Marvel Voices: Pride: “Early Thaw”
A young Iceman tries to come to terms with his sexual orientation and finds comfort in an unlikely place.
With “Early Thaw,” writer Anthony Oliveira, artist Javier Garrón, and colorist David Curiel create what might be called one of the most moving retcons to grace the pages of Marvel comics. The story, which Oliveria sets in the time frame of the earliest X-Men comics, follows a young Iceman/Bobby Drake as he begins to develop Gay Feelings™ and simultaneously feels the pressure to closet himself.
The X-Men have become, in many ways, a catch-all metaphor for marginalized people. All of the comic issues that this short story references existed while the Comics Code Authority (a self-regulatory agency) censored comics heavily. If a book wasn’t approved by the CCA, most distributors would refuse to distribute it. Among the CCA’s rules were bans on depictions of “sex perversion” and “sexual abnormalities” — a polite way of saying “don’t show anything gay.” While the Code was eventually reformed and abandoned, these specific rules remained in place for approximately thirty-five years. For queer readers, finding ourselves in Code-era stories often means gravitating towards metaphors like X-Men (and superheroes more generally): stories of people choosing to hide who they really are out of fear of ostracism and violence.
One of the beauties of “Early Thaw” is the way its creators go about recontextualizing these Code-era “nothing gay” comics with a character (Iceman) who canonically came out as gay in 2015. Part of the reason this short story is so successful is due to the hard work of Garrón, who meticulously re-draws and references panels of early X-Men issues. Curiel’s colors also act to create something that feels generally more grounded and realistic than the early X-Men comics, for what is ultimately a small and intimate story in a world of larger-than-life heroes and villains. “Early Thaw”’s very first panels are an almost exact 1:1 duplication of a scene in 1963’s X-Men #14 as Iceman asks Angel why he insists on binding his wings under his clothes if it’s so uncomfortable. Re-experiencing this scene with the knowledge of Bobby’s sexual orientation, this moment becomes an uncomfortably painful contemplation of staying in the closet. (X-Men #14 also introduced the Sentinels, which make a brief appearance in this story.) Another notable panel is a close-up on Magneto’s eyes under his helmet. Garrón and Curiel create a shot that seems incredibly referential to a Jack Kirby panel in X-Men #1.
However, in “Early Thaw,” when supervillain-era purple-and-red Magneto shows up with missiles aimed at the Xavier Institute, he’s quick to toss them aside at the sight of a Bobby crying. (Nice one, Erik.) What begins as an incredibly funny and awkward moment quickly becomes a deeply heartfelt one as Magneto does his best to comfort a crying child. Even for readers who aren’t thinking in terms of X-Men meta, it’s a touching read. While not explicit in doing so, Oliveira casts Magneto in the role of the gay elder, someone who both directly affirms Bobby (and readers) in speech and indirectly affirms him as a symbol of survivorship. The reason I say “role” of gay elder is because no Marvel story (to my knowledge) has made Magneto explicitly gay, though it often feels heavily implied that his relationship with Professor X isn’t strictly platonic. (I’m unwilling to believe anyone but husbands would show up to a gala dressed in matching white and gold like Erik & Charles recently did.) Over all, it’s a poignant and hopeful ending that doesn’t simply recast old stories but affirms young and old LGBT+ readers alike.
“Early Thaw” is a touching tear-jerker about survivorship and the closet. As it lovingly retcons old X-Men stories, it’s also a reminder of what has drawn so many queer readers to X-Men in the first place.
Marvel Voices: Pride: “Early Thaw”: Magneto Was Right Again
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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