There's been a lot of buzz about Astonishing X-Men #50 (it's not every day you see The View talking about the love lives of mutant superheroes) as Marvel steps forward on the issue of same sex marriage. It certainly makes sense to address the issue in an X-Men comic, since they're the superhero team that has most stood for marginalized groups since their inception. And as gay and lesbian characters become more commonplace in mainstream comics, it was only a matter of time before the subject of marriage equality came up as well. It shows that superhero comics aren't separate from the world, but influenced by the real world they're created in and the social issues that face many of their fans.
One stumbling block that sometimes trips up attempts to introduce gay and lesbian storylines into mainstream comics is the tendency for them to come off as ham-fisted or tokenism. There's the characters who we're told are gay or lesbian, but we'll never actually see them with someone of their same gender on the page. Or the characters who might as well have been created by pulling stereotypes out of a bag and pasting them together in what is a most likely well meaning, but ultimately offensive way. Marvel's certainly been guilty of both in the past, but Astonishing X-Men #50 is a definite sign that more care is being put into LGBTQ storylines and characters. With Marjorie Liu at the writing helm, Northstar and his partner, non-mutant Kyle, are fully-rounded characters, not caricatures, and their relationship is one of depth, passion, and genuine love.
The X-Men's rocky relationships have often been as much the focus of the books as superhero action, and Jean-Paul and Kyle's relationship fits in neatly here. Media attention on the issue aside, it isn't forced in as publicity stunt, but instead is written as a cohesive plot thread and a key moment in Northstar's character development. Northstar is vain and impulsive in almost everything he does, including relationships, and his attempt to propose to Kyle is no different. Liu allows their relationship to be realistic and messy, and we see that, even if Northstar may not be willing to immediately admit it, that Kyle is truly his "better half." It's his love for Kyle that allows Jean-Paul to start down the road to greater self-awareness, and admitting that while he may be a hero in his public life, Kyle is someone he needs by his side.
Liu successfully weaves Jean-Paul and Kyle's romantic storyline into an engaging superhero comic as well. The New York-based X-Men are trying to get to the bottom of the mind-controlled Marauders, putting not only those wearing spandex in danger, but Kyle as well. There's a good splash of comic relief as well, especially in Warbird's impatience, and nice cameo from the Black Widow as she meets Wolverine for tea and intel. With two issues of Astonishing X-Men under her belt now, Liu is writing what's quickly shaping up to be one of the best written team books on Marvel's shelves, and it's great to see her get a chance to try her hand at a full group of X-Men after coming off of the exquisitely-written X-23 solo series.
With its big step forward for the portrayal of LGBTQ characters and their relationships in mainstream comics, Astonishing X-Men #50 is sure to be a comic that will be remembered and discussed for a while to come. It's good to be able to see that step taken in a comic that's both well-written and allows its characters to be something other than stereotypes and tokens.
Sara McDonald started reading comics in the third grade, and now puts her English degree to good use talking about them on the Internet. She currently resides in Western Massachusetts with a roommate, three cats, and an action figure collection and spends the time she isn’t reading comics working for a non-profit. You can visit her blog at Ms. Snarky’s Awesometastic Comics Blog.