By PhoenixoftheTides 24 Comments
I was meditating on race, sexism and how these play out in comics quite a few weeks ago. In truth, I was considering posting some form of blog post about this earlier, but lack of interest resulted in me putting this off for as long as possible. I was starting to think that I was simply taking these characters too seriously, that no one shared the discomfort that lead this character to go from being my favorite X-Man to simply being what I considered to be yet another idealized heroine in an adolescent power fantasy and because of these two things, there was no point in at least commenting on my reaction to the character.
This morning, I randomly stumbled upon this article http://digitalfemme.com/journal/index.php?itemid=1073by Cheryl Lynn, that was originally posted three years ago and commenting on how Storm can be seen as a racist fantasy. The article is basically about Storm's appearance and how she doesn't fit into any cultural context, despite having two parents of various degrees of African origin. Even more interesting is that the article references Byrne and Claremont's reaction to this critique and their rebuttal (http://i36.tinypic.com/1zxs5g0.gif). The fact that the author is a woman gives another element to this commentary, since the basic fact is that Storm can't quite be considered or claimed as a role model for girls in general nor black/brown skinned/African girls in particular. I've commented on this in various forums, but it bears repeating that Storm lives a fairy tale, her powers are somewhat interesting, she is lauded as beautiful, she became a queen, she is well-respected and she's often guilty of explicitly telling her opponents why she is better than they are. Per Chris Claremont, she was explicitly created to be very powerful in order to be an example of a strong woman, which was rare at the time. "But is it a fairy tale worth reading? Black women cannot live vicariously through Storm. She is the Black Fantasy Marvel spent more than two decades telling us we could never be. The fantasy is useless, for there is no comfort in engaging it. The character only serves to remind us of how short black women fall from the racist norms society demands we aspire to." (from Digital Femme).
What is interesting is that I've heard a similar story from the creators of Monica Rambeau. According to Roger Stern and John Romita, she was created to be a positive role model for girls and provide an example of a smart, successful and powerful African American heroine. The similarity to Storm ends there. Monica has decidedly African American features but her character traits don't revolve around her power set (which are amazing and on one of the higher tiers for an Earth-born hero, see link for additional feats http://hudlinentertainment.com/smf/index.php?topic=4156.0) - they revolve around positive personality traits: Rambeau's a character that has a strong need to do right, no matter where she is. Characters like Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Luke Cage needed a reason to become heroes. Rambeau, however, is more in the Captain America mold. Like Steve Rogers, she's driven to serve the public. While Captain America volunteered for a dangerous experiment to serve his country, Rambeau spent years serving as part of the New Orleans Harbor Patrol. Getting powers merely gave her another way to serve the public, and becoming the leader of the Avengers gave her yet another way to help. (from A Marvel Black History Lesson: http://marvel.com/news/story/15279/a_marvel_black_history_lesson_pt_2). Furthermore, she is a college and police academy graduate. Though artists and writers have experimented with her costume design and styling to various extents, the concept was that she was a beautiful (http://i92.photobucket.com/albums/l21/brownfox59/photonMonica07.jpg) recognizably dark-skinned woman of African descent who didn't need a connection to Africa or unconventional features to legitimize herself. This is her home and she is comfortable here. At one point, she was asked by She Hulk to drop by in order to meet Scarlet Witch, who was inactive at the time (link to image http://i576.photobucket.com/albums/ss206/ladylight/Avengersmonica8-5.jpg). She casually switches to French, which she learned in her home city of New Orleans, Louisiana, and she has a brief conversation with Wanda - the scene, and others such as an earlier impromptu visit to France, emphasized that she is cultured without being too heavy handed in its' depiction, and she is mature enough to recognize Scarlet Witch's service while having interpersonal skills to be friendly without trying too hard. In many ways, Monica Rambeau is a more successful character because it was the qualities that make her a superhero that took a priority over her appearance or cultural background.
Juxtapose this with Storm's inner monologue where she reveals that she is not comfortable with cities (http://i37.tinypic.com/5fp086.gif). While this opinion makes sense, given Storm's issues with claustrophobia and growing up in the country side, it does reveal that she neither embraces American culture nor does she feel any solidarity with other people of African descent living there. She was essentially walking through a poor community (one can assume that it was occupied by many minorities and marginalized people) and outright rejecting it. Storm is a character that had freedom to go anywhere she chose, and her choice was to go into a self-created ghetto, the X-Mansion, and was forced to embrace the label of outcast even though she was conventionally pretty and was depicted as getting compliments wherever she went, and could have been successful as a regular woman with a secret identity.
The point that Ms. Lynn brings up in her blog is that the major problem with Storm is that she represents an idealized version of woman, with no connection to either part of her ethnic background and no interest in investigating them. The point seems to be that she was created in a period of time by writers who, good intentions aside, never quite came to terms with the African part of her origin story, don't seem to have been aware of African history so despite setting aspects of her origin in Africa, never bothered exploring what this means until years later (for example, connecting Storm ancestors to Egyptian sorceresses instead of the Modjadi or the Rain Queens that ruled the indigenous people of the Balobedu which would have taught her readers something about the real world while legitimizing a possible source of her powers by grounding them in the real world) and who quite seriously didn't see anything wrong with creating an African/American character who more closely resembled a Nordic ideal of beauty than the people she was supposedly genetically related to (indeed, they responded to the criticism with annoyance by saying that they "envisioned primordial Eve to have silvery hair and blue eyes" not appreciating the irony that this was the Nordic ideal they were being accused of tapping into). What Ms. Lynn seems to be asking is a threefold question: Who is Storm supposed to inspire? Whose adolescent power fantasy is she a symbol of? And is it a worthwhile, healthy one? There seems to be an inherent aspect of racism with Storm because she seems to fill the image of what a "beautiful or acceptable" woman of African descent should look like and which has been perpetuated in the beauty industry via hair relaxers, blue contacts and skin lightening agents.
Children, young people and adults of all shapes, shades, sizes, sexes and orientation need to be inspired and comics offer examples of heroes while their primary purpose is entertainment - it's just questionable if some of the more popular characters inspire positive archetypes or negative stereotypes. Storm may simply be a male fantasy of the exotic but acceptably attractive female laid on top of some element of empowerment rather than an aspirational figure.
ETA: This is not meant to bash the character in any way, but offer some form of analysis as to what this character can mean to other people and examine the ambiguity she might represent to some people.