EXCLUSIVE: Inside "Astonishing X-Men's" Northstar Proposal

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It was the question heard round the world. This week's "Astonishing X-Men" #50 from Marvel Comics came into comic shops with a much ballyhooed storyline involving the engagement of gay X-Man Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle -- or at least Northstar's proposal. Readers of the book will have to pick up #51 to see how the full storyline plays out, but for now, the focus is on the proposal that's already (perhaps predictably) landed on daytime TV, in Scottish Parliament and on the radar of angry conservative activists.

But for artist Mike Perkins and writer Marjorie Liu -- the team who crafted the proposal -- the hot-button nature of the story is less important than its significance for their characters, each of them professing a desire to make the comic and its central wedding-themed scene as romantic and dramatic as possible.

To help go inside the issue, Marvel has provided CBR News with an exclusive look at Perkins' art for the proposal scene with several alternate takes on how it could have gone down. Below, the creative team describes the power of the splash page, the stereotypes they wanted to work against as they aimed for the most natural character moment and the fun Marvel staffers had with the scene once all was said and done.

CBR News: The proposal scene in "Astonishing" #50 is a romantic one in some ways, but a very dramatic one in others. How did the need to complicate Northstar and Kyle's journey for the story impact how this entire scene was staged and drawn?

Mike Perkins: Marjorie had staged everything perfectly, really, and it was just down to me to make sure that I got the right beats and emotional resonances in there. I know, it sounds like an easy task, right (?), but one little line out of place and a face can go from empathy to annoyance in less than a second! At this precise moment in time, Kyle is so embroiled in trying to get his own life back on track after moving to New York that the proposal really comes out of the blue. Northstar may be one of the fastest people alive, but his timing leaves a lot to be desired! There was some discussion as to whether to enact the scene in a park nearer to Northstar and Kyle's apartment, but Bryant Park lent itself to the visual aspect we wanted to portray.

Of course, the real key moment gets its own splash page. Was there ever a doubt that this would be a full-page image for the issue? What kind of power does the story gain from setting that moment apart on such a big canvass?

Marjorie Liu: There was never any doubt that it needed its own page. I mean, it's a proposal! We give fight scenes their own splashes, and this is way more momentous.

Perkins: No doubt at all. This is a strong moment in our run and was deserving of the space allotted. I think setting it apart emphasizes that importance in the respect that there's a beat, a breath if you like, when you have to stop and take in what's happening.

Like I said, the scene was fraught with drama so that the fate of the two is in doubt moving into #51, but even within those kind of "Will they/won't they" boundaries, what do you all think a proposal scene should it express overall?

Liu: Hope, I suppose. Love. A passion for the other person.

Perkins: It should express the initial reaction -- which points to how each individual character is feeling at that precise moment in time. Northstar totally believes he's doing what he wants and needs to do, whereas Kyle is suitably shocked by the proposal -- he thought Northstar was going to break up with him!

As for the staging of the image itself, it seems that earlier Mike was playing with a composition that was more from Northstar's point of view looking up at Kyle. What worked and what didn't about this approach for the story and just the image on its own terms?

Perkins: With the first take on the scene, I tried to concentrate on the drama inherent in the action and, using a slight worm's eye view, imbue it with a super hero sense of posture. That approach usually works fine when trying to portay that specific stagecraft in a scene but in this case we felt the moment may be best served on an equal footing for both characters and present something suitably iconic.

One of the changes that takes place over the course of these sketches is that you went from a more tight close-up of our couple to a full body shot. What did that change give to the moment in the end?

Perkins: After the initial approach it was suggested we zoom in a bit more in order to perfectly capture Northstar and Kyle's reactions. I went through a number of these trying to ascertain the correct way in which to get across everything I wanted to -- and consciously being aware that we should see both faces as well as being very aware of hand placement (!) We had discussed just approaching it straight on in order to unveil the iconic moment, but it wasn't until editors Nick Lowe and Jordan White over-acted (sorry -- finely performed, of course) in a photographic reference pose that it seemed to click into place. Believe me -- I chose to subdue their acting somewhat!

I hadn't even considered this before looking at these, but are there any visual stereotypes that come with wedding proposals -- say from romantic comedies or what have you -- that you were cognizant of while crafting this image? Were there any visual cues you absolutely wanted to include or avoid?

Perkins: We had actually discussed the stereotype of a standard proposal scene utilized throughout romantic comedies and it came down to the cognizant fact that the kind of image used in many media approaches is, indeed, so iconic that it's difficult to approach it from any other direction. You want your readership -- and the other viewers tuning into the media coverage -- to see what the moment is immediately and this approach seemed to be the best way to do it.

What's the mood been like inside Marvel as this story is coming together, and what's it feel like now that the secret is out there for the world to see?

Perkins: I'm guessing that's something my immediate editors Jeanine Schaefer or Daniel Ketchum could answer so much more better than I ever could, but I'm pleased and gratified by the response -- and relieved that we could portray this important moment without too many hiccups and hurdles.

"Astonishing X-Men" #50 is on sale now.

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