Friday, 15 August 2008

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #3: The Big Chill

One of the most important unwritten laws regarding long-running comics is that you absolutely cannot get too caught up in considering timeframes. UXM has been in print almost continuously for forty-five years now. Despite this fact [1], and despite there being an issue with the X-Men celebrating Christmas pretty much every year, and despite them remarking on historical events from Reagan’s election to the New Millenium to 9/11, there is precious little evidence of any of the characters in the comic having aged at all.

Obviously, this is more a problem for some than others. Scott Summers, for example, exists in that nebulous late twenties/early thirties stage where specifics don’t really seem to matter. Others, like Jubilee, have only been around since the Nineties, which allows for slightly more suspension of disbelief at the fact she is still in her teens.

The glaring problem in all of this is Bobby “Iceman” Drake. A team member from the very beginning, ever since the onset of puberty awakened his mutant abilities, it’s pretty hard even by comic standards to swallow the idea that he has survived essentially unchanged across so many years.

And yet he has. Or so it would seem, at any rate. The wise-cracks, the temper-tantrums; were it not for the occasional progress in mastering his powers, one might assume Drake power to freeze his surroundings works just as well on his personality.

Once you look at this puzzle for long enough, though, you begin to realise that the infamously elastic nature of time in the Marvel Universe isn’t entirely to blame for Iceman seeming to be endlessly trapped in the throes of puberty. Bobby remains unchanged by the years almost entirely by choice.

Developing mutant powers was disastrous for Drake. First, it forced a wedge between him and his deeply conservative parents (particularly his bigoted father, who Drake would be unable to reach for half a decade, despite several attempts; but more on that later). Secondly, it cost him his girlfriend at the time, who refused to associate with a mutant even though he had only revealed his powers in order to save them from a brutal beating. Finally, it got him thrown in jail “for his own protection” (no-one has ever said that in comics and meant it) and on the crappy end of an angry mob.

The aforementioned lynch brigade was only stopped by the timely arrival of Professor Xavier and the then-named X-Man, Cyclops. In short order they dealt with the mob and persuaded Drake to join up. Not really sure what else to do (another point I’ll return to), he accepted their offer, and left his parents’ house so as to move into Xavier’s mansion.

Almost immediately (i.e. by the time we see Angel inducted into the group a little while later), Iceman has fallen into the behaviour that will define him for the next seven years/four and half decades (depending on your perspective); goofing around and cracking truly terrible jokes. One suspects that living with the sternly avuncular Xavier and ready-made elder brother Scott Summers made such a role seem entirely reasonable to Drake, and the later arrival of a condescending millionaire and the cerebral McCoy simply reinforced that position (though it’s worth noting that Beast shared at least some of Iceman’s proclivity towards tomfoolery). To Bobby, it seemed as though he was not only the youngest, he was also the least useful member of the team (Worthington seemingly compensating for limited powers with agility and grace). Iceman was not the X-Man to rely upon. He might happen to come up trumps in the middle of a fight (and whatever else he might be, Drake is certainly not a coward) but it would be a poor plan indeed that actually required him to do so.

This state of affairs lasted for quite some time, longer than perhaps it should have. Under Cyclops’ tutelage, Bobby managed some modest progress in mastering his power, but that was all. Then he met Lorna, green-haired mistress of magnetism and all round expression of hotness, and suddenly there was something more to life than pretending to be a snowman and hitting Hank with snowballs.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Lorna met Havok, and the rest is history (at least until the latter’s disappearance into another dimension at the start of Mutant X). Drake’s refusal to accept this turn of events allows another insight into his character. Coupled with his unwillingness to grow up, the situation with Lorna revealed a petulant refusal to accept any situation with jibed with his conviction regarding the way “things should be”. Any upset to that fantasy, and Drake is liable to kick off. Combined with his feelings of rejection over Lorna, the return of Xavier, thought dead but revealed to have been faking it to secure the survival of humanity, immediately prompts Iceman to quit the team in disgust. This foot-stamping streak occurs repeatedly over the next few years as Iceman signs up to and abandons team after team. Over what in comic terms must be only a few months, Iceman leaves the X-Men, joins and leaves the Champions, joins and leaves the Defenders, and returns to the X-Men only to walk out again to go to college, only to ultimately change to studying part-time and ultimately abandoning the idea completely in order to fight crime. Any set-back, any reminder that the universe according to Robert Drake isn’t really something the real world takes a great deal of interest in, or even any period in which he feels as though he’s not entirely comfortable with his situation, and Iceman packs it in and tries somewhere else. Often this reminder takes the form of a woman rejecting his advances; Lorna; Darkstar; Cloud [2], other times he fails his team-mates and leaves in shame. The precise impetus isn’t really the issue so much as the fact that it keeps happening, and that his constant desire to flee his problems rather than resolve them makes him entirely prepared to return to those he has already abandoned the instant some new disaster replaces the memories of older ones. [3]

This difficulty in accepting changes or setbacks makes him frequently the most unwelcoming to new additions to the team roster, to the point where he tells Nightcrawler (blissfully ignorant of the accompanying insult) that only the original five are X-Men, and everyone else is just a “Johnny-Come-Lately”. With the first members, Drake had a clearly defined role, but the endlessly shifting line-up brings with it real danger that he will have to fend for himself, or worse, shoulder some kind of responsibility.This fear of accepting trust and duties spills over into the development of his powers. Over the years since Xavier first recruited him, Bobby has made a number of steps forward in the strength of his mutant gift, but each and every time these advances have been suggested or more often imposed by others. Loki captured him and amplified his powers, to the point where Drake spent some time having to wear an inhibitor belt in order to remain in control. The fact that eventually he could do without this device and that ultimately he became far more powerful than even Loki had realised implies that, once again, the belt was there, not to save Iceman from himself, but to prevent him from having to face a situation that was changing too quickly for him to handle. Not long afterwards, Mikhail Rasputin also shows him how far he lags behind his potential, which leads to a brief period of experimentation before once again inertia and immaturity again kick in.

Some time later, the White Queen possesses Iceman’s body, and uses it to perform feats that Drake had never considered possible. In the aftermath, he begins to experiment with his abilities, but very quickly requests that Storm plays tutor (“Both of us have similar element-wielding powers”). Ororo commends him for moving at his own pace (as well as insisting he treat the situation seriously), but given his history one wonders whether involving Storm represented anything other than an attempt to make someone else responsible for his development. Mere days later, Drake’s chest is shattered battling Onslaught’s herald, Post, and his immediate response is to run to the White Queen, demanding that she help him to repair his torso. Frost’s response is to telepathically confront him with his own insecurities, to make him finally realise that some things, one must do alone. After this revelation, and after fixing his own wounds, Drake at last begins to show some signs of growing up. Even this, though, he subconsciously undercuts. Whether offering advice to younger X-Men like Cannonball or operating alone (rescuing Cecilia Reyes from Prime Sentinels during Operation: Zero Tolerance, for example), Drake spends every free minute reminding himself that he isn’t supposed to be the guy you depend on, that his job is to tell jokes and have someone else tell him what to do. Upon discovering the onset of a secondary mutation (something which almost invariably renders a mutant vastly more powerful, though not always to the benefit of their looks) his immediate reaction is to hide it away, to pretend it isn’t happening. This ultimately leads to Annie Ghazikhanian branding him as little better than a racist, someone happy to hang out with mutants as long as he can still look like he’s human. He takes this criticism badly, and perhaps justifiably so, since his problem is actually something else entirely. He doesn’t want to look human per se, he wants to look the same as he always has done.

In fact, this is far from the biggest problem Annie has caused Drake. Having realised his feelings for Lorna have returned (or more likely never gone away) Iceman is once more forced to watch as she fawns over Alex, apparently unaware as to how much less receptive he is than before, having secretly fallen in love with Annie as she nursed him back to health following his return to this reality. Perhaps sensing something is wrong, Lorna proposes to Alex (who is loudly congratulated by Beast before he has time to actually respond). Annie, who entirely reciprocates Alex’s feelings, is as distraught over the impending wedding as Bobby is, which leads to a very brief affair that ends when Havok confesses on his wedding day that his true feelings are for his former nurse. Needless to say, losing first Lorna, then Annie (and later, Lorna again) to Havok is more than Drake can bear. He lashes out at Havok for constantly “stealing” his women, woefully failing to understand why exactly these women consider Alex the better bet, that perhaps with all else equal, perhaps the perpetual teenager shtick fares less well than that of a man with the desire to accept responsibility, rather than stare at himself in a mirror (Lorna somewhat brutally sums it up on her hen night: “You don’t sleep with Bobby, you endure him“). Naturally, whilst the whole experience is clearly traumatic for Bobby, there is no indication whatsoever that he learns from it in any remotely meaningful way.

Of course, Drake’s romantic history, as mentioned, has been disastrous without exception. His dalliance with Infectia (whom McCoy warned him against to no avail) eventually ended up with Beast being turned back to his blue furry state. Recently Iceman struck up a somewhat twisted relationship with Mystique, a woman both old enough to be his mother (and the mother of his much older sibling) and a murderous terrorist, only to be betrayed (though Mystique admits that due to their involvement he is the only X-Man besides Rogue she wouldn’t just murder without warning) [4]. The closest to success he has come is likely with Opal Tanaka, with “success” here being defined as “relationship lasting long enough for him to totally screw it up himself”. By his own admission Tanaka left him because he was too self-absorbed to recognise what they had together. Before that, however, he had taken her home to meet his parents, perhaps hoping that an overt display of something as normal as “a relationship” might go some way to overcoming his father’s problem with him being a mutant. If we learn anything from the resulting cluster-fuck, it’s that a freak is unlikely to win back the love of a whitebread bigot by showing up with a Japanese girlfriend in tow [5]. Once again we see the narrow parameters Drake was given by his parents, the horribly restrictive set of circumstances they allowed him to consider acceptable. Little wonder Iceman has such little desire to change quickly, or that he never seems comfortable with his situation. How can he, when it is his very nature which his father objects to. Later, the two find a modicum of peace when Drake Sr. stands up to the bigoted Creed Presidential Campaign, and nearly pays for it with his life. This revelation clearly helps Drake, but the resulting damage done to his father in a savage beating means Bobby is often too busy keeping Drake Sr. well to commit too much time to his comrades in the X-Men.

Recently he seems to have returned full-time to the X-Men. He lost his powers on M-Day, only to find out that the problem lay in a self-inflicted subconscious block, rather than Scarlet Witch’s reality manipulation. Perhaps, even after all these years, and even managing reconciliation with his father, Drake still on some level longs to return to the way things were, when he was normal enough for his parents to love him, and he didn’t spend his life playing catch-up to older, better mutants, who are not too self-conscious to strive for change.

Next time: Angel reminds how much easier it is to be a control freak when you're a multi-millionaire. At least until someone breaks off your wings, anyway.

[1] As a rough (very rough) guide, X-Universe time is around six times slower than ours, meaning Xavier gathered his original team together something like seven and a half years ago.

[2] In fairness, the Cloud thing fell apart because she kept turning into a man, which is a level of complication in a relationship which excuses pretty much any bad calls a person might make in response.

[3] There are few more obvious examples of this than Iceman visiting his ex-girlfriend Zelda (who he broke up with through excessive non-phoning rather than by any actual conversation) in order to complain about his situation with Lorna. Whatever happens to be bothering Drake at any given time is "the big thing", and all other considerations (including previous “the big things") fail to register.

[4] As idiotic as Drake’s decision to allow Raven Darkholme to seduce him might have been, it did lead to one of my favourite Iceman quotes in history as he baits her as he waits for her to kill him:
“I was going to ask you how you live with yourself. But that‘s the wrong question, isn‘t it?”
“Is it Robert? Why is that?”
“Because I don’t think you even know who you are anymore. You‘re not scheming. Working to a plan. You‘re just… rabid.”

[5] Things went just as badly when Bobby visited his parents once again a few years later, this time with Rogue in tow. His father immediately (and incorrectly) assumed a romantic relationship between them, and proved even more offensive than before. After which, to no-one’s surprise, Iceman responded by running away (specifically to Seattle on a road trip with Rogue).

No comments: