Northstar: Olympic Gay Mutant Québécois Terrorist
By Hervé St-Louis
Jul 8, 2006 - 7:23
Northstar, was introduced in X-Men #120 in 1979. There he was part of Alpha Flight, a group of Canadian super heroes whose mission was to bring back Wolverine home. Northstar and his twin sister Jeanne-Marie, also known as the super heroine, Aurora can fly and move at great speeds. Northstar is a French Canadian and has been one of the best known Canadian super heroes published by Marvel Comics.
Gay mutant Northstar is also a strong contender for being Canada’s emblem. He is from Quebec, was part of a circus, a separatist terrorist group, an Olympic medalist in downhill skiing and has had more exposure to the world than all of Alpha Flight combined. While his sister, Aurora is a split personality, Northstar’s history is schizophrenic and really show a lack of understanding from all the authors who worked on him. They tagged him with a bunch of Canadian clichés that in the sum, make the character somewhat a parody of recent Canadian history.
First of all, being a separatist terrorist, and then working for Canadian government secret service and National Defence flies in the face of sound judgment on the part of the government and the individual involved. He willingly accepted to stay with Alpha Flight. A separatist from Quebec would never do that. The most important flaw, is that he was a terrorist. Sure, the October Crisis from 1970 where a splinter group called the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) was active and killed at least one individual. But these were a minority in Quebec and most of that province’s separatists, never endorsed their call to arms.
None of the comics ever explored why Northstar went along with terrorists. How could a circus performer be convinced to plant bombs in mailboxes? At most, the French Canadian cultural aspect of Northstar was explored, but never his motivation for an independent Quebec. In hindsight it looks shallow. Northstar was also an Olympic medalist. Although Northstar has super speed powers, in order to achieve all of this, several years are necessary. Northstar is not older than 30 at most however.
Although it was hinted from the beginning by creator John Byrne that he was gay, later writers gave him aids, only to back off from that story. Then he and his sister were elves from Asgard. Later it was his mutant heritage that was put forward, especially when he joined the X-Men. Finally there was all the Super Friends’ Wonder Twins’s pastiche where he and his sister Aurora gained extra powers when they touched each other. They even had matching pointy ears, like the Wonder Twins.
Another thing that has always bugged me about Northstar and Aurora, is that they family name “Beaubier” is not a frequent family name in Quebec. The only Beaubier from Quebec I can find in search engines, are called Jean-Paul and Jeanne-Marie. They happen to be mutants.
Speaking of mutants, when he joined the X-Men teaching staff, Jean-Paul Beaubier taught economics and business. Nowhere in the character’s history did the character had any business involvement or experience. Why couldn’t Charles Xavier pin him as a French teacher or a gymnastic teacher instead? Again, that shows the lack of understanding of Quebec’s best-known super hero.
Perhaps it is no wonder that Norhtstar has no great following in the Province of Quebec. Quebeckers are known for supporting their sons and daughters and being very proud of them, when they appear outside their province. If you ask the average comic book reader in Quebec about Northstar, they will probably remember him as the gay guy, as opposed to Quebec’s leading super hero.
If Northstar was a Québécois nationalist and proud of his Quebec heritage, he would not call himself Northstar. He would be known by a French name like “Boréal” or something more appropriate. This is a major error that Marvel writers have never caught or even fixed. It shows how poorly they understand what should drive a character like Northstar. Northstar is a distinctively English Canadian term. In fact, even if people called him Northstar, he should be pissed off every time it happened.
Of course, Northstar has become an emblem for gay comic book collectors. He was one of the first out of the closet. Many have said that Marvel picked Northstar to be its official first gay super hero because he was a minor character published in a minor comic book. That’s true, although his sexuality had been hinted since he was introduced.
English Versus French
Northstar’s soap opera history is characteristic of many comic book characters. One could argue that all these developments make him a richer character. I disagree. It makes him stand in for many trends and events in society but we still don’t know much about the character’s personality. We know that he overprotects his sister and is arrogant, but how does that make him different from Marvel’s best known speedster, Quicksilver?
This character has a lot of potential. However, I’d like to see him in a comic book where he doesn’t cut to French every three words. The French do it when speaking in English. Quebeckers speaking English will instead anglicize French words and pronounce every English with a heavy French Canadian accent that is different from people from France. Instead of saying “zees” and “zat.” They will say “dees” and “dat.” Their intonation will lag on certain word and they never end their sentences with “oui” or “mon ami.” Unfortunately, this is the way many writers have portrayed Norhtstar’s speech patterns.
Most writers who have worked on Northstar do not understand what makes a Quebecker different from a French person from France. They are not the same. It is like using British stereotypes for an American character. If that sounds weird to you or even ridiculous, imagine how Northstar weirds out Quebeckers when they read about him. I think it’s time for Northstar to come closer to his Québécois roots. Perhaps one day, Marvel will remember that Northstar is from Quebec.
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