Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Astonishing X-Men by Marjorie Liu, Volume 10: Northstar

I vividly remember how The Astonishing X-Men came to be. After all, it was only since last month that I began to read and review it, starting with Joss Whedon's phenomenal twenty-four issued run. This was followed up by Warren Ellis with twelve more great issues. Unfortunately, whatever magical spark that this series had on me began to fade steadily especially once different writers took over and produced stories that range between gratingly average and mind-blowingly awful. The last three volumes of this run are all penned by writer Marjorie Liu, and this is the first of her arcs. To even call it an arc is a very generous consideration because in its four-issued span (#48-51), nothing really happens. I wish something did, considering what issue #51 was about. It's the first time in comics ever for this occasion to occur (and hopefully won't be the last) and it's no other than the fact that Marvel decided to have two of its male and proudly out characters be united in the holy sacrament of marriage, and grace us with that lovely cover. That was honestly the only good thing about this volume. 

Other than that, well--everything about the story itself was actually pretty shitty. 

Look, I get it. I'm pleased that we now have two queer characters tying the knot as featured in mainstream comics because it shows that we as a society have embraced this timely social change and were now even comfortable to portray stories about them. In Brian Michael Bendis' ongoing series All-New X-Men, we also have Bobby Drake coming out as gay as well. I like the fact that superheroes can be gay now too, and that we are allowing the X-Men to become the representation of minority its thematic concept as a fictional work has always been meant to be. But as I read through the issues leading up to this moment, I can't help but feel cheated because this for me came off as written under the guise of false inclusiveness. If Marvel really cared about writing queer characters into their series, they should have picked a better writer because Liu's storyline and approach to the characterization of Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle's relationship just didn't cut it.

This review is in no way criticizing the fact that gay marriage is portrayed in this comic book's pages because I'm neither a disagreeable asshole or have strong religious beliefs against homosexuality. Hell, I'm fucking queer myself! What I do take serious injury though was how badly written the entire thing was, even with the nice wedding ending on issue #51. It didn't undo the bitter aftertaste that the previous three issues leading to it had left in my mouth. It just didn't make me like it more just because I as a queer woman and my affiliated sexual orientation was represented in its comic book story. Look, I don't even make a habit of identifying with gay characters in fiction just for the sole reason that they are gay. And when people say you should like this volume because it has gay marriage in it, and when you tell them that you don't like it, then that suddenly makes you a bigot is complete trash. How is that even a logical point of view? So, I kindly advise anyone who would take such a narrow-minded and insensitive stance to go fuck themselves.

If you have that kind of opinion then please don't talk to me

My primary dislike is what Marjorie Liu wrote for Volume 10: Northstar overall and not just in the passable, barely coherent mess about the plot concerning Marauders and Karma being a manipulative bitch (though that admittedly got me very confused and angry all at once). I take issue with how the gay couple's relationship is portrayed. My opposing view about the way Liu as a writer handled their relationship as part of the narrative does not invalidate my sexual identity as a gay woman. I am not betraying my community but downright dismissing Northstar and Kyle's love story as disingenuous---but their sudden marriage was unconvincing though. As I've said, I like issue #51 just for the simple fact that we got to see two gay men happily married even though their characters and relationship were barely touched upon and suffered from being poorly underdeveloped. But it doesn't excuse the fact that Liu simply did not produce a story with any kind of emotional resonance where I could actually stay invested as I see the conflict and drama unfold concerning the Marauders stuff and the baggage and struggle between Northstar and Kyle. There is that singular honest moment concerning their relationship that was sufficiently well-written enough as a scene, and that was when Northstar proposed to Kyle and Kyle turned him down, citing that he was merely putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. Kyle was feeling insecure about his place in Northstar's life considering the guy is a mutant and a superhero, and therefore might prioritize a life of crime-fighting than having a relationship with him. It's a valid point, and proposing marriage does not solve anything so Kyle was right to turn that down and Northstar should have been given an opportunity to prove his commitment in another way than that easy way out. And then Kyle's life was endangered and Northstar saved him and all of a sudden all was forgiven and marriage was an acceptable fix-it-all solution. 

If you examine it in a superficial level, it's understandable for both men to commit after just having a near-death experience together since it made them realize they can't spend another day to live without each other. But looking at it more in-depth, it was a poor excuse to have a wedding celebration all so Marvel can give us a comic book issue that featured gay marriage, never mind that the characterization and story leading up to that moment were inconsistent and inadequately executed. It's a lazy cop-out, that's what it is.

However, there was another thing that I could credit Liu for, and it's that small moment I really liked in issue #51 when Shi'ar warrior and former X-Men Warbird refused to attend the wedding because she just doesn't believe in gay marriage and its validity. That being said, she was very polite and respectful about turning down Northstar's invitation which was great because I hope more people could be like her. If you're a person who does not approve of gay marriage for religious or traditional reasons, you don't readily have to be a hatemongering nut who would passionately protest agaisnt it, claiming homosexuals will burn in hell because they are disgusting sinners. Warbird respected Northstar's choice to marry someone of the same sex even if she didn't acknowledge his marriage with Kyle to be valid. I'm glad Northstar respected her decision to not attend as well. It has become such a heated issue, the entire gay marriage movement, that it's nice to see that we can have two people simply disagreeing about it but don't necessarily have to be antagonistic or embittered about each other. 

Now, as a collected volume, this featured two issues from Nation X and Alpha Flight. The first one showed the budding relationship between the two men, while the 1992 piece written by Scott Lobdell talked about AIDS baby (srsly). But if you've only managed to read the four issues Marjorie Liu wrote then too bad for you because I bet you never really enjoyed yourself and you might even be forced to say you like it when someone would ask you about it in public, in fear of being misjudged as a homophobe. I'm hear to tell you as a queer woman that I don't like it myself and having a gay marriage scene in one of its issues has nothing to do with it at all. It's just an underwhelming silly story that wouldn't have a redemptive value if the two gay guys didn't have a happy wedding ceremony at the end. On that note, my rating is sealed.


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