Getting To the Floor of All This…Writing Rictor/Shatterstar
Debatably one of the most controversial pairings from 90’s era Marvel comics, Rictor and Shatterstar are still the topic of fan arguments even nine years after their last on panel appearance together. Were they, or weren’t they? Their chemistry is absolutely undeniable, and they had more than six years of subtext to back up fan claims.
Part One - Introduction
They are ticking time bombs of violent, convoluted, explosive teenage angst. They are so right, yet constantly treading into dangerous territory. They complement each other, infuriate each other, and depend on each other. There are so many aspects of this complex relationship that make them so easy to love, and even easier to love to read – which, in turn, can make writing them a challenge.
Julio Esteban Richter is a former mutant from
Shatterstar is a little more complicated. An alien/human half-breed hailing from one hundred years in the future from a dimension called Wildways (Mojoworld), he’s one mystery after another. He has a very convoluted and confusing past, but one thing for certain is that he’s a warrior at heart. Raised to fight in gladiator style arena games, Shatterstar was hardened and closed off from society for his entire childhood. It was not until he had managed to escape and join his world’s rebellion army that he was able to make it to Earth. Blasted back to the past and through a new dimension, Shatty was left to fend for himself and adjust to Earth's customs and traditions. His inability to socialize made his adjustments awkward, but he had managed to make himself a few friends. And through these relationships his character began to blossom into an emotional being for the very first time. It was these emotions that sent him over hurdle after hurdle after hurdle. It was also these emotions that brought upon controversy amongst his and X-Force’s fans.
With back stories as complicated as these, one may need a full length explanation. betterthanlegos wrote an excellent and the most complete biography on Rictor’s character on the net. That can be found here. Shatterstar may need more explanation than even Ric, so a detailed biography on his past and origins can be found here.
Part Two - History
As friends, their relationship started within the pages of classic X-Force; they met and spoke for the very first time in issue #14 (1992). Rictor and Shatterstar seemed to get along well from the get go, as their very first mission together had them fighting side by side. Rictor went as far as battling his ex-girlfriend in a fit of anger because Shatterstar had been hurt on the field. While they still managed to bicker and banter with each other over the course of many issues, they always stuck up for each other and made it a point to look out for one another.
Their friendship only progressed as every other member of the team found themselves involved in romantic relationships with one another. Rictor and Shatterstar were the odd men out, yet neither seemed to mind. Both were the team hotheads that seemed to get themselves into trouble wherever they went. They were always at the frontlines of X-Force's battles, and managed to get away with pairing off together for missions. The more they hung out together, the more Shatterstar seemed to pick up on things and adjust amongst the humans on his team. And, in turn, Rictor seemed more comfortable amongst ranks that he had at one time felt he did not belong in. Together they helped each other blossom and grow, and their personalities came alive as they bounced off of each other. One as the voice of reason, one as the crusader; one as the attacker, one as the defender; one as the teacher, and one as the learner; they complemented each other so well that all progression in their relationship thrived naturally.
It was only a matter of time before things got more personal. When Rictor’s family had an emergency, Shatterstar was the first person Ric ever spoke to about them. Most astonishing was that Shatterstar revealed that he had spent some time learning Ric’s native language, Spanish, just so that they could have such personal conversations together. Julio was shocked at the revelation, but did not appear to be put off by it. Shatty was able to gain insight into things Julio had been through as a child, and even though family matters were still a great confusion for him, he was very open-minded and supportive of his friend in his time of need.
It was just a few issues later when the tables turned. Rictor had managed to talk Shatterstar into a night on the town. They went to a loud, smoke filled dance club to let loose and unwind. Shatterstar was not at all comfortable in such an environment; large crowds, bright lights, and loud noises only reminded him of his time in the arenas on his home world. Since the poor guy was trying so hard to fit in as a human, resurfacing memories of his days as a killer only upset him. It also didn’t help that the naturally attractive alien had girls pawing over him on the dance floor. When one girl managed to feel him up, he fled the club in terror. Being the good buddy that he was, Rictor instantly chased him out of the place for a chat. Shatterstar confessed to Ric that he had never ‘been’ with a woman before. Rictor easily admitted that he hadn’t either, and then asked him if he 'had what it takes'. Shatterstar informed him that, yes, his ‘bioengineered’ body came equipped with a working package, but revealed that he didn’t ever think he had the emotional abilities required to partake in sex. Until that very night, that is. Emotions burned within him, and they confused him. But Rictor calmly and gently told him that he would help him get over whatever he needed to do in order to understand. That they could work on it ‘together’.
Unfortunately, a year long Marvel crossover got in the way of that happening.
After the Age of Apocalypse ended, X-Force’s
Shatterstar accompanied Julio to the airport to catch his flight. The trip had only caused more heartache for our poor alien, and he once more bargained with his buddy to stay. He poured out his heart and wondered what he would do without him. Rictor appeared to get increasingly emotional as well, and assured ‘Star he would be fine. Julio did end up flying back home, but not before promising that he would come back. Before Shatterstar could even leave the airport, he managed to get himself shot by attacking a crook in a fit of rage.
While Ric settled things at home, Shatty was stuck in the med bay to think about the consequences of his actions. Hints of his past began popping up, and in order to avoid any conflict, Shatterstar began a crusade to prove himself a worthy fighter once more. During this time Shatterstar managed to get himself into a world of endless trouble with enemies, and his conflicts only managed to complicate his past some more.
However, a few events that had transpired during his time without Ric provided some of the hardest evidence to support their ‘relationship’. The first began with Shatty passing by the dance club they had previously gone to. A woman outside asked him out for a date, and he politely turned her down. Only a few steps away, he mused longingly about his missing friend and stepped in on a gay bashing.
A few issues later was the appearance of an infamous narrative box. Another team mate, Warpath, had gone missing as well, much to the chagrin of Shatty’s female friend, Siryn. The two found themselves sparring together in an empty church one night, and the bottom of a panel read as follows:
“She has lost Warpath. He has lost Rictor. Both see these missing team mates as friends. Both too stubborn to admit that they might mean more than that.”
Shatterstar continued his wistful thinking, but his past finally caught up with him. An omnipathic being known only as the Gamesmaster had managed to muck around with his memories, and Shatterstar could no longer tell who his thoughts belonged to. He was caught between thinking of himself as a Mojoworlder and as a human boy known only as Benjamin Russell. His issues began to make his X-Force work slip, and Cable finally had enough. Shatty was brought to a safe house and interrogated by his team mates, but it did not go down without his best friend showing up to bring a little light back to his dark days.
Their reunion was touching and momentous. They greeted each other with physical contact and beaming grins despite all that was going on, and Ric – once again – promised they would work on their problems together. They travelled to the Institute where Benjamin Russell's body supposedly was, but Shatterstar only ended up getting kidnapped in the process and sent back to his home world. Rictor was absolutely devastated at the loss, showing for the first time that the personal feelings were not completely one sided. Julio threatened, yelled at, and insulted his team and even helpful allies such as Longshot and Doctor Strange because they were not working hard enough to find his friend. But Shatty had been tossed into the clutches of the villain Mojo, and was forced into playing out a supposed destiny. The lore read that he would be the martyr saviour of his home world, and that it was the day he was meant to die. Once again, Rictor was completely devastated, and demanded they find a way to save him. X-Force, with the help of Dr. Strange, managed to make their way to Mojoworld. However, they were too late.
When they arrived, Shatterstar and Cable (who had followed ‘Star’s captors through a portal through the dimension) had already been thrust into an arena simulation. Mojo tricked Shatterstar into a fight and managed to mortally wound him on the battle field. Rictor watched on as his friend began to die onscreen, and began to destroy the building around him with his powers. He claimed that he would do anything to get him back, including splitting the entire planet in half with his seismic powers to do it. But the former villain, Spiral, managed to find a way to bring Shatty back to life. She took Longshot and Siryn with her to grab his body and merged it with that of Benjamin Russell to reinstate his life force. (Very confusing, I know, but I go into much more detail in Shatterstar’s bio linked above if you’re curious to read more).
When the boys were reunited, Rictor was positively relieved. We were then treated with a sweet panel of them holding hands under the moonlight.
It was stated by former X-Force writer Jeph Loeb and certain X-editors that this event was originally planned to be the incident that started Ric and ‘Star’s romantic relationship. However, Loeb left the book and the next writers decided not to finish the story line. (The source for this fact can be found at this interview here.) John Francis Moore only allowed the boys to appear on panel together four more times. He decided to send Rictor back home to
Later, Ric and 'Star got an Annual dedicated to them. This book had a lot of hints at a possible relationship as well, including the boys cracking jokes together and sharing a hotel room (one with only one bed drawn in a room where they were staying, with very little clothes on, go figure). They were hired to take on mutant experiments for a man who at one time had been X-Force’s foe. When Ric and Shatty found out who was behind it, they instantly rebelled against the company. However, X-Force showed up to stop them. Rictor and Shatterstar had zero interest in following their former team’s commands, and took off together to finish their task without caring much whose feelings they hurt in the process. A violent battle ensued and they managed to free the slaves, but not without making a few difficult choices that resulted in death. The boys left feeling a bit down, but had each other to continue on with their brigade. (It was also in this annual that we learned Rictor had returned Shatterstar’s earlier favor and learned the alien’s native tongue, the language of the Cadre Alliance. This was even more personal for them, as no one else on Earth knew how to speak it.)
Unfortunately, this was the last time they appeared in a 616-verse book together. For whatever reason, they both later showed up separated and on new teams; Rictor joined X-Corp Paris, and Shatterstar moved to Madripoor (and later re-joined X-Force).
Their tie was not forgotten, however. After M-Day, Rictor was depowered and joined Jamie Madrox’s X-Factor Investigations. Some time after his joining, he found himself in a bar with his boss, cracking jokes about the fact that Jamie had ‘accidentally’ slept with two female teammates. Rictor joked that he had slept with the former mutant Quicksilver (Pietro Maximoff) and proceeded to say:
”…not that the guy/guy thing is…it’s just that Pietro is semi-evil and—gimme a little credit, huh?”
Jamie goes on a tangent about the state of his team and admits to Rictor that he doesn’t know what’s real or not anymore. Rictor just smugly states with a smirk that at least he and Pietro aren't an item, and Jamie quickly points out that it’s probably a good thing – because he wouldn’t want to make Shatterstar jealous. The statement shocks Ric and he spits his beer in Madrox’s face.
While the implication was definitely a teaser, Rictor’s sexuality still remains ambiguous. Neither man has been officially outed as either gay or bi-sexual, but since writers know of the controversy it creates among fans, they continue to write teasing and make jokes.
A few issues following the famous bar scene, Rictor ended up in bed with his ex-girlfriend. However, it was later revealed that the instance was only the result of a temporary power flare up caused by an altercation with Quicksilver (in an interview here). Nothing came of the night, however, and once again Rictor has been the subject of a few throwaway gay jokes. Still, his bi/hetero/homosexuality status is up in the air, while Shatterstar remains an even bigger mystery.
Part Three – Writing the Boys
Because Rictor/Shatterstar is a ‘pairing’ of the 90’s, a lot of present day fans have relied on the sources of the internet to fuel their interest. The boys are often credited by slash fans as being one of their first slash ships, and photo sharing, message boards, fan sites, and fan fiction have allowed for a much better exposure of this obscure pairing to the newer generation of fans.
That being said, hard-to-find comic issues can definitely be just as much an obstacle for a fanfic writer as writing a character with an insanely long history. Since these two boys were never actually X-Men and only appeared in supporting cast books, it makes it even more difficult to keep their continuity pieced together.
Shatterstar’s past is usually the biggest problem. Due to how complicated in nature it is, it’s no wonder. In order to fully understand where he comes from, one has to fully understand other Mojoworld characters (Longshot, Spiral, etc) and their back stories, and piece together lines and panels from each of them. For writing fanfic, keeping to the basics is easiest. It has been established that Shatterstar is a genetic half breed (half human, half Mojoworlder), and it has been confirmed he grew up on Mojoworld. Benjamin Russell mess aside, understanding at least the surface of Shatty’s upbringing is important in grasping his character. The events that transpired in his past are what make him who he is today: why he acts the way he does, talks the way he does, and reacts to the things the way he does. Since we know that he has a tendency to resort to violence, was held captive as a slave, and had zero exposure to human socialization, we know that these three things are going to come into play at some point or another. Since his time on Earth has obviously helped him understand the wrongness of his past, it's best to approach these flaws from a psychological standpoint. Make them known in narration or as subconscious reflexes and actions when faced with distressing situations. These aspects of his upbringing will always affect him, even as he tries to adapt to more Earth-friendly behaviours. His struggle to move forward from his past and accept his new roles as he adapts to Earth is very important. It's that balance and the fine line between the two that will determine which direction you care to take his character.
Shatterstar was born with superhuman learning capabilities. Because of this, learning is an ongoing process. His attention span is very short, and he strives to keep himself occupied by developing new skills and abilities. He relies on books, computers, television, and especially the other people on his team to absorb information. Curiosity is the key with him; he questions everything. If you combine his alien status with his personality, Shatterstar either comes off as humorous and endearing or rude and tactless, even if he doesn’t mean to. His naïveté is a big driving force behind this curiosity, and is also a major personality quirk. That being said, his naïveté is usually where it’s easiest to go wrong with his characterization. He is naïve only because he is alien; he is not at all stupid. Shatterstar absorbs knowledge like a sponge soaks up water, so it’s very important to differentiate between that naïveté and his intelligence. Naïveté can also easily be overdone. Shatterstar has his moments, but they don’t happen all of the time.
Where this inexperience will play the biggest role as it pertains to Rictor is how Shatterstar embraces his feelings for him. One of the driving forces in their relationship is how Rictor always went out of his way to help his friend with problems, and how Shatterstar constantly struggled with the emotional backlashes as a result of it. Rictor is the only person Shatterstar was ever willing to share his especially personal difficulties with. And while Rictor has many emotional issues himself, he never turned away from helping Shatterstar with his. That being said, Rictor is very aware of what ‘Star’s limitations are. He doesn’t push him to do things he doesn’t want to do, and, in turn, never stops him from doing what he wants. Ric is encouraging and supportive of him, and that is something to keep in mind while writing Shatty’s emotional struggles. They are basically something he gets advice for and then deals with on his own; he values Rictor's input but acts on his own accord.
Everything comes down to progress. Shatterstar’s battle with his emotions started during his first appearances and is still continuing to drive his character to this day. When Rictor left him for a few months to go back home, Shatterstar did not fully grasp the reasons for Ric leaving. All he knew was that certain actions made him feel a certain way. He felt sad, hurt, lonely, and he missed him, but that does not automatically mean that he fully understood that he was in love with him. The narrative box in XF #56 stated he was much too stubborn to accept the fact that his feelings had progressed to something more. When Rictor returned from
What it comes down to with them is major events. They can both be very stubborn and socially awkward, so it was usually a particular incident that forced them into their most personal moments. Shatty is able to identify his emotions by associating them with events and behaviours. It’s a process that involves him analyzing and piecing things together. He does not take to changes or lack of control well. He needs to act on his terms. There has to be a degree of logic and control behind his actions, or else he will practically fall apart at the seams (as seen when he went through the Benjamin Russell mess).
Rictor, while very different in that regard, can be difficult for other reasons. Throughout the pages of X-Force he never made a stab at ‘Star for being bizarre or different. He got along with him and accepted him despite his quirks, and only ever got annoyed with him when he was rude (i.e. stealing the remote without asking). It was most likely his open-mindedness that prompted Shatty to go to him with his problems in the first place. Rictor’s main issues involve his insecurities, his impatience, and his mood swings. He feels the constant need to prove himself to everyone as a way to hide his massive self-esteem problems. This has caused him to look for fist fights, create ridiculous amounts of damage during missions, and talk back to his team leaders. In his relationship with Shatterstar, he would have to deal with the fact that he is involved with someone bigger, stronger, faster, and more intelligent than he. Shatty keeps him on his toes and always striving for more. Very rarely did Rictor ever let ‘Star see these insecurities. He wanted to be the best he could be to his friend, which was most likely why he liked to help him so much. It made him feel needed and important, which in turn would give him confidence. Shatterstar was the one character that always managed to bring that out in Julio.
The mood swings are another major aspect of Ric’s character. These usually came about whenever he was told to do something that he did not want to do, or if something very personal came up (like his family). It was rare for him to take these out directly on Shatterstar (as ‘Star would just as quickly put him back in his place), but these often result in unnecessary drama, or in more extreme cases, Rictor taking off and running away. His intentions are almost never to directly come out and hurt someone, but instead his behaviour is more of a defense mechanism. His ‘spazzing’ or complaining is often just a means for him to guard against those insecurities that always seem to nag at him. So, in conclusion, Rictor's problems are usually internal dilemmas that cause him to act unpredictably rash. He has a very wide range of emotions, behaviours, and stances but they are almost always dealt with in extremes. When he is happy, he is very happy. When he is mad, he practically rages. When he is sad, he can brood for days, etc.
Of course, that is not to say that the boys never have problems with each other. They would hardly be true friends if they didn't. Rictor’s erratic and explosive behaviour tends to send mixed signals to Shatterstar, and it can confuse him. On the other hand, Shatterstar’s stubbornness and unwillingness to adapt to change so easily can often fuels Rictor’s impatience. Between the two of them, sometimes it appears as though messages are sent but and not fully received. Miscommunications and insecurities are much more likely to be major sources of conflict between them rather than something like disloyalty, betrayal, or dishonesty.
For however bizarre and messed up the two of them can be, their conflicts with each other are strangely simple. Their problems result from fear and misunderstanding. They are insanely protective of each other as well as their relationship; they have never shown any shame or awkwardness about their closeness, yet they’re much more inclined to keep their business to themselves. Worry and concern for the other will always exist, but both have the utmost confidence in the other's abilities. And it’s that concern and confidence that they have in each other that drives them to resolution.
It can be a long, drawn out process for them sometimes, but when they find the time to put their bigheadedness aside to analyze and learn from one another, they always seem to find their way back to making things right between them.
Part Four – Conclusion
Despite being obscure and estranged in the present, these two continue to cause talk and speculation amongst fans. However, one could argue that the curiosity is what makes them so interesting. This pairing saw its strongest moments during a time when homosexuality in comics was not entirely accepted. They were one of the first couples of its type to strain that barrier, and the fact that they did not fit the general mold of the homosexual stereotype made them all the more interesting. Ric and 'Star are just two messed up guys that can go so quickly from being intense, violent and extremely dangerous, to being so obscenely loyal, devoted, and admired by each other. There’s so much evidence supporting them already that canon provides all the building blocks for a fanfic writer to pick up on and run with.
Despite the fact that Marvel seems determined to keep them apart for the time being, fans still hold onto hope that these two will be brought back together eventually. Their relationship is such a rich part of each character’s history, and there’s so much more to be explored. In the meantime, fanfic writers get a field day with the arsenal of material to use.