“Ultimate X-Men”: Troubling turns for gay superheroes Colossus and Northstar

As you might recall, one of the major difference between Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men and the regular X-Men titles is that Colossus is gay and currently dating the Ultimate version of the iconic Northstar. Colossus and Northstar play a large role in the current storyline on the title, the first by Heroes writer Aron E. Coleite … though the latest cliffhanger is certainly raising a few eyebrows. Do gay comics fans have reason to be up in arms over the next development?

A spoiler-filled look at the story so far, after the break…

The story, "Absolute Power", introduces the Ultimate version of Alpha Flight to the title (including Northstar’s sister Aurora) as well as a drug, Banshee, which gives regular people temporary powers and mutants additional powers. Within the first few pages we see Alpha Flight quickly take down a much larger team of X-Men (due to the team’s using Banshee, it turns out) and kidnap Northstar. Colossus pushes for the team to quickly regroup and go after them, but team leader Cyclops thinks they should develop a good plan first, considering how easily they were beaten.

Ultimate Alpha Flight

Suspecting that that there is more bothering Colossus than the idea of Northstar being in danger, Jean Grey pries into his head and learns that Colossus has been hiding his own usage of Banshee. Without the drug, he can still turn his body to steel but lacks the strength to even lift his arms. Jean tries to talk him into giving up Banshee but instead Colossus walks away from the team and forms his own team of Banshee-powered X-Men to go after his boyfriend.

The story also reveals bits of Colossus’ history. We learn that he was kicked out of the house after his father caught him in bed with another guy and that, homeless, he turned to a mobster who insisted he take Banshee to be an effective bodyguard. Additionally, Colossus mends his relationship with Nightcrawler, who struggled to reconcile his religious beliefs with the realization that his good friend was gay. Before Alpha Flight’s attack, Nightcrawler apologizes for some of the hurtful things he’s said and later he’s part of the team that seeks to rescue Northstar.

Young Piotr Rasputin used to keep a Captain America poster under his bed.

But at the end of the latest issue, things end badly. Colossus’ team is successful against Alpha Flight, but he finds Northstar hooked up to a machine that’s dosing him with Banshee and Northstar isn’t taking well to the drug. Within moments of disconnecting him from the machine, the overdose-like symptoms don’t stop and by the last panel it looks like Northstar has died in his boyfriend’s arms.

The timing of the story is unfortunate since just the day before this news hit, gay comics site Pink Kryptonite challenged how Northstar has never been kissed in the comics. Plus there’s the unfortunate coincidence of a gay icon dying in the issue that drops on Pride month.

Colossus assembles his own team to save Northstar.

Honestly, I went into this story spoiled about Northstar’s death and I was surprised at how much I ended up liking it. I mean, sure, seeing Northstar die once again reminded me of all the raised eyebrows prompted by Perry Moore‘s list, "Who cares about the death of a gay superhero, anyway?", particularly since his role in this story is pretty passive (all he gets to do is be kidnapped and then have a drug overdose forced on him).

However, the story also is entirely driven by Colossus’ love for Northstar. In superhero team books, the story where one member’s judgment is clouded by love is pretty common, but it’s rarely seen with a same-sex relationship and I can’t think of when that kind of story has happened in a mainstream title like Ultimate X-Men (as opposed to a mature title like X-Statix and The Authority or a fringe title like Gotham Central). In some ways, Northstar’s death struck me as a bit of a breakthrough. Isn’t it common for superhero books to mine the melodrama of a character’s death by having the person that loves them to be on the scene?

However, I do think Pink Kryptonite’s Sgt. Sausagepants makes an important observation about Northstar. He may be significant as the first major Marvel character to come out but little has been done with him since. When he was a part of the Ultimate X-Men team, he nursed a secret crush on a straight teammate. Beyond that and highly-anticipated guest appearances in Alpha Fligh revivals, nothing much has been done with him except for having him killed at Wolverine‘s hands. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Northstar "gets better" from this overdose "death" since any breakthroughs made in this story will be easily forgotten if Ultimate Northstar dies and his relationship with Ultimate Colossus becomes just a memory.

I’d been hoping to get to talk with Marvel about this (especially with writer Aron Coleite) but with this issue dropping just before Wizard World Chicago the communication lines are running a bit slowly. We’ll keep up on this story, especially as the "Absolute Power" arc continues.

I’m curious to what the Ultimate X-Men readers out there feel about this story? Did Northstar become just another dead gay superhero? Does the focus on Colossus’ feelings for Northstar constitute enough of a step forward, considering how slowly the character has developed?

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