Tag Archives: Africa

Spotlight: X-Men – Storm/Ororo Munroe

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You may or may not remember the introduction I wrote for the Spotlight! post on Rogue, readers. I happened to find some articles about the “Strong Female Character” model Hollywood and the usual suspects have been trying to force on us lately. I have already written two posts of my own on this subject, both with the title “Strong Women,” but these other articles got me thinking harder about the subject. How can Marvel’s heroines, most of whom have superpowers, be strong women without being “SFC”s?

Well, in the case of Storm/Ororo Munroe, that question is not hard to answer. But it is a little time consuming, as I am going to give you a history of the character to deepen your understanding of her. A lot goes into making a competent heroine, while not much goes into the making of a stereotypical SFC, and the difference should be illustrated.

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One of the reasons I was disappointed by the X-Men films was Storm’s appearance. Storm had always been one of my favorite X-Men. In fact, when reading the Animorphs series, I was upset when one of the characters was compared to Storm. This character was Rachel, a blonde, blue-eyed beauty with the heart of an Amazon. I was not happy with another character choosing to compare her to Storm; the only thing Rachel and Storm had in common were their blue eyes, readers. After that, they were as different as apples and oranges.

So I thought having Storm in the films would be great. But when I saw Halle Berry playing the character, I was let down by the fact that a) she did not look like the Storm I knew, and b) she seemed to be completely watered down as a character.

If you are scratching your head and wondering why I would think this, allow me to explain. Storm is actually an African-American character, something that is never mentioned in the movies. Her mother was a Kenyan princess but her father was an American photojournalist. This is presumably where Storm gets her blue eyes; I cannot say for sure, but I think her father may have been white. I know he was American, and this is what makes her African-American.

Anyway, the couple married and moved to Cairo, Egypt, after Storm was born in New York City, New York. When Ororo was four years old, her parents’ apartment complex was accidentally bombed by a fighter jet flying overhead. Both of Ororo’s parents were killed and she herself was buried in the rubble for days. The extended confinement at this tender age left her with severe claustrophobia; even as an adult who has fought hundreds of battles against the nastiest people you can imagine, Ororo is terrified of small spaces. It is her biggest weakness, but luckily it is not always exploited by her enemies.

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After she was orphaned, Storm lived on the streets of Cairo for the next few years of her life. She made a meager living by picking pockets and stealing during this time. (That was not a very heroic start to life, huh, readers?) Finally, about the age of twelve or thirteen, Ororo did decide she had had enough of this life and left Cairo on foot.

On her way further into Africa, Storm met her future ex-husband T’Challa, who would someday become King of Wakanda and an Avenger. They did not stay together long, as Storm still did not feel at home in the area where they met. So she kept walking until she found a place that felt right to her (this place was, presumably, Kenya, her mother’s homeland). Here her mutant powers manifested and the locals worshipped her as a deity. In the X-Men: Evolution series, they gave her the name “Wind Rider.”

This village is where the Professor found and recruited Ororo into the X-Men. Partly because she had been playing goddess, partly due to her royal heritage, Storm became one of the most unflappable members of the team.

But there is more than mere instinct and training involved in Storm’s calm demeanor. You see, remaining calm is the best way for her to control her powers. Unlike Thor Odinson, Ororo cannot make a storm or even raise a wind out of thin air. This is Thor’s ability because his hammer does not need existing weather patterns to drum up wicked weather – it can create new weather patterns as instantly as Thor can think of them.

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Storm has to use existing weather patterns to create the weather she needs/wants. She has to draw moisture into one area from another or pull wind from one area to her.

In confined spaces, such as the X-Men’s Danger Room or another building, this is no real biggie as far as I know. Ororo can get the needed air and moisture from the building and nature will not become unbalanced because the internal temperature and moisture of a building is kept at a regular level by the heating/cooling systems.

This is not the case outside of this restricted environment. When she is flying above a city or a continent, if Ororo pulls too much hot air from one region and too much moisture from another, she can upset the balance of the weather in that area for a long time. She may even upset it forever, if she overdoes it.

So while Storm’s powers are fantastic and amazing, she has to be careful when she uses them. Her powers are tightly tied to her emotional state; if Ororo gets angry or becomes frightened, the weather will turn wild and ugly in response. This is the other reason for her quiet, tranquil attitude; Storm cannot lose control of herself in the smallest degree, because the effects will be far larger than a normal temper tantrum or a righteous scolding would allow. She could flood entire cities if she lost her restraint and this is why she rarely lets her temper out of the bag.

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However, this does not mean that Ororo does not have a temper. It just means that you have to work hard to get her to show it. Mystique pulled that off at the beginning of Evolution’s third season; she had kidnapped the Professor and pretended to be him for the last few episodes of season two.

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But her deception was only revealed at the end of season two, to be picked up at the beginning of season three. This was after the X-Men’s first public battle, where some of their members were captured by the government. After Nick Fury gave the X-Men information on their captured teammates, Storm began to plan the rescue operation…

…Only for Mystique to forcibly take command of the rescue mission away from her and put herself in charge. She did this, she claimed, because the Blob had been taken into custody along with the captured X-Men.

Already upset by the previous day’s chain of events, Mystique taking command of her team really got Ororo angry. Without thinking, she drummed up an instantaneous thunderstorm that might have had dire consequences for the town nearby. It took Jean Grey’s quick reminder about Mystique’s threat to the Professor’s life to make Ororo put the genie back in the bottle. The fact that she was able to “turn her powers off” so quickly is a testament to how much self-control Storm exerts over her emotions in times of stress such as this.

So how does this make Storm something other than an SFC? For one thing, Ororo is far more poised and graceful than most of the SFC characters I have seen. She is calm (usually), polite, composed, and does not think herself the better of any of the men in her life. Case in point would be the above episode I mentioned, where Storm bottled up her temper and her powers in order not to put the Professor’s life in jeopardy. It would have been far more of a struggle for Carol Danvers to do that, readers.

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Another thing which separates Ororo from the SFC model is her motherly tendencies. These first manifested in the comics when young Kitty Pryde – eventually codenamed Shadowcat – joined the team. Thirteen at the time in the comics, Kitty and her family had already been approached by a sinister telepath named Emma Frost. Kitty did not like the woman at all, but she sang a different tune when the X-Men – including Ororo – knocked on her parents’ door to ask to see her.

Kitty and Ororo apparently hit it off at once, and Storm has always been something of a “battle mother” for the younger X-Men. Shadowcat was not the last child she took a shine to; Ororo has “mothered” many other X-Men during their first days on the team, though I do not think she did it as obviously in most cases as she did with Kitty.

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The possible exception might have been in Evolution. In that series, Storm was given a sister who was married and had a son, Evan. Ororo is an only child in the original stories, but the writers for Evolution added a sister so they could bring her nephew, Evan Daniels, into the series. Codenamed Spyke, Evan’s mutant power was shooting greenish, bony spikes from his body. This meant that he had to drink a lot of milk to keep his calcium levels on a healthy plane.

But Evan was also a typical New York teen who thought he was tougher than he actually was. Ororo’s maternal inclinations were mostly directed toward him for the series’ duration as she tried to teach him that being tough meant more than talking hard and playing rough. She was also continually trying to get him to be more disciplined, as Evan had a bad penchant for fooling around or goofing off when he should have been studying – either at school or in the Mansion’s Danger Room.

This shows that, unlike the stereotypical SFC trope, Ororo has never demonstrated a dislike of motherhood. She has expressed on occasion a fondness for the role and a desire to someday be a mother, something she achieved in several alternate timeline comics with T’Challa. In two different timelines (or the same one) they had two sons; one was named after T’Challa’s father and the other was named Azari. So Ororo definitely does not check the Feminista boxes for hating children and motherhood.

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Storm and T’Challa’s son, Azari, in action.

Storm also does not have the super education the Femi-Nazis like to hold over everyone’s heads. Like Rogue, she learned most of her lessons on the streets, not in a brick and mortar school. And she actually had to learn those lessons from a younger age; Ororo was living on the streets of Cairo from the age of four. That was not easy or fun, readers.

This does not mean that Ororo is stupid or a rube. But it does mean that she is not a mechanic or super scientist. She is, as Evolution put it, a “weather witch” and a mother figure. Her interest lies in people and nature – and not in the way that the Feminists would want her to focus on these things.

I have never had any gripes with Storm prior to the X-Men film franchise. Halle Berry, most likely due to the directors’ interference, does not do the character justice, even all these long years later. My only gripe with the character in the comics was her first combat suit and a recent remake, which exposes way too much of Storm’s body. Newsflash, Marvel writers, combat includes getting shot at and having knives or other sharp objects thrown at you. The absolute LAST thing a woman – or a man, for that matter, unless he is the Hulk or someone like that – should be wearing on the battlefield is a revealing suit. It looks great on the runway but it is a bad, bad, bad idea in a fight.

As I said in my post about Rogue, I think Storm is one of the few characters who can skate by with long hair. With her powers, very few people can actually get close enough to her to grab her hair, let alone any other part of her body. And even if they do manage to tackle her out of the sky, her hair will be the absolute last thing they will reach for because they will not want to grab and hold her. They will want to knock her out as fast as possible so that they can slap an inhibitor collar around her neck.

So no, I do not want Ororo’s hair cut short, as Halle Berry has occasionally worn it. And no, I DEFINITELY DO NOT WANT STORM TO HAVE A MOHAWK. PERIOD!!!!!!!

I can also give Storm a pass on the cape she wears. Normally, I do not care too much for superhero capes. You can thank The Incredibles for this one, readers; the film made a point that capes look great but they can also be as dangerous as long hair.

In Ororo’s case, her capes have rarely been in her way. She also used her cape at one point in the book, Kidnapped in the Catacombs, to snare Callisto’s foot. (Callisto is the leader of the Morlocks, enemies of the X-Men you can learn more about in the post “Spotlight: An Introduction to Marvel’s X-Men, Part 2.”) When Storm pulled on her cape, she sent Callisto flying headfirst into a wall.

The reason she was able to do this with her cape was because it was not a full cape; it was a crescent shaped cape that connected to the back of Storm’s suit and at the cuffs of her sleeves, leaving a space in between her arms and the cape. A regular cape, I do not think, would be able to do this, but I could be wrong.

Either way, my favorite suit for Storm was the silver one we saw in the 1990s X-Men series. The one she wore in Evolution was not bad, but it was too dark for my tastes.

Well, readers, this is my take on Storm/Ororo Munroe, and these are the reasons why I cannot picture her as a Feminista. She just does not have it in her. The writers could try to add it to her character, of course, but that would go over about as well as the Mohawk they gave her did. Storm is not the modern idea of an SFC and she can never be this because she was designed to be a heroine, not a talking point on a Feminist bulletin board.

The idea that some people might put her there, for any reason, is enough to get me pretty angry. If it has not yet been made clear by my posts about Cap, Hawkeye, Gambit, and Rogue, you do not want to mess with my favorite characters.

Excelsior!

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Avengers: Age of Ultron – Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff

Black Widow

Okay, I have to swallow a prognostication I repeated several times in my predictions’ posts, readers. Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner really do have a romance going on the side in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

It was, honest to goodness, a surprise to me. I did not believe Whedon would do it. But I also did not think Hawkeye’s family would be in Age of Ultron, so I am batting a thousand on several fronts.

All in all, the Natasha/Bruce romance was not so bad, in my opinion. Whedon may have made it a little sugary in places, but Natasha telling Bruce exactly how messed up she was by her Red Room trainers was very eloquent.

That scene also reveals Natasha’s low opinion of herself. She explained there that she sees herself as a monster. Never mind the fact that she is practically Hawkeye’s adopted sister, that she’s been an Avenger for almost three years, and has helped to save countless lives since Clint redeemed her from the “Dark Side.” She still has not forgiven herself for what she was trained, forced, and chose to do in her past.

That weighs her down. She has been forgiven by her friends and her “battle brother” has children who adore her like she was their blood aunt. But because she has not forgiven herself, she is still securely chained to her past, as we saw when Wanda hypnotized her in the bone yard in Africa.

Readers, we unfortunately cannot discuss Natasha Romanoff’s role in Age of Ultron without mentioning that there was a lot of rage about her portrayal in the film going around after the movie premiered. Though this is not something I empathize with at all, I have strong beliefs about the “rage” that sent certain people into a flurry of Internet activity. Also, this post is discussing Natasha’s role in the film, as well as her character, both of which were savaged in the hours following Ultron’s theater release. So the “rage” that ran rampant on the Internet has to be addressed.

Apparently, there were several groups who had gripes about Widow’s part in the film. One offended group said that having Ultron lock her up in a cell was demeaning.

Excuse me?! He rips her off the Cradle, flies her back to his base, during which time she is completely stunned by the impact of his attack. When she comes to in the HYDRA base Ultron commandeered in Sokovia, she finds herself facing an eight foot tall robot who could snap her like a twig – especially with his new, vibranium-plated body!

No amount of kung fu in anything less than the Iron Man armor would have protected her from him if he had decided to stop playing games and kill her. When faced with a metal monstrosity one cannot physically beat, the only sensible way to stay alive is to get as far away from it as one can. Natasha very wisely backs away from Ultron and into a room, which turns out to be a prison cell, where he locks her up (as he intended). She cannot bust the lock with the little equipment she has on hand, and he physically outmatches her. The only possible way she can survive long enough to help stop Ultron is to sit tight and signal her team – or rather, Bruce Banner – to come and get her out.  (Not to mention tell the Avengers where Ultron is.)

I see no problem with this scene, in so far as Natasha wisely keeps herself alive to fight later on. Any other captured member of the Avengers would have done something similar, as the cell was the nearest accessible point of refuge. And Natasha’s rescue, as far as I am concerned, was perfectly normal. It was also a great way to show that Beauty does not always need to rescue the Beast (sorry, Bruce).

Another crowd was apparently angry about the scene at Hawkeye’s farm, where we learn that Natasha was sterilized by the Red Room operators and, as a result, is unable to have children.

*Sigh.*

Okay, either these people did not – and do not – want to do their research on Marvel’s characters, or they take everything in the films at face value. Both of these attitudes are preposterous, because the filmmakers cannot, after a point, make up the characters and the stories out of whole cloth. Marvel will not and cannot let them do that if they are to preserve the integrity of their characters and storylines for their fans. It will not work, because the movies will not sell if it is attempted.

So I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the fact is that in the “mainstream” comics, it was already a well established fact that Natasha Romanoff and the other Black Widows were all sterilized. The film version of the process is actually more thorough than the comic book depiction. In the comics, it was the Soviet version of Cap’s super soldier serum, which the Red Room handlers used to enhance their “charges,” that rendered the Black Widows sterile.

Was this a result of the Red Room serum’s inferiority to Dr. Erskine’s serum, or was it a planned “defect” the Soviets purposefully added to the mix? The point is debatable, but I lean toward the latter argument. If the Widows could not have children, it was “one less thing [for their handlers] to worry about.” And why should a Widow respect the lives of others when her own life had been so completely and carefully stolen from her?

The people who trained/raised Natasha wanted “a liar and a killer” who would do whatever they told her to do. They brainwashed her and the other girls, tore them down mentally and emotionally over and over again, until the girls could and would be whoever and whatever they needed them to be to get what they [the handlers] wanted. Natasha Romanoff was a tool, a slave, which they could remote control. They tried to erase everything – everything – in her that would possibly make her want to stop working for them. They did not manage to erase everything, which Clint figured out real quick, but the fact is that they wiped out a whole lot.

The most important thing they erased was Natasha’s ability to have children. All the brainwashing and training in the world cannot get rid of the potential that a female operative in Natasha’s line of work might have children. The one thing left that could probably unlock the chains the Red Room handlers had wrapped her in was that if, during a mission, a Black Widow had a child.

The child did not necessarily have to be born; it just had to be conceived. Once that happened, there would be no threat on earth, no chain under heaven, which could possibly convince Natasha or any other Black Widow to keep on playing the role of killing machine. Not when they had an innocent life they wanted – needed – to protect. The best way the Red Room could make certain that Natasha and the other Widows remained loyal slaves of the Soviet regime was to remove any chance that these women could have children.

The thing to remember, readers, is that Natasha can still lead a fairly normal life. This is something Bruce knows and she has not yet realized. Natasha cannot physically have children, but she could still get married and adopt a child or a number of children. She is fond of children. Bruce saw that at Hawkeye’s farm. In all truth, I think Natasha would make one hell of an adoptive mother. Having been deprived of her innocence, she knows how precious it is and is therefore willing to protect innocents – children especially – with everything she has. That is basically all you need in a mother.

But because Natasha will not forgive herself for her past, she has not moved on to that chance at a mostly normal life. She stays where she is, still chained by her guilt, by the idea that she is a monster manufactured by even worse fiends. Frankly, I am glad Whedon put this note about what the Red Room did to her in the movie. It ties back to the original comics and it adds a dose of hard reality to the film and the franchise. I think it needed to be there.

Of course, some other offended viewers also say that Natasha’s part in these scenes is demeaning because it makes her “less of a role model” for young girls. Pardon me for being so “backward thinking,” but I dare say that if Natasha Romanoff herself heard the words “role model” applied to her, she would laugh in the face of whoever called her such a thing!

Natasha Romanoff’s code name is the Black Widow, people. It happens to be a name she shares with a poisonous North American spider that is supposed to kill and eat its male mate. In her role as a Soviet spy, Natasha killed hundreds of people. And not just men, though they were very likely her primary category of targets. The stories about real black widows say that they kill and eat their male mates, after all.

But a deleted scene from The Winter Soldier shows the main villain of the film, Alexander Pierce, mentioning that Natasha had a role in something called the “Children’s War.” So it would appear that the Soviets were indiscriminate when they told Natasha who to target. If her handlers told her to take someone down, she did it. No reservations, no mercy, no regrets; she killed whoever they marked for death. End of one hellaciously ugly story.

So if the Black Widow, a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff, is a role model for young modern girls, does that mean we want our girls to grow up to be “liars and killers” like she was – and still is, occasionally? That is what Natasha would ask, and what she would see as the implication in people calling her a role model!

If Natasha wanted young girls to turn out like her, I do not think she would be letting Lila Barton draw pictures of butterflies or encouraging her in other traditionally “girly” pursuits. Considering Natasha supports the child in these activities, I think she wants Lila to turn out more like Laura than like her!

All of this is not to imply, readers, that I think young girls should not admire Natasha Romanoff. I admire and like her quite a lot, actually! However, I would be much happier if people allowed girls to admire and look up to Natasha for the right reason.

That reason is this: Natasha was raised to be a “liar and a killer.” But one day, she chose to be something else. She chose to do the right thing when she had been brainwashed and programmed into believing that making such a choice was to choose weakness. Despite years of training and programming, Natasha did something her handlers had believed was impossible for her to do: she made a choice of her own free will.

And that choice was to be someone good, someone who was not the “liar and killer” her handlers had spent so much time and energy molding her to be.

In making this choice, Natasha found herself. She left the Darkness behind and entered the Light. This is an extremely brave choice to make, something girls who admire Natasha should understand. Her choice had to have scared her to death on some level. Going from complete Darkness to bright sunlight for someone in her position is quite the change. But she did it anyway.

She was alone, seemingly, when she made this decision. But, as we know, she was not alone after she made her choice. No one who makes the choice to leave the Darkness for the Light ever walks alone; they are always provided with a guide of some sort. In Natasha’s case, her guide was Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. This is the reason that they are best friends in the films. Hawkeye was there for her when she needed someone to help her learn to see in the brightly lit world she had just entered. Let’s face it; you are going to stumble around when you blink a lot. And Natasha probably did a lot of “blinking” in order to get her feet under her after she chose her new path. (So she was very lucky she had a guide with the eyes of a Hawk!)

All this talk about Natasha “learning to make choices for herself,” is from people who are not looking at her properly. Natasha has already made a series of independent choices, starting with the one where she said to herself, “I will do what I know, in the law written on my heart, is right,” and followed through. She then made the choice to join up with Clint and follow him into SHIELD. In making that decision, she chose to protect people. Then she chose to become an Avenger when Loki tried to take over the world. In The Winter Soldier, she chose to help Cap stop HYDRA, even when it meant letting the world see her gruesome past sins. After this painful episode, she decided to be an Avenger full-time.

Hulk SMASH

These are all very big choices that Natasha has made in Marvel’s movies, perhaps without truly realizing the full implications of what she was choosing. And in Age of Ultron, Natasha made another big choice. She chose to fall in love with Bruce Banner.

Think about it. She was very likely trained to believe that love of any kind was weakness. But she fell in love with Hawkeye as a brother figure, she who had never known even the love of sisters, since the Red Room violently discouraged the sisterly instincts of the Widows it manufactured. (Check out the Agent Carter episodes on the Red Room to learn more about that.) Then Natasha found sisterly love with her battle brother’s wife Laura, and learned to love like an aunt by interacting with the Barton children.

But with her own ability to have children gone, how could she possibly find love with a man? If she fell in love with a man who wanted children, how would he react to the news that she simply could not have any? How would she take being married to the man of her dreams but being without the ability to make their marriage a family life?

So she shut herself off from romantic love. “Love is for children, I owe him [Clint] a debt,” she told Loki in The Avengers. It was not a lie; it was a way of protecting herself and others from disappointment. Loki thought he had found a woman like Sif: a warrior female who loved battle but who would also willingly surrender her warrior duties to have a family at the first opportunity of finding real love. He never realized that Natasha did not have any such designs for her future, for the simple reason that others had denied her that dream long ago. The only thing she felt she had left was her job at SHIELD, and later, her job as an Avenger.

But in Age of Ultron, Natasha did fall in love – with Bruce Banner. And he could not have children, either, so it was a total win-win scenario for the both of them, right?

Sadly no, it was not, and Bruce knew it. Even if he could not articulate it, he knew it. Natasha, once she lets go of her past and starts thinking the way she should, will realize that normalcy is not something unattainable for her. She could easily fall in love with a guy, marry him, and adopt a few children. There is nothing abnormal about that process and, as I said above, I think Natasha would make one hell of an adoptive mother.

Yes, readers, Bruce also left Natasha because she threw him down a hole to awaken the Hulk so they could “finish the job.” Right when Bruce was perfectly prepared, for once in his life, to run off and leave the “job” unfinished. But I do not think Bruce hates her for it. The Hulk certainly did not look furious when he shut down the comm. on the Aveng-jet. But he did look very sad.

Why?

Because he and Bruce both know that they have no room in their life for anything or anyone normal. Bruce cannot be a father. It just will not work. Hulk cannot be a father either. There is nowhere in the world they can go without risking hurting someone. They can never give Natasha what they both know she deserves and is almost ready for: a husband and a family.

Even though the fact that Bruce and Natasha cannot have children is something they have in common, Bruce would not be the greatest adoptive dad in the world. The Hulk wants his say in everything in Bruce’s life. Bruce and the Hulk may be able to avoid being a threat to Natasha, but what about children? The Hulk has a soft spot for kids, sure, but not on a daily basis!

Natasha has not quite worked that out yet, from what we can tell. She fell in love with a man, for the first time in her life, and she knows that Bruce shut off the comm. to protect her. But – as of the end of Age of Ultron – Natasha may not yet truly realize just why and what he is protecting her from. Bruce can never lead a normal or semi-normal life. Never. Until the day he dies, he will always be contending for physical/mental space with “the big guy.” There is not room in his earthly life for anyone else.

But Natasha can have a mostly normal life, and Bruce knows it. He also knows that denying her that opportunity for such a life would make him just as bad as her old Red Room handlers. And he loves her too much to do that to her. The best thing Bruce can do for her – the only thing he can do for her – is to let Natasha go and find someone she can live a normal life with. He had to do the same thing for Betty Ross. If anything, Natasha needs the opportunity more than Thunderbolt Ross’ daughter ever did.

Before I sign off, readers, there is one more thing I should say about Natasha’s role in Age of Ultron. It was a good role, and viewed as she should be, Natasha Romanoff is a character any girl can admire and enjoy. She deserves that admiration, not for her skills or her knowledge, but for her decision to do the right thing, no matter how much it hurts her. Hopefully, she will keep up the good work. We will have to wait to see the end of Civil War to know just how well she gets off in Phase Three of Marvel’s film franchise.

As a fan of Natasha’s, I sure hope she makes the right choice again in Civil War. Otherwise, she will just be left with more guilt and sorrow. I do not wish that on her or anyone else, readers.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America The Winter Soldier