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Monday, June 08, 2020 

How Northstar's homosexuality was brought to the surface by Christian Cooper and Scott Lobdell

Yahoo's entertainment section (via SyFy Wire) interviewed Christian Cooper, reportedly one of the first openly homosexual editors at Marvel in the 90s, who co-edited the Alpha Flight issue written by Scott Lobdell where Northstar was "outed", in a story that wasn't exactly the big deal they wanted it to be seen as. And he's also got a webcomic series planned that smells of biased politics:
You might know Christian Cooper as the mild-mannered New York City birdwatcher who became a social media hero last month following a racially-charged encounter in Central Park. But even before that incident thrust him into the wider public eye, the 57-year-old editor and writer was a comic book industry superhero. During the 1990s, Cooper was one of the first openly gay employees at Marvel Comics, and worked to increase LGBTQ representation in the pages of the company’s comics by leaps and bounds.

“It was really a dream come true to work there,” he tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I’d been a Marvel guy since I was a little kid. For anyone who is into comics and they get a chance to work at Marvel or DC, you’re like ‘This is so amazing.’”

Cooper certainly accomplished amazing things during his Marvel tenure. In March 1992, he served as the assistant editor on the landmark issue of Alpha Flight in which the mutant hero, Northstar (created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne), came out of the closet. Later that same year, he created the company’s first lesbian hero, Victoria Montesi, in the pages of Darkhold. And as the writer of the short-lived Star Trek: Starfleet Academy series, he boldly introduced the franchise’s first openly gay character, Yoshi Mishima. After parting ways with Marvel in the late ’90s, he became a web comic pioneer with Queer Nation, a never-completed series that he’s now hoping to revive.

“With my new notoriety or fame — whatever you want to call it — I am looking to take Queer Nation out of mothballs,” he says. “It has a certain urgency right now that maybe it didn’t have back then, because one of the core plot points is that a crazy right-wing fascist has been elected president and is pandering to the religious right. Oh wait, that couldn't happen in real life!”

As part of Yahoo Entertainment’s Pride Month coverage, we spoke with Cooper about his marvelous years at Marvel, and what superhero entertainment he’s consuming now.
As I'd discussed earlier, revealing Northstar was homosexual was actually the least of the Lobdell story's problems. The real problem was the portrayal of the villain, Major Maple Leaf, who tried to take out his anger on an infant Northstar had saved from a dumpster, threatening to murder her, yet in the end, his sick attempt on the life of a helpless entity was all but forgotten, and he was never arrested and prosecuted even for destroying public property at the hospital area. As far as I know, issue #106 has yet to be officially reprinted in trades, and for now, it can be assumed Marvel's taking their time because they realize how embarrassing it is based on the whole Major Maple Leaf matter. And when it is reprinted in trades, if it ever will be, history will judge whether this was artistically merited or not.

As for Cooper's whole quarrel in NYC with a woman whose last name is same as his, over lack of a leash for her dog in a park district where it was required, here's my assessment: no, she shouldn't have left the pooch off the leash, but, I do have to question the former Marvel staffer's reaction:
The woman, Amy Cooper, is seen on video being asked by a black man, Christian Cooper, to put her dog on a leash, and offered the pet a treat after she repeatedly refused to do so. Cooper wrote on Facebook that he said, “if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it,” before calling the dog over to him.
Seriously now, is it appropriate to "have fun" with somebody else's pet and potentially annoy them over such an otherwise minor issue? Why didn't he say he was going to call the cops and let her know she'd be risking a fine if she didn't comply with the law? I can't see the logic here. His whole approach was irresponsible, and makes him no better than the woman. I looked at the main part of his Facebook page, and he had pictures of the Obamas, and one that looked like the crescent symbol of Turkey. If my estimates are correct, Cooper's got quite a puzzling double standard going there, when Turkey under Recep Erdogan's not particularly supportive of the ideological practice Cooper goes by. What indeed is going on here?

Now let's return to the interview in focus, and what our friend Cooper here has to say about how they planned out that AF issue that's such a big deal based on the closet emergence of Jean-Paul Beaubier. I notice, curiously enough, that he doesn't sound impressed with a storyline written by Bill Mantlo:
What were the behind-the-scenes decisions that led to Northstar coming out in Alpha Flight #106?

I remember reading the first-ever issue of Alpha Flight when I was a freshman in college and thinking, "Northstar's gay." For anybody with a discerning eye, Northstar blipped on your gaydar from the get-go. Later on, there was an incredibly awful storyline where Northstar was coughing in every panel for a couple of issues; basically, the idea was they were going to give Northstar AIDS. Someone decided — rightly in my opinion — “We're not taking our only gay character and giving him AIDS.” So to get out of it, they came up with this absurd storyline where Northstar and his twin sister, Aurora, were the children of elves or fairies from fairy-land, and they had the two of them disappear to fairy-land.

Anyway, they undid that eventually and Alpha Flight passed into the hands of Bobbie Chase, who I was working with at the time as her assistant editor. We had to hire a new writer, and we talked to Scott Lobdell. We’re at a lunch going over the possible storylines, and Scott says, "I think maybe we should bring Northstar out of the closet." And we were like, "Yeah, it's time for Northstar to be out of the closet." So it was very matter-of-fact. His original issue was about twice as wordy as it ended up being — we just cut and cut. It's not the most subtle issue ever, but it got the job done.

We sent out a solicitation to comic shops that said that’s what was going to be happening in that issue. Then we got a phone call from some comic book shop, which asked, “Does Northstar really come out of the closet in No. 106?” I told Bobbie, and she said that we had to notify the head of PR. So I go trotting to her office, and you could just see the blood drain out of her face. The higher-ups tried to pull the issue from the printer before it was printed, but they were too late, thank god. The really ridiculous thing was that they gagged us from talking [to the press]. They had this opportunity to get all this publicity for the issue, and instead they said, "You can not talk about this issue at all."

But the issue came out, and it was pretty cool. There was some negative reaction — I think some Texas comic book shop owner said, "Now I have to put Alpha Flight on a top shelf in a special brown cover." I was like, “What?” And apparently, the Catholic Church was going to come out with a statement against us, but then decided not to. We had persistent goodwill from them, because we had done a Pope John Paul II comic. So yeah, it was a crazy time!
By any chance, did he approve of that storyline just a few issues earlier, where Aurora was mentally assaulted by Headlok, and this caused her to revert to her split personality she had when the series first began? And again, there's that little matter involving the guy dressed like a Mountie who initially tried to wipe out the infant infected with AIDS. No mention of that, I see. We must be missing quite a bit here, my my. He misremembers what happened with Aurora too at the time Mantlo was doing the writing in the late 80s: after Loki convinced the twins they were fairies (Northstar, anyway), he had Jeanne-Marie transported to a monestary where she spent a short amount of time before returning to the team in James Hudnall's run, at a time the series went direct sales only. Hmm, how come no credit for Hudnall's canning the fairy stuff and Asgard connections when he did the writing?

And what if the real reason the higher echelons at the time were against the story because of the embarrassingly bad way the Mountie man was depicted regarding the infant? In retrospect, that's the real point of contention.
In the issue, Northstar’s coming out is part of a storyline that involves the AIDS crisis.

That was sort of what was happening in society. Before then, so many people had stayed in the closet, and gay stuff only came up in lurid ways. Suddenly, ordinary gay folk were saying, "No, I'm not staying in the closet anymore," because of the AIDS crisis.

Would you have preferred for it to have been part of a romantic storyline instead?

In that era, there was no way in hell we would have gotten a romantic coming out. It would have gotten through Bobbie and I, but we’d never have gotten it through anybody else. It had to be a confession devoid of any expression of romance or sexuality, like a statement of fact: "I am gay." Even after that, they clamped us down. Someone decided, "Let's do a Northstar limited series where he can’t talk about the fact that he's gay." Which they did and everyone roundly panned it, because it made no sense! [Laughs]
Again, I still don't see why he argues about failure to make sense when Major Maple Leaf was let off the hook for his violent act with nary a slap on the wrist. I figure there's a reason why Lobdell left the book after just several issues. And of course, he brought all that stuff back to the fore in X-Men's "Eve of Destruction" during 2001, where Northstar assaults another guy over a quarrel, with no opposition from Jean Grey and company. Apparently, there's leftists who believe violence is a perfectly valid response while having an argument with somebody you don't agree with.
Did you experience any pushback from Marvel when you created Victoria Montesi in the pages of Darkhold?

They wouldn't let me say that Vicky was a lesbian outright, but it's clear that she's in a romantic relationship with a woman. It’s part of the story in terms of it being one of several reasons why her father considered her a great disappointment. Not only the fact that she was lesbian, but also because the fact that she was born a woman — she was supposed to be a male heir to his line. I wasn’t trying to hide the relationship with her lover, Natasha, but it was mostly off-screen. Natasha was incapacitated in the first issue, and spends the rest of the series in hospice care. There was no negotiation needed on that with Marvel, maybe because it was two women. There’s this weird double-standard about two women together not being nearly as threatening as two guys together.
There's also a weird double-standard in the showbiz world that considers it acceptable to depict lesbians as criminals - hence, the casting of Mystique and Destiny in their notable roles in the X-Men's rogues gallery - but male homosexuals far less so. I get the feeling Cooper's jealous. In biblical times, even if they didn't consider lesbianism a good role model, the ancient Israelites were more lenient on lesbianism than on male homosexuality, probably because the latter was seen as one of the worst ways a man could deviate from sanity, and in that era, most lesbians were probably less extreme than some modern ones with anti-male mentality.
What was the fan reaction like to Vicky at the time?

The relationship with fans and writers back then was definitely via letter-writing, so that was how we gauged fan response to things. We got a s***-load of mail on Northstar and it was split about 50/50, which was disappointing, but not surprising considering that a lot of the readership for superhero comic was adolescent males uncomfortable with the whole issue. I don’t remember us getting mail on Vicky; no one went, “She’s a lesbian? I can’t read this anymore!” She was just below everyone’s radar.
Did it ever occur to him there's some people who feel male homosexuality is simply a poor role model, and those who practice it may not consider any health risks involved? There are some examples in the entertainment world, like this movie called In and Out, where men are depicted heroically because they dump their wives/don't marry them, quit their jobs and admit their homosexuality. But what's surely most troubling is when they almost literally reject the opposite sex as a romantic/sexual partner. Honestly, it's ludicrous. As is the risk Cooper's taking of damning adolescent males as uncomfy with the issue, rather than acknowledge the problem lies in how one-sided a lot of depictions of homosexuality are in fiction, portraying it as almost entirely acceptable a belief and practice, and damn anyone who dares to disagree. When it comes down to that, it becomes lecturing propaganda rather than a debate.

Cooper was apparently involved with Star Trek adaptations Marvel was doing in the mid-90s, at the time they acquired the license that had originally been held by DC around 1984-94:
What was your general experience like as a writer with Marvel? Were they increasingly open to featuring different kinds of characters?

Certainly on sexual orientation issues back in that era, they were pretty slow. When I tried to introduce Yoshi Mishima in Starfleet Academy, there was pushback on that — pushback in terms of that I wasn't going to be able to show Yoshi having a kiss. My reaction to that was, "OK. If I can't show Yoshi having a kiss, I'm not going to show anybody having a kiss.”

The character who was originally supposed to be gay was Matthew Decker, the squad leader. It was going to be a role-reversal story, because in the initial issue, it's Matt who is looking askance at having a Ferengi on his team, and doesn't really want to have anything to do with them. Then Matt comes out, and now the Ferengi who was going to be looking askance at him. But Paramount wouldn’t let me make the leader of the squadron gay; they thought that was a bridge too far. If someone was going to boldly go there, it would have to be the TV series or the movies, not the comics. [Paramount controlled the Star Trek television franchise until 2005; both the TV and feature film franchise are currently owned by ViacomCBS.]
I watched a lot of the Trek productions aired until the turn of the century, and it's not like they dealt with the issue as heavily or overtly as he must think either. If there were any allusions to homosexuality on the Treks of the time, they were usually depicted sparingly. One episode that certainly came close, however, was Next Generation's "The Host" in 1991, where Beverly Crusher falls in love with a Trill ambassador named Odan who's really a symbiont residing in a host body, and due to the usual complications, ends up in Will Riker's body briefly, before that has to be abandoned as well, and then winds up in a woman's body. Dr. Crusher decided then that she couldn't keep on with this mind-boggling switcheroo, and so the affair was shelved.
Star Trek takes place in a utopian future where we’re beyond 20th century prejudices. How would you have a written a gay character in that kind of setting?

Well, there's no prejudice in human society — that's why it's Nog the Ferengi who would have had a problem with it. [Nog was introduced on the TV series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.] The Ferengi in particular were always portrayed as extraordinarily sexist, and a sexist society with clearly-defined gender roles is going to have a problem with someone who has varying sexuality. So that's how I was going to play it.
That's awfully funny he'd want to depict human society of the future as throughly accepting of homosexuality, while Ferengi get the negative role. Or, it's rather awkward to depict human society as thinking entirely the same about a lifestyle/belief/ideology. But if we're to talk Star Trek, what really galls me at the moment is the recent news the left-wing novelist Michael Chabon, who was hired as overseer for the Picard series, deliberately sought to alienate Trekkies with stories where several notable characters were put to death, as though after all the developments they received previously somehow made this legitimate. Worst, the show was alarmingly violent, not something the earlier series were known for. Another example of a hypocritical stance these SJWs can maintain on mayhem.
Did you feel any industry-wide impact your characters were having while you were at Marvel?

Not really; I always thought Marvel was a little bit late. DC already had openly gay characters by the time we got around to it, and because we were Marvel it was a big deal when we did it. That goes back to the American misconception that comics are a juvenile medium, and that anything gay is inappropriate for anyone who is not an adult. That's ridiculous, because I was a gay kid — I knew from the age of 5 that I was gay. Just because you're talking about someone being gay doesn't mean you're talking about their sexual practices, or stuff that's inappropriate for a particular age group. But that's hard for some people to wrap their minds around, and the stigma persisted at Marvel certainly longer than it did at DC.
It's not good if comics are depicted or perceived as a juvenile medium (something that also occurred in Europe at one point during the 50s, which he doesn't seem to realize), but that's no excuse for juvenile writing either when you're dealing with a serious topic. Lobdell's X-Men story from 2001 is a particularly notable example of going juvenile. But c'mon, seriously, Cooper knew he was homosexual from that young an age? Hard to believe. It sounds more like a silly boast or a brag. All to justify his apparent belief that homosexuality is suitable for kids. If that's what he's saying, it's shameful, and certainly if he believes sex scenes in an adult movie aren't by contrast.
After you left Marvel, you published the web comic, Queer Nation. Did you find the content restrictions on the internet more freeing?

What restrictions? [Laughs] It was whatever the hell I wanted to do, and I did it. I made the conscious decision myself that I wanted Queer Nation to be R-rated, not X-rated. I didn't want people to feel like they were reading something pornographic — there's plenty of places on the web for that. For me, R-rated meant naked breasts and butts are OK, but no genitalia. And the subject matter was no holds barred: foul language, ridiculous situations, intense political commentary… we did it all. People would react pretty much instantaneously. There really wasn't much in the way of web comics back then, and one of the reasons why I thought a web format was particularly good for Queer Nation is because a lot of LGBTQ people didn’t feel comfortable going into a comic book store. Meanwhile, gay bookstores didn’t know what to do with comics; they ended up gathering dust on a back shelf somewhere. Whereas if you did a web comic, it's immediately available to anybody who wants it, and they don't have to go into public.
Oh please. I doubt that makes sense. It's silly to think LGBT advocates would be reluctant to visit a comics store, or that LGBT bookstores wouldn't have a clue what to do with comics. What they'd be bound to do is sell them, what else? If they want to make money, that's part of it, no?
Are you following any comics or comic book-inspired TV shows right now?

Sadly, I went cold turkey out of necessity, but I’ve picked up a couple of things. I picked up Northstar’s wedding, and I’ve been reading Mags Visaggio, who is a trans comic book writer, and she's getting a lot of traction, which is fantastic. I’m addicted to The Flash on The CW, even though the recent seasons haven’t been quite as good as the earlier seasons. I don’t watch Legends of Tomorrow, but I would if they brought back the guy who played Hawkman, because he was hot. [Laughs] I look at Supergirl every once in a blue moon, and they have a trans actress on that show, Nicole Maines. If that’s not a sign of how far we’ve come, I don’t know what is. My boyfriend and I have also watched a couple episodes of Batwoman, and that character is a lesbian which is great — although I understand [Ruby Rose] isn’t coming back for second season.
Now here's something revealing. He reads this Vissagio's work, despite the latter's reprehensible behavior a few years back? Tsk tsk. And I guess he doesn't care that Brian Vissagio's writings just aren't selling anything, because he's marketing himself based on his transgender ideology, not on writing merit. Speaking of which, a TV show called Vagrant Queen, based on one of his books, was recently cancelled. That sure doesn't say Visaggio's actually making waves.
As with Marvel comics back in your day, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a little slower to integrate LGBTQ characters. Would you love for one of your characters to wind up on the big screen?

That would be awesome! Though it would have be Vicky Montesi, and she's not a superhero — she’s an occult investigator and doesn’t run around in an outfit and fight crime or anything. But if they did a Darkhold series on TV, I’d be so happy. [The Darkhold book did make an appearance on the Marvel series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is currently airing its final season on ABC.] I’d want to be in the writer’s room, goddammit! Let me fetch coffee, I don’t care — just put me in that writers’ room. [Laughs]
I'm wondering if he's hoping his work on Alpha Flight will be reprinted in actual paperback, and not just as bonus extras in at least 2 Marvel specials a decade ago? If they are, it'll be interesting to see what the wider public thinks of a story that was so incoherent. For now, Cooper is virtue-signaling, and it's ludicrous. I'm not surprised no deeper questions were asked, and the focus of this article, and others like it, is just on the fact they confirmed Northstar was meant to be a homosexual character ever since it was hinted at in the 10th issue of Alpha Flight. But if there's no merit in the writing, how can it be significant? Sorry, it can't be, and certainly not with the aforementioned dreadful portrayal of how Major Maple Leaf was dealt with.

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Vagrant Queen has not been cancelled yet, although some tea leaf readers expect it to be; its fate is still up in the air. It has a really charismatic lead actress and a good sense of humor, so hopefully it will get a second season.

" If there were any allusions to homosexuality on the Treks of the time, they were usually depicted sparingly."

Don't forget season 4, episode 5 of Deep Space 9, where Jadzia has a romance with Lenora Knan, one that violates a Trill taboo, not against lesbianism, which no one has any problem with on the show, but against Trills fraternizing with the spouses of a former host of their symbiont. The taboo-switching was an exercise in irony; we see the Trill taboo as weird, and then think about our own.

Major Maple never did any harm to the baby and redeemed himself by the end of the story so it isn't as reprehensible as it sounds. He did break down a wall at the hospital but if everyone who caused property damage in a comic book was jailed there would be no heroes left to walk the streets.

That 106th issue of Elephant Delight was exceedingly awful however. Ugly imitation-Image art, heavy handed writing. As our birder friend said, it wasn't exactly subtle.

"in that era, most lesbians were probably less extreme than some modern ones with anti-male mentality."

There isn't a single lesbian of that era mentioned in the Bible who doesn't have an extreme vicious anti-male mentality.

But what do you make of David and Johnathan, and the love they had for each other surpassing the love of women?

"But what do you make of David and Johnathan, and the love they had for each other surpassing the love of women?"

You sure you've read that story right?


It's more likely to be brotherly love, not sexual love.

To put it another way: Bros before Hos.

Besides, David and Johnathan were married to women, and in the case of David, married multiple times. It's very obvious they were heterosexual, and that if anything, their "love" for each other meant platonic, brotherly love, not homosexual love.

Oh, and had kids as well.

How do you account for all those Greek stories then?

"How do you account for all those Greek stories then?"

Greeks' views of homosexuality are more of a gray area. Put simply, they actually forbade homosexuality as a lifestyle, to the extent that Sodomy, even in Athens and Sparta, was deemed highly illegal among those who were freeborn of ANY age. That said, they tolerated fondling and intercurial intercourse, but solely as something a heterosexual man did on the side. Sodomy was technically allowed with slaves, eunuchs, and male prostitutes, but it was also considered something that would lower one's standing in Greek society. Contrary to what Foucault claimed, it was not considered normal or acceptable even back then.

"Sodomy" is one of the most contrived terms ever. Never appears in the text. The "sin of Sodom" was explicitly stated to be inhospitality. What the men in Sodom were trying to do was rape the guests. (A grievance offense against hospitality and not consensual sex. Not to mention Lot tried to throw his daughter at them.) At one point, "sodomy" was defined as all "non-procreative sex". Now it's been whittled down to a very specific type of sex against a very specific demographic. Hmmmm....

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