[Spoilers for All New X-Men #17]
Everyone knows I love X-Men. Everyone knows I’m far less receptive of Inhumans (though I do often enjoy some of the Inhuman titles). Naturally, I am pretty much already on one side of this conflict (let the mutants win!).
Now, some stuff which people may not know: I was not a fan of the Young Iceman/Romeo romance plot added in a recent issue of All New X-Men. Not because Romeo is Inhuman (though the plot was such an obvious angle I knew a mutant/Inhuman relationship had to be coming somewhere), nor because his powerset was a) already kinda being done with Swain in All New Inhumans, but also potentially problematic (he’s able to empathically manipulate people, changing their feelings, which is kinda rape-y).
No, it was more because the whole ‘star-crossed lovers’, he’s literally called Romeo, it all felt so on-the-nose. Like this was a straight man’s perception of what gay readers want. That we all want our very own Romeo and Juliet story. Which, really, is only partially true and far over-simplifying things – after all, remember that that play is a tragedy.
However, All New X-Men #17 did a lot to change my mind on that.
The first tie-in to the ongoing Inhumans vs X-Men event, it follows Bobby Drake struggling with his role in having to storm his boyfriends home. Moreover, it shows us their relationship, through three dates which are really normal dates. As in, the kind of dates pretty much any normal, real human being could go on: a jog, laser tag and a waterpark. It’s all presented as normal, mundane, but lovely, and certainly helps to give the impression that there is nothing untoward from Romeo’s part. So far, so good.
The crux of the story however is that Bobby is brought up to speed with the mutants plans to attack New Attilan and why it is important. In fact, we see Bobby leading the charge as it were. And that is where things get really interesting.
Not only does this issue make me feel better, and finally some connection, to the Iceman/Romeo romance, but it adds a human layer to the Inhuman/X-Men war – through the idea of conscientious objection. It’s an interesting track to take right now, and also, metatextually, incredibly wryly thrilling and amusing to see characters so done with the hero versus hero infighting that they’d rather just run away from it all. Plus, it is not presented as petulant children running away, or cowardice – no, rather there is strength in their decision to not be a part of this and to just leave.
Dennis Hopeless did a great job here. And while I may not have particularly enjoyed his introduction story for the romance, he’s done a great job here of making it something that feels less blunt and more nuanced and natural, and a relationship that actually works on the page very well.
The art by Mark Bagley (and inked by Andrew Hennessy) is some of his best in a while too, particularly clear and distinct, and this works well in the action sequences as we see masses of mutants and Inhumans at war with each other. It’s clear why Bagley is often brought in for these massive cast books, and he does an excellent job of keeping everyone distinct and obvious here, and keeping the store flowing. However, there is a somewhat big continuity error in his big double-splash of the New Attilan attack, as several Inhumans we now are not there are suddenly part of the fray (Crystal and the Inhumans on the RIV, who were captured by Magneto, and Triton whom we learn in the issue of Uncanny Inhumans released this very week is incarcerated at a SHIELD base). The colours by Nolan Woodard give everything a nice finish, and all do an excellent job of creating a new iconic gay kiss for comics too in one splash page.
Overall, it’s a really good book, which serves to do a lot to give some breathing room, depth and new layers to the relationship of Bobby and Romeo and making it more than the obvious star-crossed lovers trope. I am still concerned that tragedy is on the horizon, but at least now I can actually enjoy the relationship plot we have while we have it.
One last thing I noticed: I feel that Young Iceman may also have levelled up as he races in to save his boyfriend from a war neither of them wishes a part in: at the start of the comic, Iceman his kinda soft looking, snoxy appearance that has differentiated Young Iceman from his adult counterpart for some time (as well as being reminiscent of the characters earliest appearances). He has less definition, no ‘hair’, and black eyes. However, as he freezes and knocks down Romeo’s door and when they make their escape, Iceman now has more definition, both facially and in musculature and even his ‘hair’ and the belt-buckle of his costume are visible again – and his eyes glow blue. Has Iceman, through his strength of will to save his love from a war neither wants, also levelled up his abilities? This could be interesting to see either later in the series, or X-Men: Blue.
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