By Steve Morris
As your mum’s favourite asexual, it takes a lot for me to notice sexual attraction anywhere it occurs. So if even I can see that there’s sexual tension from Sunspot towards his “favorite person in the Universe” Cannonball, I have to assume that it’s actually there. It was sort of visible in the first two issues of New Mutants, and it returns with a vengeance in issue #5, with Jonathan Hickman and Rod Reis returning for a continuation of their space adventure.
The story presented here is presented by Sunspot himself, who is the narrator for the issue, and it’s through the subtext in his narration that a clearer second story emerges. One of the first things Sunspot does in the issue is praise his friend Cannonball as “handsome and charming”, before noting that Sam’s wife was probably not good enough for him. Roberto has also invested serious amounts of time into winning over Sam and Izzy’s son, which is explicitly stated to be part of a longer-term tactic to ensure he stays in Cannonball’s life. When you pair this with the actual story – Sunspot has persuaded all the New Mutants to fly into outer space on a “rescue” mission for Cannonball, who at no point showed any need to be rescued? Even I’m noticing the real story here.
Yet that’s only subtext, and it’s again presented by the creative team as being a fun wrinkle for fans to read into the story, rather than a development in the characters themselves. Sunspot goes on to spend the rest of the issue flirting with Deathbird, which explicitly reinforces his apparent heterosexuality whilst leaving room for readers to imagine this is all a way for the character to lie to himself. Dawn of X started off with mutants signing their sexuality into contract, and yet when it comes to queer characters we’re still not allowed to see anything as explicit.
It’s frustrating, because Jonathan Hickman seems to have been granted more leeway than any other X-Men writer in history, and yet that still doesn’t extend to queerness within the comics. Iceman and Christian Frost are a couple in Marauders, but only through subtext – it’s not like they’ve kissed or anything. The “make more mutants” dictate seems to extend primarily to heterosexual couples on Krakoa, like Rogue & Gambit. Yet if this is the next big move forwards for mutants and their sexuality is going to be explored – like the much-adored and not-actualised “Cyclops/Wolverine/Jean” polyamorous threeway – is it too much for the head writer to just go ahead and put queerness on the page?
Here we have two back-to-back suggestions of queerness which can easily be written over and ignored if the next story decides it. The other comes via Magik. In this issue she asks two male-presenting aliens if they want to make out with her, then a female-presenting alien (who is the only one interested), and then presumably kills all three of them off-panel when she’s rebuffed.
It’s not exactly a coming-out moment for a bisexual character, as this can all be walked straight back at any point and laughed off as a silly spur-of-the-moment joke. “Illyana wasn’t actually interested in any of them, of course! She was just distracting her foes!” That sort of thing.
Illyana isn’t going to ever have a relationship with a male character at this point, so why can’t the comics just get on with expressing her interest in women in a lasting fashion? At this point there is a weighted consensus that characters like Magik (and Rachel Summers, who hasn’t appeared yet in human form, because she’s been busy being a golden dog) are queer, but not even the fabled Dawn of X, where every night is a new orgy, seems able to bring that element of the characters onto the page.
I like New Mutants, but c’mon.
New Mutants #5: Endangered Birds
Writers: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Rod Reis
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Designer: Tom Muller
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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