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Friday, June 13, 2008

Bobby and the Beast

Early fans of the Defenders could not have foreseen how the series might one day reunite members of the original X-Men. The most memorable scene in Defenders #122 began as Hank McCoy (Beast) contended with bags of forwarded fan mail after joining the team. A rod of ice suddenly struck the furry hero, and Bobby Drake (Iceman) unexpectedly arrived, pretending that the X-alumni were enemies.

Hank: Lay one hand on me, mister, and I'll … I'll …
Bobby: You'll what?
Hank: I'll hop straight into your icy arms--and kiss you! C'mon, cutie--pucker up!
The heterosexual heroes began laughing (not kissing). This warm welcome showed the comfort level between the men and set the tone for #131, when Bobby took the joke up a notch.

Invited to speak at a college campus, the usually extraverted Hank got stage fright. A young woman who was ogling Hank backstage approached Bobby Drake and Warren Worthington (Angel), both tagging along in their civilian clothes.
Woman: Are you two superheroes too?
Warren: Er, my name's Warren--I'm Mr. McCoy's booking agent.
Bobby: And I'm Lance, his boyfriend.
Woman: Oh! I'm terribly sorry! I mean--I understand, of course--!
Having taken an interest in someone who apparently was unavailable, the woman self-consciously left.
Hank: Bobby! Why did you say that?? What if she believes you??
Bobby: What ever happened to your sense of humor?
Hank then mumbled worriedly that women might not talk to him anymore. Given Hank's romantic history, his fear of rejection made sense without suggesting a prejudice against homosexuality. During his guest lecture, Hank described the alienation that superheroes face. The earlier excahange, however, made it easy for readers to interpret Beast's words as a metaphor about gay acceptance.

At a time when few comics even hinted that a character might be gay, the Defenders brought up the topic directly. Yes, it was in the context of a joke, but the joke was not disparaging or at the expense of gay people. This was pioneering in the mid-1980s and foreshadowed more serious-minded stories in the works.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 122. August 1983. "Things to Come!" J.M. DeMatteis (scripter), Don Perlin (penciler), Kim Mulder (inker), Shelly Leferman (letterer), Christie Scheele (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).
Defenders, Vol. 1, No. 131. May 1984. "If This Be … Walrus!" J.M. DeMatteis (plot), Peter B. Gillis (script), Alan Kupperberg (art), Janice Chiang (letters), Glynis Wein (colors), Carl Potts (editor), Jim Shooter (big guy).

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