In the letters page to this week’s Iceman #6, writer Sina Grace singles out the “performative” approach the character has decided to take about his own sexuality. Iceman has been coded as straight for so much of his life within comics that it took a telepathic intervention and a clear message from a time-traveling younger version of himself before his orientation actually emerged within his psyche. It was a big change for the character, and Grace’s key ambition with this series has clearly been to try and reconcile the legacy of Iceman with his contemporaneous reality.
Which makes this a great time to launch a “Marvel Legacy” tie-in issue, as the character reunites with his old teammates in The Champions for a drinking session that triggers some old memories. The choice to bring in The Champions rather than any of Iceman’s other past teams is an inspired one, mainly because the team have all had their recurring experiences with death — I believe Darkstar was canonically dead until she joyously walks into this issue — and their reminiscences of the currently dead Black Widow allow the creative team to link Iceman’s past with his present.
Connecting the timelines is a smart way to present readers with an out Iceman who yet still retains all the past storylines that first engaged the comics audience. Here, Grace is able to round out the character, and establish just how obvious it was in hindsight that he has always subconsciously half-known his sexuality. Despite a few stilted lines (which could favorably be attributed to Iceman’s “performance”), Grace is able to bring the classic Iceman personality whilst incorporating his new tentative identity as an out gay man. For all we see him stumble his way through flirting and his first date with another man, the comic is able to then fall back on superheroics to show a more confident, established Iceman than before.
In essence, the issue allows the character to absolutely balance out his inexperience on the dating scene against his professional, experienced and confident approach to, y’know, fighting robots and stuff. This shows strongly through the pencil of Robert Gill, so impressive at Valiant, who here offers a decidedly grounded and human approach to the characters. He’s adept at body language, although perhaps less so with character design, as Ghost Rider and Angel at times are very hard to tell apart. When the faces seem similar, it’s the posture which differentiates the characters, and Gill manages to fill all six members of the team with different energies and stances.
Still, this is really a showcase for Grace, and he continues to build up both the world and the confidence of his lead character. Although Iceman still plays into performance as he navigates his new identity, Grace makes it clear that the character is beginning to relax and feel ease in himself. By bringing the timeline together, in a sense, by combining the Iceman who kisses stubbly guys with the Iceman who used to fight Nazis filled with bees, Grace is able to create a compelling lifespan for his lead character. And it’s creating a cohesiveness which Iceman hasn’t had in… well, ever before. As the character grows confident, so does this book, and issue #6 is another step forward in that regard.