When "X-Men" originally launched in 1963, it starred a team of superheroes whose powers came to them at birth, thus bypassing the radiation-filled origins needed to explain the other Marvel Comics heroes. Since the mid-'60s and the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, however, Marvel's line of X-Men books have used the metaphor of super-powered mutants to examine themes of persecution, bigotry, intolerance, self-discovery, community and acceptance.
In this week's "All-New X-Men" #40, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mahmud Asrar revealed that founding X-Men member Iceman, AKA Bobby Drake, is gay. In a conversation between the teenage incarnation of Iceman and his telepathic teen teammate Jean Grey, Bobby admitted his sexuality for the first time.
CBR News spoke with Bendis about the controversial revelation, explaining that from his point of view as the writer, it wasn't intended to be shocking. In fact, it's just one aspect of larger story that will continue into and beyond "Uncanny X-Men" #600, the final issue of his run on the X-books, and the last one published before the entire Marvel Universe runs headlong into "Secret Wars."
CBR News: The news of Iceman's outing broke a day before "All-New X-Men" #40 was officially released. What happened?
Brian Michael Bendis: Here's the thing, and some will believe me and some won't. I think if you really paid attention to the solicits, we mentioned nothing about the subject. We didn't do a cover asking, "Which X-Men is coming out?" We didn't do anything like that, because we agreed that it was best to let the story speak for itself.
This is a story that involves psychic powers and time travel, so it's not your traditional coming out story -- and really, I don't think there is such a thing. The interactions that I've had over the past day or so have only proved that to me. There are certain experiences that a lot of people who have come out share, but a lot of people have very different opinions and experiences.
We just wanted it to be about Bobby and Jean and their very unique experience, which I thought was worth looking at. So there was no pre-hype. There was no tease of any sort. There wasn't even a hint to retailers saying, "Keep an eye on this issue." We were just going to let it play out on its own merits.
You and I have talked about how, wouldn't it be nice if you went to the comic store and not everything was ruined? So on top of what's going on with Bobby, I didn't want anyone to know who the Utopians were. I just wanted to let it happen without any sensationalism.
What happened, though, was, and I don't and will never know who, someone got a hold of a copy, and it could have been anyone from printer down to a distributor, and took a bunch of crappy pictures with their phone. They then threw them online.
The bummer is that some people put them on Tumblr, and removed six pages from the story, which completely alters the story. I'm talking about the subtleties of it, not what happens; the part that I spent a lot of time on.
So that got leaked, and now, today, we have to slide in front of it so the message isn't twisted. CNN picked the story up. BuzzFeed picked it up, and "The Advocate" picked it up as well. They mostly quoted things warmly and accurately, which I appreciated, and it certainly shifted the conversation that was coming at me back to a normal place.
I was grateful for that, but I am sad that what I was going for, the experience of people just reading it, disappeared. Some people will have not seen all the press and will still get that experience, but the purity was lost.
I'll try to tell a story without spoilers again someday. It's very hard to do. It's really getting more and more impossible, and I was very proud of Marvel for doing this in what I thought was the right way. I didn't think it was an announceable story; just a normal part of life for these time-shaken X-Men, and not something that's a big, shocking, revelation.
So that's where we are. I'm very proud of the issue and I thought Mahmud Asrar did a fantastic job. Those scans of the issue didn't help people appreciate that because they were so blurry and crappy. He sold the scene beautifully. I'm very, very proud of it, and I'm proud of the way Marvel handled it all. I'm looking forward to and already appreciating the discussion that is already happening.
The one thing that struck me about the reveal was, why do this now when your run on the X-books is about to end?
That's the other thing. There's more to this story than just this issue. Other things are going to happen. In fact, the biggest questions are, "I don't understand. How is young Bobby out, but older Bobby isn't? What are you saying?" The answer is that you'll find out in "Uncanny X-Men" #600. I'm not going to spoil that. It will probably be spoiled for me, though.
This is a very complicated subject, and it requires more than a few pages to dive into. I thought it opened a great deal of possibility for the characters. I'm kind of leaving everybody in a different place than people thought we were going to leave them, including Angel and all the others. Let's just say that I'm pretty confident that the person following me is going to do this justice.
I'm not done with this story yet, though. I still have many pages to go, and then the next person has a story that they can do with a character that I would like to read.
This story isn't something that's coming out of the blue, either. Over the years there's been a lot of hints that Bobby might not be entirely honest with himself about his sexuality.
Yes! That's the funniest conversation online. We have some people going, "What on Earth are you talking about? Where did this come from?" Then there are other people who weren't surprised at all. Already on Tumblr, and I'm not going to repost them until later in the week, people have posted a road map of panels of things that Bobby has done over the last 50 years that prove the point that I thought was obvious, and many others did too.
It's funny that we have so many people who saw it as coming out of left field, and so many people who weren't surprised at all. But with sex and politics, people are going to see what they want to see.
The other major reveal of this issue was about the characters that composed the ranks of the mysterious Utopians.
Yeah, and I legitimately thought the kerfuffle of this issue was who we picked to be about the Utopians. I'm sure that's still coming, but I thought what was on the last pages of the issue would cause more of a conversation. I guess I was just being naive. I live in Portland. Nobody here cares what anybody is or does. No one judges.
So here's the headline: This isn't the final statement on Bobby's very unique story. And it is not a universal statement on sexual identity, it's Bobby's unique one. The other portions have already been written and are being produced as we speak. Before I leave the X-Men on "Uncanny" #600, more layers will be peeled off of this, including what this means for older Bobby. I think we address all the big questions.
As Axel Alonso told MTV, a big part of the conversation when I presented this idea was, what happens next? What are we attempting to do here? Marvel was satisfied with my answers, and hopefully many other people will be as well.
I will miss this about writing the X-Men -- this platform to write about issues like this from such a unique perspective.
And to the already hundreds of people who have taken a moment out of their day to write to me and support this story -- thank you. Thank you doesn't quite cover it, but thank you.