Wedding bells are ringing for the X-Men, and Marvel Comics is getting topical with its newest superhero marriage.
In Astonishing X-Men issue 50, out Wednesday, the openly gay mutant hero Northstar proposes to his longtime boyfriend, Kyle, with a same-sex wedding featuring a super guest list to follow next month - as well as sure controversy in some quarters.
"Whenever you tell a story that touches upon an issue people are passionate about, you open yourself up to controversy and some very heated comments, both supportive and critical," says Marvel's editor in chief Axel Alonso. "But as long as we continue to tell good stories, with nuanced characters from different walks of life, we feel that we're making our comics accessible to the widest possible audience."
President Obama recently came out in support of gay marriage, but Marvel's views evolved a while back. Alonso says he and his team began having conversations about such a story line shortly after New York legalized same-sex weddings last June. "Most of our characters reside in New York, and our stories always work best when we reconcile them against the real world, so it raised some questions."
Marvel has focused on bringing a more realistic flavor to its characters and books, such as introducing Miles Morales, the half-black, half-Hispanic Spider-Man, last year.
Writer Marjorie Liu has embraced that mind-set, too, in her Astonishing X-Men stories. In addition to Northstar's proposal to his boyfriend - which doesn't go quite as planned - she also pens a scene where Northstar talks to his fellow X-Men about his love life while on a mission.
"These are men and women with lives outside the X-Men. You can't be on the job all the time, right?" Liu says. "Why not take an evening and walk through the city, eat ramen at Ippudo, see a movie or hang out at a bookstore?
"They are mutants, yes - definitely superheroes - but also people who live in the world alongside everyone else."
In fact, Northstar makes his intentions known to Kyle alongside many of their fellow New Yorkers in Bryant Park, which was "the perfect place for an impromptu proposal - feet on the ground, with distractions all around," Liu says. "I especially liked the idea of these very private people - well, private enough for a mutant celebrity - having such a public, life-changing discussion."
Liu and artist Mike Perkins admit they took some extra time to get the scene right.
Perkins decided to go with a "classic, iconic" approach, with Northstar out of costume and down on one knee with a ring in hand, after six drafts. "The expressions were always pretty much the same," he says, "but the 'camera angle' was a sticking point: Do we go dramatic and choose a slight worm's-eye view?"
At the same time, Liu crafts an emotional conversation between the two of them that hints at some of the issues they've had as a superhero and his non-powered significant other.
"Relationships reveal character, and so does conflict," Liu explains. "Let's just say that there's a lot of work that can be done in this situation, which is no different than what you'd see with a real-life couple where one spouse is a police officer or soldier - or works in any profession that puts him or her in danger on a regular basis. How does that affect the relationship?
Adds Perkins: "Marvel Comics in general have always smartly utilized the drama and relationships of their stable of characters and, due to that ramped-up drama, the situations lead to a shattering of bonds or a fulcrum of attachment."
Marvel also has always been a home for big, star-studded superhero weddings, from Peter Parker and Mary Jane in Amazing Spider-Man in 1987 to the Fantastic Four's Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman back in 1965. The cover for Astonishing X-Men issue 51 next month features a cavalcade of guests for Northstar and Kyle's ceremony, including Wolverine, Alpha Flight and a bunch of mutant do-gooders.
Will it go off without a hitch? "I don't think any wedding is ever stress-free. Little things can pile up, you know?" Liu says. "And yes, there will be some fun guests at the wedding, but not everyone will accept the invitation."
Some characters will support and accept the validity of the marriage but some won't, according to Alonso, reflecting the way the issue polarizes those in the real world.
He understands that Marvel will most likely receive some flak from conservative groups over Northstar's wedding, just like Archie Comics heard from One Million Moms about the same-sex wedding issue of Life with Archie earlier this year. (The issue featuring Archie's openly gay character Kevin Keller turned out to be a hit for the company.)
Liu is quick to point out gay marriage is legal in New York City. "Northstar and Kyle aren't breaking the law by getting married, though we respect the fact that not everyone agrees on this issue - and that perspective is reflected in the story."
For her, though, her current X-Men arc is about love, not politics.
"I know what it means to be in a situation where the world looks down on two people in love," Liu says. "My father is Chinese and my mom is a white American, and they married at a time when mixing race was almost always discouraged.
"The prejudice my parents faced was very real, and hurtful. So it's not a far leap for someone like me to relate to the controversy about gay marriage - two people who are in love, who want to be together."
By Brian Truitt