Superheroes in Love: When Rictor Met Shatterstar

Peter David has had a long and remarkable career as a comic book
writer and in that time he’s earned the loyalty of plenty of gay comic fans for
including gay characters in his work.

In his landmark 137-issue run writing The Incredible Hulk, he introduced The Pantheon, including gay
member Hector. In 1999, he won a GLAAD media award for his work on Supergirl, where the outspoken lesbian
comedian Andy Jones turned out to be sharing a body with Comet, the mysterious
guy who inspired a crush in Supergirl.

In the pages of Captain
, he wrote a lesbian relationship for the
sometimes-heroine/sometimes-villainess Moondragon.

What’s notable about David’s inclusiveness is that his queer
characters are usually superheroes themselves and, thus, part of the major
storylines. Their relationships may get overshadowed by plots involving
Earth-born angels or troublesome doubles from alternative universes or timelines,
but they also don’t disappear until the heroes have down time either.

Peter David created queer characters Hector, Andy Jones & Moondragon

Now, David is getting attention from gay comic fans for
confirming the relationship between mutants Rictor and Shatterstar in the pages
of X-Factor. There had been hints
that the two were romantically involved before, but David confirmed the
relationship in X-Factor #45 when the
two shared a kiss.

X-Factor is
relaunching this month with #200, which sees the team moving to New York City and
Shatterstar becoming a full member. We talked with David about where Rictor and
Shatterstar may be heading, what they add to the dynamic of X-Factor, as well as the challenges
Marvel’s first major gay character, Northstar, faced after coming out.

AfterElton:  Could you
describe X-Factor for readers who
might not be familiar with the title?

Peter David: X-Factor
is one of Marvel Comics’ mutant books, of the same category as X-Men. X-Factor goes in a different direction than most of the other
mutant books [and] is essentially a noir-esque title about a group of mutants
who have come together to form a detective company.

They deal with some of the more bizarre and unusual events
that occur in the Marvel Universe. With X-Factor, you don’t have to be an evil
mutant to get their attention; all you have to have is an unusual problem and a
checkbook. They also accept plastic – they take Visa, Master Card and American

AE: And what about Shatterstar and Rictor?

Rictor is one of the founding members of the group. He
is actually a mutant who actually lost his mutant abilities during a companywide
crossover called “House of M” with about 90% of the rest of the Marvel
Universe. He did have earthquake powers, seismic abilities, hence the nickname
of Rictor.

Shatterstar is an inter-dimensional warrior created –
believe it or not – in the future of an alternate dimension called Mojoworld.
He was originally designed to be an asexual or, at least, not interested in
relationships, human sexuality or anything. He was more or less just a killing

In his prolonged exposure to humanity, as frequently happens
in these kinds of stories, that has changed. During his time on another team
called X-Force … he and Rictor had a longstanding relationship with a subtext
to it that a lot of fans picked up on, but wasn’t made explicit until recently.

Rictor (left) and Shatterstar’s relationship has always had a lot of subtext

AE: I was going to ask about that, how Jeph Loeb started off
the relationship in X-Force but he didn’t get to really establishing it and
making it clear. What got you interested in that story in X-Factor?

When you’re working on a team book you’re always looking
for storylines that are going to directly involve your team members. You want
things to have a personal resonance. That’s certainly not uncommon in detective
fiction – how many of Jessica Fletcher’s old friends were suspected of murder?

I was trying to develop a storyline that would be of
specific interest, emotionally, to Rictor and, honestly, a lot of fans were
asking to see Shatterstar return and to see Rictor and Shatterstar pick up
where they left off.

Fans are absolute bears when it comes to unaddressed or
unresolved storylines. They remember information or bits of business from
decades ago. It’s really phenomenal. One of the most asked questions I would
get from fans was, “Are you bringing back Shatterstar? Since Rictor is in the
book are you going to be exploring the relationship?”

I decided, what the hell? It seemed like an interesting
direction to take Rictor [and] it seemed like a particularly well-timed
storyline because Rictor had previously been involved with a character named
Rahne Sinclair, who was most decidedly female, but she had left the team under
very abrupt circumstances. The reason they were abrupt was by editorial fiat
[since] she was brought over to another book, ironically called X-Force, and I
lost the use of the character. Poor Rictor was dealing with the abruptness and
I was not in the position to have him say, “Damn it, if only she hadn’t been
dragged off into another book.”

So he was emotionally vulnerable and suddenly Shatterstar
shows up with their past relationship and I thought “Absolutely perfect timing.
Absolutely could not be better. Maybe these things happen for a reason.”

AE: Strong Guy had an interesting reaction, he kind of
freaked out to realize Rictor was bisexual…

I wouldn’t say he freaked out. Freaking out means to me
screaming, shouting, blurting out totally irrational things. I think he was a
little ‘squeed’ about it.

Really what it comes down to is you think you know somebody
and it was just startling to Guido. What’s interesting is that Guido thinks of
himself as someone who is very liberal and he doesn’t give a damn what people
do in the privacy of their bedroom and he’s perfectly okay with the idea of gay
marriage. We haven’t spelled out all these things but he is someone who has
expressed liberal leanings in his previously stated views. This is the first time
it came up.

I thought it would be interesting to challenge the beliefs
of somebody who is quite sure he has no problems whether someone is gay or not.
Problem is, Guido grew up in a tough neighborhood. He grew up in a neighborhood
where you don’t have gays – quote, unquote. You know that kind of neighborhood,
they don’t have gays and the reason they don’t have gays is because if you are
gay you keep your mouth shut or you’re going to get beat up. That’s the kind of
neighborhood he grew up in.

So the notion that Rictor, who he regards as a guy’s guy,
but not in a gay sense. All of a sudden he’s looking at Rictor and finds
himself – I don’t know – probably put off by the image of Shatterstar and
Rictor having carnal relations, I suppose. He finds himself really put off by
the notion and he doesn’t know why. It’s not something he can put his finger on
and he’s trying to cope with it.

And I think it’s interesting because I don’t think that’s a
character study that’s been perused much in comic books, having a guy who believes
himself having no problem with gays or gay relationships suddenly having a
problem with it.

We’re not going to go to any extreme measures. We’re not
going to have Guido suddenly act out and turn into a raging homophobe. He’s
just going through a serious period of adjustment. Eventually, he’s going to
come around and come to accept Rictor and Shatterstar. For now, though we’re
seeing his reactions to it and the way Guido tends to react to things are
twofold. Number one, he jokes about it and number two he starts hitting stuff.

AE: I remember reading you say that you were going to
explore – “liberal hypocrisy” is how you phrased it – with Guido. I guess he
has more of a journey to go?

Yeah, he does and why not? I think it’s an interesting
journey for him and it’s not like he’s going to get into a slugout with
Shatterstar because he has no reason to. He does feel a little bit threatened
by Shatterstar’s presence because Guido’s whole thing is that he’s the fighter,
he’s the strong guy, as it were. He’s the principle warrior of the group and
suddenly he feels a little bit upstaged by Shatterstar who can do much of what
Guido can do.

X-Force member Guido (a.k.a. Strong Guy)

AE: Do you have much planned for Shatterstar and Rictor now
that they’re back together?

Rictor isn’t entirely sure where he stands. He’s “come
out”, so to speak and he’s really come to terms with where he wants to go in
his life and events will come up where he’s not very sure where he stands with

The last thing you want do to a comic book is present a
relationship that’s perfectly fine and perfectly good and nobody’s having problems
because, where’s the conflict in that? Where’s the interest in that? The cliche
I am going to avoid is killing off one of them. That always seems to be a way
to deal with a gay relationship, somebody dies.

The problem is that virtually any happy relationship that
occurs in comic books, somebody seems to die, particularly when it’s a major
character and they’re involved with someone who is not a major character. Frequently the person gets killed off to
provide angst to the character.

Unfortunately, when that happens with gay relationships, all
of a sudden you get tagged with being against gay relationships. So you’re
dealing with a delicate needle that needs to be threaded. I mean, Russell
Davies in writing Doctor Who [Editor’s
note: this was actually Torchwood] has been accused of being homophobic or
hating gay relationships and the man is gay. I mean, what the hell are we
talking about? But he was accused of that because he killed off a gay
character. It becomes problematic sometimes.

AE: To some degree, I think there’s sensitivity there
because there hasn’t been enough positive examples…

And I can absolutely, totally understand that. I totally
get that. Unfortunately, sometimes it can make writers want to shy away from it
because why take on something directly that, as you say yourself, people are
sensitized about? It can wind up tying your hands and not in a fun way.

Fortunately, with Shatterstar and Rictor both of them are
major enough characters in the Marvel Universe that we have no intention of
knocking off either one. Besides which, it’s … more fun to take that tool out
of the box. [It’s] much more fun to come up with interesting ways to create
angst than falling back on “Well, let’s kill off a character.”

AE: It seems like they’re both in very different places
emotionally. Shatterstar, this is his first relationship, right?

It is his first relationship, it’s his first major
emotional relationship but my attitude and the way I’m approaching the
character is that it’s his first relationship but it’s coming as a result of
certain feelings being unleashed within him that he did not know were there

To a certain degree, finding the full measure and attraction
of human relationships, to go with the cliche, it’s almost like he’s a kid in
the candy store. He’s got this relationship going with Rictor and he’s
fulfilled and isn’t it great and – but, boy, there’s a lot of people out there
and there’s a lot of different ways that relationships can be approached. Now
he’s suddenly finding himself going from zero to sixty in a very short period
of time. Even though he has tremendous feelings for Rictor, because of
everything that’s been stirred within him, to me it seemed natural for him by
the same token to say ‘What else is out there?’ as well.

His attitude could very well be, “Rictor, there’s so much
out there, explore it with me.” Which will have Rictor going “But I’ve done
that, I’ve explored other relationships. I want to explore this one with you.”
So you’ve got two different guys who are in two different places in their

I think that will be tremendously interesting because,
again, this is not something that’s been explored a great deal – at least, not
to my knowledge in comics. And I’m talking, you understand, about superhero
comics. There is a plethora of comic books out there written by gay writers and
produced by gay artists that speak directly to various gay issues and emotions.
The thing is, I’m a straight writer writing superheroes, so I’m bringing my
point of view which is not going to be the same as someone who is gay. It’s
just not.

That said, I think I understand human emotions. I think I
understand relationships and I’ve been in places in my life where I’ve been
anxious to explore various possibilities. I think from my personal experience,
I bring something to the party.

AE: A few years after Northstar came out you had Hector in
the pages of The Hulk, who got to be
outspoken about gay issues while Northstar faded. What was the difference
between the two characters, that they got different results on the page?

Understand that this was like twelve, thirteen years ago
so I’m trying to remember what my motivations were at the time. The trick with
Hector, the problems I ran into was that right around the time that I was going
to reveal Hector as being gay – and really it was for no other reason than to
have a gay member of The Pantheon, because ‘Why not,?’ That was really my
attitude. What made things tricky was when Northstar came out, the timing could
not have been worse because he came out on a slow news day.

When you really get down to it, the concept of a fictional
character announcing that he’s gay should not be national news. He’s fictional.
It’s like Dan Quayle saying that Murphy Brown’s actions are a poor guide to
single mothers. She’s fictional. But nevertheless, it wound up making national
news and blowback from that came as a result of a major retail chain – and I’m
not refusing to name it because I’m trying to cover their asses, I’m refusing
to name them because I don’t remember … as they say, “I didn’t know there’d be
a quiz.”

This major retail chain informed Marvel they were going to
cease carrying – and this just gives you an idea of the kind of homophobia that
pervades corporate America – they informed Marvel they were going to cease
carrying any mutant toys because they didn’t want to risk being associated with
this gay mutant who was being talked about on CNN, which is bizarrely hilarious
or ironic or sick, depending on how you want to look at it when many people
perceive mutants in the Marvel universe as a metaphor for how gays are treated
in the United States of America. Because Northstar outed himself in the pages
of Alpha Flight, they didn’t want any mutant-related toys. They wouldn’t sell
Wolverine in their stores. They wouldn’t sell Wolverine action figures because
of the taint, which was insane. Particularly when you consider there were no
Northstar toys at the time.

AE: And Alpha Flight and The X-Men, they’re not very… I
wouldn’t say they’re not connected but they’re separate franchises.

They first appeared in the pages of X-Men but it’s not like they interact, it’s not like there are huge
numbers of Alpha Flight members in the X-Men.
There were none.

As a result, word came down from Marvel on high not to do
anything remotely controversial in the pages of any Marvel books. As a result,
all I could do – I was planning to have Hector be very candid because my
attitude was “What’s the big deal?” That was really the whole point, to have a
gay character as a member of the Pantheon and it wasn’t a big deal.

But because … it became something of a big deal, I couldn’t
have him be explicitly gay for quite some time, for a couple of years. And then
there were changes, as always happens with these things, there were changes to
the higher-ups, there were changes to editorial thinking and eventually… the
ban on doing anything controversial was lifted and you can pretty much time it
to the moment that it happened because I had Hector have a direct conversation
with another member of the Pantheon who was blatantly homophobic. It was a more
ham-handed, less subtle treatment than what I’m now doing in the pages of X-Factor.

Lyle Masaki is a fan of obscure superheroes, video games, adorkable guys and that show you loved that got cancelled way too soon.