By Caitlin Rosberg
FF #17 is in effect a one-shot, completely self contained and not required reading for the rest of the FF plot, so it gives writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta an opportunity to do a lot of excellent character work. Superhero comics often eschew domestic scenes much to their own detriment, so it’s honestly pretty refreshing to pick up a single issue and find friendship shenanigans instead of a lengthy set up for a super fight. I’m here to tell you this is one of the gayest monthly comics I’ve ever read.
Before we dive any deeper into FF#17, I must start with a confession. Until relatively recently, I had zero positive feelings about Peter Parker. Spider-Man was ok, and I loved many of the other Spider-People with wild abandon, Cindy Moon in particular. But Peter Parker was the bane of my existence as a femme-looking nerd person. I was often surrounded by men who were convinced that their own geekiness made them Peter Parker, which in turn absolved them from their terrible behavior, in particular when it came to women. For many of the same reasons I do not trust straight white men who say the Joker is their favorite comic book character, I only provisionally trust straight white men who say the same of Peter Parker.
And then I met my friend Kris. Her love for Peter Parker is only eclipsed by her love for Venom. She loves one man and his name is Peter Benjamin Parker, and through her eyes I came to understand what there was to love about him. Coming into FF #17, I see Peter through her eyes and that has shaped not just my perception of this issue but also my entire understanding of the character.
So starting from this framework, I can confidently state that Peter Parker and Johnny Storm have definitely had sex. If, by some miracle, they haven’t had sex, they’ve definitely both thought about it and made out a couple times when they were drunk and/or to “practice”. FF #17 is essentially that “and they were ROOMmates” Vine on steroids, and many of the best parts of the internet has delighted in pointing this out. It could easily be read as it was (likely) intended to be: the competent one putting up with their wild and unpredictable friend(s). That’s what films like You, Me, and Dupree and The Hangover are made of. What makes FF #17 so fantastically and hilariously queer is the level of chaotic intimacy between Peter and Johnny. Queer friend groups are notoriously messy and cross contaminated with overlapping current and former romantic and sexual relationships. There’s a blending of familial, platonic, and erotic love that doesn’t seem to track outside of queer relationships, and it’s on full display in FF #17, even if Hickman didn’t realize it.
The breakfast scene alone contains multitudes: Johnny has a blasé attitude towards clothing, but displays a remarkable seriousness about Peter’s need for a balanced breakfast before running out the door. His behavior is affectionate and concerned, but framed with teasing and partial nudity, and removing any one element would leave the book duller and the relationship between Johnny and Peter flat. But combined they paint a picture of pure comfort, the sort of familiarity that usually comes with a sexual or romantic partner. It’s easy to see Peter and Johnny as congenial exes, or friends with sporadic benefits.
Even the Marvel-provided blurb for the book raises all sorts of questions about exactly what their relationship is. Johnny is newly “back among the living” and he’s choosing to crash on his buddy’s couch instead of with family? And to be perfectly clear, there’s no proof that he’s crashing on that couch. Peter wakes up alone in his bed, but Johnny’s been cooking breakfast long enough that there’s no evidence that was the arrangement for the rest of the night. Johnny opting to stay with found family after a big life event is a very queer reaction, and his decision to drag his best friend into a Dionysian celebration of his re-aliving is too.
I’d also like to take a moment to address what comes immediately after Johnny attempts to serve Peter breakfast, a metaphor that I’d find outrageously heavy handed if I truly thought it had been intentional. Johnny, in a burst of light spousing, advises Peter to grab his coat for the day before he heads out. Peter opens the coat closet only to fall into the Negative Zone. At first frustrated, Peter embraces this moment to work out some of his anger on the bugs there, only for Johnny to come whirling in (still mostly naked) and save him, pulling him back out. Johnny insists that he told Peter about the portal, which Reed Richards installed, but Peter’s anger tells us that he absolutely did not. Breaking this down a little bit, upon learning that he’s crashing with a “friend”, Johnny’s family installs a monster closet in said friend’s house. Peter goes back into the closet and begins to fight some inner demons only for Johnny to come in and drag him back out again. Johnny’s family inserts the mechanism to literally put them both (back) in the closet. They’re definitely queer.
Though it’s likely the most meme-able part of the book, the turbulent start to Peter’s day isn’t all there is to this book, or to the argument about Johnny and Peter’s relationship. After he falls into the Negative Zone closet, his work is interrupted to the point of putting people in danger, he’s caught in a torrential downpour, comes home to an unwanted party, drinks alien horse milk, goes joyriding, gets in a bar fight, and ultimately wakes up the next morning upside down on his own couch, listening to Johnny flirt with someone on the phone. This was not the day he planned, nor the day he wanted, but it’s impossible to deny that he enjoyed at least parts of it. Johnny’s presence is a nuisance, a thorn in his side, but Peter has fun going out and having a wild night. He suffers through repeated indignities and inconveniences and just gripes silently to himself in those lovely yellow boxes, only truly objecting when Johnny’s phone call abuses an emergency line for actual emergencies. The truth is that Peter only blows his top and kicks Johnny out when he finds Annihilus* in his bathroom taking a dump.
This brings me to another point: Peter is a service bottom. This is undoubtedly going to confuse or anger some people, especially those who tie masculinity to aggression. But the truth is that Peter Parker has always been the sort of man who will go out of his way for others, often ignoring his own needs. Peter B Parker from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse might be the easiest and most accessible example: the man did so much to help so many other people that it destroyed his marriage, and he was an absolute wreck afterwards. Distilled down to his essence, this is Peter Parker.
I’d like to bring you back to Kris for a moment, who said “Peter is the most service bottom, literally eating garbage because he wants to help New York and won’t take money.” I find it useful to contrast the masochism that Bruce Wayne exhibits to the service bottom tendencies Peter does; Bruce is a masochist because he believes he deserves punishment, while Peter wants everyone to know he’s a good boy. In FF #17, Johnny is a brat and Peter services him with only quiet grumbles. It’s a symbiotic relationship that fills both their needs, and further convinces me of their sexual and romantic chemistry.
I don’t want to leave Dragotta out of this conversation. If you Google “Johnny Storm and Peter Parker kissing”, Dragotta’s art for this issue is many of the first image results. Another artist could’ve very well taken exactly the same script and made it colder, more distant. Less “and they were ROOMmates” Vine and more “two bros chillin’ in the hot tub, five feet apart because they’re Not Gay” Vine. There was space for a lot of no homo that was filled up instead with sideways glances, knowing smiles, and the curve of long, muscular limbs. I’m not saying that the whole book is an ode to J. C. Leyendecker, but there is something classically handsome about Dragotta’s rendition of both Peter and Johnny, with sharp jaws and strong brows, slightly retro hairstyles just a bit too clean cut to be totally fashionable. It only serves to enhance the wink wink, nudge nudge tone that Hickman’s script set. After all, these are men that spend all day in clingy spandex, and Johnny is literally flaming.
If I haven’t convinced you yet of the deep and delightful queerness of this issue, and Johnny and Peter’s relationships, allow me to provide you with one last example. Peter’s final yellow box reads in full “To Do List, Peter Parker & Spider-Man: #^&$@&!! Johnny Storm and then %#^@$#$&@! his %@#$^!!”. If that’s not a sexual innuendo, I’ll eat my hat.
*Thanks to Twitter user @TheGaf because I never would’ve remembered this on my own!
FF #17: The Roommate Experiment
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Colourist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Caitlin Rosberg is a comics critic with bylines for The AV Club, Paste, and Polygon, among many others. For more, head to their site here or follow Caitlin on Twitter here!
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