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The very weird subtextual love of Fire and Ice

Contributed by
Jun 25, 2020

Fire and Ice are among the handful of DC characters introduced to comics via Super Friends continuity. First appearing under the names Green Fury and Icemaiden in the comic that was based on the cartoon, they were part of the Global Guardians, a team that was meant to include a diverse roster of superheroes from all around the world. They went on to join regular continuity as minor characters, but eventually joined the Justice League and served with the team for a very long time.

These are also two characters that have brought us some of the most amazing instances of female friendship ever to grace the comics page. Their relationship is fun and heartfelt, and reflects the antics of another dynamic duo of the Justice League, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. It has also come with a heck of a lot of queer subtext along the way. As Margot Channing once said, "Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy night!"

Justice League America, written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, art by Ty Templeton, Mike McKone, Joe Rubenstein and Gene D'Angelo, lettering by Albert DeGuzman

Though they had been around for a while by the time Fire urged Ice to apply for the Justice League, they were both relatively unknown superheroes. To their surprise, they got in on the technicality of applying right when the League had just lost several members for various reasons. In their early days with the League, they grew into their identities as heroes and engaged in various absurdist hijinks, joining beauty pageants and getting derailed during shopping trips. No matter what, the emphasis was always on the two of them depending upon themselves above all. Even when they were in trouble, they often refused to contact their teammates out of pride.

Bea was the dominant one in the friendship, and she has ultimately been the one to receive the most attention from writers, but Ice's backstory is more fleshed out. Not only did Ice date utter jerk Guy Gardner on and off for a while, but she also had her very own mini-Phoenix Saga — she lost control of her powers, almost killed her teammates, and disappeared from continuity for years. Bea's history is a convoluted and ever-changing mess, but Ice turned out to be a literal goddess whose family was, in retrospect, extremely Game of Thrones. After she took over her father's kingdom and handed it to her mother, writers waffled with her for a bit and ultimately decided to kill her off after an extremely typical "woman goes mad with power" arc, which derailed Ice's future appearances in a way that affects her even to this day.

Birds of Prey #107, cover art by Nicola Scott

This left Beatriz utterly bereft, and much of her following arcs were about guilt and horror over what had happened to her friend. Much more than when Tora was alive, this is where the subtext between them became more textual as Bea's inability to cope seemed to be that of a lover losing her partner rather than a friend. When Icemaiden first appeared all the way back in the late '70s, she had been named Sigrid Nansen, which a follow-up writer did not realize when he named her Tora. Writers explained this mistake in continuity by bringing in a second Icemaiden, this one named Sigrid, after Tora perished.

The existence of Sigrid sent Bea into a tailspin. Fire started obsessing over Icemaiden, who enjoyed the attention and subtly encouraged Bea's completely unhealthy behavior. Then, one night, she threw all subtlety out the window and showed up cosplaying as Tora, whispering sexy things to a stunned Bea. The two of them seemed ready to just go for it and hook up, with Sigrid asking Bea if she didn't just want to vanish away with her into this extremely weird sexual fantasy she was setting up, but Bea finally freaked out and turned her down. It took kind of a long time for that to happen, but it finally did. Sigrid immediately claimed that she was only attempting to shock Bea into accepting that Tora was truly gone. This will go down in comics history as the worst date of all time.

Sigrid did ultimately come out as bisexual and she even dated Hal Jordan's ex Olivia Reynolds. Beyond that, it's probably for the best not to mention too in-depth how things worked out for her because it gets real dark real fast. We will note that her last appearance in the DC Universe took the Bury Your Gays trope to a truly depraved extreme when a villain removed her largest organ (her skin), kept her alive for a time, and then... the writers never bothered to mention if she lived or died. As one of the extremely rare heroic bisexual characters of the late '90s, Icemaiden deserved a whole lot better than that.

Checkmate #16, written by Greg Rucka, art by Joe Bennett, Joe Prado, Jack Jadson and Santiago Arcas, lettering by Travis Lanham

Though it might be easy to chalk up Fire and Ice's sexual tension as being a product of Icemaiden's extremely weird machinations, there is a later story in which Bea is given the opportunity to return Ice to life, which she squanders by looking back after being told not to. This of course is told in the style of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, which was definitely a story about two lovers. Bea's hatred of Guy Gardner, and the two of them slowly coming to accept each other's importance in Tora's life, was certainly not without subtext. Ultimately, Tora was returned to life in the pages of Birds of Prey, and she and Bea are generally seen working together as close friends, much like in their early days with the JLA.

In the end, Fire and Ice aren't the world's most shipped subtextual couple by any stretch, but they do come up every now and again in conversations around queer representation due to, well, obvious reasons. Without a solid concept for where the subtext was even going, they might have been better off without it — but it's still important not to forget them in the history of queer superheroes. While most of the focus falls on Bea and Tora when discussing Fire and Ice, there is an actual out queer character who plays an important role here who was treated very badly and then lost to continuity, and that's Icemaiden. Here's to you, Sigrid.

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