MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Switching gears now, we are heading to the comics pages, where art is imitating life again. And if you're a fan of Marvel Comics, then you know that they take place mostly in New York City, where you've probably seen Iron Man, Spider-Man and the Avengers rack up a ridiculous amount of property damage, fighting bad guys, saving humanity and generally tearing up Midtown.
But now, the superheroes are also showing a softer side. In comic book stores now is "Astonishing X-Men" number 51, featuring the wedding of superhero Northstar and his longtime boyfriend, Kyle. Joining us to talk more about this is the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, Axel Alonso.
Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
AXEL ALONSO: Glad to be here.
MARTIN: So, you know, Marvel has actually had a strong cast of LGBT characters for some time. I think that Northstar has been out of the closet since when, 1992?
MARTIN: Do I have that right?
ALONSO: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: OK. So what made this the right time for a wedding?
ALONSO: Well, we began discussion when gay marriage became legal in New York state. We reached a decision when we decided that the story spoke to an emotional truth, you know. Marvel's best stories are stories that are set in the real world and deal with real issues.
MARTIN: So was it the president's announcement, also? Did that have something to do with it, or were you planning this long before then?
ALONSO: Oh, no. This was underway well in advance. You know, discussion began immediately after gay marriage became legal in New York state. Most of our characters live in New York state. So the question emerged, you know: How will our characters respond?
In Northstar, we have comics' first openly gay superhero, who's been in a long-term, monogamous relationship with his partner Kyle. And we discussed it as a group and decided that this might be something worth doing. It opened up a host of stories, and I'll just say the wedding's the beginning of the story.
MARTIN: You know what's interesting about it, though, is it's not all, like, everybody just show up and salute. You know, obviously, there is tension. Of course, there is a quest. You know, bad guys still need to be vanquished, and that has to happen. But some of the other characters are not accepting, which is kind of interesting, since they're mutants and you'd think that they've gone through their own struggles around this issue.
But I'm curious. Why was this? It's very clear that a lot of the characters are saying, I am not down with this program. Right?
ALONSO: Absolutely. Well, you know, this is a complex issue, and we didn't want to candy coat it. It's an important thing. People are divided on the issue, and we'd be remiss to try and tell a story in which Kyle and Northstar got married and everybody, you know, jumped up and saluted.
There's a very raw moment in the book when one of Northstar's teammates comes to him and explains why they can't attend the wedding. They won't attend the wedding, and they do not accept the validity of his vows. We think this is very interesting. You know, the notion of two teammates who will eventually have to fight side-by-side and potentially, you know, risk their lives for each other - for them to disagree on something like this, it's fascinating.
MARTIN: I think that the whole idea of a mutant, I mean, throughout, you know, literature - not just in the comics, but in other literature - is a metaphor for the differences that exist among humans. Right? Whether it's race...
MARTIN: ...whether it's sexual orientation, whether it's sort of gender - like, there are other kind of forms of difference. And I'm just wondering, when you were thinking about how to explore this difference, what were some of the things that came to mind? I mean, were you thinking about, maybe, the military, for example, as a metaphor for this, where people do have to fight side-by-side, even if they may not be the same?
ALONSO: No, to be honest, not really. This isn't an editorial. It's a story. It's all rooted in the development in the real world that our characters respond to. We don't have an agenda. We could just as easily be back here in a couple of years talking about the divorce issue. You know, this is the beginning of a story.
MARTIN: Well, let's not borrow trouble. Come on. Let's not wish them - let's not go there just yet.
ALONSO: Getting married is the easy part. Getting married is the easy part. You know, going to Kmart on weekends is the tough part. It's not the honeymoon.
MARTIN: What about - what are some of the other things that - well, before I get to what are some of the other things you've got planned for this couple, I mean, what reaction have you been getting?
ALONSO: For the most part, it's been positive. I mean, whenever you do something that has a political or social component, you're going to hear from both sides of the issue or the battle lines. In this case, we've heard, you know, some negative comments and some positive comments.
You know, once again, I'll just emphasize, this is a story. It's not an editorial. This is a development in the real world that's affecting our characters and, as I said, there will be empty seats at this wedding. There will be characters who do not attend the wedding and their views will be fairly expressed and, interesting enough, I think that it'll be interesting to see the ongoing dialog in the pages of this book as characters come to terms with this on a legal and moral level.
MARTIN: I'm talking with Axel Alonso. He's the editor-in-chief of Marvel, and they've just published "Astonishing X-Men" number 51, which features the wedding of superhero Northstar and his long-time boyfriend Kyle.
You know, one of the things that was also interesting is that you have the two characters themselves grappling with whether it was the right time for them to get married, whether they were, themselves, kind of reacting to the context of what was around them, you know.
MARTIN: I thought that was interesting.
ALONSO: Look, there's no point in telling a story in which everything's all good and fine. Any wedding will come with its tension and potential drama, and this one is no different.
MARTIN: I am curious, though, about some of the reaction from your vendors. I mean, comic book store owners who are expected to sell the edition. I'm interested in what they're saying.
ALONSO: Well, all I can say is that sales are through the roof. We've more than doubled - I think possibly tripled - orders of the book, no doubt due to the word of mouth. And it's my hope that people that come for this issue will stick around. At the end of the day, I think that retailers vote with their dollars, and they're buying it.
MARTIN: You know what's so interesting, though? You know, you're in New York, which obviously is one of the six states - along with the District of Columbia -that have legalized same-sex marriage. But you're finding that, in places where same-sex marriage has been on the ballot by a voter referendum, as opposed to an act of legislature or an act of the judiciary, it has not gone forward. And yet you're finding really warm reception around the country, and I'm just wondering - and I understand that this is a story. You're not a politician. You know, you're not an advocate, but you're writing stories. But I am wondering: What do you think that says?
ALONSO: I'm not sure. What I would say is that, you know, gay characters have been accepted in comic books for some time now. Northstar is the first openly gay character, but he's by no means the last. There's a long list of characters at Marvel and the other big mainstream company, DC, you know, who had their own recent news, and it's just being accepted. I think at the end of the day, people understand that their stories need to reflect the world and its diversity.
Frankly, one of my favorite characters ever on television is Omar, the gay stick-up boy from "The Wire." He's a popular character who took root, and I see no reason why we can't do the same thing in comics.
MARTIN: And what do you say to people who say that, you know, comics are for my entertainment. I don't want politics. You know, you're just pushing this in my face and I don't - you know, this is my fun. I want to get away from what's in the newspapers by reading the comics. And what do you say to them?
ALONSO: Yeah. Well, what I'd say is this is fun. This is a story. This is a super-powered guy marrying his boyfriend who's coming to terms with the fact that, you know - think of him as a super-powered cop who's going to have a daily, dangerous job and a worried spouse at home. And he'll, you know, have teammates who are accepting and teammates who aren't.
This is a drama, a soap opera with a big special effects budget, unlimited special effects budget. So it's far from boring.
MARTIN: I must tell you that the pictures of the wedding party are very special, very diverse. That's all I'll say.
ALONSO: No doubt.
MARTIN: Axel Alonso is the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, and he was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Axel Alonso, thanks so much for joining us.
ALONSO: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: All right. And keep us posted about, you know, that trip to Kmart. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.