Northstar joins the X-Men, still a jerk.

Uncanny X-Men #508
Jun 2009

This issue of Uncanny continues several plot lines from the previous issue and sets up the main story arc for the next few issues: a confusing mind/body transfer of Psylocke and Kwannon and Betsy Braddock by the Sisterhood. Mister Jeffries appears as a regular member of the X-Men Science team, having joined up in issue #505. Northstar and Aurora also appear, along with Kyle, Northstar’s new boyfriend.

The Science Team gets down to business in this issue, taking an elevator ride down to a lab beneath Greymalkin Industries, the new home of the X-Men in San Francisco. There, they meet up with the geneticist Dr. Kavita Rao, the final member of the team. Once she joins, the international feel to the Science Team really jumps out at you, reminiscent of the All-New, All-Different X-Men line up from Giant Size X-Men #1. Along with Beast and Archangel, we have:

  • Dr. Nemesis from the U.S.
  • Dr. Takiguchi from Japan
  • Dr. Rao from India
  • Mister Jeffries from Canada

I have nothing against Jeffries, but you’d think that if you were looking for a super-smart Canadian scientist to join an international team that Walter Langkowski would be the first choice, not Mister Jeffries. Heck, Reed Richards himself asked Langkowski to help out with Susan’s difficult pregnancy (Fantastic Four #266-8), but for some reason, Jeffries gets the call for the big show this time. Perhaps it’s because he’s a mutant (although neither Takiguchi nor Rao are mutants), or maybe Beast just wants his ability to create machines very fast, or maybe Jeffries is just all-around awesome. You know, he once took out a frakkin’ Tyrannosaurus Rex…, etc.

Once the recruitment drive is over, they get to business on their original mission: to solve the mutant birth crisis. So far, they’ve battled Nazi assassins, blown up sentient Japanese toilets, zapped giant Beach Crabs, oh, and they killed Godzilla too, yeah, not so much mutant birth crisis solving going on there. The team will continue to work on this problem but out of 21 issues where the Science Team appears (at the time of the writing of this post), only 3 have any mention of the mutant birth crisis, including the 2pg spread in this issue.

Greg Land does Mister Jeffries very nicely, and I do like the way he’s traced in this issue and following issues. Unfortunately, Jeffries comes off as a rube, babbling in the elevator and adding only the line, “My brain hurts” to the entire mutant birth crisis discussion. To add insult to injury, his name is misspelled, “Jefferies” in the little intro box.

Northstar returns to the pages of Uncanny in this issue. Having recently been killed (Wolverine v3 #25), resurrected (Wolverine v3 #26) and deprogrammed (X-Men Annual #1 2007), he decides to start “Team Northstar Extreme Snowsports”, the 2009 version of his failed ski career, where he can speed as much as he likes and make a ton of money doing it. He’s shown flying down onto Mt. Shasta in Northern California and performing a ski jump wearing gear and using a snowboard patterned after his classic black and white starburst pattern. We also meet his event planner/unnamed boyfriend for the first time, shown below on the left.

The best of times

Northstar, who is gay, hadn’t been shown in an outright relationship with anyone for the 30 years we’ve known him. This is a significant step forward for Northstar and for gay portrayal in comics, coming a long way from the nasty letters Marvel published after the revelation of Northstar’s sexual orientation in Alpha Flight #106. His unnamed boyfriend’s name would later be revealed in an Official Handbook as Kyle, and this marks his first and only appearance to date.

During a celebration of Northstar’s ski jump victory at a mountain chalet, Aurora shows up. She had not been seen since Secret Invasion: X-Men #2, when she and Northstar helped the X-Men in San Francisco against the Skrull invaders. She’s the COO of the new family business, a bit of a stretch, as her only previous work experience is teaching at a private school. She’s wearing a hat and sweater to match the twins’ classic black and white starburst costumes and Greg Land traces her beautifully.

Here, the writing goes downhill very fast. She brings Logan with her, who invites Northstar to join the X-Men. He then offers the most bizarre apology while wearing one of Greg Land’s creepily inappropriate smiles:

I feel a little bit weird about killin’ you that one time

Logan is of course referring to the unfortunate events of Wolverine v3 #25, when he gutted Northstar against a tree, killing him instantly. This strange mea culpa offered here seems to ignore all the finessed interaction between the then mind-controlled Northstar and Logan that followed in issues #27 and #28. These words not only fall dramatically below the bar set by Mark Millar, but simply don’t make any sense. Why would Logan apologize for something he did while mind-controlled at all?

Northstar completely ignores the mentioning of his own death, and responds to his offer to join with:

This isn’t a gay thing, is it, Logan? The idea of being your mutant queer mascot appeals to me not one bit.

Where the heck did this come from? Fraction already established with the reader that Norsthar was gay in earlier panels with a little dirty talk between him and Kyle, so there was no need for this as exposition. He could have been a bit more subtle about it, like he was with Karma and her lover previously in this issue. Some of the X-Men handled Jean-Paul’s sexual orientation poorly, but Wolverine wasn’t one of them, so this retort just makes no sense.

But that’s not the worst of times, even. Northstar comments on how difficult it was to capture Empath after his wild escape in Uncanny #503:

That’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever heard, and I used to be part of Alpha Flight.

Terrible. True, Northstar wasn’t the happiest camper while he was on the team, and it’s fine for Fraction to mention this while re-introducing the character to the readers, and fine to make Northstar a bit of a jerk, but this awful insult is simply uncalled for and just poisons the entire issue (and Fraction’s entire run on Uncanny as far as I’m concerned) with vituperative bile.

There are some great things about this issue: seeing Jeffries on the Science Team, the return of Northstar and the beautiful Aurora, the neato snowboard, a boyfriend for JP, even a few veiled compliments for Greg Land. But there are also some low points: Jeffries’ childish behavior in the elevator, inexplicable dialogue between Logan and Jean-Paul and finally, that disrespectful Alpha Flight snub. It reminds me of a famous opening passage:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Go direct the other way, Matt Fraction.

Note: this issue has a variant cover

Uncanny X-Men #508 – Wolverine Art Appreciation variant Front cover
Uncanny X-Men #508 – Wolverine Art Appreciation variant Back cover

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2 Responses to “Northstar joins the X-Men, still a jerk.”

  1. Chris Says:

    Aurora does look lovely in that picture. After the events in X-Men Annual #1 2007, didn’t Northstar and Aurora help the X-Men against the Skrull threat in Secret Invasion: X-Men #2 ?

    BTW, I never knew Northstar was gay until someone wrote a letter around issue 100 of Alpha Flight about Northstar. My adolescent brain never picked up all the hints Byrne and Mantlo left about Northstar’s sexuality. I always thought he was just shy around women and that disease he had was tuberculosis.

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