Astonishing X-Men is a gay soap opera (and that’s a good thing)

Review of Astonishing X-Men #48-51

Language: English
Authors: Marjorie Liu (writer), Mike Perkins (artist)
Publisher: Marvel
Pages: 20-26
Price: $3.99

Recently, David Watkins said on HLN: “Comics and soaps have a lot in common — wild situations, love triangles, forbidden love, revenge and intense drama abound in both.”

I wouldn’t go as far as that. While such mostly romantic motifs can be found in many American mainstream superhero comics (Watkins mentions the X-Men and the Fantastic Four), they are dominated by other themes such as the supernatural, or physical fights between good and evil. Romance isn’t exclusive to soap operas, but their emphasis on romance is a defining characteristic. Astonishing X-Men, however, relies heavily on romance and thus gravitates towards the soap opera genre, as we will soon find out.

Previously in Astonishing X-Men: I didn’t read this series before Liu and Perkins started their run in #48, so I have no idea what was going on before. This version of the X-Men consists of the well-known characters Wolverine, Gambit and Iceman, and some not-so-well-known ones. At the center of this story is Northstar – if you don’t know who he is, I recommend this blog post at Major Spoilers.

Issue #48 is already surprising: four entire pages are devoted to Northstar and his non-superpowered boyfriend Kyle, who basically “only” talk about their new situation of living together in New York after years of long distance dating. Then we get to read three pages of Gambit and fellow mutant Cecilia Reyes, talking in his apartment. That makes a total of seven pages of pure soap opera. The remaining 13 pages feature rather generic action: the X-Men being attacked by a group of supervillains.

In issue #49 there’s another four-page dialogue between Northstar and Kyle, taking place after the aforementioned fight, with lines such as “I love you. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love you” (Northstar).

Issue #50 contains the marriage proposal that got so much media attention. Consequently, the number pages devoted to Northstar and Kyle is increased to a whopping eight out of 20. Still, this issue also features the artistically best action scenes so far. The technique of Perkins and colorist Andy Troy to overlay delicate outlines with opaque highlighting effects gives a certain radiance to the drawings, which looks particularly good whenever Iceman is involved.

Finally, issue #51, the wedding issue. (The idea of the gay wedding, by the way, turned out not to have been Liu’s, but an editorial decision from long ago.) The action part of the story is reduced to six pages, the remaining 20 pages of this oversized issue being taken up mainly by the wedding preparations and ceremony. The fact that this is a gay wedding is hardly reflected at all. In two panels, two wedding guests express their mild discomfort (“it’s a lot to take in”, “I can’t stop thinking about what my grandma would say about all of this”). Then there’s the scene where Warbird refuses to attend the wedding, which I had thought was due to her not recognizing the validity of human weddings in general. But that’s probably just my lack of knowledge of the Shi’ar alien race to which Warbird belongs, because several other reviewers interpreted Warbird’s behaviour as a decidedly homophobic.

So large portions of this series read like a soap opera centered around a gay couple. Is this what I want to read in a superhero comic? Well, for me, drama, feelings, and relationships between superheroes have always been part of the appeal of the Marvel universe, and in particular of team series like the X-Men books, in which all characters seem to be related to or at least acquainted with each other. At any rate, it’s better than endless fisticuffs. Therefore I’m enjoying Astonishing X-Men.

As for the homosexuality aspect: though some people say that “all superheroes are gay“, Astonishing X-Men strongly focuses on homosexuality. Or does it? While in the real world, in the United States and elsewhere, gay marriage is still a controversial issue, we don’t really get to see that in the comic. In this fantasy world, homophobia is something that befalls only aliens, and everything is sunshine and roses. Marvel has found a way to make homosexuality palatable to their mainstream audience, and at the same time to appear to be bold and progressive. In spite (or exactly because) of that, this storyline will probably become an instant classic among scholars at the intersection of LGBT and comics studies.

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○

2 Comments on “Astonishing X-Men is a gay soap opera (and that’s a good thing)”

  1. […] at a random comic book to see how perspective is handled there. It’s been a while since I last reviewed Astonishing X-Men, and I’m going to properly review the current issues in a later post, but […]

  2. […] though, I decided to play along. I had been reading Astonishing X-Men (AXM) for some time (see my review of #48-51 and my previous blog post on #57) when the crossover event X-Termination was announced, spanning […]

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