By Owie 4 Comments
Doth Iceman Protest Too Much?
Iceman being Gay, and the Curious, Mostly-Forgotten Case of the Romantic Quadrangle of Iceman, Angel, Moondragon, and Cloud
X-Men 600 has confirmed that the mainstream Earth-616 Iceman is gay. Previously it had only been revealed that the version of him from the past, who had come to live in the present, was gay, and many fans thought that perhaps 616 Bobby would remain straight, as his past version might come from an alternative timeline. Of course, with Secret Wars, who knows how this will affect any version of Iceman going forward, but the main point is, 616 Bobby is now gay, and always has been--he was just in the closet this whole time before.
Many people feel this new gay identity contradicts his past too much to be believed, and upends old romances or flirtations with various women. As someone who started reading comics in the original X-Factor days, for instance, I always liked his relationship with Opal. The new explanation is that these were basically attempts on his part to cover up his gay identity, and even to force himself to try to be straight. This explanation essentially invites us to reinterpret the past in light of the present.
Everyone will accept or not accept these explanations on their own. What I would like to do here is present one of the only storylines from the deep past that does, to some degree, actually provide what could be interpreted as evidence for Bobby's homosexuality. I'm not saying that it was originally intended to be evidence that Bobby is gay; I'm saying that now, as we look back on it, it can be interpreted in a new way--a way that supports his confusion and turmoil over his hidden, and maybe personally-misunderstood, sexual identity.
The storyline in question is from the Defenders, in the early 80s--an era where mainstream comics just did not feature any gay characters or characters with non-typical gender (although the Defenders was actually known for forward-looking relationships, including the interracial marriage between the white Devil-Slayer and his black wife, Cory, and various other plays with identity and body-switching). But the story I'm about to explain, written by Peter Gillis, took all that to a new level.
It tells the story of the romantic entanglements of Cloud, who starts the story as a teenaged girl and ends up with both male and female identities, and how Bobby, alone of the Defenders, has some major issues with his feelings about her male identity. I will interpret it--against the original meaning of the story--as Bobby wrestling with his suppressed gay feelings for Cloud's male identity.
While my interpretations about Bobby's suppressed gay identity are totally invented after the fact and only make sense in the new light of this year's revelations, the story does include what was very much a provocative story of a transsexual transformation and a lesbian relationship between Cloud and Moondragon, both of which were, again, highly unusual in the early 80s and honestly I am shocked it was passed by the comics code, which was still very much in effect at the time. Angel also takes part, a bit.
Here's what happened.
Moondragon joins the team. Odin considered her dangerous, so he put a headband on her that hobbled her psi powers if she used them too much for evil. But, she used them that way anyway. She made both Angel and Iceman have sexual/romatic feelings towards her, in the hope that eventually they would take her headband off. This manipulation went unknown for many issues. Check out these hilarious scans of Iceman and Angel thinking the same romance-drenched things about Moondragon in Defenders 126, 128, and 130.
Eventually Cloud joined the team. Moondragon's powers accidentally made Cloud attracted to her too. Essentially, Cloud totally fell in love with Moondragon, to an extent which seemed to even shock Moondragon. I should point out that while Moondragon has had lesbian relationships in recent times, this was not the case back then, so this is essentially her first female relationship. However, Moondragon mostly acted as a kind mentor back to Cloud, she never fully overtly reciprocated Cloud's declarations of love. But the relationship clearly went a little beyond that.
Here is Moondragon first reaching out towards Cloud, in what for Moondragon is an unusually warm embrace (of a mostly-naked girl dressed in wisps of cloud) (Cloud is presented as being probably around 18 or 19 years old) in Defenders 130, followed later on by Cloud's full declaration of love in Defenders 134. I can't stress enough that this was a fully openly lesbian declaration of love, at a time when such things simply weren't dealt with in mainstream comics even if that love was caused by Moondragon's powers--which we didn't know at the time anyway. Then we see another time they share a tender moment; here again Moondragon talks down to her a bit, she's not as fully into this relationship, and is basically using Cloud.
At the same time, Bobby and Cloud started a flirtatious relationship as well. It wasn't as serious, but they were kind of crushing on each other. These are from Defenders 132. Please note Moondragon's line about subconscious hostility towards women, which takes on an entirely new light when you know that Bobby is really gay and suppressing his true sexuality.
In what can now be seen in a heartbreaking struggle between her personal feelings and societal norms, Cloud eventually felt that her lesbian desires for Moondragon were wrong, illicit, unnatural. She used her powers to turn into a boy instead of a girl, so that her love would be more "natural"--i.e., fit societal norms by then being heterosexual instead of homosexual, even if abrogating other norms about gender-switching. I should point out that Cloud is really a sentient nebula (like, from space), and so she doesn't really have a natural human form at all, let alone a male or female one. But when this was all first happening, no one knew that. As far as the readers knew, she was just a girl with powers.
First there's this panel where she painfully wrestles with her feelings towards Moondragon, which she feels are "wrong," "unthinkable," "sicko," but which she can't stop feeling.
Then she has a dream, in which she and a dream-Moondragon (really Moondragon psychically inserting herself in her dreams) discuss their feelings, with Moondragon saying that "it can't be wrong unless you think it's wrong." (See scans way below.) Moondragon has ulterior motives here, but I think her feelings about sexual identity are still genuine. But upon waking, Moondragon is surprised to find out that Cloud has found a unexpected solution by turning male. Now Cloud feels "I can love you, Moondragon--everything that was wrong is now right! I can love you--and I do!" As she later explains to the rest of the Defenders, "I just couldn't go on like I was! I couldn't fall in love with Moondragon--and be like I was!" Now I want to emphasize that I don't think writer Peter Gillis is really against gay love. I think he's actually trying to make it OK for love and gender to take all forms, which again is an amazing statement for 1984 or so under the comics code.
So this made her one of the first transsexuals in comics, if you will--someone who felt that her natural gender must be wrong, and so she wanted to change to the other gender. Now obviously this is not quite a realistic situation, but it does provide a powerful example of someone who felt uncomfortable in their current gender and chose to do something about it, and who then felt the social ramifications of their choice.
Because after she turns male, the Defenders are of course shocked. They always knew her as a girl. However, most of them get over it fairly quickly. Bobby, however, has real issues. He alone can't deal with her new gender, because of his feelings for her. He says, "How can you be so comfortable, Val--with HIM sitting next to you?" When Cloud responds, since she's right there, he says, "Oh sure--just your regular average guy/girl." He sarcastically asks if he should kiss her or shake his hand. He basically reacts to Cloud the same way that some people still have even today with transsexuals. Val puts him in his place, but Cloud is really shaken by her lack of acceptance. (I should note that while Val has in recent years admitted to lesbian relationships of her own, her quote here about "I once had a mortal woman partake of my nature" is not a sexual metaphor, it just means she and another woman switched bodies for a while.)
This is all in Defenders 136.
There's also this panel from a little later in Defenders 140, where he is "nervous" when she is a boy, and the whole thing is "too weird to deal with."
Now in the original interpretation, I think we'd say Bobby's issues are because Bobby is straight, and likes her as a girl, and when she becomes a boy, and he still likes her, he doesn't know how to deal with that. That's already a pretty interesting story of sexual and gender identity.
However, with the current revelation that Bobby is in fact gay, there are two slightly different ways to interpret this old story: either Bobby knows he's gay, and is pretending to have a crush on her (as, for instance, he was pretending to luridly watch girls' aerobics taps with Angel in another issue of this time), but is actually just friends with her. Then when she turns into a boy, he now finds that his pretend crush is a real one, but he can't do anything about it because he's in the closet, so he has to pretend that he doesn't like her new male gender in order to reinforce his outwardly-straight identity. In other words, he doth protest too much. The other option is that Bobby hasn't even personally come to terms with the fact that he's gay, and doesn't understand his own male desires, submerging them deeply into his subconscious. Therefore his flirtations with Cloud are innocent and meaningless, but when she turns male, he suddenly feels all-new feelings of desire for him that he himself can't explain, and starts to get angry with himself over what he can't admit to himself. This could be, to borrow a term from former Defenders writer J.M. Dematteis's story of Moonshadow that was written about the same time, the beginning of his journey to awakening. He's "nervous" and feels the whole thing is "too weird to deal with" because he doesn't want to deal with the truth about himself as a gay man--something he won't come to accept until today.
We later see Cloud still trying to have a relationship with Moondragon, although Moondragon is clearly having none of it any more, in Defenders 138.
Cloud tries to make up with Bobby. She is freaked out when she accidentally turns into a girl again, clearly feeling more comfortable in her new male gender, and talks about how she's the same in either gender, but Bobby can't see that. She wants Bobby to shake her hand as a man, to at least be friends, but Bobby has a totally visceral reaction that makes him back away. Inside, at least, he knows he's a hypocrite. Again, in the new understanding that Bobby is gay, this takes on a whole new light: he's physically reacting to his suppressed desire for her as a man, and knows he's a hypocrite because of his own sexual identity. Defenders 138.
Eventually Moondragon admits that she used her powers to amp Iceman, Angel, and Cloud's feelings for her. Cloud rejects this possibility, and insists that it was real love, but ultimately seems to accept it. Moondragon seems conflicted over what she actually felt towards Cloud, answering that she doesn't know what love really is. She certainly feels tender for Cloud, at least. I feel like this is Moondragon coming to terms not so much with her innate gay or bisexual nature, but the fact that she actually felt love for someone, and this was so unusual for her normally cold self that it felt unnatural to her.
Cloud and Bobby finally have a heart-to-heart. He says, "There's no way I can let myself fall hard for you when I know that somewhere inside you is--a guy." (Again, protest too much?) She admits she loves Moondragon, not Bobby, but does have warm feelings for him. She knows he's only comfortable when she's a "cute girl"--which we can now interpret as meaning, because he doesn't have to wrestle with his gay nature when he's around her as a girl. Bobby eventually manages to get over himself and tentatively accepts Cloud, whatever her identity. Defenders 142.
Later, Cloud's feelings about Moondragon, who both manipulated and spurned her, turn negative.
Here, she talks with Bobby about being mad at her in Defenders 143.
Then she helps defeat Moondragon, who has now temporarily turned evil and accepted the power of the Dragon of the Moon, by channeling her rage against her, in Defenders 144. Moondragon's own emotional journey over this time is also very interesting and impactful, but I can't sufficiently get into that here.
And later, Cloud uses that same rage against Moondragon to help defeat a demon, Hotspur, in Defenders 147.
However, Cloud's old friend Seraph eventually says she can show Cloud her true identity. Cloud is extremely fearful of finding out the truth, and in a desperately sad scene, begs Bobby to not make her find out, saying that she'll even stay as a girl for him, something she clearly doesn't want to do. This just reeks of so many of the kinds of painful, unnecessary compromises that gay and pre-transformation-transsexuals are forced to make for their families and friends and society. Happily, Bobby is past this now and tells her to find out the truth. (It turns out that Cloud took on both male and female forms because she based them on two humans who were in a coma that she met when she first came to earth.) Defenders 149.
When she eventually finds out who she really is, and leaves the Defenders to return to space, she has a particular moment of goodbye with Bobby, talking of acceptance and how identity and love are the same regardless of gender. Defenders 150.
Later, when Seraph leaves, Seraph also talks about how Cloud and Bobby had a particularly strong relationship, leaving the whole relationship on a positive note. Defenders 151.
This story of Cloud, Bobby, Moondragon (and tangentially Angel at the beginning) would be a pretty unusual and even transgressive story in the early 80s. No matter how you read it, it's the story of a girl who found herself in love with a woman, and changed her gender to make herself feel better because she thought it was wrong to love another woman, and the way that Bobby was unable accept that new gender due to his feelings for her. And that over time, Cloud was able to come to terms with the fact that she was in fact both genders, and Bobby was able to come to terms with his feelings for her.
But I do think that now we can interpret this story in new, additional ways, given Bobby's new identity as a gay man, and read extra reasons as to why he might have felt uncomfortable with her as a man. I do see it as just about the only evidence that could support the interpretation that he was gay from his past history. I'm sure many will say that since this wasn't the original intent, this new interpretation makes no sense. But I'm a believer that any text can be read in any way, and that authorial intent doesn't trump the reader's interpretations. Now that we have new evidence, we can reinterpret the old evidence in new ways, and that's what I wanted to do here.