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The Official Monkey See GAFFE-B-GON Primer: Big Gay Mutant Wedding Edition

The cover art for "Astonishing X-Men #51."
The cover art for "Astonishing X-Men #51."

NOTE: Monday on NPR's Tell Me More, Michel Martin talks to Marvel editor-in-chief Alex Alonso about the wedding of Northstar and Kyle Jinadu. The audio will be available later today, and we'll add a link when it's up.

As longtime readers of this blog may recall, the GAFFE-B-GONTM Primer is a tool by which you, the uninitiated/uninterested, may quickly become comics- conversant enough to avoid embarrassing yourself among the nerdier sorts in your social circle.

Here, then, is what you need to know about this latest (remarkably successful) bid by a superhero comics publisher to generate headlines in the mainstream media.

You get that we're using the word "need" in that previous sentence very, very loosely, right?

SO! Who's getting married?

Northstar and Kyle Jinadu!

... Um.

Yeah, you've never heard of them.

Wow, you know ... I just really, really haven't.

Understandable. I mean it's not like Wolverine and Captain America are exchanging vows in a private ceremony in their tastefully appointed converted barn in New Hope.

More's the pity. Because that would be a helluva party.

This is Northstar, a perennial C-lister who began his spandexed life in a 1979 issue of Uncanny X-Men as a member of a government-sanctioned team of Canadian superheroes (stay with me here!) tasked with rounding up Wolverine. His fellow super-Canucks, by the way, included his twin sister Aurora, Sasquatch, and Puck, because: Canada. We should count ourselves grateful the team did not also include Molson, Gretzky, Politeness and Good Improv.

Northstar, aka Jean-Paul Beaubier, is a mutant, French-Canadian, ex-professional skier, ex-economics professor who possesses super-speed, is able to fly, and can generate blinding light. Superheroes being superheroes, he's been killed rather a lot, and resurrected, and brainwashed, and turned evil.

Nowadays he's a just a boring ol' X-Man.

Uh-huh. And the other guy?

Kyle Jinadu. He runs Jean-Paul's company, "Team Northstar Extreme Snowsports," where he — hold on, let me get this right — "manage[s] Jean-Paul's brand and coordinate[s] shows, audio-visual and personal relations."

So, not a superhero or mutant or anything?

Not unless "Really Good with VJAMM" is a super-power now. No, he's a civilian. Read: He gets kidnapped.

Wait a minute ... Northstar. I have heard of him. Back in the '90s, though?

Yep. Throughout his run on the book Alpha Flight, writer/artist John Byrne kept throwing in subtle hints about Northstar's sexuality. He wasn't much interested in girls, for example. Also: Kind of bitchy.

(Here's the thing about "subtle hints" in mainstream superhero comics of the late 80s: They were neither.)

Finally, in 1992's Alpha Flight #106, by writer Scott Lobdell, Jean-Paul came out as a gay man, becoming the first comics superhero to do so. Made some waves in the media. A January 24, 1992 New York Times editorial, for example, hailed the development, saying:

Mainstream culture will one day make its peace with gay Americans. When that time comes, Northstar's revelation will be seen for what it is: a welcome indicator of social change.

Northstar came out at the end of an infamously ham-handed storyline in which he found an AIDS-infected baby in an alley and adopted her only to have her pass away a week or so later.

X-Men comics, ladies and gentlemen! Erica Kane would be like, "Well, geez, that seems a bit overwrought, I gotta say."

There was, of course, the predictable frothing nerdstorm of outrage from straight male readers who complained, with straight faces, that sexuality had no place in superhero comics.

Even so! A gay wedding on the cover a superhero book! This is a big deal, right?

It feels odd to say that something so weirdly specific seems inevitable, but it does. Understand that superhero weddings are a beloved genre staple with a long and four-color-storied history. Spider-Man, Superman, Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl, The Hulk, The Atom, The Flash, Cyclops and Jean Grey, Wonder Girl, Aquaman, Black Panther and Storm, and many more: Artists love drawing pews thronged with weepy smiling spandex-clad heroes, and writers love spicing up the plighting of super-troths with brawls, death-rays, the Chicken Dance, what have you.

So it makes a kind of linear sense that the first out superhero would be the first one married. The fact that Marvel is pushing it so hard means it can't help but read like the publicity stunt it is, but so what? Writer Marjorie Liu's only been on Astonishing X-Men for 2 issues, but she's displayed a solid grasp on the characters; let's see where this goes.

Right: What comes after a Gay Mutant Wedding?

Your choice of Gay Mutant Chicken or Gay Mutant Beef, I'd imagine.

No, what's next: That's the real question, of course. Superhero comics, like soap operas, are open narratives that deny their characters real endings, let alone happy ones. The life of a hero is only event piled on event, contrivance upon contrivance, reversal piled on death piled on split personality. Contentment, peace, settling down, all the things we associate with the idea of marriage are anathema to superhero storytelling.

So there are really only two ways this can go, I'm afraid:

If Kyle stays on the sidelines as a dutiful, nurturing spouse, he'll be dull. If he keeps getting kidnapped/beaten/threatened, he'll be annoying.

Actually, come to think of it, there is a third way, little used due to its high degree of difficulty: He could get super-powers himself, somehow, and fight alongside his husband.

Or! He could be revealed to be a Skrull!

A ... what now?

Never mind. Long story.

Didn't I hear recently about another gay superhero? Green ... Hornet?

Green Lantern. Not the Ryan Reynolds one; different guy. At this writing, his transformation into a superhero hasn't happened yet. So let's save that discussion for another day.

Okay, one last question: What's your favorite sentence on Northstar's Wikipedia page?

I'm gonna have to go with "At Professor Xavier's request, Northstar then works with the X-Men to save the life of a mutant child who cannot stop exploding."

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Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.

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