Big news: issue 51 of the Marvel Comics Group’s Astonishing X-Men will feature same-sex marriage. On the cover.
Canadian superhero Northstar, aka Jean-Paul Beaubier (and sometimes Jean-Paul Martin), who first appeared in the pages of the X-Men during the late-70s, was established as gay in the early ’90s; it made the headlines in 1992. A couple of decades later, same-sex marriage has been made legal in New York State. In real life. And as so many comic book superheroes reside in New York, this reality will be reflected in comics. So Northstar is to wed his lifestyle choice partner Kyle Jinadu in an issue that will hit the stands in the US towards the end of June.
“Our comics are always best when they respond to and reflect developments in the real world,” says editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics – who publish the title – Axel Alonso. “We've been doing that for decades, and this is just the latest expression of that."
I do recall a time – around the mid-’90s – when a fatal disease was decimating the mutant population of Marvel’s comics: an analogy for the AIDS epidemic. This latest development sees mutants – the most reviled of subgroups within the comic book universe – address issues more directly.
“Let me make it clear – this story begins with a marriage, but it ain't over with the marriage," Alonso says. "We'd be doing the story a disservice not to reflect the controversy around it.” Thus, while a lot of Marvel Universe characters will be attending Northstar's wedding, not everyone is going to accept the invitation or the validity of Northstar's vows. “At least one of Northstar's team members is going to turn down the invitation, and that's going to make for an interesting dynamic."
Writer Marjorie Liu may be laying it on a bit thick, however. This is a storyline dealing with the outcasts’ outcasts: “Here are two people, trying to live their lives – mutant and gay, black and gay – empowered in their own ways, living life on their own terms. It doesn't matter that it's a superhero comic, the message is: You can do the same thing."
That message is precisely the problem for One Million Moms, a conservative Christian group who are part of the nonprofit American Family Association (considered a ‘hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Centre). One Million Moms are irate at Marvel, and at rival DC who are promising to reintroduce one of its ‘major iconic characters’ as gay. The Moms argue that kids mimic their superhero idols, so it’s only a matter of time that little boys will want have same-sex relationships “like their heroes”:
“These companies are heavily influencing our youth by using children’s superheroes to desensitize and brainwash them in thinking that a gay lifestyle choice is normal and desirable,” they argue. “Children do not know what straight, homosexual, or coming out of the closet even means, but DC Comics and Marvel are using superheroes to confuse them on this topic to raise questions and awareness of an alternative lifestyle choice. These companies are prompting a premature discussion on sexual orientation.”
Obviously, all those kids who have lifted cars, managed to leap over buildings in a single bound, bare-handedly stopped bank robberies and undertaken other such activity – all because their superhero idols have – will also develop a carnal lust for people of their own gender not because they actually feel those emotions, just because it happened in a comic and they want to imitate it. But perish forbid they might want to know stuff, and expect their parents to answer their questions and furnish them with knowledge (like, ‘where are the dinosaurs in the Bible?’) Shut that down straight away.
The fact that DC (or should it now be ‘AC/DC’?) are trying to keep up with Marvel (or should it now be 'Marvelous’?) is… typical as ever.
So who would the major iconic DC character be who is coming out of the closet? Let’s face it, could be anyone, given they spend a lifetime maintaining buff physiques, in body-hugging Lycra.
Probably won’t be someone with a sidekick – that’s far too suss. Bruce Wayne has a duty of care for Dick Grayson, so there can’t be any Batman/Robin shenanigans. Wouldn’t be the Superman who hangs out with Jimmy Olsen. Could it be Green Arrow? That robin hood/man-in-tights thing is a bit much. Maybe Aquaman. I hear he sleeps with the fishes. Smart money is gonna be on Wonder Woman – forever a gay icon.
Interestingly, Marvel is now owned by Disney. It’s a bit suprising that the conservative family entertainer is fine with it. It’s not likely an original Disney character will be ‘tying the knot’ with a same-sex partner. If one did, who would it be? Scrooge McDuck? Cruella DeVille? Those recedivists The Beagle Boys, perhaps, cos you know what goes on inside…
Other Disney acquisitions that would seem obvious are likewise avoiding the controversial plot development. Disney owns the Muppets, for example. Decades of smirking remarks about Sesame Street’s Bert & Ernie have given away to an active campaign to have them wed (though nobody’s asked their opinion, or that of Ernie’s Rubber Ducky, of course…) to no avail. Although a more obvious choice would be those bitchy theatre critics Statler & Waldorf (you know, the cranky old guys in the balcony…)
Marvel’s making the most of it, of course. There are variations of the cover, one of which depicts the weddings of several superhero couples: Cyclops (Scott Summers) and Phoenix (Jean Grey); Ant Man (Hank Pym) and The Wasp (Janet Van Dyne); Wanda the Scarlet Witch and The Vision… But there’s a space on the front cover for your own photo. Nawww.
Of course, this could just be a way to sell more comics, given that kids today have so many other things vying for their attention. Back when Northstar was invented, there was no internet, there were no home computers, there were less television stations, entertainment was not a mouse click away. Lots more kids used to read comics back then than do now.
I’m not just being cynical: there’s quite a bit of lead time before issue 51 of Astonishing X-Men is out. Issue 50 is only just being delivered. That’s the issue where Northstar pops the question. All this furore, before they’ve even set a date. But at least a lot more people have now actually heard of this Canadian mutant called Northstar. He was never one of the bigger names in the superhero pantheon, so nobody – few non-Canadians, anyway – knew just how fabulous he is. Until now.