Monday, September 21, 2015

1984 - 1985: Shifting Storms part II: Take These Broken Wings And Learn To Walk...

By Jef Willemsen (

The mid 1980s were a time of great change for Storm. After she slowly allowed herself to act like a human being instead of a regal, emotionless weathergoddess, she began to experience a bit of an identity crisis. Thank goodness she still had her powers and her work as leader of the X-Men to rely on, eh?

In a way, Storm's mid 80s character arc is largely comparable to that of a teenager going through puberty and discovering that life means permanent change. No one is really ready for that first taste of oftentimes maddening fluidity. Not only is everyone around you constantly changing their mind, hairstyle, goals and friends... You're hardly the same from one moment to the next. Of course, the truth is, you've been changing from the moment you were conceived... It is when you actually start to notice and wonder about the course of that change that things tend to get worrisome.

As we detailed in our initial entry, Ororo Munroe had been slowly losing her self imposed inhibitions. All that really remained of her old, aloof weather goddess identity was her trademark cape. Wolverine took care of that in Uncanny X-Men I#178.

                                       "You slashed the cape from my body without touching me."

It would be the last time during the entire 1980s that Storm wore her black and gold cape. It's a small, almost insignificant touch, but it does cement the continuing change in style and mentality she was going through.

Still, even though she was definitely becoming more forceful and ruthless, the kinder and gentler aspects of Ororo's personality still shone true. Initially distrustful of Rogue, she finally accepted the former villain when the young woman freely risked her life and endured intense agony to save Colossus. Over the next few months, Storm would become Rogue's unofficial mentor, but that didn't mean she could do without counsel herself. Case in point, the very poignant Uncanny X-Men I#180.

"I find myself casting aside the precepts and beliefs that gave my life meaning... 
And hardly missing them once they are gone."

It's such a beautiful bit of symbolism. When we're growing up, we automatically tend to idolize our parents, thinking they have all the answers and are always right. They set the example we, sometimes subconsciously, try to emulate. But as we age, enter our teens start to think and feel for ourselves all that changes. Father no longer knows best. Add to that the fact that her "surrogate father" of sorts now suddenly sees Ororo as a real, vibrant and attractive woman as well. That might have been in part because he'd just regained the use of his legs and Lilandra had just left Earth, but still... Storm had become an entirely different person.

But given her line of work, Ororo wanted to make sure she wasn't being manipulated in some way. A reasonable concern considering the Shadow King had been after her since her days as pickpocket in Cairo.

So, Charles has a little looksee.

"Sometimes, I think, I fear... I... hope... I must be insane."

Ah, the insanity plea...Sometimes, when you're not quite ready to own up to what you really feel, you tend to look for loopholes: "That's not me, I didn't do that... I wasn't in my right mind!". But no, in this case all those maddening questions about her real identity turned out to be quite genuine. Xavier offered to help, to use his telepathy to guide her as best he could. Ororo declined, preferring to see it through on her own. In need of some company, she went to visit her old plants which she donated to the Bronx arboretum after redecorating her attic to reflect her recent changes.

"I feared that I had lost that special rapport with the Earth, 
but on my first trip to these gardens I realized I am as aware of life as I ever was."

Which is a wonderful sentiment, but a page and a half later, we saw the former weather goddess brutally kicking the crud out of a band of muggers, even summoning a little thunder and lightning for some added scare effects. Her connection to the Earth might still be there, but she's definitely no longer her old self. After returning to Xavier's school, Ororo decided to resolve things with Kitty Pryde. The teenage X-Man was still furious with her because of Storm's recent changes, even calling her a monster. Summoning a gale force wind, Storm took Kitty high up into the sky for a little talk.  

"I am learning things about myself I do not like... 
But I must keep learning, striving to find my true self... 
My place in the scheme of things. 
I must know who I am as. I must live my life as I see fit."

In a very powerful and moving sequence, Storm confronted Kitty with a harsh, but grown up truth. It's beyond selfish of Pryde to blame Ororo for not remaining who Kitty'd decided she should be. But that's what we all tend to do with the people we hold dear. It's much easier to love them for who we we imagine them to be than to accept them for who they actually are, warts and all.

But Ororo was sympathetic, even though she pointed out the hypocrisy behind Kitty's accusations. How can she be a monster for changing when Pryde herself has been reinventing herself left and right? It's a rough lesson to take in, but Pryde took it in stride. In the end, Ororo got through to Kitty and they even shared a teary-eyed embrace. This scene was also a very elegant way of dovetailing Storm's earlier sentiments on the subject of personal growth and change.

Back in Uncanny X-Men I#114, she gave Cyclops a bit of tough love.

                          "If you wanted only to preserve the Jean-that-was, like a fly in amber
perhaps what you felt for her wasn't love at all."

The weather goddess is wise... in all things, except her own heart. It took over 75 issues for Storm to listen to her own advice and realize she can't pretend she's a fly in amber either. But if you're finally willing to entertain the idea of changing, the unanswerable question is: what will you become? Luckily for Ororo, her work as leader of the X-Men was a way to define herself.

And then the first Secret Wars happened... During the course of the war, Storm began to notice Xavier undermining her leadership, even blatantly ignoring her. Perhaps in part due to the scope of the stakes, the professor started to act like the unreasonable taskmaster he was during the early Stan Lee/Jack Kirby days. Ororo was willing to entertain her mentor, but when Charles casually passed her by and sent Cyclops to lead an away mission in Secret Wars I#6, Storm was fed up.

                                  " I am the leader of the X-men... Not Cyclops and not you!"

Xavier defused the situation surprisingly quickly, perhaps through a bit of mental coercion. But the idea of having the professor accompany them on missions, ordering everyone around telepathically, began to wear on Storm. It also fed her insecurities, a telepath would be far more useful and versatile as team leader.

"I must admit, the professor makes a superb leader (...) But is his desire to lead... his automatic assumption of command... a reflection of my performance? Am I not good enough?!"

Oh, the verbose, doubt ridden soliloquys one can deliver while hovering in mid-air trying to douse a firestorm... 

For a few months, Claremont played up the alleged tensions between Storm and Xavier, no doubt obligated to pay lipservice to the plot set up by Jim Shooter in Secret Wars which was still being published by the time these issues saw print. Either way,  the drama always felt a bit forced. The professor and Storm respected each other and Charles had long since accepted the X-Men weren't rookies anymore, in constant need of his supervision... Heck, that's what the New Mutants were there for. 

But whether or not Charles Xavier was gunning for her job was soon to be a moot point considering the climax of September 1984's Uncanny X-Men I#185.

Concerned with the threat posed by the Dire Wraiths, the American government had reached out to mutant inventor Forge. He was requested to come up with weapons to fight and defeat the alien menace and obliged by dreaming up a power neutralizing gun. Henry Peter Gyrich realized it would also work on mutants. Taking the prototype, Gyrich was determined to use it on Rogue, who had only recently raided the SHIELD Helicarrier. Not willing to let go of his creations before they were thoroughly tested, Forge attempted to stop Gyrich from depowering Rogue... only to hit Storm instead.

Forge used his connections to get Storm transfered to his home in Dallas, a luxurious high tech skyscraper called the Aerie. The inventor wanted to make things right, feeling guilty over what had been done to her. Storm was in no mood to be cared for, pampered or doted on. She was in deep mourning over the loss of an essential part of herself.

"This is not life, Forge. Merely existence... a shadow of what was. 
To believe otherwise is but the cruelest of deceptions."

Well, one thing that came from this tragedy: now we know Ororo's tendency for overwrought exposition isn't a mutant power. But despite their thorny start, it soon became apparent there was an undeniable attraction between the fallen goddess and the Cherokee inventor. In the smart, smooth and subtle double-sized Uncanny X-Men I#186 the creative team of Chris Claremont and Barry Windsor-Smith told the story of young love between old and scarred souls tormented by their own demons. And even though love blossomed, it all fell apart when Storm figured out Forge was responsible for the weapon that mutilated her. Furious, she walked out on him.

Storm returned to the X-Men (after a verrrrry long, three issue adventure that saw Ororo teaming up with Forge, his old mentor NazĂ© and the summoned X-Men to fight off the Dire Wraith threat). Without her powers, she'd decided she had no reason to remain with the X-Men. In fact, Nightcrawler had already replaced her as team leader, but Kurt was insecure and convinced he didn't have one bamf*ing chance... as seen in this scene from Uncanny X-men I#188. 

                        "Do it as a favor to me. I need you by my side, this last time more than ever"

Oh man, did Charles get it wrong when he picked Kurt... If you need your now powerless, defrocked and traumatized teammate to hold your hand during a meeting you requested... only attended by people you've known for years... worry.

Storm wasn't intending to stick around anyway. She had decided to return to her roots: visiting Africa to revisit her old haunts in an attempt to reonnect with the woman she'd once been. Unfortunately, even as the X-Men were throwing her a good-bye party, all of New York briefly changed into a Hyborean citystate, courtesy of a spell cast by the recently revived demon priest Kulan Gath. Even without powers, she proved crucial in defeating him and restoring everyone and everything to normal. That still didn't convince her to stay. Storm traveled to Africa by boat but even there she ran into problems...

"You are the windrider, the goddess... ORORO! You have returned!!"

First things first: the people Storm's holding a gun on are a group of wealthy Westerners on safari, acting like they own the place. When they tried to take advantage of the lone woman running a local bush station, Ororo stepped in and forced them away.

But isn't it a bit odd that Storm chose to return to Africa to find out who she really was? After all, it was there that she started the all-consuming act of pretending to be an emotionless elemental deity. Why would she want to return to that figurative cage, especially now that she no longer had the mutant powers to back up that comforting, self-serving lie?

She didn't have long to ponder this, because in Uncanny X-Men I#196, the hunters returned for a little vengeance...

                                     "No... How could you shoot so noble a beast... NO!"

Make your own, topical Cecil the lion/dentist comment here, folks... 

The silver maned lion was part of an aborted storyline Chris Claremont had planned for Storm. It was supposed to be an omen, just like the mistlike image of her mother N'dare Ororo encountered on the boat ride over. Back in Uncanny X-Men I#160, Claremont had introduced an alternate reality version of Storm who had pretty much lost her mutant abilities, but was now a powerful sorceror.

"As I grew older (...) I turned to the other half of my heritage: sorcery"

To his credit, Claremont did his best to set up this new turn for Storm... He even used New Mutants I#32 to introduce Ashake, an ancient Egyptian ancestor of Ororo's who was also a potent mage. In the end, nothing came of it... Even though you'd have to be able to pull a rabbit out of your hat to survive a bullet to the head. But Storm survived, leading into perhaps *the* defining issue of the 1980s: Uncanny X-Men I#198, or Life-Death II: From The Heart of Darkness.

Barry Windsor-Smith rejoined Chris Claremont to tell Storm's redemption story. Lost when she found out she was a false goddess, adrift after succumbing to all emotions and looking for purpose without her powers and the X-Men, this is when Ororo Munroe started to rise again. Stumbling through the desert in the midst of a sandstorm, Storm found a cave where she lay down to rest. Delirious from exposure and her headwound, the hallucinations came...

"Ororo, my dear child. You have always been afraid. Why do you think I took you from your nest and forced you to fly? You were safe there... Had you remained, you would have remained an infant."

Tormented by cruel visions of her loved ones mockingly tempting her to give up and die, Ororo persevered. She went out into the storm again, mercilessly buffeted by the elements she could once control with a mere thought. If there was a trace of hubris left, it got sandblasted away during that hellish ordeal. In the midst of the sandstorm, Ororo discovered a crashed bus and its sole surviving passenger: a young, pregnant woman named Shani in desperate need of help.

Freely giving of herself, even if she had little else to offer than the shelter of her body, Ororo made sure Shani reached her native village. If nothing else, this marked Storm's true heroism. First, she refused to give in to fear and doubt, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds and then to stand ready and fight for someone in need. She didn't need her mutant powers, the X-Men's aid or the illusion she was a goddess in order to matter. 

She was even crucial when Shani went into labor and things took a turn for the worse.

"I hear my son crying within me. He's scared, Ororo.
He doesn't want to die! He wants to be born!"

And born he was. 

Thanks to Ororo giving the child some much needed mouth to mouth resuscitation, the villagers could welcome their newest member. This also meant the village elder Mjnari had to honor a cruel but necessary tradition: since their food supplies could only support a certain number of villagers, whenever a new life entered their world,the oldest one had to go. Storm watched the elder will himself to death on a nearby mountain top. After burying a friend she barely knew, Ororo was suddenly overcome with a new sense of purpose.

"I have no powers. My body cannot fly, but I no longer mind.  
For in my heart and soul... where it truly matters... I soar higher than the stars!"

It's hard not to be moved by so powerful and sincere a message, even if it's slightly schmaltzy. Ororo would remain in Africa, acting as a bridge between the old ways and the new, as well as between humanity and its mutant children. In a way, she had reclaimed, nay, earned her old position as "goddess". But now, she was a living, breathing and feeling woman instead of an artificial edifice. 

In part III of Shifting Storms, we'll see how long she held on to that job...

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