4 min

True north, strong & fey

The X-Men's new Canadian super homo

Credit: Xtra files

In the year following the 9/11 tragedy, it seems everyone craves someone to save them. Comic book intellectual properties are worth their weight in gold to Hollywood producers, quick to cash in on a nation’s hunger for heroics.

As much as Hollywood is the business of making stars, mainstream comic books has always been the business of making heroes. Next month comic books will see the début of an Afghani hero, an American Arab hero and the relaunch of the world’s first gay superhero. Outside of two straight men sharing a shock value homosexual relationship, there has only been one comic book character playing hero to nellies everywhere… just don’t call him a role model.

Northstar is a Canadian character created in the late 1970s as part of a Canadian super team called Alpha Flight, supporting characters to the ever-popular X-Men. Alpha Flight was given its own series in the early ’80s. Once Montreal’s “most eligible bachelor,” the snobby Canuck was hinted to be an official card carrying member of the rainbow brigade from as early as 1982, but not until March 1992 did Northstar publicly out himself in Alpha Flight 106, becoming the first mainstream superhero ever to see more than one practical use for a spandex wardrobe.

Northstar flies at super sonic speeds, is an Olympic gold-medal athlete, the CEO of his own Fortune 500 company, and starting this October, Northstar will be a regular member of the Uncanny X-Men, the flagship title in Marvel Comic’s diverse X-Men comics line.

Writer Chuck Austen is brand new to Uncanny X-Men; his first issue hit stands in August. He is a strong believer in crafting a good story, going through leaps and bounds to craft a vision of the X-Men that appeals to long time and newer readers, alike.

“As a writer, I’m always looking for conflict to make the story interesting,” says Austen. “And Northstar is a character full of conflict. He’s a gay man in a straight dominated world, he’s an abrasive personality, opinionated and self-centred. He’s a dream to write.”

Trying to avoid making Northstar an unflawed, friendly example of the gay social world is a big part of the process; he’s not a role model. “Northstar is largely a jerk and could easily be seen as a slam against his social group,” says Austen. “But I’m trying to bring out another side of him, and I think I’m succeeding. There is a deep and powerful pain inside Northstar, and I’m exploring that as I go along. I hope he’s seen as a good character, just one representative of a large and varied social group.”

Austen, who is straight, gained insight into gay life when living in San Francisco, sharing many powerful moments with his friends of Dorothy. Northstar’s character is pulled from one special gay friend, Steve, who never made an issue of discussing his homosexuality. “He lived his life very separate, and I only got glimpses of it, as we worked in a straight dominated world.” But through time Austen would watch how Steve’s personality would change after a Pride week getaway.

“One of Chuck’s main strength’s,” says X-Men head editor Mike Marts, “is his ability to make his characters real, to breath human life into these paper and ink creations. Expect to see most of our X-characters doing things beyond the usual fighting today’s bad guys. They’ll play sports, go on dates, go on vacations, get married – all the usual things that everyday people do.” Which is of course something everyone is wondering about.

In the early days before Northstar’s outing, the character was often seen in the presence of nameless male, casual friends; will Northstar once again have a social life? “He has one in my book,” says Austen. “It’s still PG-13, and the audience is still primarily straight, so you won’t be seeing Queer As Folk in comics form. But his sexuality is not avoided, by any means.”

“Northstar’s personality and character has primarily revolved around his attitude in the past,” adds Marts. “His sexuality or position on sexuality may come into play from time to time, but not to the point where it’s the main motivating factor of his life.” Also coming into play is Northstar’s old stomping grounds, being both wealthy and established in Montreal, Northstar must have some experience and opinion on gay clubs, dugs, strip bars, call boys and the rest. “I have some ideas about dealing with it,” says Austen. “I want to explore Northstar’s motivations and feelings, and that involves his life in Montreal, and the culture of gay life as it exists there. Again, it’s a PG book and not Showtime, so it may skirt the issue somewhat, but it’s fascinating territory nonetheless.”

The X-Men, a team built for the support and education of mutants, the next step in human evolution – a struggle that has often been linked to homosexuals, as mutants develop powers during the onset of puberty that set them apart from the rest of the world. Northstar’s addition to the team brings that comparison to the spotlight. “The X-Men have always stood for all oppressed people,” says Marts. “No matter their situation. Homosexuals, racial minorities, the underprivileged… all groups that find themselves the victim of hate or fear or oppression can relate to the X-Men and the mutant situation.”

Austen adds that Northstar “is complex in that way, because he’s made something of himself in this world and managed to sequester himself from intolerance with money and power. He is an important part in that he shows, more than some on the team, how hard it is to live with ideals, and to show others outside the team that he has a right to exist, live and love.”

In October, Uncanny X-Men 414 hits the stands, and the X-men may never be the same as the attitude kicks it up a notch.

But hey, Chuck, you gotta tell us… catcher or pitcher? “Northstar is a top. He’s a controller and a giver, my friend. He takes from no one.”