Adventures in Bendisshitting Single: Bendis Confirms Iceman Is A Bachelor
Gay people. Corporations love their money, white women love stealing their culture that they in turn stole from black women, and people try to memory hole how homophobic culture was even 15 years ago. In comics, the queers have made significant strides in that same time span. No longer were comic book characters only pejoratively gay; they were also literally gay. Beloved characters such as Freedom Ring, Quasar III and Rainbow Clayface have taken the industry by storm, by which I mean their characters are acknowledged in “Marvel/DC need to do better” columns. But since comics is a mobius strip of the same shit over and over again, the method of gaying up things has been to take a previously straight character and reinterpret them as gay. DC has the advantage of rewriting its universe every 3 years so with one of those resets, oh look, the original Green Lantern is a confirmed bachelor now whose magic ring is made from his dead fiance’s engagement band. (Look it up—it’s dumb!) Marvel doesn’t have that luxury, so if a long running character is going to come out they notionally have to explain away 40 years of heterosexual relationships. Luckily, Marvel has Brian Michael Bendis, the most sensitive man in comics, at their disposal.
The column this time out is what I like to call an Adventures in Bendisshitting “single”—it’s shorter than the pieces devoted to his event stories but covers what I consider a substantial part of the Bendis canon. All-New X-Men #40 is best known as the issue where Iceman is outed. A little necessary context: when Marvel brought on Bendis to ruin the X-Men, his big idea was to bring the 60s X-Men to the present to compare and contrast. Jean was dead, Beast was a blue monster, Cyclops was a fugitive quasi-revolutionary, Angel was lobotomized, and Iceman…well, there wasn’t much difference between the two. This is part of what I think prompted Bendis to make the character gay. Sure, there’d been speculation in the fan community about Bobby’s sexuality, but it’s the fan community—they think 109% of characters are gay. You can’t listen to the disgusting masses. But let me make one thing clear: I’m not outraged that Iceman is gay. Like, whatever. He’s not a fleshed out character, none of his preexisting romances are on the level of a Reed/Sue or a Peter/MJ, Marvel has a dearth of significant queer representation. My issue is with how Bendis goes about this perfectly cromulent character alteration. This is a pattern you’ll notice in Bendis’ work: even if the idea is sound, the execution is lacking.
All-New X-Men #40 is a breather issue situated after The Black Vortex crossover event that I’ll probably write about at a later date. All you need to know is the X-Men are back from space. Iceman makes the innocuous remark that Magik is hot, which Jean doesn’t appreciate. It’s not that Bobby’s objectifying women, it’s that he’s objectifying women under false pretenses. She tells Bobby he’s gay. Jean knows this because she’s psychic and is looking into his thoughts, which I’m imagining is just penises going into assholes while the Looney Tunes factory music is playing. They get into a quasi-philosophical chicken/egg discussion over what came first, his gay thoughts or her outing. As in, is he thinking about being gay because she brought it up, or did she bring it up because he’s thinking about being gay? It’s a real Bye Bye Man-esque conundrum, by which I mean it’s laughably terrible.
Artists like working with Bendis and I think that’s because he lets them reuse their art on the regular.
Of course, Bendis has to address what the deal with Adult Iceman is, because how can one be gay and the other not if they’re the same guy? Rather than delve into a problematic environmental explanation for homosexuality, the characters suggest Adult Iceman felt being gay and mutant was too much so he stayed in the closet. There’s a lot of references to “back where we came from” being more intolerant, but Marvel’s sliding timescale means they’re referring to, like, 2007. I get things weren’t great for the community back then, but Bendis seems to write the characters as though they’re from the 60s. (In another issue, Young Cyclops marvels at bottled water. Yes, it’s stupid.) Oh well, who cares if it makes sense or not. Bendis comics aren’t about “internal logic” or “comprehensibility”, you stupid fuck. They’re about out of place Yiddish and whiplash character decisions!
“I didn’t see any vaginas in that Looney Tunes factory montage!”
Rather than create some ongoing character conflict between the two characters, by the wrap up of this story thread Jean and Bobby are hugging, and the whole invasion of privacy is forgotten. Well, Bobby calls her a “nosy bitch” but it’s really him just using his newfound gay privileges to call straight women ‘bitch’ more than anything. The method of outing indicates Iceman already knew he was gay, so basically Jean just bullied him into saying it out loud. Why is he thankful anyway? How are we not supposed to view Jean as a dangerous idiot at best and a malevolent force at worst? This should be a bullet point in a continuing trend of Teen Jean misusing her powers, but this is played off as a friend forcing another friend to face a hard truth. Yet it’s completely fucked up.
Literally Paul Rudd going “you know how I know you’re gay?” would be a better means of outing than this horseshit.
The outing scene constitutes six pages out of the twenty two for the issue. The rest of the book is some stupid shit about Angel having new space wings, and Angel wanting to bone X-23, and there’s a new team of mutants out to do something and frankly I glazed over all of it. Unless someone’s being informed of their own sexuality it’s not within my remit for this Single. I bring it up only to forestall any complaints that I’m shortchanging what is, gay blip aside, an excellent comic book full of rollicking adventure and thoughtful sequences of Maria Hill banging her head on a desk. It’s inessential, but to paraphrase Alan Moore (about Bendis comics instead of imaginary stories)…aren’t they ALL?
So as anyone with reading comprehension can tell, I did not appreciate this issue one bit. But maybe I’m not giving Bendis enough credit. If you take a closer look at the issue, Iceman does go through the entire Kubler-Ross cycle concerning his gayness. First he denies it. Then he lashes out at Jean for invading his mind, displaying anger. Bargaining? That’s him suggesting he could be bisexual. Depression sees him wondering what the deal with his older self is and maybe being gay and a mutant is too much. Finally, he accepts his sexuality by asking Jean to find out if Angel is gay too. See, that’s clever writing. That’s the kind of psychological depth you can come to expect from Brian Michael Bendis. But seriously, I understand it’s meant to be a metaphor for how oftentimes friends will realize shit about you that you yourself are not acknowledging, but it’s implemented so poorly and so stupidly I don’t think the Bald One deserves any credit.
“Who else is going to invade your privacy and force you to address issues you maybe don’t want to address right now which is your prerogative because you’re YOU–Beast?”
Reasonable people can disagree over whether or not increasing representation via retconning a character is a wise move or not. What I think is inarguable, however, is that Bendis didn’t handle it well. Of all the ways to impress upon the readership that Iceman is sexually attracted to men exclusively, All-New X-Men #40 is one of the dumbest possible choices, if not the dumbest. I think it’s, then, instructive to speculate why Bendis chose to do it. One possibility is he was inspired by a Family Guy cutaway gag that states Iceman is a closeted gay man. Bendis has a history of “monkey see monkey do”; see also his execrable effort at “homaging” Dekalog in Daredevil. (I don’t recall Kieślowski having a man throw up a little man in any of those segments!) Another is that he sought to pay tribute to beloved film Hearts in Atlantis. You’ll remember in that one Anthony Hopkins uses his psychic powers to reveal a bully acted as such due to his own latent crossdressing tendencies. (Eh, Bendis probably watched the Family Guy parody “Farts in Fartlantis” now that I think about it.) The third and most likely option is that Bendis wanted to put his “stamp” on the X-Men in the easiest way possible, so rather than “write a great story” or “introduce a beloved new character” he randomly gayed up a character. Let me remind you there was no real buildup to All-New X-Men #40. So now when Bobby is seen in bed with a man, one is forced to go “well, Bendis made that happen”. That diabolical hairless genius.
It might be a stretch, but you can hardly go a day without someone or something referencing Hearts in Atlantis.
I intend to do more of these Singles, time and interest permitting, because simply dissecting Brian Michael through events is offering an incomplete picture of how much he sucks. So much of his dearth of quality comes from him losing interest in a book and phoning it in for years before he blessedly leaves. You can see it in X-Men but also in Avengers and even Ultimate Spider-Man, oft considered the crown jewel of his bibliography. X-Men was never good or inspired but it follows the same basic principle of Bendis Interest Rot. He introduces something big—time displaced X-Men—and does nothing with them, meandering through stupid crossovers with his other shitty titles until years later the characters are shunted back to their past (with Iceman shoved back into the closet for continuity purposes, hilariously) because a younger version of Cable hates them or something. What did anyone gain from any of this? Well, now Marvel has someone else besides Northstar and America Chavez to put on their Pride variant covers, that’s what!
Jean and Bobby should’ve traveled the country, finding out who’s gay via her telepathy and selling tips to the tabloids. That’s called hustling and everyone needs a hustle in the 21st century.
Iceman has remained a tertiary X-Man no more or less interesting than he was when he was straight. His major romances include one with an Inhuman named Romeo, a fling of sorts with Wolverine’s sociopathic rapist son, and he fucked a newly enlisted student because it’s never too soon to turn a gay into a predatory stereotype. Last I checked he’s now Emma Frost’s brother’s kept man. Great. He also is not living up to his potential because if he did his powers—basically control of molecules—would break the universe. He had two short lived ongoing titles, neither of which ever put out a trade collection titled Iceman: Homo Superior. For shame, Marvel. Speaking of shame, I think this set Marvel’s relationship with the gay community back 10 years provided anyone actually read this issue and not just the press release “HUMAN TORCH, MEET THE HUMAN FLAMER”. Thankfully, no one reads comics. If they did, what remains of our monoculture would violently oppose the proliferation of superhero movies and TV shows, because they give the likes of Brian Bendis royalty checks.