Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Black Superheroes: Storm


An All-New, All-Different Breed of Hero
Name: Ororo Munroe
First Appearance: Giant-Sized X-Men #1 (1975)
History: Originally born in New York City a six year old Ororo Munroe was orphaned while she and her family were living in Egypt.  Growing up on the streets of Cairo she becomes a talented thief and pickpocket in order to survive.  Later in life she ended up in the Serengeti.  As her mutant powers, the incredible ability to control weather itself, began to emerge Ororo was worshipped by local tribe as a goddess.  On day she is approached by Professor Charles Xavier who convinces her to return with him to America where she can use her powers for the benefit of all mankind rather than just one village as a member of a new generation of X-Men.  She takes the codename Storm and goes on to become one the greatest, and most powerful, superheroes in the world.
Beta Says: Storm is not only one of the most historically relevant characters on this list but she’s also arguably the most successful, popular and recognized black superhero in American Pop Culture.  Created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum as part of a multicultural “All New, All Different” X-Men in the mid-seventies she was one of several new minority characters introduced.  Like a few of her teammates she was original envisioned by Cockrum as a new character for DC Comic’s Legion of Superheroes but was redesigned when he ended up drawing for the X-Men.  Her shock white hair and blue eyes, a result of being a descendant of magical African priestesses rather than her mutation, gives her a unique look that helps her stand out among her fellow comic book characters.
Storm is not only the first black superheroine she’s the first major black female character to appear in Marvel or DC.  Gee, that only took about forty years.

[Update: As pointed out by Atomic in the comment section, a  female black superhero character by the name of “Butterfly” apparently predates Storm!  Debuting in 1971 in the pages of Hell-Rider #1, a black and white comic magazine, this costumed crime fighter appears in a back-up feature.  Fascinating!  Unfortunately information seems a bit scarce, but click here for some really neat screens]
 Like her husband Black Panther she is very important from a historical standpoint but unlike T’Challa Ororo is one of Marvel Comic’s “Top Guys”.  In addition to being leader of the X-Men (A lot of the time, anyway) and showing up in damn near every cartoon, video game and film adaptation she is almost always utilized by Marvel in promotional material for their comics in general an is usually brought in for ensemble pieces (Such as video games) standing side by side with their most popular characters.  Although there are some non-comic readers who may have heard names like Black Panther, Black Lightning, etc., everyone has heard of, or at least seen, Storm by now (Unless they slept through the trilogy of X-Men movies, of course).  I’m pretty sure no other black superhero from Marvel or DC has gotten the publicity she has over her history.
Because I'm 26 this is what I consider to be "Classic Storm"
Despite this I’m actually not the biggest fan of Storm.  I often wonder how much of her popularity is real and how much of it is manufactured by Marvel in order to give the illusion that their characters are more racially diverse than they really are.  For example the number of black women, and the number of women of color in general, who are practicing superheroes is shockingly small in number but Storm is always standing next to Thor and Captain America in ensemble shots.  For one thing I’m not sure Ororo has been written all that interestingly in years.  Her most well known storyline in the last twenty years or so may have been her marriage to Black Panther in 2006 and that whole thing was a suspiciously motivated promotional stunt (I wanted to talk at length about that plot pint but then I thought that would be unfzir to Storm as character, so I may write a lengthy rant about this subject next month).   Back in the 70s and 80s Storm was AWESOME!  She was a very tough and strong willed character who was not above voicing her opinions and generally being a badass.  I fondly recall a scene from the Days of Future Past storyline where she stood up to Wolverine, demanding he stand down as he was about to possibly slice up Nightcrawler.  The follow conversation took place:
Storm: Sheath [Your claws] or use them on me.
Wolverine: That can be arranged, babe!
Storm: I am leader of the X-Men.  While that is so you will use your claws when I command.  No other time.
Wolverine: I wouldn’t take that from Cyclops!
Storm: You WILL take it from me.
[From Uncanny X-Men #142, 1981]
Hell yes, Storm!  Strong Female Lead, indeed!  She goes on to tell him that he’s so powerful that she shouldn’t even need to have to use deadly force except in the most extreme circumstances.  I’ve been saying that about superheroes for years!  Throughout his tenure as writer Chris Claremont had given Storm tremendous character development and, despite going overboard at times (Beating Cyclops in a fight for leadership of the X-Men without the use of her powers?  That doesn’t make her look strong it just makes Cyclops look like chump!), she was at her best under his guidance.  Since then she has sort of taken a backseat.  Back in the day Uncanny X-Men was basically Storm and Her Uncanny X-Men, feat. Wolverine & Kitty Pryde (As opposed to the X-Men movies where it was The Wolverine Show, guest starring Storm) but at present she’s just one of many X-Men floating around.  She certainly hasn’t done enough, or I should say “Hasn’t been written properly enough”, to be considered one of Marvels most beloved characters.  But this can change.
Storm during her brief stint as singer of the band Black Flag
It’s never too late to salvage a character.  Right now Storm is pretty boring but perhaps if she once again took center stage in an ongoing title, not just playing the part in an ensemble, things can pick up.  Right now there are barely any titles starring women in Marvel; if Storm is truly so beloved perhaps its time to try one with her.  Maybe spin it out of a major crossover event.  I mean, if Wolverine can have fifteen different titles I’m sure Ororo can have one.  Sometimes Marvel complains about having a hard time with getting new female readers.  Well perhaps if they avoided garbage like Models INC. (Because all girls love models and fashion, apparently) and Marvel Divas (Because all girls love Sex and the City, apparently) and instead feature a strong, confident and independent women fighting crime like her male counterparts it might bring a few ladies from DC (As DC is much, much better at this sort of thing than Marvel).  As she has an interesting and unique background, cool super powers, and great look and, let’s face it, doesn’t exactly look out of place when standing next to the world’s greatest heroes I think you could do a lot worse than her, provided the book had proper advertising for it and a good creative team.
Later this week we’ll look at a character who, despite his immense historical importance and well known name, has only recently appeared outside the comics.
Ororo Munroe: First Among Equals
For more on Storm click here.  Also check out BLACKSUPERHERO.COM for a giant list and profiles of black comic book characters from various companies.

4 comments:

  1. Storm isn't the first Black superheroine.
    In 1971, another costumed Black heroine had a two-issue run in her own strip.
    http://atocom.blogspot.com/2011/02/first-black-superheroine.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ah. Fair enough; thanks for letting me know. But I think its fair to say that Storm was the first MAJOR black superheroine as she debuted in one of the "Big Two" comic companies.

    I'm having trouble finding info on "Butterfly" so if you have any more on her I'd love to have it sent to me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Skywald (along with Atlas) in the 1970s was like Dark Horse or IDW today, not a "Big Two", but a mainstream company using many of the same writers and artists as DC or Marvel.
    Hell-Rider featured Ghost Rider writer/co-creator Gary Friedrich along with artists Ross Andru, Rich Buckler, Mike Esposito, Dick Ayers, Bill Everett, and Syd Shores.

    BTW, The two issues of Hell-Rider that Butterfly appeared in are VERY HTF.
    However, I've presented the entire premiere Butterfly story here... http://heroheroinehistory.blogspot.com/search/label/Butterfly
    ...in three segments.
    and will be doing the same with her second (and last) appearance next week.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the info BrittReid! I had found out about Butterfly's connection to Gary Friedrich and the likely independent nature of Skywald, but I was surprised just how little information was available, especially on Butterfly herself. I'll be sure to check out your blog covering this and I hope all readers passing through will do so as well.

    Keep up the awesome work!

    ReplyDelete