Why I love comics – The X-Men

I did a drawing of Storm this week for the Oz Comics weekly draw off.

She’s been recast in the movies recently. She’s just come off a fairly middle of the road series that managed to last 11 issues, thanks to the best efforts of writer Greg Pak. And she was a major player (if not the star) in the most popular comics of all time. That’s a big statement, so let me back it up. In 1991, X-Men Vol 2 #1 by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee sold 8.1 millions comics, setting the Guinness Book of Record record for most copies sold. It did this partly through multiple covers and the speculators market that existed at the time, and partly through Lee’s slick and sexy artwork, but also through the soap opera and characters that Claremont had built up over the previous decade.

Which Storm should I draw? Storm in her Dave Cockrum “Disco Legion” outfit? Storm in her Paul Smith punk gear? Storm in Afro-futurism Queen of Wakanda mode?

Storm was introduced to the X-Men as part of an across the board fresh start. Wolverine and Banshee had been minor characters, and Storm, Cololssus, Nightcrawler and Thunderbird were all completely new. Artist Dave Cockrum had originally created three characters for the Legion of Superheroes before leaving to move to the X-Men. Nightcrawler transitioned pretty much as he was. The Black Cat (an African American woman with thigh boots and a bikini and feline powers) and Typhoon ( a weather controller) got merged into Storm, due to a sudden overabundance of cat-women in Marvel at the time. Cockrum stuck to his guns that she would have white hair, despite editorial concerns that this would make her look like a granny.

Chris Claremont soon took over the writing duties. In his massive tenure on the X-Men, Storm was obviosuly one of his favourite characters, getting more than her fair share of the cool spotlight moments. She’d regularly demonstrate her raw power of mutant weather control, with plenty of explicit lines pointing out that she outclassed the other X-Men in this respect. She also demonstrated a lot of human strength – taking down Callisto when she was sick, leading the X-Men when she lost her powers temporarily, and so on. She broke a lot of ground by being the first major woman of colour in the Marvel Universe, but was also one of the first women superheroes to not be burdened by being the only woman on the team.

That’s what I wanted to draw – Storm and her teammates.

She started off as the token woman, but Claremont deftly manouvered her out of this position. He reintroduced Jean Grey, introduce Kitty Pryde before killing Jean, try to introduce Dazzler, then successfully introduced Rogue and Rachel Grey. It all felt completely natural at the time, but it isn’t hard to see an agenda behind it in hindsight – to create a team with a decent gender balance. Ditto for the villains – Mystique replaced Magneto and  Emma Frost was added as a recurring antagonist.

Within this team, Storm took on a kind of unusual role, as the sexy older woman. The X-Men have traditionally been a young team, as school students. When the second wave were introduced in Giant Size X-Men #1, it included a few members who’d seen a bit of life before joining the school. Banshee and Wolverine both had chequered history as secret agents and soldiers. Storm grew a complicated backstory that saw her as a street-kid and thief in Cairo and  a temporary goddess in Kenya. Contrast this with the other women on the team. Kitty was a young, eager, point-of-view character with a fairly sheltered background. Rogue was like a tough kid with a rough background (raised by supervillains) who had a bit of trouble assimilating into the team before becoming an absolute asset. Rachel Grey was a young kid with an even worse background (future where mutants are hunted, and she was used as a telepathic “hound” to track down her own people) and the worrying inheritance of her mother’s destructive madness hanging over her when she adopted the codename Phoenix. Amongst them, Storm took on a kind of motherly role. At the same time, she was the hot one. In the earlier Claremont issues, she had a tendency to wonder about why she need to wear so many clothes, due to her mutant ability to compensate for ambient temperature and thus never feel the cold. Thankfully, this got dropped, but when Claremont himself wasn’t reminding us that her name meant “Beauty” every issue, she was being invited to have dinner with Doctor Doom and leaving him impressed and awed, or having an affair with Dracula.

She seems to have this effect on guys, but above all, commands respect from them.

(Well, apart from one occasion where Emma Frost swapped minds with Storm, and spent most of the two issues laughing it up with fellow Hellfire Clubber Sebastian Shaw about how they were going to shag, with her in Storm’s body! All in veiled terms, of course.)

On top of this, Storm was often portrayed a bit of a powderkeg, who could accidentally cause some heavy duty destruction if she let her emotions get out of control.

Let’s just say Halle Berry‘s portrayal and role didn’t really live up to the comics (and that’s down to the script, not Berry’s performance).

This is why I love comics. They have the space to tell big complex stories, and they aren’t hindered by conventions that still seem to dog the movies. The X-Men movies were great, but spent far too much time with Wolverine because he’s the Han Solo bad boy, and someone somewhere along the chain was scared of losing money by not letting him take the lead role.

In the most successful comics ever, Storm wore the “writer’s favourite” aura, and it rocked!

While I’m on the subject…

Let me talk about Rogue. I’ve been meaning to get this down for a while.

In the X-Men Movies, Anna Paquin does a great job of protraying Rogue as a spunky troubled kid coming to terms with a rather sucky set of mutant powers that prevent her from safely touching anyone. She has this plucky lip-biting vulnerability/bravado that reaches through even Wolverine’s gruff demeanour, and the two form a bond. She’s kidnapped by Magneto and rescued by the rest of the team, with Wolverine making a sacrifice to save her when she’s still tied to Magneto’s device.

The comics were a bit different.

Rogue first appears in Avengers Annual #10 as a villain. She’s been raised by Mystique (who’s a deadly mastermind and successor to Magneto by the way, not a naked acrobat sidekick), and helps take out the entire Avengers roster. She absorbs Ms. Marvel’s powers first, accidentally holding on too long and permanently absorbing her considerable strength, flight and invulnerability, leaving poor Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel without any memories or powers. She then absorb’s Thor and Captain America’s powers and generally acts like a super-powerful schtick villain until the Avengers manage to drive her and her team away through teamwork or something.

Carol Danvers is an old friend of the X-Men and Wolverine’s, and ends up getting help from Professor X.  They clash with Rogue a couple more times, until Claremont drops the bomb, and has Rogue turn up on their doorstep asking for help. She’s being driven mad by having two sets of memories permanently in her head, and can’t think of anywhere else to turn. So instead of the plucky vulnerable waif we had in the movies, Rogue first joins the X-Men with “Hi, I’m insane, have Superman level power after screwing up your old friend’s life, and I need your help!” Along with the X-Men, I was convinced that this was a trap, but Professor X sticks to the mission and lets her in. She does bond with Wolverine first, but only because the team get poisoned in Japan, and they’re the only ones strong enough to fight it off, and have to work together. He does pass his healing factor to her with a kiss, but only after she’s practically sacrificed her own life to save his. Within six months she’s pretty much accepted by them all, and fills the role of the team’s heavy hitter, the flying version of Colossus who can also knock anyone out and borrow their powers with a mere touch.

Now, that story is a bit too big to fit into even a series of movies. You have to introduce Ms. Marvel. You have to set Rogue up as a dangerous villain and then have her switch sides once she’s been established in that role. You also have to have the courage to make a young woman the team powerhouse, and sadly the superhero movies just can’t bring themselves to do that. Who’s the first woman with superpowers we see in the Marvel movies? Scarlet Witch, in the 9th movie? The female X-Men fared a bit better, but Storm, Mystique and Rogue all lost the sense of danger that they had in the comics.

Anna Paquin herself recently tweeted that she’d play Rogue again if she got to fly. I couldn’t agree more.

I want to see that version of Rogue on the big screen, along side the comics version of Storm. Not the side character who gives pep talks and advice to Wolverine, but the regal powerhouse who’s effortlessly holding her emotions in check so that she doesn’t destroy the mansion.

Wind-rider, attic dweller

Claremont had a reputation for method-acting his characters, for figuring out all sorts of details of their lives that often didn’t make it into the comics, so that he could present them as fully fleshed out people.

Storm lived in the attic of the X-Men mansion. Everyone else gets identical dorm rooms, but she had this cool slanted roof space with skylights and macrame hanging plants that she waters with little clouds. In some ways its every kid’s dream, to have that remote personalised space where you can get away from the rest of the family to chill out when you need to.

It’s a great succint image that says a lot. I look after small things that are weaker than me. I have connection to the Earth and growing things. I’m above you all. I need to be on my own sometimes. I probably eat organic food and support Greenpeace. I’ll have the room with skylights because I can fly and you all can’t. I had to do a second drawing…

 

And that’s why I love comics!

To be fair, books are just as good as an equally cheap low investment medium. (Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles covers all the bases that the X-men did.) Some film-makers do manage to create complex dangerous women characters, despite the prevalent attitudes in their industry. Luc Besson springs to mind. But, smaller budget media will always be more experimental.

If you’re looking for a good read, check out Essential X-Men #2 through to #4 for the cheap black and white reprints of these stories. They’ve aged superbly in my opinion.

Enough drawing Storm and talking about her. I’ve got Universe Gun pages to finish!

See you in seven, Storm-gods and goddesses! Dr Mike 2000, 18 July 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s