Or – “His Original Costume Is The Only One That Isn’t Awful…”

With the recent announcement that Jean-Paul “Northstar” Beaubier would marry his long-time (you should excuse the expression) beau, Kyle, I started thinking about the long and illustrious career of Canada’s fastest man alive.  From his earliest days with Alpha Flight to his current stay on Utopia, Jean-Paul has a long and storied career of heroism, haughty attitude and terrible costumes, but I imagine many of us only know him as Marvel’s first openly-gay superhero.  Seems to me that it’s time to right that particular wrong…

10.) The Moment You Already Know About…

We start things off with the Northstar moment that everyone has seen and heard about.  If you google the name “Northstar,” you will undoubtedly find the panel where he is leaping forward, teeth gritted Liefeld-style, crying out “I am gay!”  It’s an iconic comic book image, for better or for worse, but one that benefits from a little bit of context.  During their latest mission quashing the enemies of Canada, Northstar has discovered a tiny little baby in a dumpster, abandoned by her parents.  Taking her to the hospital, Jean-Paul bonds with the child, names her Joanne, and discovers that the child has contracted AIDS from her presumably drug-addicted mother.  Enter Major Mapleleaf…

The Major is a (heretofore unseen) Golden Age Canadian hero, whose own son died anonymously of AIDS sometime earlier.  Enraged by the fact that the media ignored his son’s plight, Mapleleaf irrationally tries to attack the child, only to meet with the fastest backhand alive.  Major Mapleleaf rages that no one would have made a media festival about his dead son, because Mapleleaf, Junior was a homosexual, an argument that cuts no ice with Northstar…

It’s a very 90’s moment, but one that still rings true for the character, and most people forget about the part BEFORE his public admission:  the tacit explanation that Northstar has always been gay, is not in any way ashamed of that fact, and the only reason that it hasn’t come up is because it’s none of anyone’s damn business.  It’s a very strong and apropos character moment, indeed.

9.) The Time Marvel Killed Him Off…

Stay with me on this one, because it’s awesome in context.  During Mark Millar’s run on Wolverine, the canucklehead becomes brainwashed by Hydra and spirals into a berzerker rage the likes of which we had (to that point) never seen.  Confronted by his fellow mutants, Wolverine flies off the handle, and proves that he is not the man he was before by taking a killing blow at the X-Men’s own Shadowcat (or whatever Kitty’s name was that week.)  It does not go well…

Northstar’s teammates are shocked at the actions of their wild-eyed partner, and mourn the loss of the Canadian hero.  Why, you might ask, is this on my list of awesome moments?  Because of what happens next.

9a.) The Time Marvel Killed Him Off Again Later That Month…

In the alternate future timeline of “X-Men: The End,” a mysterious explosion rocks the future School for Gifted Youngsters, and the heroes leap into action only to find a terrible tableau of tragedy

Man, the future X-Men have some SERIOUSLY ugly costumes, don’t they?  And it’s clear that the murder of Northstar is a moment that comics creators believe to be powerful and shocking.  If you need proof of that statement, look no further than…

9b.) The Time They Killed Him Off AGAIN Immediately…

You guessed it.  In the alternate universe called the “Age of Apocalypse,” Northstar and his twin sister Aurora have a similar bond to the one in our universe, and when his sister is injured by alternate Wolverine, he rushes to her side, leaving his flank open…

Aaaand SPLAT.  Three times in the space of only a few weeks, the creative teams at Marvel chose to shock us with the death of Northstar.  Of course, that in itself is noteworthy, but it’s what happens NEXT that turns the story completely badass…

Having taken his body into custody, S.H.I.E.L.D. is desperate to keep him from being resurrected (part of Hydra’s ongoing plan, apparently, it’s not entirely clear), because the world’s greatest spy agency is TERRIFIED as to what an amoral zombie Northstar could do.  It’s a valid concern, as Elektra sneaks in, snatches Jean-Paul’s body and makes him her wingman in an attack on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier.

Resurrected Ninja Northstar proves incredibly effective, knocking out the helicarrier, crippling S.H.I.E.L.D., getting the better of Wolverine in battle and putting Nick Fury himself in a coma!  When the most powerful covert agency in the world is afraid of you, folks, you know you’ve made it.  Every member of Alpha Flight has died multiple times, but nobody is afraid of zombie Puck or undead Sasquatch…

8.) The Many Men In His Life…

In a world where Peter Parker can’t keep his girlfriends from getting thrown off things and Scott Summers keeps having his incinerated, it’s interesting to note that Northstar hasn’t been locked in a life of quiet desperation.  As early as 1983, Northstar was seen to have a cute “roommate”, and has had a few entertaining romances and crushes as well.  Of special note is his ever-so subtle thing for Bobby “Iceman” Drake, as seen during his second tenure with the X-Men…

It’s worth noting that Northstar’s interactions are one of the few things in Chuck Austen’s X-Men tenure that DON’T leave me cringing or rolling my eyes, even though his confidante in this scene is Austen’s pet character Nurse Annie, the world’s most annoying Mary Sue character.  Northstar’s ultimate counterpart has a particularly entertaining flirtation with Ultimate Colossus, another gay X-Man…

That’s not to say that Northstar is always on the make.  Indeed, one of the most touching moments of Northstar’s history came when he and his estranged sister Aurora reunited after the death of Sasquatch.  Though the siblings had not been speaking for some time, they immediately bond as she pours out her grief for the man she loved…

…and Northstar silently does the same.  It’s pretty heart-breaking to see the depths of Northstar’s feelings, given his usual icy facade, and the subtle implications that he, too, was in love with Sasquatch are lovely.  But perhaps my most beloved Northstar-as-a-player moment comes at the wake for the recently deceased (although he got better) Hercules.  The Lion of Olympus has fallen in battle, and his friends have gathered to speak of his feats.

Heh…  You have to love this moment for the look on Namor’s face, and I have to say that I love the idea of a Hercules/Northstar team, and would be interested to see a Marvel Team-Up issue with that pairing.  The banter alone would be worth the price of admission.

7.) The Time That Northstar Out-Angsted The X-Men…

If you’ve ever read anything written by Chris Claremont, you know that the existential pain of being a mutant is the worst feeling ever, and can make one monologue forever about how empty and hollow and blah blah blah fishcakes your life is.  That’s what makes this moment in the X-Men & Alpha Flight miniseries so awesome…

Jean-Paul is awesome here, using every trick in his book to remain stoic and remote before finally doing what everyone who read comics in the 80’s wanted to:  Telling an X-Man to shut the hell up and learn to deal like everyone else does.  Northstar eventually comes to grips with Rogue, and the twosome make a pretty interesting pair throughout the rest of the series, but it’s fascinating to see someone verbally bitch-slapped by a character who clearly has every right to be angry.

6.) The Day He Joined The X-Men

Northstar’s official tenure as an X-Man and a professor at the Xavier School was predicated by a couple of unofficial missions, but the story of how he officially joined the roster of the world’s biggest mutant team is another heart-rending tale.  When a young mutant begins displaying his powers, he endangers not just his family and friends but the X-Men themselves.  Northstar, as the only flying hero present, agrees to carry the child back to Xavier’s to keep his concussive powers from crashing the plane, and the duo have a very contentious dialogue all the way there.  The child angers him with both anti-mutant and homophobic diatribes, but Northstar mostly keeps his cool…  right up until the point where Charles Xavier telepathically tells him that they’ve run out of time to contain the boy’s exponentially-growing powers.

Northstar stays with the child, even to the point of being injured by the child’s fatal power explosion and ending up in the X-Men’s hospital wing, but his refusal to lie to the child or let him die alone tell you as much about Northstar as any story before had, and Jean-Paul becomes and important part of the X-Men’s faculty for several years after.

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. May 30, 2012 at 7:37 pm — Reply

    Could we get on model here? I could almost swear that all 10 of those pics are different heroes.

    • May 30, 2012 at 8:27 pm — Reply

      He’s got white hair and pointy ears, that’s the best you can hope for…

      • Neil James
        August 9, 2014 at 11:55 am — Reply

        Noooooo, Northstar has black hair and pointy ears. The white was only ever the ‘shine’ without it being blue-black like every other black-haired person in comics.

  2. May 30, 2012 at 8:34 pm — Reply

    Great article! I’m glad someone out there is putting a third dimension to the character instead of tripping over the wedding again and again. Nice job and very enjoyable read!

  3. Ryan
    May 31, 2012 at 8:00 am — Reply

    I have two favorite Northstar moments.
    1. The look on his face when Rogue kisses him (X-Men and Alpha Flight mini).
    2. When Mimic and Northstar were hanging out after fighting the Hulk and Northstar let Mimic copy his flight powers (Exiles #6). It’s one panel but I love it.

    • May 31, 2012 at 3:38 pm — Reply

      Yeah, I totally should have included the moment with The Mimic under the “men in his life.” It’s a great moment, especially when Mimic realizes that Northstar thinks he’s hitting on him.

  4. Suzene Campos
    February 11, 2014 at 6:58 pm — Reply

    This just came across my Tumblr dash the other day. Interesting list here; I like that you managed to hit on just about every period of Northstar’s history (and the ones you didn’t were best forgotten anyway).

    So far as the follow-up questions go, I much prefer Northstar with the X-Men simply because he was all but strong-armed onto Alpha Flight and was never very happy there. For Aurora, Alpha Flight represented freedom, but for Northstar, it was a disruption of his life at best and risked getting his mentally unstable sister killed at worst. By contrast, he was able to find a purpose of his own with the X-Men and their students. He was there because he wanted to be, not because he was obligated to be.

    With regard to moments you missed and why I disagree with a couple of your choices, I put up a post here:

    Don’t worry, I played fair. There’s nothing there that wouldn’t have been around when your list first went up. ;)

    Either way, thanks for writing this. It’s a fun and useful reference.

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