We recently had the chance to sit down with Sina Grace, author of the comic Iceman, Marvel's first series with a gay male lead. We also had a chance to preview issue five, which drops Wednesday, in which Iceman takes on classic X-Men villain the Juggernaut -- and also the more daunting task of finally coming out to his conservative parents. If you're a gay fan of superheroes, this is the book your younger self wished you'd had.
While at Palm Springs Comic Con, Grace discussed Iceman's history, the character's exit from the closet, and what's in store for this evolving character.
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The Advocate: Tell us about Iceman.
Grace: The Iceman series at Marvel comics follows Bobby Drake, who is one of the original five X-Men dating back all the way to the '60s. In 2015, Brian Michael Bendis wrote this great little moment where all the subtext and all the feelings readers had suspected about Bobby's sexuality came to the forefront and Bobby had to confront the fact that he has been hiding as a gay man right in front of everyone. It was a really special moment because he was like, "I spend all day having to defend myself and stand up for something and fight for something. I just wanted one thing to be not a fight."
With this series we have a really interesting element on our hands, which is not only is this mega superhero coming to terms with his sexuality around his late twenties/early thirties, but there is also a high-school age version of himself living in this timeline due to Marvel comics continuity fun-times. And what's really interesting is that the time-displaced version of Iceman already has a boyfriend and is completely comfortable in his skin, and the Iceman we're following in this series is the complete opposite, because he has been compartmentalizing for probably 15 more years than that young Bobby Drake was. So the series follows Bobby learning to love himself and creating these awesome Spider-Man type stories where his character and his powers are being tested and challenged every issue.
Iceman is one of Marvel's most published characters. How did you jump into 50 years of backstory and personal life and ex-girlfriends?
As a decades-long X-Men fan, I'm abundantly aware that readers can smell when a writer does not do his or her due diligence. So I really did. I was going back and reading stories all the way back in the '60s. It's good to see all the ladies he dated. But what was amazing about all of that research is it speaks to this story about this guy who's intentionally keeping himself on the sidelines so no one's paying attention to him. He doesn't have this massive continuity you have to work toward or against, because at the end of the day he may be in thousands of Marvel comics, but he's always on the sidelines just making bad jokes and throwing ice and doing cool ice tricks. So I leaned into that and said, "Here's a guy who has made sure no one stares at him, and he deflects with humor. And that's what's made the process so easy: everything I'm doing still speaks to his history. I got lucky.
You've been working on various X-Men books for years now. How did you end up getting to write a solo book based on this character?
One day then-editor Daniel Ketchum called me and said, "Hey we're working on relaunching the X-Men line. Iceman came out in 2015. We really haven't done a lot with him" -- because at that point there was all this buildup and all this work being done for Inhumans vs. X-Men, and there wasn't a lot of room for emotional explorations with solo titles -- and he goes, "what would you do with the character?"
It was so casual I had no clue I was auditioning. And I just meditated on him and I saw, "Oh, he's just been hiding in plain sight." And the minute I said that is when I think it clicked for Marvel that I'd be a decent fit, because it showed an understanding of that kind of psychology and, more to the point, that kind of story that works well within the Marvel Universe about people who feel marginalized, when if they actually loved and nurtured that thing that made them marginalized, they'd become magnificent. And that's what's great about Iceman, is he's always had this untapped potential as one of the most powerful mutants in existence, but nothing's ever come of it, and I leaned into that too. He doesn't want to be big. He doesn't want all that attention on him. And this series is him finally sorting that out and seeking that attention out. And so I made the pitch, and I got the job.
In the final frame of issue four, we saw an exhausted Bobby tell his parents, "I'm gay." Issue five wraps up the first major arc of the series. What can we expect?
It's not going to be a nice issue for him. Spoiler alert: they don't take it well. My mom didn't take it well. One of my exes just came out to his parents two months ago, and they didn't take it well. And I don't think it's right to say that it's always going to be easy and you're always going to be embraced. That's what his friends are for. His friends are there to say, "We love you, you're fine. Moving on, talk to us as much as you want to talk to us. We're here." But I think it's very important to point out that this is still a struggle for a lot of people. It can't always be this giant rainbow of inclusion. It's still a struggle and there's still work to be done. So it's a hard one. And then he fights Juggernaut on top of it.
How are things with your mom now?
My mom is proud of me. I will do anything for my mom. She is Persian. She was raised Muslim. It's not in her DNA to accept that this is a lifestyle that cannot be questioned or combatted. She worked very hard to love me despite what had been institutionalized in her core. And to see her do that, I'll do anything for her.
You seem to appreciate that she made an effort at all.
You have to massage [older generations] into the present. Not always -- sometimes you have to be aggressive, but that's not my way. I just believe in compassion and love. I believe that you have to look at people and love them in order to understand why they can't understand you. If my mother had hit me, attacked me, or resisted longer than, say, two years, then I'd get a little combative.
What else can we expect in the future of Iceman?
So Bobby comes out to his parents in issue five. He fights Juggernaut. We get some insight into his powers and how they work, which I'm excited for readers to argue with me about on the internet. Then in issue six we have a two-issue tie-in for Legacy where Bobby teams up with the Champions, this team he was in in the 1970s, and they go to L.A. to mourn the death of Black Widow. So he basically has this very tumultuous experience with his parents. He's so burnt out, he lost one of his students, so he really needs to change his context.
So he goes to Los Angeles and hangs out with the team, and now he's dealing with the grief over one of his friends, and there's so much on his mind, and he goes back to the city where he was studying accounting at UCLA, and I'm really happy that I get to go to Los Angeles with him. And I'm also happy that I get to represent my hometown, and I'm excited to be able to introduce more non-blonde, non-white characters.
There will be an interesting bad guy that I hope people like. And then readers can expect to see Bobby's first boy-on-boy kiss in the next two to three issues. After his trip to Los Angeles, when Bobby comes back home, we'll get to see more of him and his time-displaced younger self, because I just have so much fun writing them, and they learn so much from each other, and they speak so much to different generations of the LGBTQI+ population. They speak so well to the two generations, because Bobby's a little old-school, and then time-displaced Bobby is like, post-Glee. He's just out and proud and thinking, "what's the issue?", and our Bobby feels like there are so many issues. And it's going to be great to watch them bounce off of each other.
You draw the conversations and the situations in the book from real-life experiences. What's the benefit in doing that?
I try to draw from a handful of experiences in order to make the book as fleshy as possible. There's a really beautiful line that we get at the end of issue five from Bobby's dad, and that was something that a friend of mine's dad said to him, and when I heard that, I thought, "What I'd give for my dad to have said that to me." Some of the intensely uncomfortable and unfair questions that Bobby gets from his parents during the "coming out" issue I brought to the book because it's so surreal where someone's head goes when they have to rejigger their loved one's identity on the spot, and they feel so entitled to ask these questions.
I try to make it come from a real personal place, because I just want this book to be the best it can be, and to be honest, and that's what's been so fantastic about how Marvel comics has treated me, is they have just encouraged me to make this as much of a book for me as possible. In issue four when we had to change the particulars of the plot, I kept saying, I really want this dance scene. I want them in formal-wear, and I want them to have this sexy flirtatious dance. And I was like, you gotta trust me. I don't have a literature-degree explanation why. I just have a gut feeling. Trust me. And I think I was right. I think fans responded the way I wanted. But that was a me thing. That was me growing up watching WB and CW shows, and I wanted to have that sexy Marvel moment that you don't always get to see in those books because there are always so many big events.
What else would you want to say about Iceman?
I love this book, and I think everyone should love it. [laughs] I'm having the time of my life. I'm so happy and I love Bobby Drake and I never knew. As an X-Men fan, I never saw him, and now I do and I'm enamored by him.
Iceman's fifth issue is out now.