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Storm: An Excerpt from Diary of an AfroGeek

What follows is an excerpt from my new book, Diary of an AfroGeek. It will be released later this year.

I’ll let my childhood friend, Emile, set the tone:

“Storm was gangsta! Not now, and especially not in the movies or cartoons. The essence of how and why he was so ill was captured in X-Men 170 and 173; blood, Storm was unfuckwittable. She was everything black comic readers needed — particularly those of us who were black, but were also more than black; who participated in a non-stereotypical kind of blackness. People always want to hold Batman up as the most hardcore of them all. Not even close. Batman’s balls can’t even compare to Storm’s weather controlling uterus.”

You ever have a friend whose exuberance is contagious? Emile’s excitement infected me:

No doubt. Batman is a punk-ass fascist who only attacks street-level crooks. He descends from his manor and attacks mostly black and brown poor folks. He does have a rouges gallery of elevated psychopaths, but the majority of his fight is with the poor. This is why the Arrow TV show is way better than the Nolan Batman films. Not in terms of style or content, but because of the motivations of the two. Both are rich white boys who lost a parent or two. They both train and use their money to make a difference. Batman fights the symptoms of crime, while Oliver Queen fights crime at its root. He’s just not a pissed off one-percenter. Queen is going after Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers while Batman is going after Pookie and Ray Ray. They sideways tried to address class politics in the last Nolan Bat-flick, but it did not make any appropriate commentary. The politics were light in the ass. Batman is a buster on the political level.

Our eyes met and when we slapped each other’s hand, it produced that thunderclap that only black men can produce. That hand-slap symbolizes agreement, connection; it is the Big Bang in reverse. All the grand ideas and actions reduced to a moment in time. We agreed: Storm was gangsta.

Any proper exploration of Ororo Munroe — aka Storm — should be an entire book (or two), with visual aids and annotations as she is one of the most citational superheroes out there. I won’t be engaging in that kind of scholarship here — 39 years of comics’ presence is far outside the context of what I’m doing. What I will argue is that Uncanny X-Men #170 and #173 perfectly distill why Storm was so important to us AfroGeeks.

There have been very few comic covers that were as hardcore as Uncanny X-Men #170. The Morlock leader, Callisto, and Storm are engaged in a knife fight, in front of a plain red background. Paul Smith’s art perfectly captures the seething anger these two hold for one another. They are in the sweat and bad breath range of combat; like two hawks engaged in battle. At issue here is not why they fought, but the impact of their fight.

Storm represented the triple other — black, female, mutant; Callisto represented the true outcast — not pretty like the proper heroes, forced to make life and community beneath the surface. Normally, in this type of match up, I’d be rooting for Callisto and her outsider Morlocks. Storm was too pretty (as were the rest of the X-Men), almost too mainstream; there was a corporate sheen that seemed attached to Storm and the aboveground mutants. The X-Men were the mall, and the Morlocks were CBGBs.

A brief tangent: I never framed the competing visions of Magneto and Charles Xavier as a Civil Rights Movement analog — despite the chatter around this interpretation. I have always experienced the X-struggle — especially considering my upbringing — as whether or not to show or proclaim that you are talented. When phrases like, “Too big for his britches” or any version of, “What? You think you’re smarter than me?” ringing in my ears and heart, I engaged the world way below my intellectual weight class for many years. I hid my intelligence from peers and family so that I would not be ostracized from the only communities I knew. If I were encouraged to my full potential early in life, I cannot imagine where I would be right now — the things I could have experienced. As a father, while I do not praise for things that are expected, I do encourage my daughter to shine as brightly and as hotly as her talents allow. Tangent over.

The scenario: Sprite (Kitty Pryde) is sick and needs to be healed by a Morlock with this ability. Angel (Warren Worthington III) is in bad shape as well — not to mention that Storm is suffering from a plague and is trussed like a slave at auction. To get the help needed for their friends, and to escape the Morlocks’ subterranean home, Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner) challenges Callisto to a duel. Storm overrides him and challenges Callisto herself.

After being set free, Callisto tosses a blade to Storm who deftly snatches it out of the air. Artist Paul Smith conveys Callisto’s sense of “oh shit” in a very convincing manner. Nightcrawler and Colossus (Peter Rasputin) are second-guessing their teammate — they are actively predicting her demise at the hands of the one-eyed blade smith.

The fight is Hobbesian: brutal and short. Storm uses her cape as an ensnarement tool and stabs Callisto through the heart. Once again, Paul Smith’s art allows Callisto’s facial expression to tell us everything we need to know about the moment. As Callisto crumbles into herself, Storm faces the camera and begins to walk towards it. After Storm takes control of the Morlock’s — she’s now their leader — she decrees that they will no longer kidnap or harass surface dwellers. The last panel of this sequence sums up its impact on me: Nightcrawler offers that he did not think Storm had it in her to end Callisto. Her response is what makes this entire sequence amazing and it was this that ushered me into viewing comics through social and cultural lenses. Storm, carrying Angel’s bruised and battered form replies to her teammate: “Neither did Callisto. That was her mistake.” Badass.

I find this to be revolutionary in the sense that the Morlocks finally have permission to be who they are. Storm (rightfully) shows them that they are a people unto themselves — never again having to covet the mainstream. Was this one of the first diversity rallying cries in comics? I’m sure that this was never the intention of the creators, but this conflict works as an analogue to Star Trek’s credo of, “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” How many kids are forced into choosing between conformity and self expression? As one of those kids, this moment struck me as permission to both live in the hood, but reject hood culture and embrace all of the things that I loved from Dr. Who to comic books.

A couple of issues later, there was the mohawk.

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