and the former Falcon becoming Captain America. Both of those seem like ostensibly reasonable changes, as they involve characters that have some history with the original character.

    Nonetheless, I have trouble seeing how a gay superhero should be any different or make any difference in a superhero comic, unless it has been heavily “soap-operatized”, with less emphasis on heroics and more emphasis on romance.

    1. Yeah, hard to get upset about Falcon. There have already been several other “Captain Americas” besides the original. I think the count as of the late 80s was four?

    2. A female Thor would be pretty stupid. I mean, a female wielder of Mjolnir, sure, but a female Thor is less “female Batman” and more “female Bruce Wayne”.

    3. I was wondering the same thing, mac. I can’t imagine how a superhero’s sexual preferences could possibly show up in a good superhero story. The only way to do more than one panel on the superhero’s gaiety would be to junk up the action with a soap opera.

  19. Dude that makes a ll kinds of sense man, I mean like seriously.

    http://www.CompletePrivacy.tk

  20. Is the actor who played him gay? Asking for myself.

    1. Hoping for a chance to bitch about lavender-washing?

    2. The actor has come out as gay. He’s also claimed to be a victim of sexual abuse by Hollywood agents. .

  21. I’m mostly just disappointed they didn’t go with the most obviously gay X-Man, Gambit. He spent all his time hitting on Rogue, a woman that is incapable of having any sort of physical relationship. You would think any straight man would accept that, “I can’t even hold hands with a man without possibly killing them,” is a basic acknowledge and move on situation for any straight guy.

    Gambit kept trying to convince Rogue to be his beard. And the pink body armor isn’t exactly convincing anybody that he’s straight.

  22. Its just all so tedious.

    I don’t follow comics, but I doubt that any of these changes are driven by good story-telling or even good business. What are the circulation trends since comics starting going all socially aware and shit, anyway?

    I wonder if anyone has done any kind of survey of gay characters in TV shows? If not, I expect its because they are quite over-represented, and the folks who would do such a survey are mostly interested in telling us how bigoted we are, so the survey wouldn’t advance the sacred narrative.

    I suspect a relative lack of gay characters in movies (and I think you see more in TV than movies) is due to the overseas market not being as willing to lay down cash for it.

    Life seems to be made up of pendulums that constantly over-correct. In a few years or so, we’ll probably be reading pearl-clutching articles about how every show no longer has at least one gay character, and how this proves . . . . something I don’t care about.

    Oh, yeah . . . and get off my lawn!

    1. Comics went through another big socially-aware period in the late 1960s and early 70s — the “Relevance Era.” DC’s intelligent-robot “Metal Men” became what we would now call “skin jobs,” with “secret identities” that were diverse and hip. Wonder Woman lost her powers, gaining as mentor a wizened, dwarfish, Asian. “I Ching” transformed her into a comic book version of Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel from the Avengers series on British TV. Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Green Arrow Oliver Queen went on a road trip “in search of America” with a disguised blue-skinned Oan (alien bosses of the GL Corps) in tow. Fortunately, by 1975 or so, all that had blown over; the affected books were either cancelled, or the associated characters were restored to more-or-less their pre-Relevance states and situations. I expect this latest wave of social awareness to likewise pass, but it will be harder to restore characters whose fundamental natures were changed. After going to great lengths to justify Bobby Drake’s homosexuality, for instance, it will be practically impossible to restore him to being the heterosexual horn-dog of yore. The more straightforward restorations will involve characters who were actually replaced (Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern at one point, etc.); the old bearer of the name can step back into the role, or someone new, who needn’t carry all the PC baggage, can be introduced. I’ll be interested to see how it all plays out, this time around.

  23. Comics still ain’t got nothing on Greek Mythology. Zeus has a butt boy, Tiresias changes into a woman, and then back again, and people regularly have sex with animals, or gods in animal form (furries).

  24. I prefer the approach J.K. Rowling took with Dumbledore. She always envisioned him as being gay, and even though the books didn’t state this fact, it’s a plausible interpretation of the events of the series, particularly his relationship with his “friend” Grindenwald – that love is blind and his love for Grindenwald blinded him to the evil that he supported. Yet Rowling didn’t actually “out” Dumbledore until the series was complete. It makes perfect sense in hindsight, and she had planned to do it all along, yet she managed to avoid pissing off more conservative/homophobic fans and sparking a boycott by waiting until everything was over.

  25. No matter what people “in authority” say: Iceman is not, and never has been gay, and Pluto is, and always has been, a planet.

    I hate neither gays nor dwarves.

  26. As far as I know, Captain America has never been a “bohunk” as I understand that word (Bohemian or Hungarian).

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