By now you’ve probably heard about the upcoming marriage of Northstar (Jean-Paul Beaubier) and Kyle, his boyfriend, in Astonishing X-Men #51. This, as well as Dan Didio’s announcement that one of DC’s “iconic characters” will be reintroduced as gay (confirmed rumor states that the character is male and has not been seen in the New 52 yet; perhaps Alan Scott or Plastic Man?), have been featured stories in many news outlets, from television to gossip blogs. All of these events are happening, of course, just in time for LGBT History month, which is June.
Following the release of Life with Archie #16, in which future Kevin Keller married a man, many self-proclaimed anti-exploitation groups boycotted not only Archie comics, but also Toys’R’Us, the primary retailer of the comic. Many of these same groups are writing letters urging DC and Marvel to change their plans or cancel the comics featuring openly homosexual characters and relationships.
But this is nothing new. Comic books have historically caused a lot of drama and outcry. Graphic horror comics, like those of EC Comics, led to Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed that comics made children violent hooligans, then in turn led to the establishment of the Comics Code Authority, which banned depictions of violence, gore, and sexual innuendo. Since Wertham’s exposé, comics have become a scapegoat for everything that is wrong with children (much like video games). Even today, this vilification of comics can be seen. There are claims that showing gay marriage in mainstream superhero comic books will cause young boys to want to get married to a man, just like the X-Men.
Northstar is one of the first openly gay characters in mainstream American comics, and had been intended to be since his introduction in 1979’s Uncanny X-Men #120. However, former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter purportedly had a policy against openly gay characters, so Northstar’s creators, Chris Claremont and John Byrne, implications of Northstar’s homosexuality were greatly restricted. His utter disinterest in women was instead implied to be due to his overly competitive nature.
Though Northstar is not necessarily as high profile as Batwoman, who was introduced in her new, lesbian incarnation in 2006, he has been an ever-present gay figure in Marvel Comics since he “came out” in 1992 in Alpha Flight #106. When released, issue #106 sold out in a week, despite the fact that Alpha Flight had never been a popular title. Much as history repeats itself, the event was hugely controversial, and Northstar’s sexuality was rarely mentioned in the comic (which was canceled and ended at #130).
Northstar faced a few more, short-lived, series, before dying and then returning to life only a month later. When Northstar became an X-Man in 2002, writers became less hesitant to address his sexual preference; he had an (unrequited) crush on Iceman, became a role model for the young, gay mutant Anole, and started a relationship with Kyle, the events manager of his sports company (there are also implications that he and Hercules hooked up once or twice).
The thing that is truly great about Northstar and Kyle is that their relationship is written realistically. Though they love each other, they are shown facing struggles that not just gay couples face, but all couples. They get in fights and struggle with their differences, but they are ultimately shown as a very loving couple who want to make it work.
I’m interested to see how the marriage will be handled and where it will lead. Some Marvel marriages struggle, but are ultimately successful (Sue and Reed and Hank and Janet are two of Marvel’s longest marriages, but with many problems). Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, though still a “new” marriage, are shown to be very close and happy, though the events of the upcoming Thunderbolts transferal to Dark Avengers may change that. However, many of the marriages have ended in shambles, due to death, devils, and the like (Scott and Jean, Peter and MJ). I hope that Northstar and Kyle have a successful marriage, but even if they don’t, their marriage still represents a very important step forward for mainstream superhero comics.
Astonishing X-Men #51 comes out June 27.
If you’d like to read more of Northstar’s adventures, look for Alpha Flight Classics Volume 1 or read the current run of Astonishing X-Men, starting with #48, all of which are at Modern Myths, LLC!