Greg Pak’s Paradise – a #SaveStorm blog post

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I am a Storm fan. Like, an actual fan. I don’t just read X-Men titles and think of Storm as my favourite character, no- I am a fan. My relationship to her is of the kind fandom scholars write books about. She has been my role model, inspiration, support, and best friend my entire life, and it is fair to say that she is now a part of me. Strangely however, I need to leave this personal attachment to the side to persuade you to buy her comic and help save it from cancellation. I must appear objective and reasonable for you to listen to me, so this is what I will do. Here is why I think you should read the Storm solo title, and support the #SaveStorm campaign.

OK, so I lied. The reason I’m going to give you might be thought out and rational, but it is still entirely personal. It has to do with my favourite pairing, Storm and Forge, and one of my favourite issues of Uncanny X-Men, issue 226. In this story, published in 1988, writer Chris Claremont creates a political metaphor in the shape of a parallel universe known as the Adversary’s world. If alternative universes are a recurrent ploy of Claremont’s, simultaneously allowing social commentary and character development, this particular world comes with a twist: it is entirely devoid of human life. A pristine version of the main Marvel universe, Earth 616 (itself a metaphor for the reality of the reader, by all accounts), it is conjured up by an evil god the Cheyenne refer to as the Adversary, as a prison for his archnemesis, the shaman known as Forge, and his then lover, Storm. With Forge and Storm trapped in an alternate universe, and blissfully distracted by life in paradise, the Adversary has free rein to destroy the main reality. All the same, Storm and Forge are left with quite the existential dilemma: remain in their heavenly prison, “consecrate (it), give it a soul”, but condemn their reality to destruction, or return home to save their reality, but give up on the peace and happiness they would have found in an empty world created just for them.

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Storm and Forge in the Adversary’s world.

 

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The Adversary (Uncanny X-Men 225, art by Marc Silvestri)

What I see in the Adversary’s world (beside my OTP vindicated in a lot of implied sex, but I guess this isn’t the time to tell you about that) is an essentialist Native American god granting a Native American man the opportunity to mould a major fictional world in his image, with the help of an African-American woman.The Adversary, with his stereotypically Native American garb, represents Forge’s denied heritage, forcing him to rely on the shamanic magic he has sworn never to use again. To this extent, it is difficult not to view the god’s attempt at replacing Earth 616 with a world exclusively populated by Forge and Storm’s descendants as a racial statement: the Marvel universe, (and by extension, the intended reader’s Euro-American reality), does not need the white man to exist, and could have been paradise without his intervention. One could even say that by trapping Storm and Forge together, the Adversary also re-establishes the connections between Native Americans and Africans that were systematically left out of history[1].

 

However, the Adversary remains the product of a white popular culture, and as such, must fail in his mission to construct a non-white world. His approach dooms him to defeat from the start, as he does away with whiteness by doing away with people, white or otherwise –  he erases them from his new world, and simply destroys the existing world. While that would certainly do the trick, and could be seen as a serious case of eye-for-eye, no one in their right mind could condone genocide, especially not the X-Men, who have sworn to “protect a world that fears and hates them”. Therefore, Forge and Storm must recognize the Adversary’s world as a dangerous fantasy and leave it to “(perish) stillborn”. To demonstrate the possibility of reality without whiteness, the Adversary’s world would have needed to survive alongside Earth 616, and to interact with it in a non-hostile fashion. What this plot succeeded in showing instead is that white (the main universe) and non-white (the Adversary’s world) can’t cohabit, and that whiteness always takes precedence over non-whiteness. Talk about unfulfilled potential. And it’s not like the Adversary’s world was ever given another chance: since Storm and Forge split up in 1996, it has hardly been mentioned[2].

 

Then, Storm #3 was announced, and my heart leapt.

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Yup, that’s Forge. Last time these two shared a cover was in 1992.

Not only were Storm and Forge to spend the entire issue together (quite frankly, squee), but in the hands of Greg Pak, the writer who was putting so much emphasis on Storm’s interactions with various communities, the Adversary’s world was certain to be discussed. I counted down the days, but no trace of my favourite metaphor when the comic came out. When Storm and Forge discuss their past relationship, they skip the Adversary’s world entirely. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to being angry, or even disappointed by the omission. There was something about Storm #3 that ticked all of my boxes, but I couldn’t figure out what. It was eventually L.E.H Light of blacknerdproblems.com that answered my question in her review:

“One thing of significant note: If you include (sic) Beast the Friendly Ghost, everyone in this issue is of color. Everyone. This is an African story in which the central conflict is neocolonialism. It is one of those subtle victories that that story is being lead by brown and Black people coming together to find mutual solutions.”

To further prove her point, Light had tagged her review #holditnowhitepeople. Her words made me realize why I liked the issue so much: between the lines, it was a tribute to the Adversary’s world. Storm and Forge were once again in a setting without white people, the Kenyan village where Storm was once worshipped as a goddess; this environment then becomes Forge’s heavenly prison, as Storm banishes him to it, so he can atone for his sins and learn collaboration; finally, Forge’s sentence, which comes with the promise of reconciliation, is to last for a year – the exact amount of time he and Storm had spent in the Adversary’s world.

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Greg Pak’s paradise: solidarity, collaboration, reconciliation – all without white people (art by Matteo Buffagni).

 

But STORM #3 is not just a reference, or even a reformulation of the Adversary’s world; it is a correction. First of all, the exclusive focus on African and Native American people does not equate the elimination of the white man. Secondly, and most importantly, this story does not resort to the creation of an alternative universe to create a space for people of colour. It points to the fact that this space already exists on Earth 616. It needn’t be created, but for the sake of diversity and solidarity, it must be noticed. All it takes is a change from the white Euro-American vantage point of mainstream popular culture, and Greg Pak’s work on STORM hands you the proverbial new shoes in which to walk. For instance, if many charities present natural disasters in underdeveloped countries as opportunities for the white man to play saviour, the aftermath of the tsunami in STORM #1, set in the fictional nation of Santo Marco in South America, only shows the interactions between locals, local militias, and Storm herself. Similarly, if heroism is traditionally found in the violent acts of white men, in STORM #6, the hero is a Filipino woman transporting an organ for transplant. Chris Claremont presented a world without whiteness as a heavenly fantasy; Greg Pak has made it a natural reality.

 

And it is this Storm book that is now in danger of cancellation. Many involved in the #SaveStorm campaign argue that the book is crucial to the cause of diversity in comics because its title character is a bisexual African-American woman with mainstream appeal. I would add that the representation of disenfranchised groups, and the identification with them creators seek to incite in readers, are only significant if they come with the alternative point of view these characters embody. Greg Pak has so far done an outstanding job in focusing solely on the standpoint of the various communities Storm speaks for and cares about. To this extent, the Storm solo is a political endeavour that must survive in the interest of solidarity between peoples.

 

So there you have it: big, dramatic words. I did warn you that I was a fan. But you know, if my favourite character –object of obsession, imaginary friend- is being used as a vessel for a political message I support, I feel compelled to share the love, a little bit. Oh, I’m not saying Pak’s STORM will change the world, but if it has the potential to make some readers richer human beings by giving them a fuller picture of the world, I say it’s worth the $3.99 ($2.99 digital). And the continuation of my lifelong devotion.

 

STORM #8 comes out on 18th February.

The STORM trade paperback, Make It Rain, comes out on 3rd March. 

 

 

 

[1] See, for example, Arica L. Coleman’s book “That the Blood Stay Pure” and bell hooks’ essay ‘Revolutionary Renegades’ in “Black Looks”.

[2] On the other hand, the Adversary himself is too much of a stereotype to disappear from the pages of Marvel Comics. After Chris Claremont’s departure, he became a gimmick. In X-Factor 120-121 (March-April 1996), he possesses Mystique and hides in foliage, prompting Forge to put on a loincloth and war paint, and to have cryptic conversations with his old Indian mentor over a campfire. In what feels like a desperate attempt to ward off accusations of racist representation, Forge eventually defeats him using a combination of his magic and mutant power. However, in Cable and X-Force 17 (February 2014), it is not Forge who defeats him, but Dr Nemesis, a white man with a dubious Nazi past. In the space of two minutes, Nemesis manages to pull the Adversary out of Forge’s mind, where he’d been lurking and causing a lot of damage, and to lock him up in a tiny box in his own infallible head. Silly Forge, if only he’d left the thinking to the white man from the beginning.

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