Andrew Belonsky

Gay X-Men Tackle Open Relationships

Filed By Andrew Belonsky | July 31, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: DC Comics, Disney, Marvel, News, Warner Brothers, X-Men

Despite a few progressive steps forward over the past few years, there still aren't that many gay superheroes running around, saving the day.

xfactortop.jpegDC 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."

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Wow. I didn't know superhero comic books got that deep into the relationship stuff. Good for them for seeing relationships as more complicated than hetero coupledom.

Also, good for them for correct use of the word "whomever."

I stopped reading X-Factor a while back. After the whole future Doom arc with Jamie and Layla, it's been downhill.

If you haven't read up on the Young Avengers, I highly recommend it. Their first mini won a media award from GLAAD.

And on a comic book nerd note, their only worthwhile appearances are in their respective mini-series (Young Avengers 1-12, started in 2006 or so) and their current running mini: The Children's Crusade. They've had OTHER minis and one-shot appearances, but they did literally nothing other than keep the status quo.

Part of this has to be seen as a very elusive goal for the writers: creating a character whose emotional make up is so foreign to us that we find it incomprehensible. I'm not exactly sure I completely buy that Shatterstar wants to sleep around in the same kind of way that we would like to interpret it. Rather, he's trying to understand how relationships work, and he looks to Rictor to explain it all. So when Rictor says "You want an open relationship", Shatterstar's response isnt so much "Yes, I want to sleep with everyone" as "Okay, if you're telling me that's what it means, then I guess that's what it means" His trust in Rictor to advise him is almost childlike in its innocence and naivité: he needs that guidance on, well, everything because he doesnt understand the rules.

But serious kudos to X-Men for tackling this... hell, even tackling this kind of relationship period with such bravery. About the best I ever got when growing up was the sneaking suspicion that Lex Luthor was actually all hot for Superman.

Actually, I grew up with the X-Men in the 70’s when Kirby was king and the Sentinal Wars were raging. The newest X-Man was a new guy no one knew much about named Wolverine…

My microscopic clique loved the story lines. We hid in the library, my two friends because they were deathly allergic to peanuts. Me because the bullies never left me alone in the cafateria.

But… we always wondered. Did Stan Lee and company know about ‘X-Men’? The real X-Men, not the ones they made up for the comicbook. Real life X-Men are people who are 46X, 47XXY (or one of many other natural mutations) but are gendered male at birth.

Growing up reading the X-Men I knew how they felt. I dealt with being different and an outcast every day of my life just like the mutants.
Because…well, I am a mutant and an X-Man.
Sadlly, there is no Professor Xaiver in real life or ‘super powers’. And as far as I care DOMA and DADT are the same as the Mutant Regsitration Act.

Remembering when the first Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spiderman and Dare Devil hit the news stands, who would have thought comic book characters would breach samesex relationships. I'm in my mid-50s and gay activists of 40-plus years ago didn't think of marriage in the same terms some gays today see it-- it was not about "open relationships." If marriage for gays means financial benefits without commitment to monogamy, gay marriage will go the way of hetero marriage, 51 percent or more will fail. I'm hopeful the comic writers will promote gay marriage as a positive for gay folks and not let sleeping around become the norm of gay relationships and marriage.

Did you see that this week's issue of Spiderman has a gay couple kissing in the background of the cover?

ChristopherH | August 2, 2010 1:29 PM

Finally ... I mean FINALLY ... it has been an entire YEAR since their first kiss ... all we've had since then have been cheesy jokes and one-liners ... maybe Peter David is going to explore this a bit more now ... I hope it isn't another false start ...

BTW ... the award-winning Kate Kane storyline in DETECTIVE COMICS #854-860 has become the jumping off point for a new Batwoman book starting in October, I believe. J. H. Williams III won an Eisner for his artwork in those books. He'll take the first story arc and Amy Reeder Hadley (Madame Xanadu) will follow-up ...