Marvel Comics' Astonishing X-Men is set to experience a new sound effect on top of its booms, whams, and snikts: the bong of wedding bells. Specifically, it's the wedding bells of Marvel's first gay marriage between longtime X-Man Northstar and his civilian boyfriend, Kyle. After pairing up the couple in 2009, Marvel is officially tying their knot in June's Astonishing X-Men #51.
While Marvel actually boasts a deep pool of LGBT characters, many of whom are in committed relationships, this is the first one to go all the way. The comic industry's number-one publisher has always reflected America's cultural and political developments, and with President Obama's recent public support of gay marriage, an official marriage couldn't have come at a better time.
But for the super speedster Northstar, a.k.a. Jean-Paul Beaubier, this just the latest development in his position as Marvel's premiere gay superhero. Introduced in 1979, his sexuality was only inferred until 1992 in Alpha Flight #106. The outing spurred an unexpected frenzy, conjuring multiple editions of Alpha Flight #106 and a media blitz that hit faster than Northstar at maximum velocity. The character also adopted a baby with AIDS, mentored a gay mutant named Anole, and even wrote a book about his experience as a gay mutant, titled Born Normal; it's hard to imagine how this guy made time for fighting crime.
Below, the creative minds behind the wedding of the decade -- Axel Alonso, Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics; Jeanine Schaffer and Daniel Ketchum, Astonishing X-Men's co-editors; Marjorie Liu, writer of Astonishing X-Men; and Mike Perkins, penciller of Astonishing X-Men -- dish on why they're hosting the wedding now, the divisive reaction within the Marvel Universe, and the endless storytelling possibilities that this latest evolution holds.
(Plus, see a slideshow of 13 other LGBT comic book characters at the end of the article.)
Marvel has had a strong cast of same-sex couples over the past few years, yet this is the first time you will marry one. What made you feel like now was the right time to do so? And why did you decide to give the milestone to Northstar?
Alex Alonso: 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 new development? Would it change his long-term relationship with his partner, Kyle? Marvel Comics are best when they respond to developments in the real world, and this is just the latest expression of that.
Marjorie Liu: In addition, I think there's a danger in letting characters stagnate within their relationships. Relationships define character, and if you don't let them evolve, then you, as storyteller (and the reader) will be stuck going nowhere. And why not give Northstar's relationship the focus it deserves? He's in a situation that begs more attention -- a superhero in love with a human man? What are the stresses and joys between them? What keeps them together? What makes them essential to each other's lives? And is the physical power of one mitigated by the emotional power of the other?
Daniel Ketchum: Northstar and Kyle were the obvious choice for this story. We've seen their relationship grow over the past few years, across a number of titles: Uncanny X-Men, Nation X, and Alpha Flight. Whereas foisting this story upon another character would have been a forced step in their progression, we've been building toward this exact place with these two for about a year now, since gay marriage was legalized in New York State, making it a natural development. And, looking ahead, the marriage of two gay characters opens a number of avenues for future stories, and Northstar and Kyle are the characters best suited to explore them.
Nearly every prominent same-sex couple in comics has been between two members of the superhero community, but your first gay marriage is between a superhero and a civilian. How did you reach this decision, and what types of storytelling opportunities do you see coming from this switch-up?
Alonso: We reached a decision when we decided the story spoke to an emotional truth and would open up a host of storytelling opportunities. If Northstar were to tie the knot with Kyle, would it solidify their bond or complicate it? Would all of Northstar's teammates support his marriage, and if not, how would it affect the team? The story possibilities were endless.
Liu: There are so many ways to explore their relationship. For example, think about police officers and their families, in which one partner regularly deals with dangerous situations, has a "team" that is an important part of his or her life, and has a spouse who can't be part of that, who is always left behind. That's Kyle. And it doesn't matter that he's got a great life, a wonderful job; he's still a human man who has to watch his super-powered partner risk his life against crazy odds. A lot. The storytelling opportunities are endless, but how we approach that will remain, as it has up to now, an organic process informed entirely by character.
Ketchum: The fact that Northstar is a costumed superhero and Kyle is a civilian is actually a key point in this story. At their best, superhero comic stories reflect real-world truths and experiences. And in this case the tension created by this inequality in Northstar and Kyle's relationship is a wonderful stand-in for any number of tensions that real-life couples encounter in their own relationships. So this extra detail has enriched the story and given it another wonderful opportunity to connect with its audience.
How will Northstar and Kyle's engagement resonate throughout the Marvel Universe?
Alonso: Recent events in North Carolina and President Obama's statement of support for gay marriage underscore that this is a topical -- and controversial -- issue. And we'd be doing the story a disservice not to reflect this. While lots of Marvel Universe characters will attend Northstar's wedding, not everyone will accept the invitation or the validity of Northstar's vows. At least one of Northstar's team members will turn down the invitation, which should make for a very interesting dynamic down the road.
Jeanine Schaffer: This is a huge story in scope but also a very intimate one, as most weddings tend to be; no matter the physical size, the important stuff is always about how family and friends interact and how relationships change coming out of it. That's always been true of the X-Men, as well, a group of people who come together on common ground but who all are fierce individuals. And it's because of that that it's so important to us to show the range of individual reactions and make sure that it enriches not only this story but also the stories that come after. You'll see that there's an incredible amount of support for them, but there are also people who are struggling with it. We want to tell those stories, too. Marvel has always reflected the world outside our windows, and this story will be no different.
Will we see any reactions from other gay couples like Hulkling and Wiccan or Rictor and Shatter Star?
Liu: That remains to be seen, but I suspect it might put some ideas in their heads.
As Marvel, and the comics industry in general, has introduced an increasing number of gay characters, how do you feel the fans have generally reacted? Do you plan for potential backlash from your more conservative readers?
Alonso: Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, but we don't make decisions about what stories to tell based on the way the political wind blows; we're storytellers looking to tell good tales that resonate in today's world. Gay marriage is legal in New York State, most of our characters live in New York State, and a percentage of them are gay, so we'd be remiss not to consider how it would affect them, their friends, families, and teammates. Northstar's union will enjoy a lot of support, but there will be people in his life who do not support his union or recognize the validity of his vows, and their views will be fairly represented. The story just begins with the marriage.
Traditionally, the X-Men have always been a metaphor and inspiration for misrepresented communities, including the LGBT community. How was that thematic history considered when holding the wedding in Astonishing X-Men?
Ketchum: If nothing else, the historical precedence of the X-Men serving as a metaphor for marginalized communities gives extra clout to a gay-marriage story in an X-Men title. The X-Men franchise has always been a pioneer in exploring matters of difference in mainstream comics, and I'm happy to see that trend continued. And I'm excited that our stage can be Astonishing X-Men in particular, a book whose mission statement is spotlighting prestigious creators and stories, starting with Joss Whedon's run on the title.
Axel, do you see this marriage as a major mark of progression for diversity in comic books?
Alonso: Yes, but this is first and foremost about good storytelling. Marvel has a long and proud tradition of reflecting the world in all its diversity, and this is just one more example of that.
Do you foresee an increase in gay couples or characters throughout the rest of the industry as a result?
Alonso: Perhaps, but at Marvel, we are in the business of creating good characters, period.
Mike, I really enjoyed the page following Jean-Paul's proposal, where Kyle weighs Northstar's decision without any background, and Northstar is only represented through a series of word balloons. What particular idea or mood were you communicating with that artistic decision? Visually, what do you think it says about Northstar and Kyle's relationship?
Mike Perkins: Thank you! It really was a conscious decision to have no background on those pages. Marjorie had already deftly written into the script that we should just be concentrating on Kyle's facial mannerisms, and I felt we could enhance this by solely focusing on him without any background distractions. At that point Kyle is entirely in his own world, to the point where he's not even hearing Northstar. He's struggling with his decision, and the readers should feel that, too. I think that this approach also emphasizes that Kyle is his own person, not just an appendage to his celebrity, superstar, superhero boyfriend.
Marjorie, how does Northstar's sexuality help define him as a character? How do you consider and approach it when mapping out his progression through the marvel universe?
Liu: It's the whole package, really. How does one's gender or race define a person? How does one's religion or culture? How are we changed by all the tugs and pushes that come at us because of how and where and even why we're born? Northstar's sexuality doesn't define him, but it is an important part of him (who we love being the most important defining relationship of all), and it's a critical fragment of his story that influences his outlook, his life, in the same way that his skin color does, and his gender, and his mutant powers. As for how I approach his character? Well, he's a handsome white male who can fly and has super-speed and strength. And he's in love with a man. So, he's got privilege, he's got wealth, and he's got heart. That's the shallow approach. Going deeper, I think about love and friendship, and how our relationships alter and define the progression of our lives. For all his vanity and ego, Northstar's heart is dedicated to helping people. He's loyal to his friends. Kyle is now the center of his world. How all those relationships play out will determine where he goes in the Marvel Universe.
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Comic books have more LGBT superheroes than you can throw a batarang at. From the revered, to the controversial, to the downright embarrassing, here are the most notable LGBT comic characters of all time: