Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
As I mentioned in last week’s X-Men Monday #109, the Marvel’s Voices: Pride edition of this column ended up eXpanding so much, it only made sense to split it into two parts (my busy schedule thanks you for your patience). In #109, writers Terry Blas, Kieron Gillen and Leah Williams answered X-Fan questions, and this week, it’s Anthony Oliveira and Steve Orlando’s turn in the spotlight.
Please note: Vita Ayala and Tini Howard were initially going to take part in the festivities, but weren’t able to once interviewing got underway (busy schedules strike again). But a sincere thank you to everyone who submitted questions to Vita and Tini — hopefully, they’ll swing by X-Men Monday again in the not-too-distant future! They’re always welcome.
Alright, there’s a lot of conversation with Anthony and Steve to get through, so let’s get started!
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday! I’d like to kick things off with a general question: What made you want to write the character or characters featured in your story?
Anthony Oliveira: Bobby Drake is a character who has always been very close to my heart. I say this all the time, but I knew Iceman was gay before I knew I was gay: reading him trying desperately to tell Jean or Rogue his secret in the ’90s, those awful dinners with his parents making casually cruel remarks, his well of painfully unrequited and inexpressible feelings, has always felt familiar to me. He spent decades trying to process something unspeakable — literally, the writers could not even say it — and I (and I think many queer people) know that pain intensely. I love him very much.
So when [editor] Sarah Brunstad contacted me to ask if I was interested in writing for the Pride issue, I was like, “Yes, of course obviously!!” and promptly sent back I think five or six pitches for different characters/stories (because I am an unwell maniac), of which two (and a half, kind of) were about Iceman, and I was very pleased when Sarah picked this one because when I wrote it I thought, “Well they won’t let us do this.” I’m very proud of this story.
Steve Orlando: Possibility! Being new to Marvel, any character is full of possibility. But Daken is someone who always resonated with me, myself a stubborn, erratic, sometimes-difficult bisexual who doesn’t mind pushing buttons. So when it came to this book, there was only one character to climb to the top of my list, and possibility continued to drive the creation of Somnus. It was a challenge — how can we craft a new character that speaks to Daken’s bisexual identity, and is brand new, but also has a history with him to explore in the future. How could we craft a character for him to bounce off of, that knew Daken when he wasn’t his current, more hardened self? From unraveling the traits that make Daken iconic, came the possibility of someone like Somnus.
AIPT: Let’s dig into Somnus’ origins a bit deeper, Steve. X-Fan Elizabeth Moore was wondering how you and artist Luciano Vecchio come up with the design for Somnus.
Steve: In my case, by getting out of the way! We presented Luciano with the full character pitch for Somnus, as well as, I think, the script itself. I’m someone who gives implicit trust to my collaborators. So having crafted a unique, complex backstory for Somnus, as well as a novel set of mutant powers, I then stepped back and trusted Luciano to bring the creativity and ingenuity he always does with his work.
AIPT: And Elizabeth and X-Fan ZantokoAmani were curious to learn what made you want to tie Somnus and Daken together.
Steve: The place their paths intersected, most of all. For Somnus, his mutant powers offered him a chance to live his fantasy one night at a time, out both as a mutant and as a gay man. When he meets Daken, who has yet to wrestle with all of those concepts fully, Somnus seems confident, he’s an escape, and it’s intimidating. But on the other end of Somnus’s life, in the advent of a mutant utopia on Krakoa, it’s Daken who can now offer a moment of freedom, and experience, like Somnus never thought he would see. It’s a loop that opens when Somnus gives a young Daken one night of unbridled exploration and joy, and closes when Daken offers Somnus the same opportunity, but on a grander, Krakoan scale.
AIPT: Anthony, X-Fan Michael said Iceman has been a character who has resonated with queer fans for decades. You touched on this a bit already, but Michael asked how did it feel when you found out Bobby was finally gay after years of queer readings and subtext?
Anthony: I felt tremendous relief. I felt the way I felt when I came out. I know he is fictional, but I felt the joy one feels for a friend.
I think it is odd to reflect on how absolutely barren the field of representation was in pop culture for so long. They existed, but queer characters were so peripheral, so unspeakable, that if a character said, “I’m gay” or whatever, you knew they were almost always about to get shot or disappear. When I was a kid and closeted teen, all we really had were those queer readings and subtexts — queer theory was used to the margins. We were starved.
When Bobby came out — no more hints or jokes or almosts, as we had seen for decades, but they said it — it was, for a fan like me, a huge celebration. Here, at the heart of the canon, a character you’ve known for 50 years, can finally speak his truth. And now, the “fans” who hate queer people — of which, of course, and unfortunately, there were and are a vocal many — were shriveling, trying to fight uphill against the avalanche of canon, as three decades of history and work by writers like Liu and Austen and DeMatteis and even Stan Lee finally clicked into place.
AIPT: I try not to think about those types of “fans” too much. Only X-Fans who ask eXceptional questions, like Jeremy Jayjoe, who said, in your opinion, is Bobby 100% comfortable with himself now or is he only facade comfortable, and still angsty in private?
Anthony: I think trauma always lingers. Bobby Drake as a person has never been comfortable with himself, and I think at a simple, somatic level, anxieties and uncertainties leave their echoes even after the cause has faded. There are many queer characters who have come out and been met with a hug, or been horribly rejected — Bobby has lived in a long in-between of conditional acceptance, of love with asterisks, and I think bruises like that heal slow.
I think a lot about how Bobby spent his whole life in the closet, and now he’s surrounded on Krakoa by a generation who live, partly through his own hard work, in a world less bigoted than the one he survived.
And I think that must feel very gratifying, and very lonely.
AIPT: Steve, X-Fan @notnandes was wondering what your favorite take on Daken by a fellow writer has been. He has transitioned a lot between being a villain, an anti-hero and now more of a heroic character in the Krakoa era — but which one of them is the best Daken for you?
Steve: In all honesty, I try not to name favorites amongst my peers. So I wouldn’t say I would name a take that’s best, per se. But what I love about his character motion from villain, to antagonist, to anti-hero to something beyond that, is how complicated, messy, and to that end, real, it all is. Through a comic lens of course. But Daken has not been one thing throughout his existence as a character, he’s been many things, made many mistakes, and his path to progress and growth is full of starts and stops. To me, that makes him incredibly relatable, perhaps because of how imperfect I am? He’s living a grandiose comic book life, but his rocky road to redemption, with all its wild deviations, twists and turns, is what makes him so intriguing to me.
AIPT: Anthony, X-Fan Jay was curious if you can talk about Cyclops and Iceman’s relationship as friends and teammates who sometimes clashed but nothing really more than that. Obviously, Bobby had a crush on Angel as a closeted teen, but why not Scott?
Anthony: I recently reread all the original O5 material from before Giant-Size X-Men, and it is striking how the original X-Men all relate to each other as characters. Hank is his fratty bestie, who he can goof off with (in a way that is echoed in Hank’s later friendship with Wonder Man, before the world’s cruelties made Hank a little bit less bouncy). Jean is a big sis — Bobby is, all the way from X-Men #1, very clear that he is the only boy on the team not attracted to her because he’s “not a wolf like you guys,” and he is happy to be her rambunctious kid brother.
And Scott is I think very much the stern older brother. Bobby is used to high-handed authority figures in his life — his father, Xavier, Scott — and he wants desperately to make them proud of him, but also is learning to rebel against them. I think in a lot of ways, Bobby recognizes Scott and he have a lot in common — something explosive inside they have to contain, a permanent self-watchfulness. They would have had some good conversations, except they both have such terrible Hedgehog’s Dilemmas about it that it is hard for the two of them to risk that closeness.
Whereas Bobby is so awed by Warren, in ways that make sense — Bobby is a creature of anxiety, of a sweaty need for approval and affirmation that obviously stems from his home life and has led to his “class clown” personality. Bobby wants so badly to be loved. And Warren is effortlessly beautiful, effortlessly confident, magnanimously charming, and kind. Bobby never stood a chance.
AIPT: And Katie (@JewishSpeed on Twitter) submitted so much good stuff, I’m just going to copy and paste it all for you to dig into: So since Bobby is a CPA, do you think he offers to help with all of the X-Men’s taxes or do they all ask him for help until he’s doing the entire team’s taxes (and do any of the Avengers ask him for help)? Follow-up to the previous question, do you think he had to work with the Quiet Council to figure out how Krakoan taxes/finances would work? Last, do you think Bobby would have emphasized how important it is for the kids at Xavier’s to learn how to do their taxes and would have taught a class for them to learn how to manage their personal finances?
Anthony: LOL what an amazing question! I have a lot of thoughts on this. First, I think Bobby is, to his dismay, a pretty good accountant — but I also think an estate of Xavier’s size probably has its own august institution that has been handling the finances for decades, and Bobby is at-most an eye-check to make sure everything is above board. I am also not sure what the tax status of many of the X-Men pre-Krakoa actually is — is Storm drawing an annual stipend? Does Rogue have a per diem? Bobby is probably useful on this end (the Avengers, conversely, explicitly receive a specific salary along with their Avengers card, and I actually imagine — Tony Stark et al aside — their finances are quite easy!).
Krakoa really changes everything, though, because it is internally not taxing its citizens or dealing with capital exchange — all its financial matters are state-to-state or the various Hellfire holdings or Xavier corporations (which X-Corp is thinking about). In this regard, corporate figures like Warren or Monet — or characters whose power sets make them attuned to market literacy and influence like Cypher, Sage, or Trinary — are probably well on the phone list before Bobby. Which I think suits him fine.
Regarding imparting the importance of financial responsibility to Krakoa’s young people: living on a post-capitalist island paradise and teaching international tax law sounds like a peculiar purgatory, but it is, unfortunately, the kind of self-inflicted suffering Bobby Drake finds irresistible, so while I hope he makes better decisions, I, unfortunately, would not put it past him. If so, I hope he takes some beach days, and those students are getting him back for his class clown days.
AIPT: I love all of that. Finally, 111 editions into this column, X-Fans get the accounting talk they’ve been craving. Last question — X-Fan and comics writer Joe Glass said it’s wonderful to see Marvel putting together an anthology to celebrate the LGBTQ+ characters at the publisher, it feels like a big step forward. But there are clearly strides left to go and be taken. In terms of LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation, where would you like to see improvements made? What would you love to see, personally, from Marvel next?
Anthony: Yeah, I agree — both that it’s wonderful, and that there’s more to be done. And I think generally we’re bad, as a traumatized community, at celebrating our wins and our talents, but I just got to read the anthology, very promptly cried, and now I’d love if every one of these brilliant stories became a series in its own right. You can feel everyone involved kicking the ball as far down the field as they possibly can, and I think we should all be massively proud of them.
Re: those next kicks down the field — the answer to me is twofold: one is more: we need infinite variety in infinite combinations. I want to see trans characters have the kind of undeniable and central rep that they deserve. I also think no character can withstand the weight of being “the gay one” or “the lesbian” or “all the trans representation;” there need to be queer stories that speak to the full range of queer experiences, and enough of them that none are expected to carry the full freight of being The One, who must be perfect, and never speak askew or go evil or get hurt. Our hearts must be allowed to break.
And I would love, beyond this profusion, the continuing space for depth. Seeing queer creators tackling queer stories with the runway to develop them fully. That is what I want for myself and for all queer people — to hear, and tell, stories of their valor and bravery and heartbreak told with the dignity and care and scope they deserve.
We all deserve to be heroes (and villains, and love interests, and complicated anti-heroes, and…).
AIPT: I agree 100% Thanks for that, Anthony, and thank you, both for taking the time to answer all these questions! Before we wrap up, here’s an eXtra treat — an eXclusive page from Anthony’s Iceman story, illustrated by Javier Garron with colors by David Curiel!
Remember, X-Fans — Marvel’s Voices: Pride #1 goes on sale June 23, so be sure to grab a copy before your local comic shop sells out!
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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