By Steve Morris
Avengers Vs X-Men #9 was released today, and confirmed a plot point many people have been expecting for months now: the marriage between Black Panther and Storm is over. Perhaps the most prominent marriage between two black characters to ever appear in the industry, this was a relationship which lasted for years and was designed to bring together the Avengers and the X-Men, Marvel’s two biggest franchises.
In theory, this was a move which honoured the X-Men’s ideal of integration and brought attention to Marvel’s most prominent – although still not very prominent if you look at the sales of his book – African character. The subsequent annulment of the marriage amongst the wreckage of AvX marks a bold move for Marvel. But is it a disappointing one? No. And here’s why.
The idea to marry the two characters ostensibly came from Reginald Hudlin, the writer for the Black Panther title at the time and President of the BET channel. Marvel’s goal was to push the character enough in the comics to make his proposed cartoon series for BET a viable option, and one of the ideas floated as a marketing move was to put him in a high-profile marriage.
Now, Black Panther had not had a particularly vibrant sex life by this point – he was suggested to have a Harem, sure, but he’d never been invested in a relationship with any ‘name’ characters. Monica Rambeau, Photon, was perhaps the one character fans could see him dating. But once the decision to marry him to more prominent character was made, Marvel released this as a teaser image:
Ugh! Right? Although having said that, just imagine if he’d married Rogue. Marvel’s office would’ve been stormed by angry Gambit fans and razed to the ground. Once it was decided that Storm would be the lucky bride, the task fell upon Marvel to make this feel less like an editorial push and more like an organic story. Chris Claremont, who at the time was handling Storm first in his X-Treme X-Men series and currently on Uncanny X-Men, was asked to write her out. Getting an annual to cement a past relationship between Ororo and T’challa, he did his best to push her history in Africa (although she’s American), and created a fairly sweet tale of young romance.
Eric Jerome Dickey, a consulting writer for the marriage storyline along with Reginald Hudlin, was also given a ‘Storm’ miniseries to further bring the characters together. Looking through back-issues, Dickey found a forgotten issue which had seen the two characters briefly interact in the past, as a young Storm saved T’Challa from an attacker. Dickey decided to change this so Storm was rescued by T’Challa. Instead of using a story which already existed, Dickey decided to have Storm be the helpless victim who needed to be saved. You can make your own conclusions regarding that decision.
Then, he depicted the two underage characters having sex in the wilderness. This was literally a thing which Marvel allowed to happen in one of their comics. Read the story, if you don’t believe me.
Of course, you can argue that this is statutory rape. But instead it became the foundation for marriage. After a few modern-day brushes with Black Panther during a crossover called ‘Wild Kingdom’, it was time for the wedding. Joe Quesada, one of the main advocates for the marriage, said at the time that this was the X-Men’s version of ‘Lady Diana and Prince Charles’. Which, if you’ll recall, was also a marriage which seemed massively inappropriate for both parties, and left everybody with a stained reputation.
As a result of Storm marrying Black Panther, she moved from the X-Men office to the Avengers office, where T’Challa is managed. This meant she had to be removed from Uncanny X-Men, annoying Claremont (who also lost Kitty Pryde at around the same time, and is rumoured to be the main point of contention between him and the company). It also allegedly meant that Ed Brubaker’s plans to use her in his Uncanny X-Men run had to be initially quelled, as the focus had to be on establishing her as a supporting cast member to the Black Panther book. The wedding issue saw massive sales, and tied in to Civil War.
Once she moved across to the Black Panther solo book, there was immediate discomfort with Hudlin’s stories – which seemed to have awkward political agendas shoehorned in. To top things off, Hudlin’s dialogue for Storm bore little resemblance to her previous formal style, as she became what was essentially a cheerleader for her husband’s feats. At one point she sentenced somebody to death, when Storm has always been aspired to use non-violence as an answer.
There was respite from the iffy Black Panther title when Dwayne McDuffie decided to use the characters in his Fantastic Four run, brilliantly using them as replacements for Reed Richards and Sue Storm. There was suddenly a dynamic between the couple, which seemed realistic for perhaps the first time. Their repartee was funny, they seemed to like each other, and the series was favoured by critics. But this was only a short-term move, and eventually the character returned to Black Panther, which was rapidly losing sales. A series of relaunches followed, none of them lasting for a long period of time despite a number of different sales tactics.
Editorial started to feel that they had a lame duck on their hands, solidified when writers like Warren Ellis brought Storm back to the X-Men and gave her more to do as a guest than Hudlin allowed her in the book she was meant to be a central part of. The marriage became an open joke among fans, who watched as Storm’s status in the X-Men’s world dwindle, to the point where Chris Yost’s 2008 Storm miniseries ‘World’s Apart’ was entirely focused on the difficulty she’d have in living her split life.
Hudlin failed to get the Black Panther cartoon a run on BET, instead having to settle for a direct-to-DVD release. At the same time, he left the comic book and was replaced by Jonathan Maberry, who couldn’t reverse the sales decline. The book was cancelled. Incredibly, Marvel’s most famous female character was now unused. X-Men writers started to bring her back into their world, with Matt Fraction setting her up in the X-Men’s Utopia location for a scattered bunch of guest-appearances. Black Panther, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen. Having previously been promoted by a number of X-Men titles, the character was now seemingly ignored and viewed as a drag on Storm’s personality.
A last-gasp attempt to save Black Panther, in the form of David Liss’ 2011 series ‘Black Panther: The Man Without Fear’. While Daredevil was put into limbo for a year, Black Panther took over his series for his own, and lived in Hell’s Kitchen. Crucially, Storm barely appeared in this run whatsoever. And when she did, the couple bickered and showed few signs of romantic compatibility. The run ended after a year, and Black Panther was trapped in limbo, unused because Marvel simply couldn’t get people to read his books.
Meanwhile Storm was starting to thrive again. Kieron Gillen started using her in his Uncanny X-Men run, and other X-Men writers like Mike Carey and Christos Gage brought her into their books for extended cameos. Clearly, X-Men fans still wanted to read about her – but just not with Black Panther. The marriage had become hated by most X-Men fans, and the cross-promotion Quesada had hoped for between Avengers and X-Men readerships didn’t happen. X-men fans simply shunned the marriage entirely, while Avengers fans had never cared for Black Panther as a solo character.
By the time Avengers Vs X-Men started, people were actively expecting it to dissemble the marriage and let the characters return to their own worlds. Jonathan Hickman restored Black Panther’s power in Fantastic Four/FF, while Fraction gave him some cameo appearances in Defenders. Meanwhile Storm was flourishing in Uncanny X-Men and Brian Wood’s new run on adjectiveless X-Men. Together, they’d been an interesting image with no depth to it, and an alarming streak of misogyny running through the pages. Apart, they were regaining their strength and dignity.
Which is why, today, the marriage was ended. And while there are some who will mourn what was a good idea that never worked, the reaction online – from what I’ve seen – had been overwhelmingly positive. Storm fans are pleased, because she never seemed suited for marriage. Black Panther fans are glad to finally have what they see as the ‘albatross’ of the X-Office finally removed from T’Challa’s neck.
This also means that plans for a Black Panther movie are now more viable. Storm belongs to Fox, who make the X-Men movies. Black Panther belongs to Marvel Studios. For as long as she was the ‘hook’ for interest in T’Challa, the movie would never have worked. It may seem regressive to take the first black marriage and divorce (or annul) them, but actually…. this works out better for both parties.
While there are going to be complaints about Marvel’s decision, this really was a marriage which worked once, when Dwayne McDuffie turned his effortless talent to them. But aside from that, they’ve struggled from the start to be anything other than a symbolic ideal, which collapsed whenever anyone put any weight on them.