[SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains major spoilers for “Astonishing X-Men” #50, on sale May 23.]
More than 50 years ago, when writer Stan Lee and his collaborators laid the groundwork for what would become the Marvel Universe they made the decision to populate it not with god-like paragons of justice and virtue, but with flawed figures that wanted to be good and struggled with both real world problems and the kinds created by super villains. That decision meant many Marvel heroes would be seen as outcasts and not fit into the super heroic and public worlds they struggled to be a part of. It also made it possible for readers to empathize with Marvel characters on a whole new level.
The most popular and empathetic band of Marvel outcasts are the heroes that make up the X-Men; super powered mutants who protect a world that fears and hates them in the hopes they’ll one day be able to co-exist with humanity and lead normal lives. It’s a struggle that Canadian born mutant Northstar (AKA Jean Paul Beaubier), who recently joined the cast of “Astonishing X-Men,” understands all too well as an openly gay man. In June’s “Astonishing X-Men” #51 by writer Marjorie Liu and artist Mike Perkins, Northstar will take another step toward the life he wants when he marries his boyfriend, Kyle Jinadu, and becomes the first gay married man in mainstream super hero comics. CBR News spoke with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, Perkins, and Liu about the history making wedding.
CBR News: So Axel, Marjorie, and Mike, this story is coming at a pretty interesting time for the issue of same sex marriage in this country with the recent vote in North Carolina and President Obama becoming the first sitting president to publicly support gay marriage. How long has this story been in the works? What’s it like telling this tale in that kind of climate?
Axel Alonso: When gay marriage became legal in New York State, it raised a question, since most of our heroes reside in that state. Northstar is the first openly gay character in comics, and he’s been in a long-term relationship with his partner, so how might he respond to this new development? Marvel Comics has a long and proud tradition of reflecting the real world, and this is just the latest expression of that. The events in North Carolina and President Obama’s statement of support for gay marriage merely underscore that this is a topical — and controversial — issue, and our story will reflect this. While Marvel Universe characters will attend Northstar’s wedding, not everyone will accept the invitation or the validity of Northstar’s vows.
Marjorie Liu: What we’re trying to accomplish has everything to do with telling a love story, and nothing at all to do with politics. These are two characters who needed their relationship to evolve, and rather than do the usual thing — like, break them up or add some artificial strife — we’re writing about what many people in love do in the real world: They get married. As for the rest — the recent vote, Obama — these are interesting times, that’s all I can say.
Mike Perkins: I was approached about taking on these issues of “Astonishing X-Men” in October last year so it was clearly being discussed long before then. Marvel Comics have always been reflective of the world around them, be it through metaphor or a more direct approach, and I see this as something which needs to be tackled. Saying that, though, I believe that the direction and growth of Northstar and Kyle’s relationship is a purely natural flow of acknowledgement of their love for each other — not something that’s just been tacked on.
Northstar was Marvel’s first openly gay character and now he’s about to make history again by becoming Marvel’s first openly gay married hero. Coincidence? Or is there something about this character and his personality that makes him kind of a kind of trail blazer?
Liu: He’s in love, and he’s also not afraid to take a risk. Trail blazers have been made with less.
It’s interesting you’re able to do this story because of Northstar becoming a member of the X-Men, a team which is currently located in two different states: California, where same sex marriage was legal, became illegal, and now is legal again, but I believe there’s currently a stay on weddings, and New York, where the Marriage Equality Act was passed last year. Did those rulings help determine which team Northstar was going to end up on? Or was the plan to always have Northstar and
Kyle end up in New York?
Alonso: The plan was that Northstar would be in New York.
In “Astonishing X-Men” #50, in stores May 23rd, Northstar proposes to Kyle, who turns him down. He doesn’t turn Northstar down because he doesn’t love him, though. Going into “Astonishing X-Men” #51, what’s your sense of the relationship between these two characters? What do they see in each other? Why do they care for each other so much?
Alonso: What do any two people in love see in each other? Some of it’s rational, and some of its not. And all good romance has complications. Without it, there is no story to tell. Their marriage ceremony is only part of a long journey.
Liu: Ah, the age-old question of love! Sometimes, you just love someone, and there are a million reasons why — and sometimes, all those million reasons why you love someone and admire them can become the very things that irritate you the most. Kyle admires the fact that Northstar saves lives — but because he’s a superhero and saves lives, that takes him away from Kyle — a lot — and puts him into dangerous situations. Who wouldn’t be stressed by that? Kyle, on the other hand, is Northstar’s human heart — he’s good, capable, and strong — which is something that Northstar loves and craves. But it’s that same down-to-earth quality that creates tension, because their communication styles are so very different. Will the problems that exist between them be resolved? That remains to be seen, but going into “Astonishing” #51 we’ll see their commitment to try, and that’s the heart of any good relationship.
Kyle may have turned Northstar down in issue #50, but we know they will have their big day in “Astonishing X-Men” #51. Before that happens, though, Northstar has to rescue Kyle from the clutches of a villain named Susan Hatachi who has an army of mercenaries and several mind-controlled X-Men on her side. What can you tell us the battle that opens things up in “Astonishing X-Men” #51? What kind of fight is Northstar in for? Mike, which of Northstar’s powers and personality traits do you really want to emphasize in this fight?
Liu: It’s a fight that hinges on the power of Northstar’s love for Kyle, and vice versa.
Perkins: I think Marjorie has emphasized his powers perfectly in the script but left me with enough wriggle room to play with the visualization of those powers. At the moment we’ve been more concerned with Northstar’s aptitude of speed and flight and it’s intriguing for me to try and come up with new ways of showing those aspects of his abilities. I’d like to get the chance to explore a little bit more of his other attributes.
Speaking of fights and conflicts, this is the second time Kyle has come into danger in “Astonishing X-Men.” Kyle has no powers, but is obviously a big part of Northstar’s life. What’s it like writing a character like that, especially in a team book where Northstar is part of an ensemble? Is it tough making the character more than just a plot complication for Northstar? Or do Kyle’s feelings for Northstar and his job as Northstar’s brand manager make him easy to write and fit into scenes?
Liu: Whether something is just a “surplus complication” or whether something is “integral to the deep plot” is in the eye of the beholder. I would argue that Northstar makes no sense in this particular story without Kyle, his partner, which means that he’s absolutely essential to the plot — and therefore no, it wasn’t tough fitting him in. The difficulty rested in finding the right words to express the emotional bonds (and conflicts) between him and Northstar.
We’ve talked about the characters and the lead up to the wedding. Let’s talk about the big event itself. How much of the wedding will we see in “Astonishing X-Men” #51? Who are some of the guests? Might we see some of the X-Men in Cyclops’ camp come to New York for the wedding?
Alonso: A lot of Marvel Universe characters will show up to the wedding, but not everyone will accept the invitation, including at least one person who is very close to Northstar. That’s going to hurt, and it has got to figure into their subsequent relationship.
Liu: Issue #51 is almost all wedding. We’re not skimping on the details. As for the guests, yes, you’ll see some of Cyclops’ people there. I won’t spoil who, but I’ve got a few favorite characters who I just had to include — along with some other Marvel Universe types who regularly haunt New York’s streets. Ahem.
I also imagine we’ll see some of Northstar’s former Alpha Flight team mates. Marjorie and Mike, what’s it like writing and drawing these characters? What do you find interesting about them? And will the issue offer you a chance to comment on the fallout from Greg Park and Fred Van Lente’s recent “Alpha Flight” miniseries?
Liu: I really loved writing Aurora, whose character holds a very interesting mix of strength and vulnerability. And no, no commentary on the aftermath of the “Alpha Flight” miniseries.
Perkins: I’m a big Alpha Flight fan so getting to illustrate those characters, albeit briefly, has been a little bit of a fanboy dream for me!
Axel mentioned that some Marvel characters will be uncomfortable with and upset by Northstar and Kyle’s wedding. Can you talk about their perspective and why they feel this way?
Liu: One of those characters in particular won’t be comfortable, for cultural reasons. It was important to do this because we wanted to show a balanced, realistic perspective — in the sense that, no matter what our personal beliefs are on the issue of gay marriage, it’s not universally accepted. But we all still need to learn how to accept one another, despite our disagreements, and do so with open hearts.
What about the wedding’s location? Where will it be held? Which part of the city? Mike, I’ve noticed quite a bit attention to city details in both your “Astonishing X-Men” work and your work on the “Union Jack” miniseries from a couple years back. How important is it to you as an artist to get real world settings right? And what’s it like drawing a big super hero wedding in a major metropolis like New York?
Perkins: The wedding will be taking place in Central Park and to me it’s very important to be able to communicate the real world settings correctly. That’s one of the things I love about the Marvel Universe — the fact that the adventures take place in our world — in settings we can recognize. Throughout my work I appreciate that you have noticed how much preparation I put into those settings, going so far as to visit the environments and taking exact photo reference of the surroundings. New York is a character in and of itself and to utilize it for such an event is both an honor and an intimidating challenge!
Can you hint at some of the “Astonishing X-Men” stories that follow the wedding? Will the mysterious Susan Hatachi still be out there making trouble for the X-Men? Or is another threat on the horizon?
Liu: You bet she’ll be making trouble.
Perkins: It’ll be explosive!
Let’s start to wrap things up with a question about upcoming developments in the personal life of the other openly gay character in “Astonishing X-Men,” Karma. Are there any plans to have her start dating or to give her a girlfriend?
Liu: I would love to give Karma a girlfriend. I have someone in mind, but we’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.
Finally, you’re less than one month away from what’s certain to be the super hero wedding of the year. Any last thoughts you would like to share about the wedding of Jean Paul Beaubier and Kyle Jinadu?
Alonso: The X-Men have captured the imagination of generations of readers because they remain relevant and topical. This is just the latest chapter of that ongoing story.
“Astonishing X-Men” #50 is on sale May 23.