"Astonishing X-Men" Editors Talk Gay Marriage Storyline: "Exploring The Real World Through The Superhero Metaphor"

It's been rumored for weeks - if not months - but finally, after endless speculation, it was confirmed on ABC's The View: in Marvel Comics' Astonishing X-Men #50, speedster mutant Northstar proposes to his long time boyfriend Kyle Jinadu. This marks the first same sex proposal in Marvel history, and as long as they survive an attack by the evil Marauders in this issue scripted by writer Marjorie M. Liu, next month in Astonishing X-Men #51, they'll be the first same sex couple to get married in a Marvel comic, too. (read more about it on MTV's ACT blog!)

You can even pick up the comic early Tuesday night at most comic book stores (and the rest of them first thing tomorrow - we recommend getting to your LCS early). But to find out more about the big announcement, we chatted with Editors Daniel Ketchum and Jeanine Schaefer about what prompted the decision, concerns about fan backlash, and the surprising inspiration for the iconic proposal page:

MTV Geek: To kick it off, what led to the decision to have Kyle and Northstar get married?

Daniel Ketchum: When gay marriage was legalized in New York state a year ago, we immediately began discussing how that reality could be reflected in the Marvel Universe, as so many of our characters and stories are based in New York City. While deciding which characters might tie the knot, we quickly determined that the development would have been a forced step for many of the possible couples…it wouldn’t have been right for the characters; it would have been the story for the sake of the story. But since their first appearance as a couple in 2009, we’ve watched Northstar and Kyle’s relationship develop. We’ve seen them experience the strain exerted by a long distance relationship, and also the ups and downs of moving in together. Seeing them married is an organic step in their story and opens up so many avenues for the characters in the future. 

Geek: I imagine when Obama announced he was for gay marriage, just a few short weeks before this issue was released, there was much rejoicing in the halls of Marvel that day?

DK: In my opinion, Marvel comic books are at their best when they’re exploring the real world through the super hero metaphor. We pursued the story of Northstar and Kyle’s wedding in order to further make the Marvel Universe reflective of the world we live in. President Obama announcing his support of gay marriage was pretty much the happiest coincidence we could have hoped for. It underscored the fact that this issue is topical and this story is more than just relevant. Northstar and Kyle will come face-to-face with those who support their union, but also those who do not recognize its validity—both sides of the issue represented equally and fairly—so that their experience can resonate with the experience of the readers hearing the arguments in real life. It’s that level of authenticity, that emotional truth, that makes a Marvel comic a Marvel comic.

Geek: Was there any concern about fan backlash? Clearly there’s been some sections of the fan population that haven’t responded well to other moves, like Miles Morales taking over in Ultimate Spider-Man – though fans also get upset when a character changes their hairstyle, so I don’t know how much that can possibly factor into things on your end…

Jeanine Schaefer: If we worried about backlash all the time, we’d never get anything done! We don’t do anything lightly, I promise you that (I’ve certainly had enough blow-out arguments with other editors over character choices throughout the years, and have heard plenty of raised voices in the halls over the same), but we can’t let the fact that everyone is going to have different opinions keep us from making interesting choices for these characters. They need to keep moving and they need to be allowed to live through stories that will change them, or they’ll cease being relevant.

Marvel Comics should reflect the world outside our window, and these issues do just that. Anyone coming to them from the stance of good story and good character development is going to find something to latch onto. 

Geek: Let’s talk a little bit about the issue… Clearly this – and the next one – are going to get a lot of mainstream attention. Without getting into spoilers too much, I thought it was interesting to continue the current arc of the book, while paralleling it with the Kyle/Northstar relationship. Why go this direction, rather than, say, having an entire issue devoted to the two of them?

JS: The X-Men, maybe more than any other title, has always placed more of an emphasis on the characters and their relationships with each other than on the mechanics of what happens to them; alternate realities, alien invasions, time-travelling mercenaries…really all of these things are in service of smashing the characters together in an emotional Large Hadron Collider to see how our characters come out on the other side.

So we felt pretty strongly that separating this beat from the mechanics of being an X-Man didn’t make as much sense as letting the two things link up. Northstar is one of the lead characters in Astonishing X-Men, and his personal life informs his choices on missions and vice-versa, so whatever the outcome here is going to have impact on the next arc, and the next one. 

Geek: I feel stupid even asking this, but as a guy who waited a few years to ask his wife to marry him, why have Kyle and Northstar get hitched so quickly? He was only introduced three years ago, which isn't THAT long in comic book time...

DK: I don’t know if you know, but Northstar moves FAST.

JS: This isn’t stupid at all! It comes down to the simple fact that everyone does it in their own way. Some people wait and plan, and some people just blurt it out and to hell with the details. Northstar is the kind of guy who gets something in his head and acts on it. So it’s partly that it’s just the way he is, crashing into things headfirst and sorting it all out later, but I would think there’s a little bit of “seize the day” going on as well. He’s thrown in with the X-Men as a way of life, and so he’s constantly living on the edge of needing to jump into the latest epic crisis. He knows he loves Kyle, he knows they’re good together, and he thinks, well, before the next worldwide threat, I better lock this down. And in typical Northstar fashion, it gets translated as “do I want to spend the rest of my life with him: Y/Y, please check one” *laughs*

Geek: Okay, that said, again without spoilers, I thought the actual page of the proposal was lovely – I imagine a lot of time and thought went into making that sequence as iconic as possible?

DK: YES. The number of revisions poor Mike Perkins had to do on that one page. We even had senior editor Nick Lowe and assistant editor Jordan D. White pose for a photo so that we could send Mike an idea of what we were envisioning! (No word yet on when Nick and Jordan will be tying the knot.) But that proposal is a big milestone in Marvel history and we had to get it right.

Geek: Now that this barrier is broken, are we going to see more same sex marriage in the Marvel Universe? And what about the future of Kyle and Northstar, how heavily will they play into the Marvel U going forward?

DK: That might be putting the cart before the horse…Northstar and Kyle haven’t even said “I do” yet! While their marriage may inspire some other characters in the Marvel Universe at large to follow suit (I just put a dozen Rictor/Shatterstar pitches on Axel’s desk, haha), I think we need to start by exploring what this means for these two characters first. There’s still so much story there, so much territory to explore. How will this change their relationship? What does it mean to be a civilian married to a super hero X-Man? How will Northstar and Kyle to respond to those who support their marriage, but also those who do not recognize its validity? Northstar and Kyle have made an important step here, but it’s only the beginning, there’s still a lot of road ahead of them. And we’re going to be right there with them as they travel it.

Astonishing X-Men #50 hits some comic book stores today - and the rest tomorrow - from Marvel Comics, with the Wedding in Astonishing X-Men #51 hitting in June!