CNN- Marvel Comics’ mutant character Northstar has not often been a headliner. If all you know about the X-Men is what you've seen in movies starring Hugh Jackman, then you likely don’t know him at all.
That changes with this week's “Astonishing X-Men #50” when Northstar takes center stage and prepares to go from one of the first openly gay superheroes in comics to the first married gay hero at Marvel. That's if his paramour and manager Kyle says yes, of course.
Northstar has had a tumultuous history. He starred in “Alpha Flight,” a long-running and well-remembered series for Marvel in the 80s and 90s, but his star fell not long after he came out as a gay man.
At the time his coming out was a huge development, but since then it has been ignored, played up for positive effect or played almost for laughs, such as a brief period where Northstar was retroactively declared to be an actual fairy. (Seriously, this is a storyline in a comic book you can own.)
“Astonishing X-Men #50” is an easy jumping on point for new readers of the line and has the added bonus of featuring Northstar, an X-Men character that I personally think is great.
He promotes AIDS awareness and mental health, two issues dear to his heart thanks to obstacles faced by his adopted daughter and his sister, respectively.
Earlier this year Archie comics had a same-sex wedding in its books that got a lot of press, but this is the first time a superhero is tying the knot.
I asked Marjorie Liu, the writer of this issue, if the controversy surrounding the Archie marriage figured into the storyline of this book.
“This is a love story and not a political statement,” Liu said. “Gay marriage is legal in New York state, and some of the X-Men who live there just happen to be gay. If they want to get married – well, why not? Not everyone will agree or be happy about it (in our book, and in real life), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't tackle those stories with passion and empathy for both sides.”
Conor Kilpatrick of iFanboy.com believes the issue is a perfect fit for Marvel: “The X-Men have been, from the beginning, an allegory for civil rights, so it makes sense that in a time when gay rights is such a front-burner issue in American society that Marvel Comics would face it head-on with their X-Men characters.”
Marvel Comics first rose to prominence and popularity in the 1960s by more accurately and relevantly reflecting the issues of the day in its stories compared to its competition, DC Comics, so it's no surprise that in 2012 Marvel is taking on the issue of gay marriage.
Axel Alonso, Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics, agrees that this is a natural story for Marvel to tell.
“Marvel Comics are best when they respond to developments in the real world,” he said. “When gay marriage became legal in New York state, it raised a question: Since most of our heroes reside in that state, how would Northstar, the first openly gay character in comics, respond to this development? Would it change his long-term relationship with his partner, Kyle?”
Of course, this weekend at the KAPOW! comic book convention in England, DC Comics co-publisher Dan Didio announced that it would reveal a long-time character to be gay.
Daniel Dean, of Titan Games and Comics in Smyrna, Georgia, says comic readers should think twice before they get furious about the storyline in this book.
“Obviously the big hook is Northstar's potential status as Marvel's first married gay superhero. But for me this is just a major event in the story of a character I think is pretty neat,” Dean said.
It was about time Marvel revisited the issue of Northstar’s sexuality. The issue in which he came out was a big deal but the subject was pretty well glossed over immediately thereafter. For a long while it was as if nothing had happened.
"You had camps of fans that were pretty ticked about both; that is, there were people upset that Marvel had a gay mutant, but there were a ton of people who were more upset that apart from a big pronouncement he wasn't allowed to be gay in the comics,” Dean said.
Despite any disagreement in the X-Men fandom, “the fact that Marvel is making this happen now matters, and I think we all like to read stories which matter whether we agree with them or not,” he said.
There was a time in comics where some horrible disaster that threatened lives was preferable to a “gay” subplot. Now most comic fans can name at least a good half dozen or more gay characters without even thinking about it. More importantly, these characters usually have compelling stories and reasons to exist apart from being "the gay one," the same stigma that followed the token black member of many comics in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.
Comic fans have seen this kind of relationship blossom before, in Marvel's Wiccan and Hulkling, for example. This, however, represents a whole new line in the sand for Marvel, and it's an accomplishment unto itself. It's indicative of a completely different way of thinking. That's plenty controversial to some people, but perfectly in line with the message of books like the X-Men.
I hope things work out for the character, but, this being comics, few things work out like the heroes hope in the long run. Either way, I'll be reading.
So, until next week, go forth and read, my people. And the reading will be good!