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Northstar’s Marriage: Progressive or Exploitative?

Media attention has not been in short supply for the upcoming same-sex wedding in Astonishing X-Men. Largely, that attention is positive, praising Marvel for doing such a progressive thing with one of its characters. Some have gone so far as to declare it something historic. This will be the first same-sex wedding in Marvel Comics’ history. This will apparently be the first in what is questionably referred to as mainstream comics. Overall, I’m being told this is a big deal and a bold move from Marvel.

Yet, I’m having trouble seeing it as anything other than an exploitative publicity stunt.

Northstar and whatshisnameHow brave is it for Marvel to pull this off at a time when it seems that a growing majority of the public is already in favor of same-sex marriage? Is there honestly any risk at all here? Hey, we’re all comic fans. We can be ignorant, stubborn and petty. We will get outraged about the most ridiculous things. But we generally aren’t homophobic, especially not to the degree of boycotting anything. I would guess the percentage of comic readers who are supportive or fine with same-sex marriage is far greater than the national average. Today, Marvel has nothing to fear from the threat of boycotts.

There’s no losing for Marvel in this endeavor. By giving this event the illusion of importance, they get nothing but publicity for it. And I do mean “illusion of importance.” Let’s be honest here. Marvel is just marrying off Northstar, and they’re doing it today in 2012. Wildstorm married two of its characters, Apollo and Midnighter, over a decade ago at a time when the idea of same-sex marriage was not so acceptable to the public at large. These were two major characters too and not some C-list character who rarely appears as a main character in any story. More recently, Archie Comics did it with Kevin Keller, and Archie is hardly some obscure property that the public has never heard of. Progressive? It seems more like Marvel is a bit late to the game on this one.

To be fair, I’m not calling Marvel late to the game on the subject of homosexuality in general. I think Marvel has done relatively well with gay characters in the past decade. Having two gay characters, Hulkling and Wiccan, in a high profile teen title was a ballsy move. Making Colossus gay in the Ultimate Universe gave legitimacy to the idea that Marvel was trying to create a more modern and relevant version of its own universe. I’ll give Marvel more credit for moves like these than Northstar’s wedding.

Why am I so down on Northstar’s nuptials? It’s because it is such an artificial story and not the culmination of some legitimate romance. Let me to showcase why this is so. I have read Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men run. I read Greg Pak and Dale Eaglesham’s Alpha Flight series. I have been reading this Astonishing X-Men story arc. I believe I have read just about the entirety of Northstar’s latest relationship. And you know what I can’t do?

I can’t remember the name of Northstar’s love interest.

Seriously, I am looking it up right now so that I can continue writing this article. It’s Kyle…. something, right?

Kyle Jinadu. Yeah, this guy. He was introduced in Uncanny X-Men as not much more than a prop to show readers Northstar was gay. His limited role in Alpha Flight was to be abducted and brainwashed like any other generic love interest. Now, he’s in Astonishing X-Men, and it’s time for a wedding. I have just about laid out the entire history of the Jean-Paul and Kyle romance. Epic, isn’t it?

True Love. Sort of. Probably Not.
No, it is more like nonexistent. The biggest challenge Marjorie Liu faces in this story arc is to inject as much substance as possible into this relationship before the wedding, because it has so little to begin with. She has to give Kyle a personality and give their relationship some kind of dynamic. Admittedly, she has managed to do better at this than I thought anyone would. I mean, it is just the standard “love interest stresses out over being a normal person with a superhero” that we’ve seen done already with countless heterosexual relationships. It is at least something, though. Liu also manages to portray it well, which is actually part of the problem here.

When Kyle initially turns down Northstar’s proposal, his reasons are pretty damn convincing. He’s completely right about Northstar wanting to rush into marriage as a quick fix for their relationship. As readers, this is all we have is this story to judge their relationship on. There’s no storied history here between these two. This is it, and if this is it, we’re looking at a relationship that has not been going on for a long time and definitely has problems. I’m not sure Liu can sell the idea that the two of them actually should get married after shining a light on why they clearly aren’t ready.

Others have pointed out this is somewhat of a strange move for Marvel to make when it (and DC too, for that matter) have taken the stance that marriage is a limited and boring thing to do to a character. Now, this stance isn’t actually true or anything. I believe Spider-Man continued to be one of Marvel’s best-selling properties for the majority of his marriage, and that’s a position the character has slipped from since the marriage dissolved. But still, marriage being boring and limiting is the general perception of the people at the tops of the Big Two. So why would they do it with Northstar?

Well — because it’s Northstar. He’s a character who is rarely used to begin with, and usually when he is, it’s in stories in some way about him being gay. Yeah, like the current one. Again, there’s nothing for Marvel to lose. Fans of Northstar might lose out, though. In a climate where writers are less inclined to write married characters, Northstar’s marriage is more likely to reinforce the idea that marriage is boring and limiting as Northstar is married off to an two-dimensional character from a underdeveloped relationship.

But maybe there’s hope. If Liu doesn’t manage to sell the idea of Jean-Paul and Kyle’s marriage, this could all be setup for something that would legitimately be historic.

Comics’ first gay divorce.

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