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Image of Storm saying Hell yeah


In 2014 and 2015, Greg Pak released 11 issues of a solo title focusing on the white haired, weather manipulating X-mutant Storm. I have always counted the X-Men as my first super fandom. I grew up with X-Men: The Animated Series in the 1990s. I have a list of favourite X-Men that has literally not changed since I was an eight year old tiny person (here they are in order if you're interested: Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, Gambit, Jean Grey). I even paid to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine in cinemas. And maybe it's just my British perspective (we do love to talk about the weather) but I think Storm is one of the coolest long term X-Men characters. Yet, this run of Storm comics seems to have gone a little under the radar despite the efforts of critics like Black Girl Nerds. Which is just ridiculous because just look at her on those covers.

Cover of Storm, Vol. 1: Make It Rain Cover of Storm, Vol. 2: Bring the Thunder


Yes, I am going to start my first solo foray into writing about comics with a lengthy look at the covers of the two collected trade editions, Storm, Vol. 1: Make It Rain and Storm, Vol. 2: Bring The Thunder. It's well established that I'm a hopeless imagery nerd, who loves unpicking symbols.

So, what does a reader see when they initially approach these books? First, both covers show images which give a strong impression of power. The lightning on both covers, references Storm's legendary mutant skill - her ability to control the weather. As Storm's legendary white hair, now styled in a punk mohican cut, whips in the wind on the cover of Volume 1 the reader is reminded that she is not some glorified weather reporter but a supremely powerful being; able to master the fiercest elements. On this cover, Storm's hair actually blends with the lightning flash behind her while blue lightning crackles from her eyes; both details intimating that she is made of lightning. While the cover of Volume 1 presents a coyer pose, in comparison to the dead on pose of Volume 2's cover, the message of both images is clear - Storm is electric. She contains all the dynamism, and all the forceful potential, of a lightning strike.

These images are key to establishing the reader's understanding of Storm as a force of nature. As soon as a reader sees these covers, whether they've had any previous experience of Storm, they're prepared for a story about a woman who can stand as lightning flows around her. These covers are a clear declaration of mutant, female and chromatic power. On the cover of Volume 2, Storm is drawn in a head on confrontational pose - shoulders squared, legs firmly planted, and with a wicked, uncompromising frown on her face. While graphic novels may not be susceptible to the same poor cover trends that plague prose novels about women and chromatic characters - covers that fail to show chromatic characters, or cover shots that obscure women's faces/cut off women's heads - general media culture is still riddled with these problems, and super-person culture has a distinct problem when it comes to the visibility of female chromatic characters. In this context, the creative team's decision to give Storm two covers where her face is visible, and where she is surrounded by symbols of such power, is a revelation. The decision to draw her visibly angry on the cover of Volume 2 is another, as it emerges into a world that dislikes seeing shows of force from chromatic women. It's great that these choices were made; sad I can still describe them as "revelations".

Before I move on, I have to mention Storm's hair, which the reader first sees on these covers. Storm's white hair has remained constant throughout her many different iterations but the cut and style has often differed. Pak and his team made the decision to have Storm sport a mohawk - a style her character has worn before in comics but which has been so far absent in (although there are rumours that the mohawk may reappears in X-Men Apocalypse this year). Immediately, with that hair choice, the creative team establish their vision of Storm as counter-culture. The mohican is probably wreathed in other sartorial meaning that I am missing but to me the mohican cut seems to signal that Storm is a total badass; aligned with punk style and values. It is unusual to see fictional women depicted with such a different and distinctive style; one which is not traditionally seen as "attractive" to the male gaze (which just… the male gaze does not know what it's missing). So, as well as seeming to promise a story about a powerful chromatic woman, these covers, which both emphasise her hair in different ways, furthers the feeling that Pak, and the team, are invested in expanding the types of female character that get story space.

So, are you in love with Storm yet? Oh, you want to know what's underneath the covers before you commit? Well...

Image of Storm flying


I said above that Storm has one of the most impressive X-powers and, throughout these two volumes, I was proved right again and again. Storm saves a plane using air currents and carries it for five hours while injured. Storm defeats an army with a tornado. Storm protects people from a giant wave by manipulating the Earth's ozone layer. Be still my rain obsessed, nature in sympathy Brit-soul - this bad-ass lady knows how to use the weather to produce maximum effect.

But, as Storm herself says, it's a mistake to assume that her powers are the sum of her person. In these comics, Storm is regularly referred to as 'Thief. Goddess. Headmistress. Queen.' Pak and his crew have Storm's adventures take the reader through her history and present, showing them the various identities mentioned in this phrase. And they show that she is not just Storm, her persona when she works as part of the X-Men crew, but Ororo Munroe; a woman with a unique past and a separate personal life. Readers see Ororo as a young thief, and as a grown member of the X-Men who still knows all the tricks of that trade. They see her as a 'goddess' returning to the country she once oversaw. They see her with a lover (Storm/Wolverine forever). They see her as a woman growing into the role of headmistress; a supremely powerful being who runs maintenance checks and deals with student problems. And they see her as a diplomat who both fails and triumphs.

If you, like me, you became properly hooked on Captain Marvel after a certain exchange in issue #3 of Kelly Sue Deconnick's run with the character, then Storm's diplomatic work may be of greatest interest to you. Her initial struggles with balancing super-person guardianship with allowing other people trust and autonomy may prove a strong hook. In issue #1 Storm is confronted by a teen super-person, Marisol, who feels she has been abducted and forced to remain at Jean-Gray's school. Storm has difficulty adapting to the idea that the adult X-Men can mean well but still end up robbing people of their agency by pushing them down a certain path. In issue #2 Storm encounters an old antagonist and had to adjust to the idea that they may be providing just what others need. And in Issue #3, Storm juggles her desire to help the land was once the goddess to, their need for independence and concerns about putting the power of the weather into uncertain hands. The solution in this situation centres around the issue of a "saviour's" from the "developed" world stepping in to solve African problems. These are intelligent story lines built around issues of politics and human development. And this element of Pak's run working on this character is part of what makes Storm distinct and individual.

Possibly because of a desire to showcase all of these different facets of Ororo, these 11 issues do not comprise one complete arc. The first volume is more a series of individual adventures which feature some small but interesting links. The second has a connecting arc which runs through most of the issues, although the creative team is not averse to breaking away from this main thread to introduce a fun one off story. Unlike Genevieve Valentine's approach to Catwoman in the issues which comprise Keeper of the High Castle, I can see that Pak's run of Storm comics are not rigorously structured around a central device which may leave some readers feeling like the issues are incohesive and jump around. I'm still new to comics, and tend to dip into long standing characters journeys for creative runs I'm interested in, I'm pretty used to that feeling of comics jumping around a bit, so I wasn't that affected but I have seen a few reviews saying they were underwhelmed by this run because there seemed to be too much going on.

Unfortunately Greg Pak's run working on Storm's, and the comics solo run, ended after just these 11 issues which possibly means readers who would prefer a longer, more connected arc story miss out on that kind of creative run. And, although I had great fun reading these comics, I do think Storm would have benefited from a longer run and more space in which to develop separate arcs about different concerns. The issues, and overall set of stories, we get are great but with more issues I think Storm could have grown into a special comic that would have won steadfast fans much like Ms Marvel has. But I also think what the reader gets with this comic, which at times feels like it thought it would have more time to develop than it was actually afforded, is a heap of character development in a short time. The reader gets to see a lot about Storm in a very concentrated period, and as a consequence Storm is an easy character to get attached to simply because the comics introduce so much detail in such a short run.

And with adventures aplenty packing out the pages the reader gets also to see Storm at the height of her 'take it to the limits' glory, and making full use of all her abilities. Reading these comics is kind of like watching an elite athlete stretching themselves to achieve the ultimate performance, and as a consequence these stories (and the art) are joyful to read even when Storm is in tight, tense situations.

Image of Storm flying a spaceship


And what adventures these are. I like side stories generally (maybe because I grew up on monster of the week type shows, who can say). That standalone story from Volume 2 that I mentioned earlier on - Storm and Gambit break through a complex security system which leads them to both learn important lessons about their developing lives. Two highly trained thieves shaking off the blues of responsibility by threading their way through 'raiders' style puzzles? Yes, please. A couple of issues where Storm verges off to meet an old friend and ends up fighting a gang war while making sense of the death of Wolverine? I can take more feels - pile them on.

Storm cuddling Wolverine's jacket


Welp. Ok, maybe that's enough feels for now.

In all the time I've been "into" X-Men I've completely avoided the comics. Yep, I was that kind of female X-Men fan - the kind that felt like the comic book world was an impenetrable boys club I was not really supposed to want to enter. The kind who loved particular characters but picked around the edges of fandom, waiting for canon to be moved out of specialist shops and into venues where I felt comfortable accessing. Fear is a funny thing.

The comics industry, and my relationship to it, has changed thanks to a number of factors: the wider reading community's growing interest in graphic novels; my new awareness of female comic book critics; chain bookstores developing larger graphic novel sections; the many exciting new releases that feature female characters, and the many releases created by women. And this year, I plan to read a lot of graphic novels; partly so I can vote in the Hugo Awards Best Graphic Novel category this year1. Lucky you, you get to watch a word freak and graphic novel newb stumble through feelings about art and comics on a regular basis! Hopefully, you will join me as I investigate more amazing trade editions of comics like Storm, which was a pretty great way to kick off my year's graphic reading.

Notes

1By the way, by Memory's reckoning of the rules, Bring The Thunder is eligible for the Best Graphic Novel category in the Hugos this year.

Supplementary Materials

Black Girl Nerds reviews #1 of Storm
Reading Notes: More Comics (The Marvel edition)

Date: 2016-01-16 02:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] readingtheend.pip.verisignlabs.com
Storm is SO cool, and for how cool she is, I have read shockingly few comics that contain her. She was around a LITTLE BIT during the Civil War (which I read all of litrally all of it my God there was so much of it) on a Wakandan embassy thing. But that's it.

Date: 2016-01-17 07:22 pm (UTC)
litomnivore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] litomnivore
Storm is so cool! I have little to add but that Storm's mohawk, I believe, stemmed from a period in the eighties where she lost her powers and had a very subtextually strong relationship with a Japanese woman who introduced her to the ways of punks. (Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men covered this a while back.) It's not only externally countercultural, but internally, linking her to one of her most subversive phases.

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