I remember, from back in the day, stories of mutants struggling with being treated differently while facing off against far more militant strands of homo superior, regular old super-powered mad men intent on taking over the world — and aliens, lots of aliens (planet eaters, races seeking a new world, omnipotent forces capable of creating and destroying life on a whim, you know, garden variety stuff).
And somewhere in the mix there were always hints of soap opera-level melodrama, attractions always fraught with concern based upon whether one party or the other might have been manipulating the other with some aspect of their mutation or bogged down by the difficulties of seeing a loved one sacrifice themselves in order to save lovers, teammates, the planet or the galaxy.
But the crazy cool thing about the X-Men was always the many splendored nature of those loves and lovers. Mutants of various abilities and appearances could, at any given moment, fall for one another, regular old human beings from other worlds, god-like personages, what have you, and readers never seemed to care or make a fuss.
Race was always a factor, but the definition of race within this context was far more complex and catholic, in the small “c” sense, which curiously plays with all of our conceptions.
My comic book geek days are long gone, except for my fascination with all of the big-screen adaptations, both Marvel and DC (although it should be obvious where my true loyalties lie), but I still harbor a few of those lapsed geek tendencies.
I linger a little too long by the shelves in bookstores where they stock the graphic novels.
I’ve got the apps for a handful of comic lines (again Marvel and DC, plus a couple of others), which means I sometimes download free issues to skim through on my phone.
It’s the perusing in the bookstores that brought me face to face with a particular Astonishing X-Men collection — Northstar — that spotlights the titular gay mutant speedster (born Jean-Paul) from Canada as he adjusts to life in the States as an X-Man while maintaining a relationship with his human partner, Kyle Jinadu, who also happens to be a person of color.
The book picks up with the two men moving into a new apartment, dealing with domestic concerns like unpacking boxes and a healthy bit of flirty banter that masks deeper relationship issues. Before long, Northstar gets drawn into work — a battle with a mutant-exterminating group under the influence of some nefarious figure — with his partner wandering into danger. They fight, make up, Northstar proposes and gets rebuffed initially, but soon they patch things up and prepare for a huge ceremony in front of a host of the most diverse wedding guests anywhere.
There are discussions of cold feet, debates among the guests about relationships in their world, whether same-sex or same-species. Some members of the team stand to witness the blessed event, while others (only a few) bow out. It is all handled with such commonplace ease, you would never make the obvious connection that this is a social issue of our times. It is just life.
But what makes the book so special for me is the cover, which features Northstar and his partner front and center, holding hands, as Beast (Dr. Hank McCoy, who happens to be a big blue fur ball with incisors that could rip the head off an unsuspecting person) pronounces them husband and husband. It is all over except for the kiss and yet, as much as I love that cover, it — the issue — isn’t even close to being over.
Truth be told, we haven’t even begun to deal with the reality, the legality of allowing two consenting and responsible lovers, no matter their race, to share their lives (and all that comes with it) in holy matrimony. That will always be far more astonishing to me than the notion of X-Men walking among us.
Currently on display (through June 30) in the Teen Spot of the Main Branch of the Cincinnati Public Library is an exhibition featuring gay superheroes and comic book characters — Alan Scott’s Green Lantern, who was recently reintroduced as gay, and Kevin Keller from Archie Comics. The presentation also includes action figures from a private collector.
If you have the chance, visit the library. Walk by the display and think about these stories emerging from the frames, coming closer to real everyday life.
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