There aren't that many homosexual comic book characters. In fact, the dedicated Wikipedia page only lists 99 superheroes, from any publisher... That's in comparison to Marvel Comics' purported 5,000+ characters the publisher touted when they were bought by Disney back in 2009.
And when you get to name brand, easily recognizable (read: movie) characters? The list pretty much drops to zero, unless you're a really big Northstar fan.
That's why fans reacted in shock to leaked pages from tomorrow's (April 22) "All-New X-Men #40," which reveal that founding member of the X-Men, Iceman, is gay. We won't link the pages here, but suffice to say based on the dialogue -- where Jean Grey lets Iceman knows he's over-compensating with sexualized remarks about female members of the team to cover up his homosexuality -- it's pretty clear that Iceman is 100%, definitely out of the closet.
Complicating matters in a way only comic books can is that this is a version of Iceman from back when the comics first launched (Marvel has a sliding timeline, so while technically he's from the 1960s, only a few years have passed in comic book time), who traveled forward to "now" and has met his current self.
In the issue, the characters even wonder why, if Iceman is gay, that his older self is not. Or is he? And how did this story even come about in the first place?
"Well, Brian wrote it into a script," Axel Alonso, Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics told MTV News over the phone. "He's been teasing at it for a while, he sent it on in to his editor, who in turn sent it to me, and we started a discussion."
After Bendis was "honestly persuasive" on the issue, Alonso took a look at the history of the snow-powered X-Man, passed it up the chain and the decision was made. "That's the whole boring process. He had a good story to tell, and we think it's worth telling," Alonso added.
In recent years, Marvel has had a tremendous commitment to diversity, at least when it comes to the characters on its pages and anchoring its titles. Where traditionally comics have been led by white men, in recent years the publisher has added multiple female leads, replaced Captain America with his African-American sidekick The Falcon, and even created two incredibly popular multicultural leads with Miles Morales ("Ultimate Spider-Man") and Kamala Khan ("Ms. Marvel").
Still, the decision to have Iceman come out of the closet wasn't, "editorial edict," it came from Bendis' story... And in particular the scene in the book the writer turned in was what sealed the deal.
"It was our subsequent conversations about what the next story would be that really sold me," Alonso continued. "This is a character with decades of history, and one who we've seen falter on the romantic stage -- more than once. So the seeds were always there."
In fact, the plan wasn't to create a flurry of press or big headlines (as has happened today), but to just let the story speak for itself. Instead, the pages leaked, and now Marvel is dealing with the reaction... Though according to Alonso, the reaction has been "overwhelmingly positive."
Naturally, with outing a prominent character like Iceman, there was concern. "Editors are paid to have their spider-sense tingle," Alonso said, laughing. "But what you do is you think things through. [But] X-Men has always been the ultimate playground to see growing pains, and what it means to be different. This is one more shading of those stories."
Alonso also noted that as the story continues in "Uncanny X-Men #600," the story Bendis is telling is, "very sensitive, very moving, I think a lot of people are going to respond to this."
Speaking of sensitivity, other than the lack of homosexual characters on the page, the treatment of the few LGBT characters comics have hasn't been the most sensitive. Often when a character comes out, that becomes their defining characteristic, stating, "I'm gay," or commenting on a member of the same sex's attractiveness every issue.
For Iceman's new-found sexuality, this archaic practice will go the way of the dodo.
"We look at this as being one shading of who he is," Alonso said. "I think, personally that it is going to deepen the character, and humanize him even further, and make for fascinating stories. By that I am not saying you are not going to recognize Bobby Drake anymore. If you were a fan of Bobby Drake before, if you cared about him, I think this will draw you closer to the character, not push you away from him."
Alonso added to this that, despite the character's frequent appearance onscreen in the "X-Men" movies, this is something that is purely a comic book decision, and didn't need to be run by FOX or Marvel Studios -- or Iceman actor Shawn Ashmore, who Alonso joked he didn't have the phone number for.
"Our decisions made in publishing are made in publishing," Alonso added. "We've always enjoyed the latitude. We have a female Thor, and at the same time, 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron' is coming out. We're paid to innovate, create and let our stories take us to new places... And the movie studios can follow as they choose."
Now let's talk about time travel. As mentioned, complicating matters is that the young Iceman is officially gay, while the older, now Iceman is not. At least not officially. Yet.
"We would be foolish not to deal with that," Alonso said. "That was the second part of my conversation with Brian. Time travel gave us a platform to discover the journeys of the young characters. The obvious question is that once the young Bobby Drake has accepted and embraced who he is, what are the ramifications for his adult counterpart? It's safe to say that will be dealt with."
And in case you were wondering, with Marvel's giant event "Secret Wars" coming up, where the entire Marvel Universe is essentially destroyed and turned into one mash-up planet called Battleworld, no, Iceman isn't going back in the closet.
"This is who the character is now," Alonso said definitively.
"All-New X-Men #40" is on sale Wednesday, April 22 from Marvel Comics. "Uncanny X-Men #600" hits stores on May 20.
[NOTE: The pages here were provided by Marvel Comics, and are not the leaked versions.]