Marvel Comics’ Northstar may not be familiar to the casual comic book reader, but for many gay fans he’s as well-known as Spider-Man, Thor, and Captain America.
First appearing in Uncanny X-Men #120 as a member of the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight, Northstar might have remained a relatively obscure character were it not for uttering the words “I am gay” in 1992’s Alpha Flight #106. That declaration earned Northstar, aka Jean-Paul Beaubier, a place in history as the first out superhero in mainstream comics and paved the way for the industry’s growing number of current LGBT characters.
Now, 20 years after super-speeding out of the closet, Northstar will make history once more when he takes a trip down the aisle with his boyfriend Kyle on Wednesday in Astonishing X-Men#51 — officially making him the first gay superhero to put a ring on it in mainstream comics. The initial announcement of the Northstar and Kyle’s pending nuptials gained worldwide media attention and sent conservative groups like One Million Moms into a full-fledged panic. However, despite the expected controversy, the creative team behind X-Men felt the time was right for the happy couple to say “I do.”
“Northstar's storyline was part of an ongoing discussion about where to take our characters next,” said Astonishing X-Men writer Marjorie Liu. “I find a useful way of evolving a character is through his or her defining relationships — and what's more defining than a relationship with someone you love? Northstar and Kyle have been together for a while now, and rather than keep them in relationship limbo (or create some artificial strife) why not bring up marriage? Why not let them take that next step, which will create a far richer field for stories?
While the marriage of Northstar and Kyle will certainly create the potential for untold stories in mainstream comics, Liu admits that being the first to tackle same-sex marriage in the Marvel Universe wasn’t easy. “I feel intimidated any time I start writing a new story,” she said, “but this was a special situation given that gay marriage, whatever your view, is an issue that affects a huge number of people in the United States and elsewhere.”
LGBT characters in comics have become more visible in recent years. In addition to Northstar, high-profile superheroes such as DC Comics’ lesbian Batwoman and the newly-out Green Lantern have grabbed headlines as well. Nevertheless, while she applauds efforts to become more diverse, Liu feels the comics industry still has a long way to go in its representation of queer characters. “The country is becoming more tolerant than comic book companies give it credit for being,” she said. “Which isn't to say there aren't still tremendous problems, (from bullying to a lack of social services, to outright crazy bigotry), but those vocal minorities that attack any representations of queerness have skewed how much the country has changed — and is continuing to change. We see gays and lesbians on television all the time, but television has come out of the closet in ways that comics haven't and that’s a shame because comics used to be the front-line of diversity. For example, we had a black female leader in the X-Men a long time before that was represented anywhere else.”
However, Astonishing X-Men associate editor Daniel Ketchum feels that the inclusion of characters like Northstar in one of Marvel’s most iconic superhero teams is changing the industry for the better. “I think that Astonishing X-Men is a great platform for telling Northstar’s story,” he said. “I get the feeling he really shines most when he’s in the context of a team like the X-Men... you can see how his story and his experiences affect other characters around him.” Ketchum admits he has a soft-spot for Marvel’s first gay mutant and hopes the wedding will elevate Northstar’s profile enough to warrant a solo series. When asked if he’d be interested in a Northstar solo project, Ketchum replied, “Is that even a question? I can have a pitch ready by the end of the day. Spoiler alert: Storm and Dazzler will be recurring guest stars.”
While a Northstar solo series would be another industry first, (to date, no mainstream comic book publisher has produced an ongoing monthly comic featuring the solo adventures of a gay male character), Ketchum promises plenty of adventures await Northstar and Kyle in the pages of Astonishing X-Men. “They’re married [now]! So, in some ways, their story is just beginning,” he said. “The nature of their relationship has changed. They’ll have to figure out the extent of those changes and how to navigate that territory... all while coping with the usual X-Men-related shenanigans. Also, they’ll be faced with perhaps the most exciting and daunting fallout from their wedding: No, I’m not referring to the bomb that tore apart Wolverine…I’m talking about THE HONEYMOON!”
Read our exclusive 4-page preview of Astonishing X-Men #51 on the following pages.