For reasons that should be obvious, Storm is one of my favorite X-Men and favorite Marvel characters besides. However, there is one reason that stands out above all the others: she is unapologetic. Going through Ororo Munroe’s publication history, all the way back to her 1973 origin story, one finds few examples where Storm caves to feeling sorry for any part of her identity. Storm is unapologetically Black, unapologetically African, unapologetically a woman and a leader, and unapologetically powerful.
While she lacks a well-developed rogues’ gallery as an individual, she stands out among the female X-Men as largely not having been portrayed as some kind of embarrassing stereotype. She is not Jean Grey, constantly out of control, shuttled back and forth between men who have no idea how to treat women, and dying every other week. She is not Psylocke, characterized by her crippling identity issues. Beyond other comparisons, she never guilts herself for her childhood trauma, which includes a near-rape and a jet plane crashing into her home and happening to orphan her, by the by, or the pursuant claustrophobia she was left with.
Storm’s entire persona is very Riot Grrrl. She’s here, the elements marshal their infinite might at her command, get used to it. As with the Riot Grrrl movement of the 90s and the female punk and post-punk musicians of the 70s and 80s that preceded it, Storm comes and an ethos of Black female power and expression follow in her wake. What better personification of this than 80s Storm?
If you don’t recall, or haven’t seen, this Storm, she’s the one with the mohawk and the leather cut. The one who looks like a total badass. Now, Storm has always had a striking image (see the references below this paragraph), but the combination of the all-black outfit with Storm’s ever-impressive white hair (and the obvious visual contrast between her hair and her dark skin) makes for an instant classic. At least that’s true in hindsight. When the new do and the butch-biker look were first introduced (Uncanny X-Men, # 173), no one thought it would stick, much less become an icon. Artist Paul Smith called it “a bad joke gone too far … I knew that they were going to cut the hair, so as a joke I put a Mr. T mohawk on her. Louise Simonson (editor) had opined that:
‘We’re gonna get hung [sic] no matter what we do, so let’s commit the crime!’ So we went with the mohawk … But once you get into the whole leather and stud thing it was a bad joke that got way out of hand.
It’s remarkable, then, that after a detour from this look in the 90s and 2000s, which I think represents more of a return to the original Ororo Munroe look, it’s made something of a comeback. There have been a number of pop culture references to the punk rock Storm, like in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, where the costume made for some pretty sweet DLC. The mohawk now seems a standard part of the Storm visual. From the frankly rather frightening depiction of Storm in Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis to her new black costume, prominently featured in the pages of X-Men Vol. 4, it’s clear that new costumes are being influenced by the 80s Storm look. It’s probably my favorite throwback around (with the possible exception of Norse religion, with which Storm is not entirely unfamiliar).
But what’s more important is that this particular iteration of Storm came at a time when the authors weren’t really sure what to do with her. The 80s were a period of experimenting with giving Storm deeper relationships. It’s during this time that her closeness with Black Panther is really established, and this is when her intimacy with Forge blossoms. Before the 80s run is over, Storm is in a position to lead the X-Men. Awkward as her new costuming and personality may have been at first, this run is where the reader comes to accept Storm as a wise, savvy, powerhouse.
80s Storm is so great to me because she’s full of possibilities. One of my greatest regrets about the X-Men film series, besides how much I despise Famke Janssen, was the casting of the simpering Halle Berry as Ororo Munroe. That particular series did a real disservice to Storm as a character, especially among those who never read the comics or saw the 90s cartoon. But right now, with Storm establishing herself as the matriarch, if not the leader, of the flagship title’s most recent set of X-Men, and with her in her own title, there’s the possibility for a renaissance. Much of the Storm title is based on history that was developed in the 80s mohawk era, particularly what’s covered in #3.
That’s the Storm that we’re starting to get back. Not the former Queen of Wakanda, not the young pickpocket or the amnesiac. What we’re getting is the badass Black woman who takes no prisoners without losing her sense of ethics, who protects her family at all costs. I’m hoping for more movement in this direction because despite the recent strides in representation being made in all corners, alongside some notable backslides, Black women aren’t getting their due. Especially Black women outside the straight-hair, light-skinned, universal appeal category. That’s a real shame, given the truly prodigious number of Black superheroes in the Marvel canon.
I’m hoping for films that one day live up to the diversity found in Marvel’s pen-and-paper offerings. I know that’s a stretch, but given the direction that Storm is moving in, there’s more and more material for a film, more and more villains and heroes with deeper relationships. There are now a million opportunities for the MCU to put Storm in the spotlight. I have some hope for X-Men: Apocalypse, but I’m unsure how to express my skepticism about their pick for the new Storm (Alexandra Shipp) without getting into ugly color politics. As the ever-eloquent Ta-Nehisi Coates put it:
Hollywood can’t bring itself around to cast someone who looks like the Kenyan woman Storm actually is. This isn’t a matter of fanboy accuracy, but white supremacy. In another world, where Lupita Nyong’o’s dark is unexceptional, where her speech on beauty isn’t needed, this discussion wouldn’t be necessary.
There’s a bravery, a Blackness, and a force of will to Riot Grrrl Storm and to the Storm of the 2010s that the larger Marvel fan audience hasn’t been exposed to, and it seems that may not ever be so. I’m all right with the fact that the comics are always going to be better and more diverse than the films, but this is somewhere that a lot of ground could be broken. They could put a dark-skinned Black woman in film and explore an incredibly rich origin story as well as one of the most functional leaders the X-Men have ever had. With the connections to Black Panther and Wakanda, they could put Afrofuturism in front of a bigger audience than it’s ever had. They could do it all in leather, and that would be just, oh so punk rock.