800 comic appearances over 33 years. A member of Alpha Flight and the X-Men. Appeared in the highly-rated X-Men Animated Series. Appeared in the X-Men Destiny video game. An action figure. Mini-bust. Eaglemoss figurine. Solo mini-series. And a NY Times headline when he became the first Marvel character to come out.
So why have I heard days of passive-aggressive “who’s Northstar?”
This is completely irrelevant to any discussion of same sex marriage in a super-hero comic.
Here’s a hypothetical. A new Harry Potter book is going to be released. (note: I have never read nor seen any Harry Potter) They announce that Gorflats Higglesworth, a classmate of Harry’s, will be revealed to be transgender. The debate at hand would be the place of such a topic and character in a children’s series. It would be ridiculous of me to say “Gorflats Higglesworth? Never heard of him” and think I was adding to the discourse.
If you’ve never heard of Northstar, take a look at John Byrne’s Alpha Flight. Quite good art and available in trade. But it is not at all germane to the topic at hand.
But I think I already answered my own question. Passive-aggressive. It’s not PC to badmouth a gay character, nor is it going to pass muster to be against same-sex marriage in concept or complain it shouldn’t happen in a mainstream super-hero book. So what’s left? Well, you come up with a “not that there’s anything wrong with it” argument about how it’s opportunistic of Marvel to do this story.
But they are doing it. It’s been rumored for months and no real fan was at all surprised. The same #comicmarket folk that brought us racist comments about Miles Morales were of course in full force with cynicism and anger.
The publishing arc of Northstar is itself a story. Northstar was always gay. Byrne wrote him as gay, but at the time it couldn’t be explicit in the Code-approved book as such. Northstar was just a guy who had a male traveling companion who hung out at the private pool with him. And he had unusually close and vaguely defined relationships with older men.
Byrne claims no great plan for this, only that he wanted to have one of the male characters be homosexual and it came down to Northstar or Shaman, the latter already a “minority character.”
There were challenges along the way. Bill Mantlo was clearly leading to a story that would have had Northstar be HIV positive. This was later retconned into Northstar being … and I very much wish I was making this up … a fairy. An elf to be precise. He was sick because he had been in “man’s world” too long. This was thankfully also retconned out as “a bad dream” when they returned the character to Alpha Flight a few years later.
The New York Times covered the story, and it was picked up on the AP Wire. Alpha Flight was selling in the 100,000 copy ballpark at the time. Marvel was not only brave enough to publish the book, it was brave enough to publish some hate mail in later issues including a letter from a Canadian Nazi organization.
No, Northstar is not a marquee name. However, if they suddenly had a marquee character come out and then get engaged, I’d be siding with the cynics as that really would be everything Northstar’s wedding has been accused of being.
This is a fascinating character evolution that Marvel should be commended for, not painted as opportunistic. Were they first? No. But they are telling stories about characters’ realistic lives and that is what they are supposed to be doing. Marvel was built on realistic characters and diverse backgrounds. A blind lawyer. An industrialist inventor. A science-geek teen. A forgotten soldier. And yes, a gay Canadian.
Editorially closeted, abandoned Aids story, fairy/elf, coming out, death, resurrection, love story, marriage. It’s been a long and eventful life, Jean-Paul.