Super Queer-oes Series: Issue #2

4 Jun

Hello fellow queer geeks! The Super Queer-oes series is back, and I’d like you to meet Jean-Paul Beaubier, AKA Northstar, an Olympic athlete with superhuman speed and flight, and the first major gay character to ever appear in Marvel Comics.

Way back during the early days of the X-Men in 1979, Northstar was first introduced alongside his twin sister Aurora as part of the 6 person team Alpha Flight, sent by the Canadian government to capture Wolverine. The team had a brief role in the X-Men storyline, but in 1983 Alpha Flight got its very own series and writer and artist John Byrne wanted to flesh out the team’s characters. According to Byrne:

“One of the things that popped immediately into my head was to make one of them gay. I had recently read an article in Scientific American on what was then (the early 80s) fairly radical new thinking on just what processes caused a person to be homosexual, and the evidence was pointing increasingly to it being genetic and not environmental factors. So, I thought, it seemed like it was time for a gay superhero, and since I was being ‘forced’ to make Alpha Flight a real series, I might as well make one of them gay. . . . I settled on Jean-Paul, and the moment I did I realized it was already there. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I must have been considering making him gay before I ‘decided’ to do so.”

Byrne’s plans, however, fell short. At the time, Marvel editor-in-chief had declared that there were to be no gay explicitly homosexual characters in the Marvel domain, and even worse, according to the Comics Code Authority, the source for comic book content regulation in the USA, it was illegal for Marvel to publicly state that Northstar was gay.

Subsequently, the best Byrne could do was  subtly imply the sexuality of Northstar’s character. In issue # 10, for example, Alpha Flight leader James Hudson describes Northstar’s Olympic skiing successes by saying:

Here, Hudson states the Northstar wasn’t interested in women, but must quickly muddy this idea by saying that winning is all that matters.

By issue #28, Byrne left the Alpha Flight series, and Bill Mantlo came to the table to further explore Northstar’s homosexuality. In issue #41 (1986), for example, Northstar and his sister have the following dialogue about voting in a new male member to their team:

Here, the hint to Northstar’s orientation is allowed to stand on its own, and is further supported when in just the next issue Northstar is mind-controlled by a villainess, and upon recovering control engages in this dialogue with fellow teammate Heather Hudson:

By the end of this issue, however, Northstar began to show signs of a new storyline, suddenly finding himself subject to fits of coughing spells. Over the next several issues, Northstar’s cough worsens, and it is revealed that he is having difficulty healing from wounds received in battle.  If you haven’t caught on to this storyline yet, realize that the year was 1987 and AIDS was being heavily associated with the gay community.  Mantlo, like many at the time, associated gay men with the AIDS virus, and felt that it was logical for Northstar’s orientation to be revealed by having him die from it and was planning to do so in issue #50.

But things got messy. I won’t go into all the weird details that followed, but by the time Northstar was slated to die, the editors at Marvel refused to allow him to do it. Instead, Northstar and his sister traveled to a mythological underworld,  where they found out that they were half-elf and were suffering from prolonged separation from their homeland, and that if Aurora gave Northstar her power of light, he would be cured. It was weird, but alas, such are the ways of fantasy literature, and comic book author Peter David later sarcastically joked “He wasn’t gay. He was just a fairy.”

Finally after 13 years, Northstar was able to come out of the closet in 1992  and utter the words “I’m gay”, appearing in Alpha Flight issue #106. Although the series at the time was not very popular, the issue garnered publicity and sold out within a week. Interestingly enough, this issue became the only comic book to ever be inducted into the Gaylactic Hall of Fame, an organization that awards science fiction, horror, and fantasy works that explore LGBT themes in a positive way (I had not heard of this before and I’m so happy that this exists). Northstar’s 1992 coming out, however, was still controversial, and although not ignored, his orientation was not exactly explored in the following issues to come.

By 2001, though, with improved societal views towards homosexuality, Northstar was able to be himself more comfortably. He dealt with homophobia from several teammates, became a mentor to several younger gay characters, and even developed an unrequited crush on fellow X-Man Iceman.

By the time the Ultimate X-Men Series is introduced (The Ultimate comics was a major step by Marvel done in the 2000s where it took many of its character lines including Spider Man and the Fantastic Four, and reimagined and updated them to free them from their convoluted histories and make them more approachable for a modern audience) Northstar is a student asking the newly-made-gay Colossus to the homecoming dance, and the two later temporarily live together at school.

Although he might still have to deal with being a mutant, after decades of unrest about his orientation, Northstar can finally live his life as an out and proud gay man in the comic book community. He may not be one of the most prominent characters or have his own series like Batwoman, but Northstar served a great purpose as a pioneer figure in comic books for gay characters. Slated to be gay since the 70’s, following his storyline struggles is truly fascinating and is a great opportunity to reveal how for we’ve come.

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One Response to “Super Queer-oes Series: Issue #2”

  1. Igor Urzelai July 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    I found these two articles about Queer-oes brilliant!

    I’m a member of BLOOM!, a dance collective based between London and Budapest. Our next production is based on the SuperHeroes subject; we have a blog following the creative process of the piece (superheroes.bloomdancecollective.org). I would really like to publish these articles in our blog (or even invite you to join and contribute them yourselves) but first of course I wanted to ask your opinion and permit. What do you say? I could always publish a link to both articles, but I think it would look better if they are published as proper articles.

    What do you say? :-) Would be very happy if you’d join our blog.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    All the best,

    Igor Urzelai & the BLOOM! team

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