Despite a few progressive steps forward over the past few years, there still aren't that many gay superheroes running around, saving the day.
DC Comics has their lipstick lesbian Batwoman, yes, and the Disney-owned Marvel has young Avengers Wiccan and Hulkling, and their first gay character, Northstar, who came out back in 1992. Of comic book land's handful of homosexuals, however, the most interesting to me are Shatterstar and Rictor, two of the younger members of Marvel's sprawling X-Men family.
Though debuted in the 1990s, the two mutants characters didn't realize their mutual attraction until a few years ago, while still in their ageless twenties, only to be torn apart by some heroic adventure: you know, Shatterstar was left in space after saving the world, and Rictor, who could once create earthquakes, found himself powerless in New York. Standard superhero stuff.
Now, Shatterstar has returned to earth, tracked down his earth-moving lover and the two are embarking on a relationship. But, of course, it's never that easy, especially in comic books, so in the latest issue of X-Factor, the men are tackling a topic so taboo that even real life gay couples don't always address it: open relationships.
It's like this: Shatterstar comes from an alternate dimension, and was created specifically to fight in a gladiator-type television show. As a genetically engineered creation, he lacks complete understanding of his emotions, emotions many diehard fans insist he should even have, but I won't get into that fanboy nitty-gritty.
Anyway, Shatterstar's terribly attracted to Rictor, but doesn't comprehend what these feelings mean; sound familiar? A bit more versed in matters, Rictor has been showing Shatterstar the gay ropes, so to speak, and finds himself met with resistance. He's frustrated, clearly, leading to an argument in the latest issue of their X-Factor title, number 207.
The action begins at a shooting range, where Rictor's trying to brush up on his aim. Shatterstar, being a warrior, scoffs at his lover's approach, "If you're not close enough to see your enemy's life leave his eyes, what's the point?" How butch!
True to relationship form, Rictor uses Shatterstar's seemingly innocuous critique to pick an argument about the makeup of their liaison, leading Shatterstar to a confession fit for a soap opera, "I came from a realm where I was not designed for enjoying, or even understanding, emotional relations... Not to mention carnal relations." He wants Rictor to show him the way; Rictor's displeased, and begins to put it all together, "What you want is an open relationship."
The prospect excites Shatterstar. Rictor, however, insists he's a one mutant kind of guy, and Shatterstar tries to explain, "But being with other people is going to be an empty experience if you're not there to share it with me." He goes on, "Just as I need an anchor when I'm teleporting, I need an emotional anchor for everyday life. And it can only be you, Rictor."
The men end up working it out, kind of: well, they kiss, and are later seen in bed, with Rictor explaining, "I just think we need to get a handle on what the two of us are..." Shatterstar agrees, and the men are about to get down to business when they're interrupted by the issue's inevitable cliffhanger.
More than a few cultural observers have drawn parallels between the X-Men mutants and gay people: both are "different" and struggling to understand themselves in an aggressive world. It sounds trite, sure, but it's true: growing up gay in Ohio, I didn't know what I "was," and sought solace in comic books.
And, yes, the X-Men were some of my favorites, and though I didn't realize it, taught me about so-called difference and how to move past it. And just imagine how much I would have learned had Shatterstar and Rictor, on both of whom I had a cartoon crush, been out and proud way back then.
I'm a bit envious, actually, of gay youth growing up today, for they have so many LGBT representations they can use to understand their place in the world. And this X-Factor story goes above and beyond.
Rather than neutering the gay characters, the writers are having them explore a serious and important issue: the boundaries of emotional and sexual love. Are they purely physical? Can you have a healthy relationship while also sleeping with other people?
Of course these are subjective questions with subjective answers. Even if you're out, proud and think you know what you want from your relationship, I seriously suggest you check out X-Factor #207, because you may just learn something. And, if nothing else, you'll have a flashback to a bygone childhood and think, "Shit, I wish I had read this when I was thirteen. Things may have been a little easier."