Back in April, Brian Michael Bendis kicked up a fuss with All-New X-Men #40 when the time-shifted, teenage version of Bobby Drake was outed by the psychic powers by equally teenaged and time-shifted Jean Grey. This raised a lot of hackles, not least of which for the conversation’s reliance on logic frequently used to dismiss and erase bisexuality. Today, that rhetoric got ratcheted up a notch by X-Men editor Xander Jarowey in an interview with Comic Book Resources:
“The decision was pretty simple. Brian had a story to tell and we thought it was a great story that deserved to be told. Regarding ‘post-Bendis,’ this is who Bobby is. This is not us retconning Bobby to be gay. Bobby is gay and has always been gay. We are merely watching the younger Bobby come to terms with it. He is beginning to accept who he is. As you said, it’s a process. Regardless of sexuality, we all, as human beings, must go through the process of accepting who we are and learning to love ourselves. Regarding the adult Iceman, all I can say is keep reading. ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #600 is still to come.”
It’s unclear why Jarowey believes that this isn’t a retcon -perhaps Stan Lee will be appearing at the SDCCI to deliver a J.K. Rowling worthy spiel about his long simmering intentions for Bobby- but up until that happens, it’s the most classic iteration of a retcon you could ask for. Up until ANXM #40, Bobby Drake had been written as heterosexual. That’s an established fact that you don’t really need a Marvel Unlimited account to corroborate. What’s more irritating about the statement is that it’s proof positive that Marvel, as a company, is only currently capable of viewing any of their male characters’ sexual histories one of two ways: either they’ve always been heterosexual, or they were gay pretending to be straight up until their coming out story. Like I’ve said before, this approach has seen some success in the past at both Marvel and DC with Northstar, Obsidian, Maggie Sawyer, and Renee Montoya but it’s worn out and no longer reflects a well considered perspective on human sexuality (if it ever did). What we’re getting from Jarowey is essentially “Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.”
Now that we know that the revelation pertaining to teenage, time-shifted Bobby is meant to carry over to his older self (hence “we are merely watching the younger Bobby come to terms with it”) the central question around all this is why Marvel is behaving as if there’s a need or an imperative to invalidate his entire sexual history with women. The story works just the same, if not more elegantly, were he coming out as bisexual or even pansexual. At that point, it’s as simple as Bobby coming to terms with his potential for same sex attraction at a young age without causing any significant fallout– which is probably the point behind all of this. It isn’t really about sexual diversity in the X-books, it’s about a show of force, a need to project a level of power that makes it clear that Marvel can change its fictional landscape with a snap of its fingers. An absolutely wrongheaded approach to discussing gender and sexuality in comics in and of itself.
It isn’t productive to suggest that Marvel has a specific animus against bisexuality. There are indeed some generally underutilized bisexual male characters at Marvel like Prodigy and Daken, the problem lies in a general lack of understanding of the nuances of gender and sexuality among the company’s creators and editorial staff. It’s a nice token gesture for Daniel Ketchum’s office to be open at lunch hour to “talk about whether you’re shipping Anole with Graymalkin or with Indra,” but it’s emblematic of the same old failed neo-liberal attitude. Expressing support for a given marginalized group without investing in education around the nuances of how their identities are typically presented. The situation is hardly so dire that the Marvel offices need to fumigated, but they could certainly use some workshops on gender and sexuality to better guide decisions in the future.