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Thursday, February 17, 2005
Why Killing Northstar Is A Bad Idea
So, Wolverine #25 shipped to comic shops yesterday, and Wolverine killed the only gay X-Man. I'm sure I'm supposed to be upset about this, or perhaps even outraged, but the most emotion I can muster is actually just to be profoundly disappointed.
You see, I'm sure that Marvel thinks that by killing the most prominent gay character in the Marvel Universe that they've actually done something shocking and worthy of comment, but the fact of the matter is that all they've really managed to do is demonstrate how creatively bankrupt they are. Marvel is now in some sort of strange perpetual hype mode. And the problem with that is eventually you have to pay off, or the audience gets tired of seeing nothing but a big tease. But the resolution can never live up to the hype, because it has been so built up by the teases and the promotion. Fans expect some huge event as the resolution, but the very nature of super-hero comics means that nothing too drastic an alteration to the status quo can ever be permitted to happen. So, in order to communicate just how bad and scary Wolverine would be if he were evil, he has to kill some super-heroes. Only there's no way that he can be permitted to kill off any major characters. So he offs a D-List character from a failed Spider-Man spin-off and Northstar, a marginally popular character but not one that any other writers had any plans for. The end result is, if Wolverine was evil, the Marvel Universe would have a lot less deadwood characters lying around.
And that points to another problem associated with the hype machine that Marvel has become; the use of death as a selling point. Death in comics is meaningless. Doubly so in an X-Man comic. Nobody stays dead. If a character is missed enough, or a clever writer finds a way to use the character, the character will be back. But fans apparently want to see characters die. In some message boards you will find discussions of which characters should die. It's a strangely blood-thirsty mind-set, and I'm not quite sure where it comes from. In general it seems to be born out of fan boredom with character death. It's so routine and impermanent a condition in comics that fans have become jaded to it. They want bigger and better deaths. It's quite sick really. And it invites the ugly observation that by killing the queer Marvel is giving these fans what they think they want.
And what about the fact that Northstar is the most prominent gay character at Marvel, and the only gay X-Man? Is there any homophobia behind the decision to kill him off. Well, his sophomoric fascination with sodomy aside, I don't think Millar is homophobic. But I'm not sure I can say the same for Marvel's editorial department as a whole. When Northstar had a solo mini-series, shortly after the infamous "I am GAY!" issue of Alpha Flight was published, his orientation wasn't mentioned once. The few times his orientation has been discussed in comics it's to either have him be the brunt of homophobic comments from other characters, or to have him pine uselessly for the love of a heterosexual team-mate. In short, Northstar's sexuality has primarily been used as the basis for cheap jokes. Because Marvel editorial doesn't want Northstar to be used for anything else. And now that Marvel, by it's own admission, is essentially just an R&D service for film and television properties, Northstar is this big gay albatross hanging around the neck of the X-Men franchise. Northstar is never, ever going to appear in any film or cartoon based on the X-Men characters because the character has been reduced to his sexuality and Marvel doesn't want people to think of those disgusting faggots when they think of the X-Men toys that their kids are buying. So Northstar had to go. In a thread at the Image forums, Millar seemed to express surprise that Marvel was okay with the idea of killing off Northstar. He's either being disingenuous or naive, because in all likelihood Marvel was probably glad to be rid of him.
Of course, this also relates back to one of my pet peeves in the entertainment industry in general regarding gay characters, and violence against gay characters. I get very annoyed by the "gay best friend" character you see in television and movies from time to time. The character has no life of his own, and no sex life especially. He only exists to make the romantic lives of the heterosexual characters easier. The flip to this is when a gay character appears in any kind of dramatic series. When the faggot isn't the gender confused killer, he's always the victim. No other roles are open to the gay character. Even in movies written or directed by gay men, the gay character is either the killer or the victim, never the hero. And when the gay character is the victim, in a disturbing number of cases, the death of the gay character is more violent, more gory, lingered on in more detail, than the deaths of other characters. Because the audience, it appears, really wants to see the queer get what's coming to him. It's incredibly depressing to think that this is what Marvel has in mind for Northstar. Hornet was given the dignity of an off-panel death. Northstar we see skewered in a several-panel long sequence, including a lingering multi-panel look at the body. And if the general expectation as to the path this story-line is taking proves to be correct, Northstar will be the next hero to return as a death-crazed murderous assassin. So Marvel gets to have Northstar be both victim and villain. They thrill their audience by killing the queer, and have him assume his "natural" role as bad guy to boot.
Not, of course, that Marvel is alone in this. Both Apollo and Midnighter have tended to be written as more villains than heroes, but that's the nature of every character in their title. Piper seems headed down the villain path again, and Tasmanian Devil spent three issues being mind-controlled before being exiled to another universe. At least Sabre and Cannon were always supposed to be villains. And there are all those lesbian cops in Gotham. But, all in all, not a particularly banner year for gay characters in comics.