Comic BooksOpinion

Op-Ed: A Discussion on ‘All-New X-Men’ #40 – What This Means for Comics

William Rosenthal ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Cover art for All-New X-Men #40. Photo Credit: Marvel.
Cover art for All-New X-Men #40. Photo Credit: Marvel.

If you’re reading this, then most likely you’re aware of the recent revelation in Marvel Comics. If not, please read All-New X-Men #40 to understand the context of the following piece. I would prefer any reader look at the source instead of my own summary since this is an opinion piece and I don’t want the context I provide to be at all biased. Anyway, moving on.

I went into this issue cold, which is a nice experience. As I gathered from my friends, almost all of them were spoiled through Facebook or some other and were immediately bombarded by commentary and conversation articles. Unlike them, I actually got to read the issue fully and allow the writing to speak of itself. Bendis has handled this series pretty well, besides the recent Black Vortex arc which I pretty much skipped. That being said, I was looking to seeing how he would close out his run since for the most part, it’s been incredible well written.

Back to #40, my immediate reaction was positive. I can’t wait to see how Bendis handles making the New Mutants an evil team now. It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen Boom Boom in action, but isn’t Elixir dead? It’s a little confusing, but wow, what a reveal! Completely blindsided me.

Okay, enough jokes, we’re here because Bobby Drake is homosexual and some people believe it was done incorrectly. I don’t understand those people. I was one of the people reading the hate and not connecting with it. Although, I do not believe that hate was not unjustified, but allow me to clarify. For the rest of the article, I’m going to directly address 2 of major complaints I’ve encountered with Bobby’s sexuality, and then give my 2 cents on why I don’t agree. These complaints will not regard making Bobby gay, like “Why does Marvel have to make every character gay, now?” I’m addressing how he was confirmed, not that he was confirmed. It should also be clear that this is more of an analysis because I think the situation is so interesting and unique to comics, but I’m unclear as to where all the hate is coming from when the situation is still so young and undeveloped.

Jean Grey outed him to the team and pried into his privacy.

This one I don’t understand. Jean handled this rather calmly and spoke to Bobby privately. The conversation is contained between just the two of them and when they return to the group, it stays between them. The issue ends without Bobby’s questioning spreading through the team as a sort of hot topic that everyone needs an opinion on. Bobby and Jean discuss it and move on. In fact, after this Bobby could remain closeted and no one but the characters and the readers would be any the wiser.

Regarding her prying, however, I still hold the belief that this was not a spur-of-the-moment thought reading. I think Jean’s known about this for a long time. Long time readers of All-New X-Men would know that Jean was introduced without telepathy and when after gaining that power, she either couldn’t control or misused it. It took a few issues actually for Jean to understand mind reading etiquette. I believe she read Bobby’s mind at that time, either accidentally or in disregard. I do wish that there was just one line to clear that up, whether it had been “I’ve known for a while” or “I read your mind just now and thought it was weird.” Both have very different connotations and that little bit of clarity would have  done wonders. However, let’s not forget that this the start of an arc. We have 4 to 5 issues to go still.

Bobby’s sexualtiy is bi-erasure and biphobic.

This is referring to Bobby saying “Maybe I’m bi.” and Jean replying with “Bit I think you’re more… full gay.” The concern is the larger implication of this for Bobby’s character. 1) That Jean shut him down and told another how to feel and 2) it ignores all of Bobby’s relationship prior with women.

Beginning with Jean, this isn’t a situation where she’s imposing her own will on others. She’s using Bobby’s own thoughts to help him through a difficult moment in his identity. Let’s not forget that there was an exchange between those two lines where Jean does recognize a bisexual identity as a possibility, but Bobby himself confirms that he is, as Jean un-gracefully describes as, “full gay.”

If that’s true, then what does that mean for Bobby’s previous relationships with women? This is where comics get weird, since those relationships were with Bobby’s older self. This is the Pandora’s box of comic character sexuality really opens up, simply because there is no hard evidence supporting one theory or another. Sexuality is a spectrum so whether or not older Bobby is queer hasn’t been confirmed by the character, it’s unclear that the younger self and older self of Bobby Drake can develop independently seeing as Warren has been on that way so one could be queer while the other is still heterosexual, or if Bobby was closeted throughout Marvel canon. I personally believe the latter.

This is something comics can do uniquely which is put a character from two different moments in their life juxtapose them. If Bobby did go through his life, acting heterosexual for whatever reason, imagine how he feels seeing himself at the moment he chose to relinquish such a large portion of his identity. This is the closeted queer man the way only comics can do it and to make such a claim that it is bi-erasure so early in the exploration is ignoring the growth the character can take.

Though these were my reactions to others, I feel like there is one very large issue that few are addressing and that’s why Jean brought up Bobby’s sexuality in the first place, Bobby’s misogyny. Jean’s point to call him out was a sort of breaking point after Bobby once again reduced an accomplished team member, Illyana Rasputina, to only her looks. This has been Bobby’s characterization for a very long time, especially during his early appearances in comics. This didn’t read like Jean forcing Bobby to accept one sexuality or another but to understand that his actions were problematic.

Even queer men can be misogynistic and using male privilege to compensate for being closeted is no excuse, whether or not that individual exists in a monosexuality or a spectrum. We know Bobby has a problem with respecting women considering how he treats Jean in this scene and his “nosy bitch” comment. Misogyny from a queer source is something that comics weren’t addressing until now and it’s not a glamorous depiction for sure, but one that is real. This is a far departure from the Astonishing X-Men wedding not long ago, but it’s refreshing for X-Men to tread a wider range of queer characters. Just as varied does Marvel have heterosexual male characters, so too do they appear to be strengthening their queer representation for all angles.

I believe this exchange would have gone down similarly even if Bobby wasn’t gay. The issue being his treatment of women is the major issue. However, Jean bringing his sexuality into it leads to some troubling implications. For one, did she have lead in the conversation with Bobby’s sexuality? Could she have kept his secret, one she had no right in bringing up, and only addressed Bobby’s interaction with women? Could it have gone like this: “Bobby, can you stop reducing women to their appearance? It’s belittling and inappropriate.”

This is not a critique, however, so it’s not my place to say how this should have happened. My concern is that people so quickly skipped over the misogyny in favor of defending a queer character or claiming they knew the correct answer to his sexuality. I don’t know the answers either, these are only theories built from the context of the comic. I do look forward to seeing if these theories will be validated or refuted in the coming months where I hope to see Bendis elaborate on this. As I’ve said before, this is hugely unique opportunity for comics to build another complex, deeply empathetic, and understandable representation of a queer man. What type of queer man that will be, only time will tell.

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