It’s the second week in February and thus the second week of Black History Month. Thus I thought I’d do a piece on the first black woman superhero, Ororo Munroe!
Join me under the cut!
The All-New, All-Different X-Men!
So, a brief re-cap of the history of the X-Men. Way back in the sixties, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had just created most if not all of the legendary Marvel Comics line-up. The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, Doctor Doom… just about everybody at that point. Compared to DC, these comics were knew and exciting genre busters, combining superheroics with tropes from monster comics, romance comics, and general teenage angst.
The X-Men, coming about at the end of this era, was not the culmination of this. Sure, it had all the elements that had gone into Lee and Kirby’s previous work. The team was composed of teenagers, kind of like Spider-Man. Except they didn’t have to deal with his real world problems, like a sick aunt or the need for a job. Sure, some of the X-Men were kind of monstrous, like the Thing. Except Beast wouldn’t be blue at this point and Angel’s mutation was wings. Not some of the weirder mutations we’d see later and not nearly as monstrous as the Thing. There was romance, but it was kind of dull compared to the other heroes shenanigans.
And, perhaps most surprisingly, is the near-total absence of the civil rights metaphor that the X-Men became known for. Magneto was a generic Doom knock-off without any of his later noble characteristics like fighting for the rights of mutant-kind. And, for that matter, he lacked pretty much all of Doom’s more noble characteristics, too.
The X-Men fizzled. They were cancelled and eventually revived as a re-print title. But in the Seventies that all began to change…
Len Wein and Dave Cockrum!?! Who The Heck Are These Guys?
Everybody knows about the legendary Chris Claremont, the guy who wrote the X-Men for sixteen (!) years. Most people know about artist John Byrne, the guy who drew some of the X-Men’s most famous arcs such as The Dark Phoenix Saga. Together they are credited with reviving the X-Men and introducing us to such legends as, well, Storm. But it’s not quite true.
In fact, all of the All-New, All-Different X-Men were created by a different pair. Specifically, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum. Len would create Wolverine as a Hulk villain before moving him to the X-books (this was back when Marvel actually had a shared universe and wasn’t constantly shunting one or the other property off to the side for movie deals. Or killing them in job lots during events). Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler were all created by this duo, and explicitly for the X-Men.
And that team, lead by Cyclops, saved the X-Men. All the team members (‘cept Wolverine, he had to wait until Frank Miller of all people got a hold of him before he became cool) were instant hits, and few were a bigger hit than Storm.
The Weather Witch
On the surface of it, Storm is an unlikely candidate for a breakout character in the Seventies. On the one hand, she is a powerful black woman, which you would think piss off white audiences of the time. On the other hand, Dave Cockrum designed her to have black, white and Asian features which you would think would lead to all kinds of accusations from the black community, and a general sense that she wasn’t ‘black’ enough. So, why did Storm become the icon she has?
Well, being able to kick tremendous amounts of ass helped a lot. Len Wein and especially Chris Claremont were committed to displaying just how much power Storm really had, and there is not a single moment in those sixteen years were Storm ever runs into the faux action girl trope. Storm hits hard, and the universe knows it.
Second, the Civil Rights Movement, despite some brutal setbacks, was still going strong. The Seventies was the era of blaxploitation, of powerful (and powerfully cheesy) black people taking control and kicking ass. Storm, despite being an East African princess and very much not like the stereotypical blaxploitation protag, was a major beneficiary of this movement. The idea of powerful black people, especially black women, as the heroes of their own stories had been drilled into mainstream audiences by this point. Thus, Storm was normalized even before she hit the shelves.
Which brings us to our next point: black audiences were hungry for someone like them in comic books. Still are, really. Diversity is not, and has never been, comics strong suit. But in the Seventies, there was a concerted effort to change that. How well it worked is debatable, but Storm was very much a product of that movement and black audiences lapped her up. And if she had some non-black features, well… this was the age of ‘Black is Beautiful’ as a slogan and black people in general were experimenting heavily with their looks (so was everybody else; the Seventies is the dawn of punk, goth and a zillion other things for a reason. It’s just, black experimentation is more important to this article than others). So Storm, with her white straight hair and blue eyes, wasn’t seen as all that weird. Even today, with the discourse around how black people should look taking a particularly nasty edge of its own, Storm’s looks are widely accepted.
Fourth, Storm appeals to a broad range of people. Thanks to Chris Claremont and his apparent belief that everybody and their mother is bisexual, Storm is also arguably the first canon black queer character in comic books, too. I say arguably because Chris was never able to make Storm’s orientation clear due to the Comics Code at the time, but c’mon guys. If Storm’s straight, I’ll eat Donald’s toupee.
Fifth, Storm has benefited from nothing but flattering artwork for forty years now.
Sixth, even when Storm has been written poorly, she still fits in well with the X-Men. She isn’t Logan, who can be abrasive past the point the X-Men would realistically keep him on the team or Scott, who has increasingly been written as a total tool. She gets along well with her fellow X-Men, and is often a mediator and conciliator. But she’s now shrinking violet, either. If Storm thinks you’re being a dumbass, well. You probably are, and it’s a good thing she has enough control over her powers not to kill you when she zaps you with lightning bolts.
There you go, just a brief history of Storm, the X-Men. Happy February!