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Liu’s “Astonishing X-Men” Explores the Cracks in Iceman

by  in Comic News Comment
Liu’s “Astonishing X-Men” Explores the Cracks in Iceman

Iceman’s mutant ability to manipulate cold and moisture makes him one of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel Universe and an invaluable member of the X-Men. It’s also embroiled him in countless horrific and frightening crises.

Bobby Drake’s usual way of dealing with these situations is to laugh them off or try to find the humor and bright side of things, but is that an effective way for an Omega level mutant to handle psychological and emotional trauma? What happens when Iceman begins to exhibit erratic, mysterious, and dangerous behavior? Writer Marjorie Liu and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta began to answer these question and more in “Astonishing X-Men” #62, where they kicked off a new story arc that focuses on Iceman and his status following the events of “X-Termination.”

CBR News spoke with Liu about the current arc, which explores the trauma of being super-powered, the core character of Iceman, his current and past romatic relationships and the writer’s future plans for the book.

CBR News: Marjorie, “Astonishing X-Men” #62 kicked off a new story that delves into the psyche of Iceman. The issue opened up with Bobby Drake discussing some nightmares with his therapist, which made me wonder about defense mechanisms. Among the X-Men, Bobby is known for his sense of humor and jokes. In issue #62 are you raising the question of whether or not Bobby has taken that too far? Is it possible that over the years Bobby hasn’t really dealt with the traumas of a super hero life style?

Marjorie Liu: I don’t think most superheroes in fiction are allowed to fully process the trauma of being super-powered, which of course, makes sense. First of all, we’re dealing in entertainment, and readers don’t necessarily want to spend 20 pages watching a character get “deep.” But also, as in real life, most people don’t process their feelings anyway. Something bad happened? You still have to get up the next day and go to your job; take care of the family, run errands, etc. Life doesn’t stop and neither can you. But the suffering, stress — all the trauma — doesn’t go away. And it’s ridiculous to think that the X-Men and other superheroes are immune to the same psychological problems that afflict normal people. Think about the lingering PTSD of soldiers; victims of abuse and war; or people who have witnessed horrific tragedies — all of which is just the tip of the iceberg. Throw superheroes into the mix — people with incredible power who are always saving the world, making horrific sacrifices, being mind-controlled, tortured, ostracized, kidnapped — where every day you might have to fight some crazy person who doesn’t just want to kill you, but everyone around you, and what do you think is going to happen? I mean, come on. That’s stressful.

So no, Bobby hasn’t dealt with it at all. His sense of humor is a mask he puts on. I think that partially explains why his powers only advance when someone else is at the helm, or some external circumstance forces an advancement on him. He doesn’t want to deal with himself. He doesn’t want to look too deep.

Bobby’s ex-girlfriends also showed up in the issue and he appeared to legitimately believe he had not contacted any of them. Readers have seen in the past that Iceman is powerful enough to create duplicates of himself. Did those ice doppelgangers fracture off and act on his subconscious desires? How big a role does the interaction between mind and Bobby’s powers play in this story? Are Bobby’s powers limited by his conscience and his imagination?

That’s an excellent question. The interaction between mind and power, conscience and imagination, is the absolute key to this story.

It also felt like you were having a lot of fun with some major nods to Iceman’s past, like his ex-girlfriends. There were also subtle references, like the scene in Avengers Tower where Thor freaks out. That felt like a call back to the great Walter Simonson era “Thor” story involving Iceman and the Frost Giants. As an X-Men fan and a writer, what are some of your favorite Iceman centric stories and plot lines?

I love that Thor story involving Iceman and the Frost Giants — so yes, I had to make reference to that in this issue. The young Bobby Drake who appeared in his snow-covered form was so sweet, and then watching his evolution — from a teen who was self-conscious to an adult who is still self-conscious but with better coping mechanisms, has been (for me, as a reader) one of the more interesting character arcs in the X-Verse. The road trip with Rogue, his relationship to his father, Emma’s possession of him, his transformation into one of Apocalypse’s Twelve — there’s too many to name. My favorites, of course, are where Bobby is forced to show his vulnerable side, compelled to face himself and his insecurities, and grow.

Iceman isn’t the only major player in this story. His current significant other, Kitty Pryde, also had some panel time in issue #62. In one scene she talks with Wolverine about how her former boyfriend, Colossus, made her feel. Does Kitty have genuine romantic feelings for Bobby or is she just looking for someone to make her feel the way that Peter Rasputin did?

Listen, love is hard, love is complex and people don’t always know what they want, or how to talk about their feelings. Yes, I think Kitty absolutely has romantic feelings for Bobby. She wouldn’t be hurt by his reaction to his ex-girlfriends, otherwise. But she’s also been traumatized by her past relationships, and that’s going to make her hold back a little. Her walls are up. She’s a bit wary of throwing herself headfirst into anything that requires the vulnerability that true intimacy demands. I think she’s also smart enough to realize that no two relationships are the same. She’s not going to feel the same way about Bobby that she did Peter. But is she going to feel something new that’s just as wonderful? Possibly.

Mystique, the other major player in this issue, also had a romantic link to Iceman. What do you find most interesting about the dynamic between those two characters? Ultimately, what do you think Bobby means to Raven Darkholme?

The reason why two opposites can fall in love and be in a relationship? I think it boils down to having some things in common that are so fundamental to both individuals, and so sympathetically aligned, that all the other differences, no matter how vast, just don’t matter. In the case of Mystique and Bobby, what they’ve got in common might not have been strong enough for a long-term relationship, but it was definitely enough for a deep connection and some pretty interesting chemistry. Both of them, for example, hide their true faces — Bobby in ice, Mystique through her shape-shifting abilities. Both their abilities allow them to create masks that are walls and fortresses. Mystique never allows herself to be vulnerable, emotionally or physically; and Bobby rarely does, as symbolized by the fact that we usually only see him in his ice form, and not flesh.

Yet, those who work the hardest to hide their vulnerabilities are the most vulnerable. That, I think, would be something both of them would recognize (unconsciously or not) and be drawn to. Mystique, for all her cruelty, has a sense of humor — and Bobby, for all his lightness, has a dark side. Again, just enough to intrigue each other.

What does Bobby mean to Mystique? I think he represents certain possibilities, a different life that Mystique might have craved, but just couldn’t allow herself to accept. She couldn’t let down her guard, couldn’t trust, refused to give up the hunt for power that makes her feel safe. Again, it’s not as much him, as it is what he embodied.

We’ve talked about some of the major characters in this arc, let’s move on to the story. In terms of plot and theme, what is this Iceman arc about? Who are some of the major players in this story going forward?

We’re dealing with a man who has reached a breaking point in his life. He’s just returned from the alternate universe of Age of Apocalypse, which was incredibly traumatic — and it’s the last straw. He’s suffering from deep psychological wounds, a profound depression — and no one realizes it. He’s good at wearing a mask. Except now, the mask is fracturing, and the repercussions will affect not just the X-Men, but the entire world. I mean, Bobby is an Omega level mutant, right?

Well, we’re about to find out what that really means.

The X-Men will be dragged into this mess, but it isn’t just their problem – other members of the superhero community will become involved: Thor, Black Widow, She-Hulk, just for starters — and Mystique, as we’ve already seen. Bobby Drake is probably the worst enemy none of them ever expected they’d have to face.

It sounds like with this arc you’ll have a lot of fun with both your usual cast of characters in “Astonishing X-Men” and some other heavy hitters from around the Marvel Universe. Is that Iceman’s old Defender’s teammate Cloud on the cover of “Astonishing X-Men” #63?

I’m having a lot of fun with this particular cast — I always enjoy mixing it up, seeing how different characters affect the tone and plot of a story. I don’t know how involved Cloud will be, but yes, the characters I mentioned will definitely have a presence.

But it’s Mystique I’m having a blast with. I’d written her before in “Dark Wolverine,” and she was a favorite then. But it’s been a while — I’d forgotten how much fun she is to write! There’s so much to do with her, so many layers of complexity — and her prior relationship with Bobby adds an interesting twist to her motives in this story.

I’ve loved Gabriel Walta Hernandez’s character expressions and acting in “Astonishing X-Men.” He once again showed his skill in issue #62, but I imagine he’s going to show just how imaginative he can be in this arc, since it heavily involves Iceman and his powers. How much fun is Gabriel having with this story? What can readers expect from him on this arc?

It’s wild! Gabriel is blowing up this arc with his vision, but that was to be expected. He’s one of those unique, gorgeous talents who manages to capture the spirit and essence of every story he touches. I’ve been so lucky to work with him. He brings so much to each issue, but one thing I love is his attention to the “reality” of the world these characters exist in. I don’t think New York City has ever looked more beautiful in an X-Book, nor have the characters, with all their fantastic powers, appeared so relatable and accessible. They’re walking the streets, eating in restaurants, wearing regular clothes like everyone else — Gabriel makes these heroes look “lived in”, and I love that so much.

Let’s wrap up by talking about events further down the road in “Astonishing X-Men.” Can you tease some of the stories you have planned for the book after the current Iceman story?

The next storyline is evolving, but it’ll be a series of connected one-shots that’ll deal with murder, karaoke-gone-evil, zombies, a road trip, and — probably — cats. Also, you can expect more kick-ass Phil Noto covers. I’d love to hang each of them in my office.

I’ve had such a wonderful time writing this book, and I’d like to thank the amazing readers for supporting our creative team. We love you!

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