When Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee first brought the idea for Spider-Man to his publisher, Martin Goodman, he was shot down. “Stan, that is the worst idea I have ever heard,” Lee remembered hearing. “First of all, people hate spiders, so you can’t call a book Spider-Man. Secondly he can’t be a teenager—teenagers can only be sidekicks. And third, he can’t have personal problems if he’s supposed to be a superhero—don’t you know who a superhero is?”
Spider-Man would go on to be one of Marvel’s most popular franchises of all time, and the idea that a superhero wasn’t reserved to pulp comics but could inspire people by being relatable would carry on into today’s most loved heroes.
Fifty years after his creation, Iceman, a member of the original X-Men team, received a reinvigorated story when he came out of the closet in Uncanny X-Men #600. It might have only been possible due to a pretty complicated plot involving our heroes and their younger selves co-existing within the same universe, but the younger Iceman (real name, Bobby Drake) helped our Bobby come to terms with who he was. “I put all my energy into being a mutant and an X-Man and putting my life in danger every 10 minutes for everyone else,” he explains. “Can I just have part of my life that I’m not being persecuted for?”
The decision to include the character’s newly found sexuality wasn’t explored again until Summer 2017, but that was mainly because Brian Michael Bendis, the writer for Uncanny X-Men #600, ended his run on that final anniversary issue. Bendis, who is straight, is known for creating other diverse Marvel characters such as Jessica Jones and Miles Morales (as well as the current writer for DC’s Superman), but when Marvel gave Iceman his own solo series in 2017, they turned to Sina Grace, author of Nothing Lasts Forever, and a well-known, openly gay, graphic novel memoirist.
“People were talking about the character’s sexuality change, but I didn’t do that,” Grace told The New York Times, “It was done by folks who did not identify as gay men.” “When Marvel asked me if I was interested in the character, I tried to think of experiences that were true to Bobby Drake,” he said of his initial thought process. “There are true-life narratives about men who could not handle this truth until later in their lives. It worked so perfectly with this character who for decades has been told he was one of the most powerful mutants — if only he would recognize it himself.”
Iceman really is one of the most powerful beings in all of Marvel comics, as he can command or even become any state of water. For a character that strong, no villain is a hurdle to overcome, so Grace took the character’s newly discovered sexuality, and made fear and anxiety his greatest foes.
“I can make myself turn to vapor,” Iceman tells his father after coming out, “I never really explored the how because I knew the why… I want to disappear sometimes.”
“The vapor move is tricky,” he explains, “because the why gets me there, but it’s a headspace that doesn’t really allow me to sort out how I come back… how do you come back from that?”
There’s the usual round-up of mutant villains, including the Purifiers, but it’s his fight with the Juggernaut that stands out as something more that the appearance of a classic X-Men villain. The “Unstoppable” Juggernaut, as he’s known, is an unbreakable force. Fighting Colossus in the recent Deadpool 2 film, not even a man made of metal could stop him.
When Iceman comes out to his parents in issue #5, it’s during his fight with the Juggernaut, and the villain who represents that impenetrable wall that Iceman must overcome. “Fighting is a part of my everyday life,” Iceman continues, “and sometimes I think it’s the only way I know how to resolve issues… but I’m so tired of fighting.”
He’s one of the most powerful beings on the planet, and once he accepts that, and himself, he overcomes the wall that is the Juggernaut. Like people coming out to their family worldwide, he may not get the answer he wants from his parents, but Bobby’s story within the pages of Grace’s Iceman isn’t about forcing those around you to understand something they could never understand (such as turning into water vapor)—it’s about learning to accept yourself.
“Iceman: Thawing Out” is available as a trade in your local comic book shops, as well as Grace’s original works such as “Self-Obsessed” and “Nothing Lasts Forever.” Iceman has since been renewed for a new series, with Sina Grace still at the helm, set to kickoff with a new “Iceman #1” on September 12th, 2018.