Thursday, 20 April 2017

Comic Review: Northstar


If you put Simon Furman in charge of the sun it would stop coming up in 12 months' time. The man has been cancelled more times than a software update and in 1994, a year when mutants were so hot there was a Bishop solo series, he managed to get a mutant title canned. Alright, it was Alpha Flight and no-one had cared since Johnny Byrne stopped working on it but still, he got a Marvel mutant ongoing cancelled in the mid-nineties. Emerging from this feat was a four-part Northstar mini-series, presumably the company opting to test the character out as a viable solo spin-off and standing out a little due to the smart matching cover design philosophy. Jean-Paul had always been one of the less generic members of Alpha Flight, though as an arrogant speedy mutant he might have stood out a bit better if the company didn't already have Quicksilver doing most of that stuff. Of course, at this point Northstar had gone beyond Flying Canadian Quicksilver thanks to being outed as homosexual a couple of years before, becoming Flying Canadian Gay Quicksilver.

That issue wasn't actually by Furman; X-Men writer of the moment Scott Lobdell was parachuted in for the bombshell, which hadn't been hinted at particularly strongly and would barely be mentioned again for the rest of the title (debate among yourselves whether this was better or worse than Chuck Austen writing the guy so that every other line he had was about how gay he was). This mini-series again makes no real reference to his sexuality - there's a thread that he's being targeted by someone trying to ruin his life by framing him for murder because he's different, but nothing that doesn't fit into the usual mutant rhetoric of nineties X-Men comics. It's hard to fault Furman exactly for this as the reveal was one of Marvel's more shameless promotional stunts, tried out on a backwater book with a character who was hardly prestigious. On the other hand while the dying days of Alpha Flight had a lot going on - notably the focus on the Beta Flight and Gamma Flight teams - to justify a character's sexuality being pushed down the order it really does feel like an elephant in the room, especially as one of the figures threatened by the plot against Jean-Paul is what's strongly hinted to be a female old flame. Basically if you read this book and didn't know Northstar was gay before you wouldn't know after either; there's no clever subtext and no smart attempt to acknowledge it while pointing out that mere orientation makes no difference to his character or actions. It just reads like Furman was unaware of it.

The plot itself is a rather weak smear campaign dogged by its' own inconsequence. The main villain is intentionally revealed to be an absolute nobody but despite the lampshading it's a dull thud at the end of a story full of them. The calibre of such a series is usually told by the guest stars; here as well as an appearance by Heather Hudson there's Weapon PRIME (Alpha Flight's successors who had previously been introduced in the early days of X-Force and thus are a badly named set of Rob Liefield knock-offs) pursuing Northstar while the bulk of the villainy is carried by Arcade. The latter can be a decent villain used in moderation and with the right set of adversaries but at others he's just an excuse to have a bad guy with a convoluted plan (because he can justify all sorts of tropes through being both a hired hand and having an interest in playing with his foes) and ridiculous equipment attuned for prolonging the plot. Here's it's very much the latter and as with the ultimate villain it's worth noting that Arcade bemoaning the F-list villains he hires to keep Northstar busy at one point isn't enough to justify how poor they are. I mean, surely the writer should work to make these guys a threat even if they're terrible.

Throughout all of this Jean-Paul actually manages to be a reasonable lead, even if it naturally takes a lot out of the character if there's no-one for him to spark off and trade barbs with (a few years later Marvel would make the same mistake when they granted Quicksilver a solo series, removing the character from the friction that gained him so much popularity). The art and dialogue is passable but the plot is standard nineties solo mini-series piffle, complete with an incredibly poor and contrived ending. It's an odd book that seems resigned to being a footnote from the start and has the distinct feeling that it was made to satisfy some contractual loophole or another rather than because anyone involved thought it would be a particular success. The covers really are smashing, though.

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