2001 was a good year to be an X-Fan (at least for lowly 14 year-old Josh). The first X-Men movie had just hit and Marvel was investing pretty heavily in the Mutant side of their universe. By bringing in talent like Joe Casey and Grant Morrison to revitalize the line, it created one of the more unique (visually and in terms of the stories told) eras on the flagship titles and breathed more life into some characters than had been done in several years. Not simply satisfied by writing characters into the team books themselves, Marvel began the X-Men Icons series: several mini-series (some overlapping, some not) focusing on the adventures of a solo X-Man. One of those X-Men was a personal favorite of mine, Iceman, and one of his biggest spotlights that year (and since, if we’re going to be honest) was that mini-series.
Yet now, almost 9 years later, it seems lost to the sands of time and indeed some of it was even written out of continuity. Click on down to find out why.
Before I delve into the story itself, I just have to say how fun it is to realize you own work by creators you respect and admire from before you were aware that there were names on the cover of comics that did not belong to the characters in the book. You know what I mean: when you’re young and collecting comics, the ruffians and scoundrels INSIDE the book are usually the reason you buy it, whereas as you may tend to gravitate toward or away from certain work based on the those that actually do the creating when you get older (lord knows I wouldn’t own as many Chuck Austen comics as I do were that not the case). That said, its was loads of fun to find out now that I owned old Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning work from FAR before they became the Cosmic Marvel darlings that we know them as now. Seeing their name on the cover is part of the reason I wanted to re-read the thing for this article.
The story starts off with a bang as Bobby Drake ups and leaves the X-Men without notice to fly to Hong Kong. It is only after a brief but mysterious altercation at the airport that we learn WHY he has done so: his former love Opal Tanaka has given birth to a boy named Robert with fairly distinctive blonde hair. Not wishing to be a deadbeat father, Bobby flies across the world to see Opal and meet his son, only to find the boy encased in a protective bubble at Winterbrand Industries, which other than being determined to have a lot of money is never really defined in terms of what they actually do. Opal informs him that the boy is sick as a result of a quirk in his genetic code provided by Bobby’s mutant gene. Winterbrand lead scientist Alain Weiss informs Bobby that the cure to his son’s sickness almost certainly exists within Bobby’s genetic code, but that he will need to remain in Hong Kong for at least a year in order to synthesize a cure.
Just in case this whole situation didn’t seem fishy to you, DnA do not let the ruse run for very long since as soon as Bobby attempts to contact the X-Men he is attacked by Weiss’ childlike Augmen and we learn that Opal was coerced into a plot to lead Bobby to Hong Kong where Weiss could surgically remove his mutant gifts in order to make the process of removing OTHER mutant gifts and grafting them to human beings easier to accomplish. If this plot line sounds familiar, thats because it is: Grant Morrison introduced John Sublime and his U-Men over in what was then called New X-Men just before this book came and indeed a quick one-liner from Weiss in issue 3 connects Winterbrand to Sublime. Whether this was put in at the last second to smooth over continuity or was always meant to be the case remains to be seen.Continued below
From here on in, the series moves pretty quickly as Bobby teams up with the “introduced-in-this-mini-and-then-never-seen-again” Chinese hero Foe-Dog to, in rather short order, invade Winterbrand, rescue his son and defeat Weiss by taking advantage of a production flaw in artificial mutant power bond. After this, Bobby decides to stay in Hong Kong with Opal and his son only to learn that THAT had been a ruse as well. Apparently telling Bobby that Robert was his sick son was all part of Weiss’ plan that Opal had only allowed Bobby to believe as she thought he would only help rescue the defenseless young son on his former love if he thought the boy was also HIS son. As soon as the boy was free, Opal fled the country with him leaving Bobby only a video taped explanation and apology at which point we learn (dun dun DUUUNNN) that Bobby knew the whole time and was still willing to stay. With that, the issue and the series closes and I start to remember why I forgot about this book.
I will say that in terms of story, despite the parts very obviously ripped right from Morrison’s X-Men, it holds up. Its a situation that allows for the noble, heroic side of Bobby Drake to show through and throws an enemy at him that requires really creative usage of his powers (did I mention the Augmen are all children? Yeah, that happened). However, I feel the writing faltered in two really big places: the dialogue and Foe-Dog. Simply put, the words were stocky and included WAY too many puns. Yes, Iceman is supposed to be a funny character, but I feel that the only times he was written accurately were during his more serious moments with all of the comical moments coming across as hackneyed and lame. After several lines like “I bet you feel cold now?!” and “I’m a little hot under the colar and need to blow off some steam!” I started to wonder if Adam Glass wrote this thing. Bobby, much like Spider-Man, lives and dies by tongue-in-cheek comedy and by appearing to deliver these horrible one-liners, it just ended up being disingenuous to the character. Speaking of being disingenuous to the character, introducing a big ol’ deus ex machina because Bobby needed a teleporter to accomplish his mission? Are you kidding me? It’s an Iceman solo adventure and you can’t tweak the story so that Bobby gets it done with his own powers? You need an old man that can create “shadow doors” in order to have Bobby win the day? Come on now, thats just bad writing. Hell, Nightcrawler was still alive at that point and ON THE SAME TEAM AS ICEMAN. If you needed a teleporter, at least use one that matters.
I feel that the art on the book was also very inconsistent. The first two issues show Kerschl at the top of his game, melding eastern and western styles to create a really well constructed piece. While I’m not sure an obviously manga-influenced style was exactly appropriate for a story taking place in Hong-Kong (I only say this because stupid people would think its exceeding appropriate), he made it work and was particularly great and drawing Bobby’s powers. While this may seem like an obvious task, he really gave the ice an appropriate shape and volume to it while still making it look jagged and imposing. Over the years, some artists have drawn Iceman’s powers and chunks or slivers of blue-ish white and it was nice to see some attention to detail given.
However, issue three takes a drastic change as Scottie Young (then going by Scott Young) stepped in on pencil duties and the change was, needless to say, drastic. Gone were the smooth, soft touched pencils of Kerschl and in their place was the angular, Bachalo-esque early line-work of Young, who had not yet refined his work into the immensely unique stuff he’s churning out today. In fact, once I got to this issue, I had an intense flashback to 14 year-old Josh not liking it at ALL. While my tastes have progressed to the point that I could deal with it, knowing how good Skottie Young would become as opposed to what he was showing in this issue brought me out of the comic as much as the blunt change in styles did when I was younger. To make matters worse, once Kerschl returned for the final issue, he was really off his game, with his pacing seeming really erratic and his character design straight out deformed in some places. It’s a shame too, since the art on this one really started off strong and then pittered out halfway through.Continued below
Overall, this was a fun story to read through when I was younger, but I’m not sure it entirely holds up over the course of ten years. That said, other than a short stint as a human popsicle and a brief triste with Mystique, not a whole helluva lot has been done with the character since, and in 2008 this entire story ended up being written out of continuity as Bobby runs in to a childless “Opal” at a party in between the end of Messiah Complex and the beginning of Manifest Destiny. While this Opal turned out to be Mystique, had this particular mini-series still been canon, you’d think Bobby would have noticed her kid was not around when he snuggled back up to her, therefore proving that I was not the only one that forgot about this short, Icey adventure. For what it was, it kept me entertained over the course of the half hour it took me to read it, but in the long haul this one may be better left to the sands of time.