Greg Pak (W)
Scott Hepburn & David Baldeon (A)
Release date: September 24, 2014
As a lifelong Storm fan, I was admittedly more than a little worried to see that Forge would be the next person out of Ororo’s past that she encountered in only the third issue of her comic. Greg Pak’s Forge proved my trust not misplaced.
Pak makes sure to catch up new readers while respecting older fans who already know Forge, and Pak weaves this into a greater story.
This is another of Pak’s one and done single issue tales, and one that deals with something Marvel did awhile back that never sat right with me. In order to justify Ororo’s marriage to T’Challa, there was suddenly an entire branch of Storm’s family from her mother N’Dare’s side, who appeared out of nowhere in Africa, just in time to give her a reason to return to Africa beside her new husband. Unfortunately, once the marriage took place, there were almost no stories told about that family, or any of the other people Ororo knew during her time walking the continent. Pak’s story here pulls together those few threads and weaves them together with sensitivity and skill.
But getting to the meat of the story: Ororo receives an invite through Hank, but he fears the invite is a trap, as it leads back to Kenya — the land of Ororo’s youth where she was revered as a goddess. Flying there in a jetstream flash, Ororo reflects on the times she has returned to Africa and the various places on the continent she’s stopped at. For a moment, she allows herself to think of Kenya as home, but shakes it off quickly. As she alights near a stone altar where she once allowed herself to be revered as a goddess, she meets the people who invited her. To her credit, Ororo is a little regretful, embarrassed, and even a little ashamed of the time she appeared as “the goddess.” The elder of the village is a woman who remembers Storm and admits they knew she wasn’t a goddess — just a “crazy girl” who could make it rain. The old woman’s kindness saves the interaction from being a more awkward and uncomfortable moment as she expresses sincere appreciation for what Ororo did for them years ago. But the pain is visible in Ororo’s face nonetheless as she acknowledges how she must have come across.
As the two women return to the village, Esther, the elder, introduces Ororo to her son, Noah, who is experiencing frustration at the sight of the pitiful crops. Ororo notes they have irrigation lines. Esther acknowledges that they were put in by a relief organization, but angry Noah snarls that the water was cut off a year earlier. When the windrider asks why, Noah snaps at her. He’s on edge and suggests someone slept with someone they shouldn’t have, or someone stole a cow. The vibe I get is that he’s a “modern man” who is angry and frustrated that such petty things can and do cause such repercussions for his mother’s village. But his moment of emotion is short lived as they enter the village proper where things are blooming and flourishing.
Storm is a practiced enough adventurer to recognize cutting-edge technology when she sees it — an inquiry indicates that the solar powered water extractor is good enough for the garden but can’t produce enough water for the crops. At which point, Storm realizes this is part of why she was called here and with whom she is being asked to work. His name is Forge, and for those who are new to him — he’s a mutant with the gift of invention. He’s been called The Maker once upon a time. Once upon a time, Ororo and he were deeply in love. So seeing him here is a bit of a shock for Ororo who hasn’t been close with him in quite some time.
Storm confronts Forge, who is obviously very happy to see Ororo, but she is a little suspicious of his motives since he is not Kenyan and only knew of this village’s existence through Ororo having told him about it. So to her point of view, Forge made use of privileged information to find the village and had them send an invitation to Westchester knowing it would draw her — but left out his own involvement until she was already there. Forge admits that perhaps his approach looks a little shady, but he protests that he only did it this way so that his own involvement would not make Ororo choose not to come and help these people who truly need her. On this point, Ororo agrees (as if she wouldn’t) and asks Forge to show her what he has in mind to help the village. It turns out he has, as cliche as it may sound — a weather machine. The problem with it, and the reason he needs Storm’s help is that the machine has two settings only: tiny, gentle little one-cloud rainshower or humongous, ferocious monsoon — nothing in between. Noah, watching from the village, sees the second setting’s capability (you couldn’t miss it) and is impressed.
Ororo appears amused by the weather machine’s trial run, but when Forge requests her to assist him in calibrating it so it does something more useful than the two extremes, she explains that it’s not as simple as he hopes. She tells him that she is the metaphorical butterfly, and that if she makes it rain in this village for a week, she could be causing a drought somewhere else. Forge admits to not having realized this aspect of manipulating the weather. Storm walks away to get familiar with the village and comfortable with its people, even engaging in games with the children; something that appears to be a constant for this series — children seem to flock to her. Noah, however, sees her as the goddess making her worshippers wait while she makes up her mind and vents his displeasure at having to rely on foreigners like her and Forge to help them.
Forge insists that it’s not his intention to take over or run the show — that he understands having come from a people whose lands were stolen and misused as well. He offers reassurance that he could never tell Noah and the village how they should choose to cope with the changing times so different from that of their forefathers. He asserts he is simply there to help them by giving them tools to survive while they work out their own way of moving forward. I found this particularly impressive — there are a lot of similarities between how Native Americans and multiple people from different African countries have had to face and endure a world that has not made a place for their traditions and lifestyles, and Pak doesn’t shy away from portraying the pain of having been exploited.
Overhearing them speak, even as Noah is silently considering Forge’s words, Ororo decides to assist Forge with his weather machine. That’s when things get interesting.
As Storm begins doing as Forge asks, she brings up their shared past — in which he took her powers and lied about the circumstances under which the accident happened. (For those who don’t want to Google the old history: Rogue was considered dangerous, and Forge invented a power-removal device to take her powers, but when he fired, he missed and hit Storm.) Forge is quick to apologize, to point out that he did everything he could to restore her powers, and to assure Ororo that he was working with the government then, but he is his own man now. He tries to go on, but a too close for comfort lightning strike reminds him who he’s dealing with, and that she’s not finished speaking. She continues, sidestepping their romance and the time they spent together, moving on and describes seeing him again at Wundagore where he was ranting and tried to save the world by opening a portal to monsters. Forge’s defense this time is that he had brain damage, and Cable helped him fix it, but Ororo is having none of it. She allows that perhaps he was truly not in his right mind, but that his emotions came from somewhere. She tells him there’s no grudge carried, but makes it clear that if she suspects his motives — every piece of equipment he has created will be destroyed by her hand. Her words are calm, but the storm she has called up to calibrate Forge’s machine proves that she is not as calm as she may outwardly appear.
Noah sees the amazing storm light the night, before Ororo soars skyward and dismisses it in a breath. As he approaches Forge, the Maker describes the machine as ready, once the upper ranges are locked off. Noah reminds Forge of his promise to let the village decide how to use the tool that the weather machine represents. Before Forge can try to explain, Noah advances with a hoe as a weapon and tells Forge he’s done and should leave. Esther tries to speak sense to her son, but before either of them can do anything, thunder rumbles ominously overhead.
Storm takes the decision out of everyone’s hands. As Esther scolds her son for stupidity, Ororo reveals that she has been paying attention to Noah as well as Forge and that while she’s not sure she trusts Forge, she knows Noah trusts neither of them as outsiders. She acknowledges Noah isn’t wrong to be distrustful. As proof, she presents them with a number of hypotheticals — what if Forge’s machine breaks? What if climate change means even the low settings don’t bring enough rain? What if a warlord wants to invade for the tech? Or, alternatively, what if Noah had the machine with the upper levels unlocked and had the powers of a god?Would he become a despot, ruling the village? Would he take revenge on those who turned off the water in the first place? It’s not difficult from there to imagine what could come after that.
Storm reminds them she’s no goddess and cannot divine the answers — but now that the machine has been destroyed by her hand, they have to work together to rebuild it and answer for themselves. The story ends with the same satisfying tone Pak has set previously. Forge ventures toward Storm, but she shuts him down gently, letting him know she’s already seeing someone. He asks, instead, if they could be friends, and her answer is that she expects him to work with the village for at least a year before she’s even willing to consider being friends with him. He’ll have to prove himself by walking the walk that he wasn’t just manipulating her into helping him so he could have a chance to try to get her back. He’ll have to prove he truly does mean what he says about helping communities in need. And the issue comes to a close with Storm doing as she has done since this series started: picking up tools and getting her hands dirty doing the work those around her are also doing to improve their little slice of the world.
The art for this issue was done by someone other than Victor Ibañez. There were two pencillers and two inkers. The art was, as a result, all over the place. Some of the images were beautiful (I suspect where Hepburn inked himself) and some were just … unfortunate. Several were extremely unfortunate, kind of putting a simian cast on the people of the village. As is usual, I am sure this unfortunate portrayal of Kenyan Africans was not intentional. It may even be a case of multiple pencilers and inkers muddying each other’s work. There’s no way of knowing what the true intent was, but it is still my job to call it out when I see it.
The unfortunate method of drawing Noah is balanced out by the fact that that the people of the village were portrayed as multiple shades of brown rather than one uniform shade. I would’ve liked to have seen a little more population in the village as well, so we would get a greater sense of the people Forge, Noah, and Esther were trying to help. There were a lot of broad shots to show the scope of the landscape and how big the problem was, but there were only half a dozen or so people besides the principals represented in the art.
Pak’s storytelling remains strong: I get the distinct feeling that Ororo was onto something when it came to her wondering aloud what Noah might do with the weather machine. There were a few color and inking choices that seemed to cast him in shadow, as if his frustration and resentment might boil over with an outlet such as the one Forge was providing.
One final note: this story was no less heroic for all that it wasn’t a humans-vs-mutants issue. It was a regular people needing help issue, and as such, Storm never once donned her X-Men uniform. She spent the whole issue in a tank top, rolled up khakis, and ankle boots. This is another visual choice that makes distinct what role Ororo is choosing to occupy.