The X-Men’s Dissipating Storm

A pale Storm in profile

In 1975, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum introduced us to Ororo Munroe, aka Storm. An amalgamation of a shapeshifting character called Black Cat and a weather controller named Typhoon, the creative team tweaked some of the details and gave us the mutant we know today. Holding on to her Black Cat origins, she had cat-like eyes and distinctive eyebrows. Her eyes became blue and her hair a long, flowing white. Her skin was a deep shade of brown.

Original designs for Storm by David Cockrum, featuring the character Black Cat, from which she derived
The History of the X-Men: GIANT SIZE | Seminal Moments: Part 1, Marvel Entertainment, May 20, 2019

In 1976, Chris Claremont solidified Storm’s origin: she is the daughter of an African American photojournalist and a Kenyan princess.

Fast forward to today where the latest appearance of Storm features a woman unrecognizable from her origin. In a dusk-lit panel in the first issue of Marauders #1, a woman that we’re supposed to believe is Storm appears with skin this pale:

A pale Storm in profile talks to Kate Pryde
Marauders #1, art by Matteo Lolli, colours by Federico Blee (Marvel Comics, October 2019)

The contrast is striking. Skin colour is part of a person’s identity. It doesn’t matter that Storm is not a real person. There are more than enough real people who identify with her to find this depiction hurtful in so many ways. Ignorance is not an excuse for whitewashing skin tones. Moreover, technology has provided all sorts of tools to improve how dark skin is depicted in comics. There is no reason for a colourist not to understand how to colour dark skin in this day and age. The topic has been raised by many artists who have offered their insight and advice to help people learn and do better. Here, Ron Wimberly shares his experiences with the subtle racism of shifting skin tones. Here, Nilah Magruder discusses the key to understanding that dark skin reflects light, and offers techniques to appropriately render it. Yet washed out dark skin still appears in comics today.

Colourism has affected Storm’s live-action screen appearances as well. Halle Berry became Storm in the X-Men movie of 2000. Decades later, her younger version was played by Alexandra Shipp, who came under fire as a continued example of Hollywood’s refusal to acknowledge that darker-skinned actresses exist and can play far more roles than they are pigeon-holed into. Both Berry and Shipp are clearly Black women, but neither actress adequately reflects the character’s Kenyan roots. Berry at least attempted an African accent in the 2000 film but moved on from that in subsequent outings as Storm.

With recasting the X-Men on the table now that they belong to Disney, fans and actors are hoping to see someone on screen that not only acts the role of a mutant worshipped as an African goddess but also looks more the part.

Storm’s appearance on the pages of Marauders #1 falls significantly short of this hope, but I’m not putting the blame all on the colourist’s back. On top of the whitewashed complexion, there is nothing about the image presented that tells me the person in this panel is an African American woman. And all of this artwork got by an editor.

With her origin as a half-Kenyan woman and half-Black American woman, her facial features ought to be clearly defined:

“Compared with white women, the following measurements were found to be significantly different (P<.003) in African American women: special head height was shorter; forehead height II was longer; nose length was shorter; lower face height was longer; height of the calva was shorter; forehead height I was longer, and ear length was shorter. In addition, most horizontal measures were wider, ie, eye-fissure width, nasal width, mouth width, and facial width. The nose and ear have greater angles of inclination. Of the 9 neoclassical canons, the orbital proportion was found to include the most proportional subjects (30.6%), followed by the nasoaural proportion (13.0%) and the nasofacial proportion (9.3%). Subcategorization based on nasal dorsal height yielded the most significantly different measures.”

Add the original design from her creators, the distinctive elements of Storm’s features are basically baked into the character, yet her fluctuating appearance shows that this simply isn’t an important factor to Marvel. The “Storm” that was allowed to be published in Marauders #1 looks more like a “30% chance of rain,” to use a friend’s apt description. Her skin colour is washed out in several more panels, and, though her facial structure in many forward or three-quarter-facing shots leans a bit more towards the typical wider African American features, bone structure is generically Caucasian. In the above profile, only her white hair differentiates her from the other women in the book, both of whom are white.

Lion Forge editor Desiree Rodriguez cites fluctuating appearances as one of the reasons why a character resource bible is so important to her as she helps coordinate the publisher’s Catalyst Prime Universe. Rodriguez’s character resources reference more than just the basics of hair and eye colour or costume design. Her descriptions extend to body and face shape, with detailed colour palettes for skin tone. Her goal is to ensure consistency across the characters no matter who is drawing and colouring them. The consistency acknowledges that cultural diversity and identity is not just a superficial thing that varies from page to page, issue to issue. It also helps avoid the same face syndrome that plagues so much of comics art.

In her early appearances, Storm’s character design features remained largely consistent, if not necessarily her African American features. Artists had no problem maintaining her blue cat eyes and, of course, her shock of white hair, and colourists like Glynis Oliver ensured that Storm’s skin colour remained a rich (if varied) brown well into the ‘90s. Each of the artists who regularly drew the X-Men titles had their own unique style. Storm’s appearance morphed accordingly.

Significant character design changes came with Paul Smith’s introduction of Punk Storm in Uncanny X-Men #173 (1983). Rumoured to be designed based on Grace Jones, like John Romita Jr’s original design for Dazzler, Punk Storm presented a whole new look and attitude for the character, but if true, the Grace Jones influence was limited only to her new fashion sense. Her features continued to be far less African American than they should be.

In her renderings over the decades, Storm sometimes gets thicker lips, but that seems to be a general stylistic choice regarding what is considered sexy for female characters. The idea of her having a wider nose seems to be unheard of (though in fairness, tiny button or non-existent noses for all women in comics is a thing because why would breathing be important to a woman?) Her physical traits are typically depicted in favour of the ideals of white beauty. Artists rarely intentionally drew her to reflect a Black woman in appearance, but readers could at least rely on colourists to assure us that this character is, indeed, Black.

Jim Lee’s entrance into the regular X-Men artist ring signified an industry shift where the artist became more prominent than the writer. Certainly, Chris Claremont had something to do with the success of X-Men #1 in 1991, but it’s Lee’s art that sticks in everyone’s mind, thanks to it being plastered on five iconic covers and shipped in droves. What did this mean for Storm?

Like many of the artists before him, Lee’s characters’ facial features were unique to him and they all, including Storm, looked Caucasian. But he also drew her with less dramatic, unslanted eyes that mostly lost her cat-like irises altogether. This removal of her original, memorable traits became the norm when he passed the character on to other artists. Storm often continued to lose those slanted, cat-like eyes and evolved into a usually iris-less character with white hair and dark brown skin. Outside of her costume and the lightning at her fingertips, these were her only defining physical traits.

We’re now in a post-Black Panther world where Hollywood has discovered that movies starring Black people of all shades don’t have to be about the ‘hood, slavery, or racism in general, but can still make significant box office bank. Comic books, which aren’t bound by inconveniences like casting real human beings in roles, still haven’t grasped the concept of allowing Black characters like Storm to consistently have Black features. The lack of actual, distinctive African American facial features in Storm’s regularly drawn appearances makes it stand out when an artist actually does make her look as she should.

A series of Storms in her various costumes

Some artists even go so far as to add braids or kink to Storm’s hair to strengthen her identity as an African American character. However, most of these more racially accurate depictions of the character are one-offs⁠—special covers or short-lived solo series.

Bringing us back to her current appearances, I’ve been disappointed to find an even more disheartening trend with the character. The inconsistency in her character design over the years can be chalked up to artists’ unique style and refusal to grow beyond. Her fluctuating skin tone is the result of ignorance and negligence. But, in Storm’s recent outings that I’ve read, I find myself frustrated by the writing of her character as well.

Storm was once a character who commanded attention both in appearance and in demeanor, but in her recent depictions, her role has been as much washed out as her appearance, leaving her little to do in each panel, if she appears at all. In X-Men: Red, she’s introduced first as an enemy to the freshly resurrected Jean Grey. Despite being long-time best friends, and Storm being a long-time, significant leader of the X-Men, the series reduced her to being a minion under someone else’s control, and her subsequent speaking roles involve tossing out a line or two to back up Jean’s statements.

Her initial absence from the new House of X/Powers of X series is glaring and, when she finally appears, it is as a prop, reduced to the usefulness of her extraordinary mutant powers. As Jonathan Hickman’s new X-universe unfolds, we find Storm sitting on the Quiet Council speaking her mind around the table as all the other leaders, but little more. In the new X-Men #1, she plays an exhausted second fiddle to Cyclops in a story that leads to her role in Marauders #1, where she plays support to Captain Kate Pryde. Her words in these last two issues speak of her desire to be among the people, helping them find their way home to Krakoa. There is potential for this to mean something, but of late, writers and artists seem to be pushing her further and further into the background.

This is an extremely disappointing turn for a character who has had truly impactful story arcs since her creation, both with and outside of the team. In the iconic X-Men: Lifedeath, Chris Claremont and Barry Windsor-Smith explore how Storm comes to terms with being stripped of her powers and dealing with the man who was responsible for it. She has proven herself as a leader of the X-Men despite the loss of her powers. She has overcome her greatest fear in order to save the X-Men time and again. She has wielded Mjolnir and fought battles across galaxies. She has challenged numerous villainous men who seek to dominate her and discover that she is indomitable, only giving herself to those she determines to be worthy of her. She has exuded confidence, power, empathy, reason, and strength throughout her career as an X-Man and has played pivotal roles in so many of the X-Men’s greatest stories.

Storm is a character that has shaped me from the moment I discovered her, and it breaks my heart to see her seemingly fall to the wayside. Hickman has given me high hopes for what the X-Men can be once more, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m afraid that Storm herself will become as washed out as her features and her skin.

A goddess like Storm deserves so much better.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.

20 thoughts on “The X-Men’s Dissipating Storm

  1. Excellent article!! This voices so many frustrations I’ve had with Storm’s treatment of late, and brings up points that I had never before considered. I wish all the xmen editors would read this.

  2. Additional comment unrelated to the actual content of the article: The comments’ "page 2" will not load on any browser from any IP.

    I know it’s not your responsibility to do tech support, but there doesn’t seem to be a way for me to report that.

  3. When it comes to the writing, you should probably mention X-Men Gold, too. It’s even more problematic than Red. She’s also taking orders from Kitty, to whom she gives her previous leadership after considering herself a failure. Not to mention how in most of the fight scenes, she was one of the first ones to get knocked out so that Kitty or Logan or someone could defeat the villain by themselves.

    1. I haven’t read X-Men: Gold. I had hoped that the issues I was seeing were limited to the few titles I’ve read recently. It’s even more disheartening to learn that it seems to be pretty consistent.

  4. Sadly, with this careless schlub of an editor-in-chief and this asshole of a CEO, I don’t have high hopes for Storm’s treatment improving any time soon. Whenever she inevitably makes an MCU appearance, here’s hoping that will FINALLY be the adrenaline shot the comic portrayals and the weight of her character need.

  5. While this article does a great job of explaining why skin color is important, it does a terrible job of giving the Marauders colorist a fair shake.

    This is another panel from the same issue not in twilight; Storm is quite dark skinned here.

    Basically the author cherry picked the scene where Ororo’s skin looked the lightest in the issue to make an issue out of nothing. Ororo is consistently dark-skinned the rest of the issue.

    I appreciate the perspective, but I don’t appreciate manufacturing outrage. That may seem unfair, because this article is even-handed and well-written, but I don’t know another way to describe what’s being done. And I don’t like it.

  6. Pretty much. I was also disappointed by her portrayal in Marauders. The comic book was extraordinarily colorful, and yet Storm had nearly the same coloring as Kitty Pride, in addition to having a nearly identical face. It was pretty depressing, honestly, even if the comic overall was decent enough. I was also frustrated in the comic because Storm’s powers were rendered completely useless, and she didn’t even attempt to fight with her powers dampened… Storm is not a generic best friend, second in command type character, the way Falcon is to Captain America. She’s among the most powerful X-Men and one of the most iconic superheroes, period. I wish these white male writers would attempt to get to know her character deeply, likely know Rogue or Jean or Kitty Pryde or Emma Frost. She’s usually no more than a list of positive but dull qualities: kind, intelligent, smart, strong, regal. Let Storm be as complicated as Cyclops or Wolverine, for whom she ought to serve as a compliment and equal. I love the potential of Storm especially as a black person, but she’s almost never worked for me except when she fought the Morlocks. I’m praying to God that she’s in Black Panther 2 and that the eventual Mutants movie does her right. 🙏 And Hickman is super visionary with plots and themes, but from what I’ve seen so far I don’t think he’s especially talented as a character writer.

    1. Good point about her not physically fighting in Marauders! She has so many skills beyond her mutant powers but she’s been so underused of late. That only Kate got to do the physical fighting is yet another example of Storm being just… forgotten about!

      I disagree re: Hickman though, with the clarification that he seems to write certain characters very very well. I love his Emma Frost as well as Cyclops and Magneto. It seems clear which characters he cares about though, and those are the ones that get the juicy dialogue and proper characterization.

  7. At first I would say I dismissed a lot of these articles and view points defensively as most people who are white do. Why. is the question I kept asking myself. Why did I dismiss it so quickly. ? Why would it make me feel defensive and angry? All I could come up with was a totally absurd and completely hard wired "fear" answer that I was being blamed for something I didn’t do nor did I think or feel. If that was true then why did I respond as I did, maybe it was true as I couldn’t even listen or read about someone’s views or feelings on the subject without a response like this to varying emotional degrees. Maybe I was avoiding being accountable or maybe I was just like the people talked about in these articles, that talked about white privilege, which is funny because we were so poor the welfare kids made fun of us and the homeless people turned their noses up at us. As i grew older, my attitude and appearance reflected my journey and I would get stopped anytime a cop even glanced my way. The difficult thing I had to one day honestly tell myself was… it was choice, I could go "undercover" I could blend in with white people and almost disappear except to the few observant ones, those who can read you, by your eyes and see your soul. Once I realized the differance. Once I realized I was trash to society but white trash is still white. Then I understood the problem. I was angry and mad because I could empathize more with people of color. And that empathy was causing me to be angry at myself in an almost paradoxical way. I can never truly understand, what it is to be a person of any color, or any persecuted people abused based solely on their skin color. But I could learn to recognize this behavior and soundly and completely reject such behavior, soon these articles taught me and would inform me, strengthen me and teach me to see in ways I never considered. The became mind opening and even caused a self awareness at times painful, but always they shone the light of truth everywhere even in place I ignored. I considered myself forward thinking and tried to break stereotypes before it was even recognized as widely as it is now. When my kids were born I taught them not to use race to describe someone, it became almost a way to be what I called a lazy blind racist, "who was it that you meant?" "That black guy…. " someone would say with a shrug. "You know the black guy!" As if that was all that was needed. They would no longer look past that.. it became almost a barrier of words a barrier stopping any deeper true meaning. Sadly this is the world many people of all cultures and creeds were handed, unfairly and unjustly. But I try to learn and I am starting to know the difference between hearing something and listening. And if someone who never went past 11th grade and is considered by many of his people the lowest of lowest white trash.. can do this… can become better. Then I take hope from that, because if I can, then that means anyone can and many probably do. We are changing this world regardless of their propaganda and fear tactics. In the end that’s all they have, lies, fear, and hate. So keep writing your views, keep teaching others to be better than they are, keep believing, otherwise they win and none of us deserve a world where hate rules. Storm has always been the leader of diversity in the pages of comics to me. Especially to kids who never even met a woman of color and I feel its importand we have examples like her to off set the stereotype that is constantly and unfairly forced on people to the point they actually believe the stereotype is the normal baseline they should start with for comparison. Maybe Hickman would greatly benefit from your article if anyone out there is able to I dunno… say blow up his social media with links or maybe tell him "dude read this!" If say your his mom reading this, or some some clever grassroots marketing.on social media.. it would suck if Hickman ends up hurting his run by ignoring the characters that made X-Men the star that it is in pop culture modern culture, comic culture, never forget the ones that made it happen. It offends comic collectors so deeply they dont even realize it they just start creating Justice League and BvS movie memes with your likeness because they just need to!!!!
    I enjoyed your very real and needed view of Storm and it even showed me some views I never considered or realized before but definitely are needed so she can be the rich and fully realized character she has been in the past.
    Thank you

  8. People are so stuck on skin color. Like what does it matter?….what? Mary Jane Watson is a brunette? We Riot!!!

    1. The article explains very neatly why it matters. Equating the skin color of a Black woman with the hair color of a white woman betrays the disingenuous nature of your comment.

    2. As if that were the only problem. It is, of course, a racist and sinister way to subconsciously devalue darker skin over lighter skin, the way society already does, and you can pretend it doesn’t matter, like you pretend to be black with that username, but facts are facts.

      The real issue is not her skin color, because Storm has been shown with varying shades, though all were in the medium dark range, the real issue is her treatment. Claremont defined Storm, strong, assertive, involved, a leader, and a focal point of the stories. And ever since his departure it’s been the angry white boys club at Marvel’s focus to slowly and summarily undo every single ounce of building to this character that Claremont has done in order to purposely replace her with Jean Grey and Emma Frost.

      She has been written completely uncharacteristically and disrespected in ways no other front-running character ever has had to endure. She’s currently being shown to seriously question her leadership skills, voluntarily giving up her role as leader and serving shamefully under a teenager, because the white boys club decided she needed to pay for defeating Cyclops for the leadership of the X-Men in the 80’s that they never got over (which has already been rewritten to diminish her accomplishment). As mentioned in this article she starts off as villain in X-Men Red, being mind controlled after it’s already been established by Claremont that Storm’s own willpower makes it difficult for her to be mind-controlled and in the past when she has been she has broken through it of her own free will. But the angry white boys club had to put her in her place behind long dead Jean Grey, so she had to be diminished further. There was another nonsensical issue where she and Jean, again under mind control (and isn’t Jean a telepath?) fought over Bishop’s affections because, of course, he picked Jean over Storm. This would first of all never happen, and secondly Storm would never still so low, but she had to be further diminished against Jean for the angry white boys club.

      Cyclops has been lightly disrespected recently, too, treated the way the moronic writers thought the know-nothing, newly onboarded cartoon fans might want to see their "teachers pet/prick" Cyclops, the way the cartoon mischaracterized him in order to make Wolverine look better. But the angry white boy fans were having none of this. Their outcry not only brought the character back from death, but garnered an entire apology issue upon his return, to totally put him back at the top leadership position where he belonged. Similar outcry from Storm fans has been derided and dismissed as "crazy Storm fans" who won’t shut up.

      It’s not enough that Marvel systematically steals the stories of suffering from every minority replacing minorities with overwhelmingly white faces, but now they have to vanish the few representations of minorities that exist. Storm is the worst offense, her powerful stature not just in X-Men, but within the Marvel Universe as a whole had been outstanding before the 90’s cartoon single-handedly destroyed her as a character. As Storm had been easily Marvel’s head female, the only female mandatorily present in nearly every Marvel ensemble book, poster, or video game, until the cartoon made her into a bafoon. But Marvel’s mistreatment of it’s minority X-characters doesn’t stop with Storm.

      Forge’s treatment can be described as nothing less than criminal, likely for the crime of loving Storm. He has been callously thrown aside, mistreated by other characters (even Storm), made insane, and consistently disrespected by writers (even his Marvel bio is racist) uncharacteristically since Claremont left. Bishop was made into a savage gun-toting psycho bent on murdering an innocent little white baby/girl, and Northstar has rarely even appeared since his media-focused marriage to Kyle. Meanwhile none of the white characters get this racially insensitive and totally uncharacteristic treatment.

      Marvel should be ashamed of itself for it’s treatment of what was comics’ most recognizable and beloved black character, and its own most recognizable and bankable female character. Now, that honor goes to Black Panther and probably the long dead Jean Grey, as hard as the angry white boys club has worked to push her to the forefront, as they have done unsuccessfully so far with Captain Marvel, in order to have Marvel be represented by a white woman instead of Storm, and it’s even more disgusting and ironic when it’s all happening in a book specifically and historically about discrimination and bigotry, a fact that unfortunately seems completely lost on Marvel.

  9. I don’t know what eyes people are using but Halle Berry is clearly the same skin color that Storm has been depicted having since her inception about 90% of the time. So what people are made about is that they did not darken her for the movies. But let’s stop trying to pretend Storm is a dark skinned character. She is not and neither of her parents were particularly dark skinned.

  10. You say exactly what has been on my mind reading recent depictions of Storm, who has been my favorite superhero ever since I started reading comic books as a kid. I’m inspired by her and I’m sad to see the half-thought-out attempts at doing justice to someone so deeply complicated and filled with decades of history. Osvaldo Oyola has a three-part essay on Lifedeath and Storm’s characterization by Claremont and then Greg Pak that I highly recommend. He discusses both the successes and inadequacies that have tinged writers and artists attempts to bring Storm to the forefront. Great essay! Will share 😊

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