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Tag Archives: diversity in comics

Iceman, Vol. 1: Thawing Out (Review)

Reading 150If you’re one of the original five X-Men and your name isn’t Jean Grey or Scott Summers, chances are you’ve got a bum deal. Angel is mostly known for having his wings torn off and replaced by cybernetic ones as one of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen. Beast was arguably most popular during his stint with the Avengers team in the 70s and 80s before rejoining his old team and curing the Legacy Virus in the 90s. Iceman, however, doesn’t even have an iconic storyline or fan-favorite supervillain to boost his street cred. Mostly, he’s just known for…well, being a member of the Original Five.

Writers have spent years looking for ways to make Bobby Drake more distinctive. He was classified as an Omega Level mutant sometime ago, but unlike others with the classification (like, say, Jean or fellow X-Man Storm) he’s not one of the first names you think of when an extinction-level threat rears up. Several writers have put work in justifying Iceman’s designation, but nothing’s really stuck in the popular consciousness. More recently Iceman made headlines when a past version of himself was outed as gay by Jean, which raised all kinds of questions. How could he have been gay for this long without any inkling from anyone else (including readers)? Especially when he’s had a bit of a reputation for his love life?

During one of their many recent X-Men relaunches, Iceman was one of the two Original Five X-Men to get a solo series. (The other — of course — was the time-displaced Jean Grey.) The first five issues debuted back in 2017, and I have to admit I gave it a pass at the time. It wasn’t a great time to be an X-fan, and the constant upheavals in the status quo with subsequent relaunches didn’t give me much faith that this title would last. Sure enough, it was cancelled after 11 issues, renewed months later, then cancelled again after six more issues. In this particular age of Marvel, 17 issues is a decent run — but what about the story that was told in that space? The first collection of Iceman, Thawing Out, establishes the “new normal” for Bobby Drake as he tries to figure himself out and live up to his Omega-level potential.

iceman

He’s smiling because he’s finally figured an ice-based gay pun

If I had to describe the first five issues of Iceman in one word, it would be “accessible”. Writer Sina Grace has the unenviable task of making sense of Bobby’s controversial status quo while also providing readers with a compelling reason to see him as a potential ‘leading man’. Iceman has never felt like a big deal; for the ongoing to work, the first arc really needs to establish him as someone capable of anchoring stories as well as Spider-Man or Captain America. However, Bobby’s recent embrace of his sexuality means that he might need to seem like the “same old Iceman” so he doesn’t further alienate a vocal contingent of the comics fandom. It’s a tricky balance to strike, and for various reasons it feels like Grace and the editorial team made a series of choices that put the title into a place that doesn’t appeal to anyone who might be willing to give it a shot.

In the first arc, Iceman struggles to come out to his parents as gay — which makes sense, since they still haven’t fully accepted him as a mutant. The whole affair is complicated by an appearance from the Purifiers and a dust-up with Juggernaut, but when the dust settles there’s at least hope that the cold war between Bobby and his parents can thaw given time. Grace wisely echoes audience sentiment — “Who IS Iceman, really?” — within Drake himself, who states from the jump that his legacy isn’t very strong and he doesn’t have a well-defined self-image. By bundling the audience questions into the narrative, Grace acknowledges the challenge directly while offering an implicit promise we’ll get an answer through Bobby’s journey of self-discovery.

And we get an idea of why it’s so difficult for Bobby to reconcile what makes him different through his parents. It’s clear that his parents’ inability to accept him for who he is makes it hard for him to accept himself; he’s torn between who he feels he is and who his parents want him to be. Anyone who’s spent some time being closeted in their family can relate to this. The tension that comes with weighing your desire to be a part of your family against the need to be true to yourself is so hard to reconcile. But it also feels like Bobby should have pulled the trigger on a decision about this by now. He’s been living this way for years at this point, and he’s been his own man for long enough to decide for himself who he is.

I think that’s one of the reasons why this first arc doesn’t quite work — it feels like it’s speaking to a dilemma we’ve gotten past as a society. Folks who don’t accept LGBQTIA people aren’t likely to be swayed by this story, and the folks who are LGBQTIA don’t quite see themselves in Bobby’s situation. Those still closeted under their parents’ roof don’t have a team of superheroes to lean on, no superpowers to save themselves (or their family) from bigots, no external threats to unite their family. The resolution with Bobby’s parents feels at once too small a win to celebrate but at the same time too easily achieved — he hasn’t really learned to address the flaws keeping him from a resolution, and his parents haven’t really budged from their vague disapproval or dealt with the reasons they have such trouble accepting their son.

Iceman’s core conflict doesn’t drill down into the specifics that would make the story more compelling and Bobby Drake a superhero worth rooting for. We still don’t quite understand why Bobby decided that he didn’t want to be both gay AND a mutant, especially since Northstar is around; we don’t understand how being forced to confront his sexuality is connected to living up to the potential of his mutant powers. Instead, we’re left with the idea that the process of accepting himself has begun and that’s satisfying in its own way.

Sina Grace has spoken out on his Tumblr about his experience writing Iceman, and it is not pretty. According to him, he had little support on the title itself and with the cultural fallout that comes with being a lightning rod in the industry. While paying lip service to the potential to tell diverse stories, Marvel apparently asked him to keep things relatively beige to help its slight chances at being a hit. More assertively gay stories were dismissed, and the arrival of a trans superhero named Shade was not given any publicity. I could easily see Grace being hamstrung from telling the kind of story he wanted by a nervous editorial group, which is a shame.

Because Iceman really does feel like a half-measure on Marvel’s part, telling a difficult story with a series of mis-steps designed to reduce offense instead of speaking truth. It simultaneously acknowledges the hard truths of being gay while diminishing how hard they can be to cope with; it still thinks that featuring a gay character is enough to be progressive. The fact of the matter is they were going to take heat from the same corners of the comics world no matter “how gay” they made the title; it would have been better to take a big swing than the sacrifice bunt they ended up with.

Still, there’s enough to recommend Iceman as a title — especially if you’re a fan of the X-Man himself. It’s just too bad it’s yet another example of a Bobby Drake story that fails to live up to its potential. It’s decent enough, but not nearly what could have been.

 

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A Black Geek’s Guide to All-New, All-Different Marvel

Reading 150I fell in with comic books through Marvel, and I’ll never forget it. I was vaguely aware of comics growing up — how could you not know about Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man — but the first time I heard about a story that made me think “I have to read this” was the Age of Apocalypse saga, where Charles Xavier’s insane son goes back in time to kill Magneto but mistakenly kills Professor X instead. For four glorious months, the entire line of X-Men books were replaced by a post-apocalyptic hell where Apocalypse has taken over the world and a desperate band of humans and defecting mutants are trying to stop him. I had never heard of a storyline as ambitious as that, and I don’t think there’s been a crossover Marvel has pulled off that well before or since.

Ever since then, I’ve jumped in and out of the comic stream. I left for a while, came back for Grant Morrisson’s New X-Men run, then left for a while and came back for Bendis’ All-New X-Men run, and now I’m lapsed again. I wish I hadn’t — Hickman’s Avengers work is currently wrapping up on the Secret Wars crossover, which has basically destroyed Marvel’s entire multiverse and replaced it with a patchwork world where Dr. Doom is God. This is the end-game of Hickman’s work across Fantastic Four, FF, Avengers, New Avengers and Avengers World; he’s been leading to this for years. It’s that kind of long-form storytelling I really appreciate and applaud, and I wish I had been reading the story in real-time.

This month, Marvel is releasing the comics that come after Secret Wars; we catch up with the multiverse eight months after the end of Doom’s Battleworld and the restoration of the multiverse. However, this is a chance for the company to pull a line-wide reset on every single title, so there’ll be an enormous wave of brand-new comics hitting the shelves over the next few months. So which comics are worth getting in your local shops every Wednesday? Which are fine getting digital? And which ones do you probably want to wait for the trade paperbacks on?

Marvel is doing a lot of really different stuff with this launch, featuring a great array of diverse books featuring African-American, Native American, Asian-American and women superheroes front and center. Captain America is still black; Thor is still a woman; the Avengers will feature those two as well as Ms. Marvel (a Pakistani Muslim), Ultimate Spider-Man (half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales) and Kid Nova, Sam Alexander. Of the seven folks on the main roster, only the original Iron Man Tony Stark still has his spot.

Diversity is given a serious run here, and I think it’s important to show Marvel we dig what they’re doing. It’s not enough that we show up on message boards and at Comic-Cons asking for it; when they’re giving us what we want, we should show up at the comic book shops too. Personally, I’ll buy the paper version of any title I think needs the support most; the titles that will probably be fine but I still want to read will get bought digitally; and the stuff that I’m curious about but not sold on will have to wait for the trade paperback. I only have so much money, after all, and a geek’s got to eat.

So here’s my pull list for All-New, All-Different Marvel. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments!

PAPER COPY, EVERY WEDNESDAY
Black Panther
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Art by Brian Stelfreeze

I’ve only recently been turned on to Ta-Nehisi Coates this year, and already he’s become one of my favorite voices in all of black geekdom. So when I heard he was getting the keys to Black Panther, there was simply no way I could miss that. The first twelve-issue story arc will feature a revolution in Wakanda, and T’Challa trying to figure out how to deal with it. I cannot wait for this. This is going to be amazing.

Howling Commandos of SHIELD
Written by Frank Barbiere; Art by Bren Schoonover

A motley crew of monsters — including a robot version of Dum Dum Duggan, Warwolf (a gun-toting werewolf), Man-Thing (a gigantic swamp creature) and Hit-Monkey (a…deranged monkey?) — take out supernatural threats while struggling with their own monstrous natures. This book is too insane not to take up; I really dig the theme of trying to do good while being fundamentally apart from a society that will never accept you. This is one of the more bizarre concepts Marvel is throwing at the wall, and while I don’t expect it to last very long I really want to support it while it’s there.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Written by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclaire; Art by Natacha Bustos

First of all, Devil Dinosaur in his own ongoing! Moon Girl is a pre-teen black girl named Lunella Lafayette who is also a dormant Inhuman; however, she doesn’t want superpowers. She wants to continue being the prodigy she is, so she’s looking for ways to prevent transformation. That desire to stay who you are, to hide the weirdness inside you, is a really compelling hook for me. Also, this is one of the few ongoing comics to be (co)written and drawn by women!

Totally Awesome Hulk
Written by Greg Pak; Art by Frank Cho

Amadeus Cho is the new Hulk! Gone is the brooding Bruce Banner; Cho wants to embrace being enormous and green. This comic hands the mantle of the Hulk to a Korean-American prodigy, featuring Greg Pak returning to the title he’s best known for, with Frank Cho pulling art duties; two Korean-Americans creating a superhero comic with a Korean-American protagonist! You can’t do better than that.

Red Wolf
Written by Nathan Edmonson; Art by Dalibor Talajic

This is the biggest question mark; this version of Red Wolf hails from one of the patchwork realities that made up Battleworld in Secret Wars, so Marvel won’t get into any issues with portraying a real Native American tribe, but…is that better? While they will have a Native American artist doing covers, it remains to be seen just how the character will be treated and what the book will look like. Still, just making the attempt is something, and I’m planning to see how it shakes out.
DIGITAL
Uncanny Inhumans
Written by Charles Soule; Art by Steve McNiven

The Inhumans are being set up as a mainstay of the Marvel Universe moving forward (whether we like it or not), and this will probably be the flagship title for them. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Charles Soule, and I’m curious about this little corner of the comic universe; with Agents of SHIELD setting up the Inhumans incredibly well in the cinematic universe, I’d like to read more about them. Mutant and original X-Man Beast is defecting to their crew, and where he goes I follow.

All-New X-Men
Written by Dennis Hopeless; Art by Mark Bagley

It is not a good time to be a mutant after Secret Wars. The Terrigen Mists, which have been released into the biosphere, have rendered them sick and sterile. The surviving mutants are warring with the Inhumans as they fight to keep their species alive. And the time-displaced original X-Men — Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Angel — are still in this reality. Determined to lead by example, they’ve set out to be the superheroes they know they should be. I’m really curious about this take on the X-Men; it feels like a bit of a throwback but at the same time tackles the “nature vs. nurture” question in really interesting ways.

Spider-Man
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Sarah Pichelli

Miles Morales is probably one of the only people who’ve made it out of the Ultimate Universe, and that’s probably because he moves so many books; still, he’s a really compelling character and I cannot wait to see how he fits in with the main universe. Bendis made his bones on this title 20 years ago to usher in the Ultimate Universe, so he has an amazing handle on this character and where to take Morales next.

Ms. Marvel
Written by G. Willow Wilson; Art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona

Kamala Khan has, in many ways, lead the charge of this all-new, all-different Marvel. Her introduction to the main universe was a surprise hit for the company, and she’s being placed in a position of prominence during this reconfiguration initiative. Not only is she one of the Avengers now, she’s also getting a brand-new volume of her massively successful solo comic; I cannot wait to see what G. Willow Wilson (one of the only Muslim writers working in comics that I know of) has in store for her after Secret Wars.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Valerio Schitti

ROCKET RACCOON IS IN CHARGE! After Secret Wars, Star-Lord has left the Guardians to become the leader of the Spartax Empire, which means Rocket, Groot, Drax, and Venom have to find a way to make do on their own. They’re joined by an alternate-universe Kitty Pride as the new Star-Lord and the Thing finally fulfilling his potential as an astronaut. Bendis has actually been killing it on this title ever since he took it over, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the team comes together after all of these changes.
TRADE PAPERBACK
All-New, All-Different Avengers
Written by Mark Waid; Art by Mahmud Asrar and Andy Kubert

You have to hand it to Marvel; they aren’t kidding around with remaking their universe. This is a directive to shake things up from the top down: the Avengers are almost completely changed — Iron Man is the one guy who’s a member of the Big Three, joined by the new Captain America (Sam Wilson), the new Thor (Jane Foster), Vision, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and Nova (Sam Alexander). I’d be worried about the roster if it weren’t for Mark Waid, who excels at taking titles in great new directions that inject a sense of serious fun into them. This is the perfect team for his style.

Extraordinary X-Men
Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Humberto Ramos

I’ve been a fan of Lemire ever since he broke onto the scene with the excellent, strange post-apocalyptic tale Sweet Tooth; the success of that book has propelled him onto DC’s main titles with a run on Green Arrow before Marvel’s snapped him up to shepherd the new flagship X-title. Storm is leading the mutant nation through another extinction crisis with Colossus, Magik, Nightcrawler, Forge, the present-day Iceman, the time-displaced Jean Grey and Old Man Logan. Marvel’s X-Men are always at their best when they’re put in the hands of great writers with distinct voices, so this is a great move.

Weirdworld
Written by Sam Humphries; Art by Mike del Mundo

I really should pick up the Secret Wars miniseries before picking up this title, but I find it so intriguing. Weirdworld is basically Marvel’s sword-and-sorcery universe, and they’re pulling it out of mothballs to give it a go. It’s so rare for one of the Big Two to go in this direction that I have to see what they do with it; I don’t think it’s going to last very long, but I want to throw my money at other projects I think are more important to support.

So that’s it: 13 titles that I plan on supporting once All-New, All-Different Marvel gets going, and there are plenty more that I would like to take a look at — the new Howard the Duck, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, The Ultimates (featuring Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spectrum, Ms. America and Blue Marvel), Power Man and Iron Fist, just to name a few. Simply put, it’s a VERY good time to be a Marvel fan.

 
 

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