I've known Ororo Munroe longer than I've known practically everyone in my life. I first discovered her in X-Men 135 where they were fighting their own errant teammate Phoenix. This was when there was one X-Men title and it was done superbly by scribe Chris Claremont, artist John Byrne and inker Terry Austin. At that time she was very wind goddess trying to reason with an insane White teammate and a dozen issues later after being kidnapped and tortured/imprisoned by Dr.Doom, Storm had her own Phoenix-esque freak out. Claremont was setting up the idea that all mutants, particularly those who manipulated energy, forces of nature could be a threat. A serious threat to others, innocents, not just villains. Through X-Men #140s to the late 160's, Storm was central as a character, becoming co-leader when Cyclops left and she was....changing. We got to see her switch minds with another of my favorites, Emma Frost, the White Queen and learn to manage being a telepath. She was then subjugated by Dracula and then came the seminal shift in her character. The X-Men were in a pitched battle with the underground mutant Morlocks who were vicious in a way, a gritty street way that the X-Men (Nightcrawler, Colossus and Ariel/Shadowcat) weren't ready for. But Storm was.
Storm had grown up a street urchin/.thief in Cairo and had.....skills. No, skills that had been hinted at and used---lock-picking, muscle coordination, cunning---but when Callisto challenged her to a knife fight and arrogantly flung a blade at her....and Storm, ill, beaten and not allowed to use her powers caught the knife like a dark professional---I remember gasping like Callisto did. Storm adroitly killed Callisto (who was later revived.saved by a mutant healer) but Storm, Ms. Gentle Goddess with an attic that looked like the Botanical Gardens aced Callisto for the X-Men's freedom and became the Morlocks leader. But Claremont kept twisting her character until she went all mohawk and embraced her viciousness.....and just when that seemed like the pinnacle, she lost her powers.
And insanely, Storm became a better, stronger X-Men, leader and more dangerous opponent. For me the height of her capabilities was when she fought the shape-shifting Dire Wraiths with her wits and a shotgun to save the life of the man she'd come to love Forge, who was responsible for the weapon that robbed her of her powers. In real time, her de-powering lasted about 40 issues until Forge found a way to restore her powers. But there was a point when no matter the villain, a powerless Storm was a feat to behold, an opponent to be reckoned with. Claremont stayed on for about another 40 issues so she morphed, matured a bit more but then he left over the dispute around too many X titles and too little creativity.
For the past 200 issues of the X-Men she's been lots of things. More often than not goddess, weather mutant and now most recently wife to the Black Panther. Which brings us to the racial miasma around the long white haired, blue eyed mutant. There was a few attempts at racializing her by Claremont and Byrne in the beginning, putting her into a Harlem setting with Luke Cage in an attempt to "Blacken" her. Problematically, none of the writers were Black, nor the artists so their racial perception was a grain above racist, they were somewhere along the lines of White men trying to write authentic Black characters.....yeah, that messy. But then we have to examine the context of comic books which are ultimately White male dominated from characters to creators and primarily therefore geared/marketed towards the population with the most disposable income, again White males. So Storm will always be an African forced through the lens and libido of White men which is why all of her paramours have either been more powerful than her (Akron) or minorities themselves (Forge, Black Panther). What then is Storm to those of us who are brown, of African descent, who want and need heroes and heroines? Sadly, she's a cipher. She's a shell. She's a caricature of a caricature. I could trust Chris Claremont because not only did he care but he seems to be one of those White men who doesn't simply find White men and their peccadilloes fascinating. He's often bringing in characters of varying cultures and races and religions and moralities. But the rest of the stable of White men who've had their pens on Storm? Ehhhh....
In many ways Storm is an embodiment of racism trying to work itself out but only in the sphere of White men, which is why there is so little advancement. She started out as the African thief/urchin rescued and civilized by the patriarchal White man (Professor X), humanized, civilized (she was originally introduce naked and wild)---yes, it was was very Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness. She's since been demoted from team leader to sort of staunch, disconnected royalty---another racial context for the exotic "Other". People of color look at Storm, read about her, see the films, admire the artwork but we have no control over her. There have been one or two comics where the writers and artists have been Black, Halle Berry played her in the X-Men movies and Jill Scott voiced her in the Black Panther cartoon series but Chris Claremont controlled her the longest from X-Men early 100s to the 280s---which is about 17 years and there's been another 10 close to 16 years of this mishmash Storm since.
I recently went wild on Amazon and bought X-Men Forever---all of the issues, Chris Claremont re-imagining the X-Men if he'd never left and picking up the characters and storyline directly afterwards. Read as all the trade paperbacks together with him bringing out all the villains and drama and dialogue and deep thoughts---I mean real writing---I was deeply impressed and nostalgic. But at the same time I was also disturbed at the clunkiness of it, because I have years of "other X-Men" to compare it to. Like looking at a magic trick from backstage.
I stopped buying the X-Men a few years ago---simply too many title, too confusing, too expensive, too many crossovers, too little good writing. It became an exercise in trying to be over the top for the sake of being over the top. I hung in during Grant Morrison's X-Men and bought all of X-treme X-Men done by Claremont and Salvador Larocca but fizzled out soon afterwards. I found that while Claremont had reenergized X-treme X-Men, he was shot in the kneecaps when Larocca left. The X-Men need a committed long term artist of clean, sensual caliber to be really good when an able writer is at hand.
When people become aware of my comic book collection, a few thousand, not nearly as big as it used to be, they often ask me why I didn't continue my teenage aspirations and go into writing comics. Going to college and learning and coming to understand race and literature was a big part of it from a creative point of view. There are also certain characters that are mainstays that I don't care for. But mainly the static control of editors that if you look closely, the characters don't significantly "change" anymore. For about 20 years there was an excitement with Claremont Byrne, Walt & Louise Simonson and others that these people could change. That they were growing up and their powers were altered, their allegiances shifted, their viciousness got ramped up and questioned next to their morals. There was even Storm lashing out at Professor X with a knife in ways that gave hints of slave rebellion. But without legal ownership of the characters, a long standing reputation and therefore carte blanche and the incessant need for change, there's no room for anything new in comics. (It was also why I scrapped several Star Trek novels---there's a writer's bible for the Star Trek universe and nothing essentially changes without a conference room meeting---and that's not how good writing has ever happened.) But as you can see in the Fan Fiction section of this very blog, several years ago I dabbled in some writing of the X-Men.
I also felt it was a White universe with sprinklings of people of color and one of two things would happen. I would spend an inordinate amount of time being the racial translator of characters or I would spend the same amount of time having to juggle White characters instead of other raced ones. It didn't seem like an arena that could be won in. I expect that it's a difficult market to work in because you have to sell 60,000 to 100,000 copies of each issue to keep it on the stands and while that may seem like very little compared to the population, you probably have to times that by 5 or 10 titles, which is what the normal collector buys a month. I went into a comic book store a few weeks ago and tried to figure out how to buy some X-Men titles and the racks were so confusing that I left without buying anything. Also as just a matter of writing ability I could flip through an issue and get the whole story without having to make a $3 investment. In the past you weren't just looking at it, you had to read it as well. Lots of new words and ideas were packed into 20 pages, in many ways they became passive study aides. Even now I use graphic novels and comics with my students to cover spans of history and art and biographical figures and business and ideology. It's pretty good, in fact it's so good I was just talking with a professor about how we both will ramp it up in future classes. There are even aspects of Storm that I will be using for some elements on Africa, pan-Africanism, feminism, lack of feminism, hegemony, all the fun stuff.
But the Storm I grew up with is not quite dead, but more of a zombie. There are occasional flashes but for the most part when the racial marriage happened and now the heavy Africanization occurred, she was forever lost to a White person's projection of race. Isn't it funny that White people think Africans are Black people? isn't it even more funny that Black people want to be Africans but aren't? Isn't it even funnier still that Africans know the difference? Somewhere in the corner of her blue eyes, somehow in the comic multiverse there's a Storm, the wise, sanguine, ruthless Storm who would gently tell us. "I was never Black. Hell, I wasn't even really African either. I was originally created to be some sort of cat hybrid female but that changed. I am and always was the closest thing to a darker White woman who was exoticized with some slapdash Africanness to explain my propensity for cultural confusion, Caucasian features and less clothing. I was never yours, you just thought I was until you could truly see what racial construction in media is."
Thank you for reading,
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