Aside from “Who would win in a fight?”, no debate gets comic fans more heated than the question of whether or not superheroes should marry. In this mini-feature, former Bride Rebecca Henely-Weiss and Bride-to-Be Kayleigh Hearn take a trip down memory lane to the most significant times comic companies took the plunge and got their characters hitched! Did we like the couple? Did we like the dress? And more importantly . . . why did (or didn’t) the marriage last? Today we look at the wedding of Storm and Black Panther . . .
The Couple: T’Challa and Ororo Munroe
The Issue: Black Panther #18
Published: September 2006
Today: T’Challa had their marriage annulled during the Avengers vs. X-Men crossover event (after the Phoenix attacked Wakanda), though they remain on amicable terms and still have feelings for each other.
Rebecca: When we chose to tackle this couple in anticipation of the Black Panther movie release, I thought this marriage would be a barely remembered curiosity. However, it’s actually come up in recent weeks. Director Ryan Coogler fielded a question on whether or not Storm would appear in a Black Panther sequel (he hasn’t thought about it), X-Men writer Chris Claremont told i09 his opinion on the marriage (he didn’t like it), and actors Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o also weighed in (they want their characters to stay together).
I wondered if my opinion of this issue would improve since I read it over a decade ago but I actually think it’s worse than I remember. While I like Black Panther in the MCU, I’ve never explored his comic backlog the way I probably should. However, I’ve loved Storm ever since I watched the Saturday morning cartoon X-Men back in the 1990s and given how this issue treats her I consider this comic an actual insult.
Kayleigh: Storm and Black Panther’s marriage was the first “event” wedding that happened after I started following online comics fandom, and I remember it being really controversial on message boards at the time (though I have no urge to revisit them, since I’m sure a lot of it got vile). When their wedding was announced, I didn’t even know Storm and Black Panther had any romantic history (though this was also before Marvel really got caught up in reprinting their older material). This was also the first superhero wedding where I could see the strings—the underlying need to sell this as a “Wedding of the Century” event rather than an organic development. And it’s a shame, because Storm and Black Panther could have been a great power couple.
Rebecca: T’Challa and Ororo weren’t one of Marvel’s power couples when Marvel announced they would be married during the Civil War storyline—actually, they weren’t really a couple at all at the time. A back-up story in Marvel Team Up #100—from 1980—established them as meeting in Africa as children when Ororo saved T’Challa from a white supremacist, but for the most part the characters inhabited fairly separate parts of the Marvel Universe and they both had different although by no means definitive other love interests. Eric Jerome Dickey wrote a Storm mini-series that re-wrote their first meeting so T’Challa actually saved Ororo and they lost their virginity to each other. Also, Ororo apparently had been in love with T’Challa ever since then, she just never talked about it.
In an interview that seems to have disappeared from the internet, writer Reginald Hudlin claimed that Ororo would be a better fit for T’Challa than his ex-fiance Monica Lynne because “Superman should be with Wonder Woman and not Lois Lane.” I’m not against marriages with two super-powered people—Reed/Sue and Barda/Scott have been two of the most successful here on The Wedding Issue—but those couples were also created to be in stories together. I think there are a lot of fans who fear a relationship like Superman and Wonder Woman wouldn’t be a marriage of equals but a situation where Diana’s story gets subsumed into Clark’s. Unfortunately, Hudlin does exactly that to Ororo in Black Panther #18.
Kayleigh: Claremont’s issue with the marriage was basically, with two leading heroes this big, who gets top billing and who becomes a supporting character? I think even among well-intentioned writers, there’s this unexamined expectation that wives will follow their husbands. This is exacerbated when the characters come from different corners of their universe, because if Storm is Queen of Wakanda, does that mean she leaves the X-Men? If she keeps appearing in X-Men books, does that mean she’s neglecting her duties to her people? (For a recent example of this, look at Kitty Pryde’s engagement to Star-Lord, which involved her leaving the X-Men, the Xavier Institute, and the frigging Earth itself so she could play “Star-Lady.”) Ororo’s very first line in this comic is “Whatever makes you happy, dear,” which . . . .ehhhhhhhhh.
Rebecca: This issue attempts to advance the Civil War event, hint at future Black Panther storylines and sell a relationship that had pretty much been stitched together with retcons. Iron Man and Captain America both show up, almost attack each other, re-state their position on the Superhuman Registration Act, and don’t stay despite T’Challa’s pleas. The Cannibal tries to infiltrate the wedding, but he basically bolts when Dr. Strange glances in his direction. When a fight does break out at the wedding between Spider-Man and Man-Ape it’s pretty much treated as an unfunny “We had to have one!” joke.
Yet what really infuriates me about this story is how the narrative is basically about how Storm needs to prepare for her life to become totally subsumed into T’Challa’s. She’s the one who has to impress his Panther God (who refers to her time being worshipped as a weather goddess with derision). Her conversation with her Maid of Honor Kitty Pryde centers around how this marriage is “all she’s ever wanted since she was a child.” Yet the worst part comes early in the issue when she has a heart-to-heart with Charles Xavier and he tells her the marriage is the most important thing she’ll ever do because it will make her “the living representation of human/mutant relations.” I don’t want to denigrate any representative benefits that can come from a minority becoming royalty, but I’d like to think if a journalist were to tell Meghan Markle that marrying Prince Harry will be the most important thing she’ll ever do, and not her acting or planned humanitarian work, they’d be raked over the coals. That Xavier is telling this to Storm is off-putting, and it makes him seem like someone who cares more about his greater mission than her emotional well-being.
Kayleigh: Black Panther’s the title character, but the story feels lopsided— there’s no scene where T’Challa affirms Wakanda’s commitment to the cause of mutant rights, for example. He also dodges Ororo’s question of whether or not he’d give up everything to be with her if she failed the Panther God’s test, which isn’t a good look. It’s a shame that this takes place during Civil War though, since T’Challa should not have to stop Captain America and Iron Man from blowing each other up on his wedding day.
Rebecca: We haven’t done a big “event” wedding in a while, so I am happy that we can talk a bit about the cameos, but I wish I enjoyed them more because I don’t really like Hudlin’s sense of humor. I guess having real-life figures such as George W. Bush, Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro show up to the marriage is certainly a choice. And jokes about Oprah being the most important person in the world are funny enough that Hudlin mentioned that twice, I suppose.
Kayleigh: I was glad to see Isaiah Bradley get a moment of respect and recognition. But my favorite cameo, if you can call it that, was the reunion between Storm’s maternal and paternal grandparents, which was touching and bittersweet. I think Hudlin has some good material but keeps the jokes going just a moment too long. Spider-Man drinking next to Man-Ape, who was going to crash the wedding until he found out he was actually invited, is funny, but the two of them then stumbling into a cliché fight ruins the moment. I also got a good laugh out of the Dr. Doom hologram taking offense at not being invited, but then adding, “Considering I have been trapped in hell, it was fair to presume I was unavailable.”
Rebecca: Storm’s dress is really nice. Like many of the best wedding dresses we’ve covered, Storm’s dress was created by an actual designer—in this case costume designer Shawn Dudley, who tried to make a dress that incorporated elements of African art, high fashion and an overall regal look. I have a few quibbles with it—I really don’t like the dip in the bustline that goes down to the corset. But for the most part it’s beautiful and when Eaton draws Storm flying into the ceremony and blowing away her cape to reveal the dress it’s probably the most striking part of the book.
Kitty’s pink dress is ugly and doesn’t seem to fit her personality. Also, because it’s always a good time to bag on Frank Cho—how the hell does his drawing on the cover resemble Kitty in any way? Before I re-read this comic my first thought upon seeing the cover was “I don’t remember Jessica Jones being Storm’s maid of honor.”
Kayleigh: Ororo’s wedding dress is beautiful, I love that it incorporates the large ruby that’s frequently wears in her costumes. Her entrance is really something—I think Scot Eaten and Klaus Janson do phenomenal work here. Most of the weddings we’ve covered have been pretty WASP-y and American (even Donna Troy’s!) so it’s nice to cover an international wedding that celebrates the beauty and traditions of the (albeit fictional) Wakandan culture. It’s been common for the superhero grooms to wear their costumes on their wedding day, but here it’s actually relevant to the character, plot, and location!
Rebecca: I do recognize that as a white writer it’s not a good look to say the most prominent black superhero couple was a bad idea. I have read some defenders of the couple accuse detractors of racism or being white male fans who selfishly want Storm to be with someone who looks like them. Certainly, the phenomenon of white female fans who want white heroines to have relationships but then loudly wonder “Why can’t a strong woman be single?” when Uhura kisses Spock is a real thing. Yet I really don’t think Hudlin, Dickey or anyone else involved built a compelling new history for these characters when they retconned them together, and they set up such a power imbalance between the two of them that in the end T’Challa was able to annul their marriage without even speaking to Ororo because it’s his country and his god and he makes the rules (and he’s a guy). I don’t think Storm has been well-served by any of the X-Men movies but the creators behind the Black Panther movies don’t seem into the idea of them together. Maybe we should leave that cross-branding integration opportunity—I mean couple, back on the shelf.
Kayleigh: I don’t think Ororo and T’Challa’s romance was a bad idea, but it feels like wasted potential. I totally get looking back at Marvel Team Up #100—which does end on a wistful “path not taken” note—and thinking, “What if Storm and Black Panther actually got together?” And they have had nice moments together; I like this scene from Christopher Priest’s Black Panther #27. But if you have to retcon a relationship that happened almost entirely off-panel into a lifelong love affair, that’s not the most stable ground to build a marriage on, and combined with this issue’s weirdly judgmental and reductive take on Storm, it’s not surprising it didn’t last. If their reconnection had been given more time and space to build, instead of hurried along with a “Wedding of the Century!” ticking clock, the comics might have been able to smooth over some of the logistical “So, you married someone from an entirely different superhero franchise” bumps in the road. Interestingly, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther run makes a good case for them as a couple that loves each other but probably shouldn’t be married. They were a couple of epic promise, perhaps lightning will strike twice?