Saturday, September 19, 2015

1980-1984: Shifting Storms part I: These Weathered Patterns

By Jef Willemsen (

The most popular X-Man of the 1980s was Wolverine. But the most fascinating member of Xavier's brood has to be Storm. Chris Claremont wrote Ororo Munroe for the entire decade and lovingly put her through a tsunami of change which we'll cover in this multipart retrospective. 

The most wonderful thing about Claremont's arc for Storm is that you never saw it coming because the changes occured at an almost glacial pace. Yet, when you look back, the clues and (weather) patterns were all right there. Before we look at the forecast, let's review what we already knew about yesteryear's Storm.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, Storm had been an X-Man for over five years. During that period, Chris Claremont had revealed bits and pieces about her background. Even though she prefered to act like a regal weather goddess, she was actually a very human being.

Quick recap: Born in 1950s Brooklyn, she moved to Cairo as a child. By 1956, she was an orphan after a bombing raid killed her parents and left Ororo trapped in the rubble (which led to her developing lifelong, debilitating claustrophobia). She became a street urchin and a promising thief, mentored by Cairo's master thief Achmed El-Gibar himself. During that time, she briefly met Charles Xavier. When she hit puberty, something inside her forced her to move deeper into Africa proper. In Tanzania, she discovered and mastered her mutant weather powers for which she was worshipped as a goddess by the local population until Charles Xavier convinced her to join the X-Men.

As one paragraph origins go, it's not the most captivating arc for a character. Still, it made her one of the more fleshed out new X-Men. But things were about to kick into overdrive. Here's Storm in Uncanny X-Men I#129, meeting future X-Man Kitty Pryde for the first time and taking an instant liking to the girl.

"So much energy and life... and joy. 
If not for an accident of war, I might have been like this at Kitty's age."

It's one of the first times we actually see Storm smiling. A rare moment indeed, because most of the time she struggled to keep her emotions bottled up. Y'see, the weather around her would automatically respond to her moods. This in part also explains why Ororo pretended to be a goddess, far removed from the concerns and emotions of man. But now, after spending an extended period of time with other mutants, she slowly began to feel again. Which wasn't always fun, especially when they are negative emotions... Like the time she first met Kitty's dance teacher Stevie Hunter in Uncanny X-Men I#140 and became insanely jealous.

" OUR kitten?"

Anyone who ever had a best friend only to find he or she got along swimmingly with others too will recognize Ororo's irritation. On the one hand, you're glad for your friend, on the other you're also disappointed you're not uniquely capable of making them happy and even a little scared you might be replaceable. 

Speaking of replacements, another major change in Storm's life occured at that time. Following the apparent death of Jean Grey, the X-Men's leader Cyclops took a leave of absence. And even though long time X-man Angel had rejoined, professor Xavier still chose Storm to replace Scott as the team's field leader.

Keep in mind that this is truly a first in the history of Marvel Comics. While the Black Widow was the first female leader of a superhero team (The Champions, back in 1975), Ororo Munroe was the first female, African American heroine to head up a super group. During her first mission, Storm led the team against Mystique and her Brotherhood (as part of the classic Days of Future Past arc, heck of a first day on the job).

Though the situation was tense and confusing, the usually soft spoken wind rider turned out to have the right stuff. In fact, she stood up against Wolverine and won, proving she had balls of adamantium.

"Wolverine, sheathe your claws... Sheathe them... or use them on me".

Storm got an injured, furious Wolverine to back down without a fight... In those days, Cyclops would have had to wrestle him to the ground in order to get Logan's cooperation. Seeing Storm in charge added a new dimension to the character. She was now forced to be more directly involved with the team, both in and out of combat. Previously, she could simply take to the skies in combat or retreat to her attic at Xavier's... But now, she was constantly challenged to think of others, which inevitably leads to a change in your own behavior as well.

And talking of changed behavior... The threeparter in Uncanny X-Men I#145 through 147 answered the question what would happen if Storm lost control of her emotions, borrowed a page out of Lou Reed's songbook and took a walk on the wild side

"Lords of earth and air... I... am... FREE!"

On a bogus mission to save Arcade from Doctor Doom, Storm was turned into a living metallic statue by a Doombot. Painfully aware of her situation, the claustrophobic weather controller nearly lost her mind. Her rage, panic and frustration were translated to increasingly bad weather all over the world. What's even worse, by the time she was freed Ororo was so wound up and furious she could barely be reasoned with and was ready to destroy everything in her path. Only the memory of her friend Jean Grey, who went down a similarly destructive path as Dark Phoenix, got her back to "normal". 

But even though she was "normal" again, Ororo had been shown just what she was capable of if she ever let go. And that left a subtle, yet permanent mark on her. For instance, in Uncanny X-Men I#148 when she realized she wasn't as in control of her emotions as she thought she was... Unthinkingly summoning up thunderclouds when she got angry at Angel.

"I haven't been so careless with my mutant powers since I was a child".

Luckily, there were still some boundaries she wasn't quite ready to cross... again. In Uncanny X-Men I#150, the X-Men were forced to fight their old enemy Magneto on his island in the Caribbean. Left powerless because of one of Magnus' convenient doohickeys, Storm's skills as a thief still allowed her to sneak into the mutant master of magnetism's bedroom.

"I swore an oath never to kill again."

A moment's hesitation is all Magneto needed to notice and take care of Storm. He hurled her out of his tower bedroom, but Ororo managed to escape death by catching a spire with her cape. She even saved the day when she discovered the power cancelling machine and wrecking it. But the next time she faced one of the X-Men's archenemies, the stakes were even more personal.

As part of a greater plan to defeat the X-Men and get Kitty Pryde to her Massachusetts Academy, the White Queen traded minds with Storm. Now in control of Ororo's body, Emma had a blast and lived it up while Ororo was forced to try and control Frost's telepathy even as she, Kitty and Stevie Hunter mounted a seemingly doomed to fail rescue operation in Uncanny X-Men I#152.

"Stevie is an extraordinary person, I'm proud to call her friend.
Yet I'm still jealous of the bond between them"

It's a testament to Chris Claremont's dedication to his characters that he easily lets a whole year pass by before touching on an ongoing story arc again. Having Storm in the telepathic White Queen's body also helped, because now Ororo could sense how real the love between Kitty and Stevie was. Tasting genuine, uninhibited emotion for the first time must have affected Storm as well. Doctor Doom had inadvertently shown her the power of anger, but now she sampled the strength of love and affection.

Roll on the months... By February 1982's Uncanny X-Men I#154, Storm has a heart to heart with Cyclops who had returned to active duty by then. After a challenging workout, they shoot the breeze, though they did get around to addressing the topic on the mind of most readers... 

"Do you wish to give it up?"

It was the first time Storm's leadership was questioned by Cyclops during the 1980s, but this was by far the nicest one as we'll see in future entries. Ororo answers Scott's question honestly: she had been reluctant, even frightened to take on the responsibility of leading the X-Men. But over the months that followed, the role grew on her. 

Speaking of things growing on Ororo... that roaring sound they picked up was the arrival of the Starjammer, which drew the X-Men into a prolonged battle against the Shi'ar assassin Deathbird and more importantly: the Brood. We've covered the mutants' struggles against these alien invaders extensively in the past. The Brood kidnapped the X-Men and implanted their royal embryos in them. As soon as the infants would hatch, they'd consume their hosts.

Thanks to Wolverine, the X-Men found out the Brood had lured them to their homeworld using mind control to have them nearby until the hatching. They escaped aboard Lilandra's starship and there, Storm learned she was infected. She abandoned the team aboard a shuttle and tried to commit suicide, only to be saved by the sentient space whale race called the Acanti. The dying Storm was placed inside the body of their infant leader, the Prophet Singer who'd been orphaned when his mother was captured by the Brood. Serving as the child's conscious, she rallied the X-Men and their ally Binary (Carol Danvers). But becoming part of the Acanti was easier said than done...

"Consider it a legacy of one of my... less pleasant moments."

As part of the Acanti's mind, Ororo proved crucial in assuring the X-Men defeated the Brood and freed the space whale's collective soul. She was asked to remain with the Acanti, but chose to return to Earth with the X-Men. This led the Acanti to restore and reconstruct her human body, though the unintentional implications would soon become clear.

Returning home after weeks in space, Ororo felt the need to reconnect with the Earth. And what could go wrong? After all, she controls the elements and she's had a special bond with the "goddess" who rules us all... Weeks or even years away can't change that, eh?

"I attempted a communion with the primal, elemental forces of the Earth... 
And they have denied me!"

Got it in one, Ororo... Her prolonged absence from Earth, as well as the continuously changing, shifting and emerging emotions she'd been experiencing corrupted her bond with the relative serenity and purity of the planet. This bond used to be what grounded her as a goddess back in Africa, but without that stabilizing, comforting connection to fall back on, Ororo felt truly alone and adrift.

And it truly was a horrifying experience for her. Imagine the psychological impact of this moment: you've always believed yourself to be one with the planet, carefully leading your life, denying yourself the basest, most common of emotions to insure the continued sanctity of its eco system... Only to have the world itself deny you in your darkest hour.

Still, Storm carried on as leader of the X-Men. She was next called on to lead Colossus, Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde on a rescue mission: Angel had been kidnapped by the Morlocks, a band of ugly, outcast mutants living in the tunnels underneath New York City. Their leader Callisto had become infatuated with the gorgeous, blonde Warren and wanted to marry him.

Despite her severe claustrophobia and the diseased touch of the Morlock Plague, Storm rallied herself and challenged Callisto to a duel for leadership of the Morlocks. Her fellow X-Men think she's a fool: after all, Callisto is a ruthless, trained killer who won't think twice about gutting her opponents like a trout... And Ororo is famous for saying she doesn't want to use her powers to hurt or kill anyone. Guess we all know how that fight will end, right?

Now, to be fair... Storm always said she didn't want to use her *powers* to kill anyone. 

Needless to say, Storm's actions caused quite a stir back in Uncanny X-Men I#170. And the fun didn't stop there. In the next issue she proudly wore Callisto's leather jacket, which signified her new role as ruler of the Morlocks. She offered the mishaps shelter at Xavier's, but they actually prefered to remain underground. Storm didn't have too long to worry about that, she was too busy trying to get home. So busy in fact, she even ignored threats from the injured Callisto that she'd one day retake her position.

Once the X-Men got home, they were treated to a nasty surprise: their old enemy Rogue had come to ask professor Xavier's help in learning how to control her powers. And Charles, much to everyone's surprise, took her in. This didn't sit well with Storm, who completely lost her temper and, pardon the pun, stormed. Returning to the attic she considered home, Ororo tried to calm herself by watering her plants through some very localized showers. However, her seething rage got the better of her. She subconsciously turned the rain clouds into tiny thunderstorms that completely decimated her rooftop garden before she could regain control.

"My anxiety, my confusion... My... fear... manifested themselves as violence"

Instead of looking inside to find the fault in her proverbial stars, Ororo quite literally lashed out at Xavier. She felt the professor was responsible for what was happening to her. After all, he was the one who convinced her to leave Africa to become an X-Man in the first place. A tad unfair, perhaps, but understandable. Oftentimes, we are eager to blame our surroundings for the uncomfortable truths we denied always existed within ourselves. Life is change, the very nature of the word "mutant" means "change"... All this is simply part of Ororo Munroe's growth as a person. 

"Ororo or Storm, which is it to be?"

The answer to that question plus the final phase of Ororo's evolution was right around the corner when the X-Men traveled to Japan to attend the marriage of Wolverine and Mariko Yashida. This blessed union was opposed by their old enemies Viper and Silver Samurai, which led to Storm meeting Yukio, a devil-may-care masterless samurai and associate of Wolverine's who taught her to take risks and enjoy life.

"Oh well... You only die once."

Facing almost impossible odds, Ororo actually embraces life and is ready to live it up. What a far cry from the reserved weather goddess who almost envied Kitty Pryde for being so full of life, energy and joy. In a little over 30 issues, Chris Claremont transformed Storm from a somewhat stuffy, placid mainstay into the living, breathing and feeling heart of the team.

After fighting off the gangsters side by side with Yukio, even using her lightning to consciously hurt people for the first time, Storm finds herself invigorated and ready for a change. Just how big a change she was in for, we find out the next day when she flies in for the big wedding between Logan and the lady Mariko.

"Your clothes! Your... hair! What have you done?!"

Ignoring the dresscode... at a wedding? In Japan? Talk about a major faux pas, Ororo-sana.

Finally embracing the growing change within her, Ororo radically abandoned her old costume and hairdo. It was the early 1980s, so a mohawk was in vogue and the black leather heavy punk look matched her rebellious streak, plus the recently acquired leather leadership jacket.

But the change in Storm, telling though it might be, wasn't just skin deep. Which was something Colossus and Kitty found out in Uncanny X-Men I#174 when they went up to her attic to "water the plants", only to find out there weren't any left. Instead, they decided to have a little make-out session until Ororo returned to her roost and caught the two embarrassed teens in the act.

"As I have changed, little one... I have changed my home to match"

And that did not sit well with Kitty Pryde, which leads us to Uncanny X-Men I#177 and a rather ironic exchange between Kitty and Stevie. Remember how Storm was worried about Stevie taking Kitty away from her? Now Hunter is actively trying to convince "their" kitten not to turn away from Ororo.

"She's changed on the inside as well! 
The Ororo I knew isn't there anymore!"

Hurt by the fact the girl she loves like a daughter now considers her a monster, Ororo tries to reason with Kitty only to find it's impossible to stop a teenage girl who can become intangible. This leaves Storm alone with Stevie. Confiding in the only real, adult female friend she has, Ororo shares a terrible truth... What if she really is becoming a monster?

                                                                  "The truly terrifying thing
                                                             Is that I fear she may well be right"

What's next for Storm? Well, after all these changes, you'd think the sky's the limit. And that's where you're wrong, as we'll see in part II of Shifting Storms: Take These Broken Wings and Learn To Walk.

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