Northstar is a Marvel superhero who first appeared in X-Men #120
. He was a member of the superteams Alpha Flight
and later the X-Men
, and is the first openly gay mainstream superhero.
Northstar was born Jean-Paul Beaubier, a French-Canadian. He was also born a mutant, which gave him the powers of flight and super-speed. He used these powers to become an Olympic gold medal winning skiing champion. Yes, using your mutant powers to win the gold might be considered “cheating”, which is why Jean-Paul neglected to mention them to anyone. I guess they test for that sort of thing now in the Marvel Universe
. He also dabbled in radical French separatist politics, the kind of politics that involve leaving bombs around.
No, Northstar was never a likeable guy, and didn’t really care if you liked him or not. In fact, he seemed to prefer it if you disliked him. I wonder if John Byrne
, the Canadian writer/artist responsible for creating Alpha Flight
, was getting out all his negative feelings about haughty French Canadians with this character.
Jean-Paul has a twin sister, Jeanne-Marie Beaubier, who is the superhero Aurora
. Their parents were killed while they were children and they were raised separately, Jean-Paul by a family named the Martins, and Jeanne-Marie by the nuns at Madame DuPont’s School for Girls. They were reunited by Department H
, the Canadian governmental organization which put together Alpha Flight
. They also discovered that when the twins touched, they released a burst of fierce blinding light. They joined Alpha Flight and wore matching black costumes with a white starburst. Aurora’s powers were later changed so she could emit light herself, but then when the twins touched, they both lost their powers temporarily. She also abandoned her grim costume for a brighter yellow and white one.
Oh, yeah, Northstar’s gay. From the beginning, Byrne dropped subtle (well, subtle for comics) hints along the way, like Jean-Paul’s “childhood friend” Raymonde Belmonde. Basically, Northstar was as much out of the closet as a character can be without using the word “gay” or seeing him kiss a guy. Most everyone reading the book knew he was gay, but Marvel wouldn’t admit it. “There are no gays in the Marvel Universe,” said Jim Shooter
, then editor-in-chief of Marvel.
John Byrne, who spent six years on Fantastic Four
, left Alpha Flight, the book he had created from the ground up, a little over two years into the book. Then Bill Mantlo
took over as writer. Mantlo was one of those 1970s and 80s Marvel workhorses, always ready to take up the task of writing a low-selling book like Rom
. Never flashy, but usually dependable, he did do some excellent work on the Incredible Hulk
. Then he swapped the Hulk with Byrne for Alpha Flight and turned in some of the worst work of his career. Given that his work was at best slightly above average, that’s saying a lot.
Mantlo had Northstar develop a strange wasting disease. Uh, oh. Reportedly (though this may be pure fan rumor, I’ve read it numerous times) Marvel didn’t want the first gay superhero to get AIDS
even before he was out of the closet and killed the storyline. But the cure turned out to be worse than the disease, as Mantlo revealed that Northstar and Aurora were actually half-elves, from the Nordic land of Somethingorother. Great, so your gay superhero doesn’t get AIDS, so you make him literally a fairy. Good work. Thankfully, it was later revealed that this whole elf thing was something Loki
And then there was Scott Lobdell
, the kind of writer who makes me realize that Bill Mantlo is pretty good. Lobdell is my curse, the writer who followed me around from book to book, ruining titles and characters that were once my favorites. To their credit, Marvel finally decided to officially out Northstar, though Lobdell handled it in the traditional clumsy, ham-fisted, subtlety-free Marvel manner. While charging into battle against one Major Mapleleaf
, Jean-Paul announced "I am gay!" See that immortal panel at http://www.icomics.com/images/051600_alpha02.jpg
So nearly 15 years after the character was introduced, he was out of the closet. The historical and awful Alpha Flight #106
touched off a brief controversy which eventually blew over and superhero universes were forever gay friendly, which they would have been anyway even without this book. Alpha Flight was cancelled not too long afterwards, but Northstar popped up at Xavier’s school in the X-Men.