Comics / Spotlight / Progressive Panels

Marvel Comics and Gay Marriage: Progressive or Commercial?

By Andy Frisk
May 22, 2012 - 22:41

“Marvel Comics have always been reflective of the world around them, be it through metaphor or a more direct approach, and I see this as something which needs to be tackled.”

Mike Perkins
Astonishing X-Men Artist
via Comic Book Resources

As artist Mike Perkins states above (in his interview with Comic Book Resources), Marvel Comics really has been reflective of the real world, at least as much as a fictional superhero universe can be. As groundbreaking and realistic as the Valiant Universe was to many comic book readers back in 1992 (and is again thanks to its recent re-launch), the Marvel Universe, which many were introduced to in the pages of Fantastic Four #1 in 1961, was just as groundbreaking and realistic to its readers when it debuted. After a relatively brief flirtation with the status quo where Commies were the constant baddies and even the X-Men worked with the government, Stan Lee would steer the Marvel U distinctly to what many would consider the left of center. Marvel Comics’ books didn’t become hotbeds of liberal controversy though. They simply became more progressive, and therefore intelligent. The X-Men quickly evolved into responsible yet fun loving beboppers who frequented Greenwich Village and fought against the status quo of bigotry against mutants (a term that would quickly become synonymous with “other,” be it immigrants or minorities) as much as they did evil mutants. Tony Stark went from being the military industrial complex’s poster boy for capitalistic militarism to a proponent of clean energy and progressive science. Perhaps a little late, considering the already long termed civil rights struggle in America, Marvel Comics would also introduce the first mainstream African-American superhero, The Falcon, in 1969.  They paired him with Captain America as an equal, metaphorically stressing the fact that African-Americans were equal to white Americans, not “separate but equal.” All of these developments, many of which were quickly mimicked by DC Comics, not only reflected the changing outlook and mores in America, they reflected the majority of the nation’s evolving ideas on equality that left behind the restrictions of repressive religious, bigoted, and outdated ways of thinking. Marvel Comics is doing it again by having the first openly gay superhero in mainstream comics, Marvel Comics’ Northstar, marry his partner.

The only problem is that many will see, or try to spin, this event as a publicity stunt on the part of Marvel Comics designed to boost sales of their comics. While higher sales definitely might be the result in this instance, I don’t believe that this is Marvel Comics’ goal here. There are plenty of better ways to “market” the first gay superhero wedding in all of comic books. Marvel Comics’ X-Men books are some of their best-selling titles. The X-Men characters are some of their most popular and well recognized characters as well. While Northstar might not be a household name like Wolverine is, he is, and has been (for a while now), a member of The X-Men, and he’s been openly gay since 1992. The story might be appearing at a suspiciously opportune time, June is LGBT Pride Month, but how is this any different in spirit than a comic book commemorating the civil rights struggle in America appearing during Black History Month? (…and don’t try to say that there is a difference between the two. Both the struggle for equality before the law for African-Americans and the ongoing struggle for equality before the law for LGBT individuals are both civil rights struggles.) Marvel Comics could have tried something like DC Comics is trying, basically ret-conning a character that was straight in the past into a homosexual character. Northstar might not have been a gay character from the first moment he appeared on the printed page, but, once again, he has been identified as gay since 1992. That’s twenty years of existence in a mainstream superhero universe as a gay character. Again, Northstar might not be as nearly well recognized as Spider-Man or Cyclops, but he is a long termed Marvel Comics superhero, not a new creation, or a ret-conned one. Also, if Marvel Comics was looking to boost its sales and use the gay marriage story as a commercial stunt, wouldn’t they have been wiser to use it in a lesser selling or newly launched book in need of some exposure?

No, the storyline and events appearing in Astonishing X-Men #50 and #51 is simply Marvel Comics giving us more of what they always have: a powerfully progressive and hopeful outlook on America’s ever evolving, and wisening, views on those that might be different from themselves. What was liberal yesterday is conservative tomorrow, and what is progressive today is simply intelligent in the long run. Marvel Comics might not be as endearingly indie and fresh as it was back in the 1960s and 1970s, but it still has the guts to stand up and be not only progressive, but honest.

Like music? So does Andy. Read his thought on it

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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