News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Demystifying The U Ray, the better to rewrite the origin myth of Blake and Mortimer

 Éric Dubois

 ODDYSEY to the origins of Blake and Mortimer, Eric Dubois (curator), Brussels: Belgian Comic Strip Center / Comics Art Museum, April 7 – October 1, 2023.

What does the ODYSSEY exhibition explain about the origins of Blake and Mortimer?

It shows that The U Ray (Le Rayon U) album is a missing link between comics in the English-language tradition and the Franco-Belgian one. Edgar P. Jacobs was inspired by Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, which he had started by plagiarizing in Bravo! magazine before going on to create his own story. The way in which the artist freed himself in a few pages from an American comic strip narrative and graphic codes such as text boxes and no speech balloons, to forge his own cartooning grammar is fascinating to observe, with period tracings and original pages on display as evidence. For his first attempt at a comic story, it's a stroke of genius. At the Comics Museum in Brussels, Jacob’s talent is displayed before our eyes.

More importantly, the exhibition changes the way we look at this album. U is more than the matrix of the characters and themes of the work to come when Jacobs creates Blake and Mortimer. In 1973, for the first collected album edition, Jacobs was not content to reassemble the original 1943 story from by just rearranging the original two panels per tier to three. He “Blake-and-Mortimerized” his U Ray. The album published by the Éditions du Lombard was no longer just the matrix of the Adventures of Blake and Mortimer, but became an extension of that aesthetic. The direct comparison of pages from The U Ray album version and earlier plates from The Secret of the Swordfish, Atlantis Mystery and The Time Trap shows us the mythical character of this two-version album.

What are the most emblematic pieces of the exhibition?

The exhibition presents only original material and a majority are unpublished ones. Among the top pieces, the visitor can discover four panels sketched on tracing paper which are as sumptuous as they are extremely rare; two color-enhanced sketches of Flash Gordon, of which Jacobs only drew five pages in 1942; and two others of the two-panel version of The U Ray from 1943. These are the oldest documents from the story, as well as in the career of Jacobs as a cartoonist. Precious handwritten notes from this first story bear witness to the genesis of the names of places and characters. "Rayon V," "Rayon Vert," but also "Olrik," "Flying shark," and further on "Swordfish." We are struck by the premonitory character of such notes. They prove that from the start that Jacobs did not think in terms of comics, but in rather in terms of the novel, indicating "Roman d’aventure genre Gordon" at the top of his page. The exhibition also displays a small paper model of the album, bound by hand, on which Jacobs sketched all the boxes, the page connections, the strips to be redrawn, the new boxes, and so on, a further testimony to the needs of the draftsman to work out the story.

The visitor can view a selection of original pages from The U Ray. When observed carefully, it is possible to understand the full process of the reassembling of the story in an album and its second inception. Collages and overlays in white gouache and Indian ink abound, to house the speech bubbles as well as format the boxes. But above all, for six of the pages printed in sepia in the Journal Bravo! we have the complete redrawing. This is the exhibition’s key treasure.

Next to this black and white original art that has remained in the shadows for so long, the visitor has the chance to lift the veil on a series of sublime polychrome tracings. Abundantly commented on by Jacobs, a meticulous artist, these fragile sheets also testify to the care taken to document his work and constitute his archives. This is a process that will lead, in 1984, to the creation of the E.P. Jacobs Foundation, today in charge of preserving and promoting the heritage of the Belgian cartoonist.[1]

From what angle does the ODYSSEY exhibition approach the album The U Ray?

Six themes make up the exhibit: Under the Auspices of the Gods, A Modern Homer, Theater of the World, The Death Ray, Unknown Earth and The Eternal Return.

The ODYSSEY exhibition considers The U Ray’s comic strip origin, as well as its genesis from the angle of the myth and the great stories of antiquity, especially Homer's Odyssey. The exhibition explores the affiliations between the Adventures of Blake and Mortimer and American comics, in particular Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond, while going beyond the model/copy pattern in order further to suggest relationships between the two stories, whose authors, Jacobs and Raymond, drank from the same literary and cinematographic sources. Jacobs' first story as an author appears as the missing link in a history of Franco-Belgian comics under American influence, of which the superhero became the titular figure, but was not when Jacobs began working.

The mythological angle therefore invites us to see Jacobs as a storyteller. It is a bridge between two generations and two cultural shores. There is a genius for storytelling in him, which cannot be reduced to the sum of the references or the tropes used. This means that despite all the analyses, even the most scholarly, there will always be something more to say about his work. Where Jacobs is at his strongest is in his ability to appropriate the narrative codes of the great tradition of storytelling and mythical narrative. We forget their influence - conscious or not - when one reads a Blake and Mortimer comic book. Jacobs is a true storyteller and that's why his stories are timeless.

I think of Jules Verne and his Voyage to the Moon, but also in particular Arthur Conan Doyle with his novel The Lost World. Behind this fantasy story, that has the trappings of a pseudo-scientific novel, hides a sociological study on the brutality of human relations in a civilized environment. I perceive in Jacobs this same universalism in the narratives with a reflexive background. In his stories, Jacobs reconnects with the primary vocation of storytelling, which was to give food for thought by striking the imagination with edifying tales, thereby creating images capable of inspiring or transmitting a certain morality.

The exhibit layout plays a major role. How did you envision it?

My creative process played on radical changes: scale, light, and color, and is inspired by the spectacle side of amusement parks. The exhibition is initially fully lit before darkening and then returning to light, following a ritual symbolism of the return to the starting point. The design is based on large sets playing the role of thresholds. It was a question of giving the space an aura of grandeur, but also of punctuating the visit with twists -- such as acts in the theater. Right from the entrance with its giant octopus, the tone is set. These decorations evoke the fairground attractions of Coney Island in New York, the model of all modern magic and source of inspiration for Winsor McCay, the creator of Little Nemo.

Under the Auspices of the Gods is dedicated to Flash Gordon and the Journal Bravo!. It presents the tracings of the 2nd and 4th panels of Flash by Jacobs. Modern Homer concentrates on the characters. Attention is drawn to the "small note papers of Edgar P. Jacobs", which show to the method of reassembly for the album. The Theater of the World emphasizes spatio-temporal exoticism and the art of staging. Color is also evoked as an agent of the wonders of Jacobs’s world. The Death Ray is dedicated to the ultimate weapon which is the McGuffin of The U Ray. The Unknown Land is the famous Terra Incognita of old maps and terrestrial globes. In this part, it is about the ape-men and the perils that threaten the troop led by the Lord Calder character.

The final theme, The Eternal Return, is dedicated to the sequel to U and presents a series of original pages from The Fiery Arrow. This theme closes the time loop by highlighting the return to certain visual archetypes in this sequel, and the way in which, again in mythology, ritual (codified repetition) is the means for humanity to access the divine, and therefore immortality. From The U Ray onwards, Edgar P. Jacobs maintained a delightfully paradoxical relationship with time that was tempting to explore here, not to resolve or reduce it, but to settle in it and savor it.

How did you take into account the interior space of the building of the Comics museum, which is extremely bright?

To ensure the preservation of the works, it was essential to control the luminosity of the interior of the building, first designed by the Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta as an opulent and bourgeois fabrics store, which serves now as a showcase for the Museum. A paper ceiling was created to break the sunlight coming from the iconic glass roof. It also plays the role of the chromatic palette of the exhibition, directly inspired by that of the album. This design device is very significant visually, both for visitors who are below and for those seeing it from the mezzanine of the upper floor. As such, an exhibition addresses the mind as much as the body and create the conditions for an encounter with the work in its very essence, and not only in the materiality of the pages that made it possible.

We must not forget that the original work in comics is the printed and published story in an album. That is what is on display. So this exhibition puts itself forward even more as a true setting in this sense, because with Edgar P. Jacobs, the setting is as important as the action and the characters. I was careful to maintain a kind of sensory and chromatic unity throughout the visit, without forgetting the key contribution of sound to give the exhibition its inhabited character. Once again, my accomplice the composer Bruno Letort, knew how to create an atmosphere that gives soul to the exhibition. Letort is a fan of Jacobs who listens to Blake and Mortimer albums as much as he reads them. For the visitors we hope to have created an exhibition in which all the senses are awakened.

Éric Dubois is a design professor in Paris and has been participating with comic strip exhibitions since François Schuiten and Benoit Peeters set him on the path with their Drawing Machines in 2016 at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris. After that, he worked with Blake and Mortimer, for which he created several exhibitions with journalists and comics experts Thierry Bellefroid and Daniel Couvreur: Scientifiction (2018), The Secret of the Swordfish (2021), MachinaXion (2022). Dubois is the sole curator of ODYSSEY exhibition on the origins of Blake and Mortimer. This is an exhibition dedicated to The “U” Ray, the first comic book by Edgar P. Jacobs.

 The Belgian Comic Strip Center

The Belgian Comic Strip Center opened its doors to the public on October 6th 1989. In no time this impressive museum became one of the main attractions of Brussels. Every year more than 250.000 visitors come here to explore 4,200 m² of permanent and temporary exhibitions, not to mention its comprehensive documentation center and rich collections. The BCSC collects anything that deals with European comics, from its prestigious beginnings to its latest developments.

Temporary and permanent exhibitions have transformed this Art Nouveau gem into a living and attractive temple. It is a dynamic and exciting place where everything is done to promote the Ninth Art (associated with the creation of the Brussels Comic Strip Route, the issue of Comic Strip stamps, etc...). The Belgian Comic Strip Center also produces, for many partners, conferences, books, creative workshops and counseling.

With more than 700 comic strip authors, Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometer than any other country in the world! It is here that the comic strip has grown from a popular medium into an art in its own right. Nowhere else comics are so strongly rooted in reality and in people's imagination.

[1] Since 2018, first under the aegis of the King Baudouin Foundation which hosted the Jacobs Fund for four years, then under the impetus of a renewed E. P. Jacobs Foundation, several exhibitions and publications have been able to highlight the unique qualities of the work of Edgar P. Jacobs. The work of preserving the archives left by the creator of Blake and Mortimer continues. The E.P. Jacobs Foundation is actively involved in this, in collaboration with the King Baudouin Foundation, which now assists it in this task. Created by Edgar P. Jacobs to guarantee the heritage of his work, it is possible today to look into its archives of unsuspected richness and to discover there the stages of an extraordinary creation. 

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Lianhe Zaobao's 100th anniversary cartoon exhibition and the role of comics in Asia in 2023

by Lim Cheng Tju

On 20 May 2023, I attended the opening of the main Chinese newspaper in Singapore, the Lianhe Zaobao's 100th anniversary cartoon exhibition at One Punggol, a newly-opened community space in Singapore. 10 Zaobao cartoonists were featured, although only one of their cartoons each was showcased at the exhibition. The audience was supposed to scan the QR code to see more of their cartoons. These QR codes were also displayed on tables of selected hawker centers in Singapore for the patrons to enjoy their meal and read the cartoons on their phones at the same time. Most of the cartoons featured on the website are humorous takes on life in Singapore.

This was a very different experience from the Zaobao 90th anniversary cartoon exhibition held at the Singapore National Library 10 years ago. I was involved in that exhibition as a consultant. I had written a Masters thesis on the history of Chinese cartoons in Singapore from 1907 to 1980 with the Department of History at the National University of Singapore in the early 2000s. The exhibition made use of my research materials and I also gave a talk as part of the exhibition programs.

That particular exhibition was more historical in nature, featuring cartoons from 1923 to 2013 to show the changes in Singapore society for the past 90 years. This current exhibition is intentionally different and refreshing in using a different way to showcase local cartoons on new platforms and using technology. One need not visit a static exhibition but could still view the cartoon exhibition when they chance upon it at our local hawker centers, a staple activity in our daily lives in Singapore.

But this got me thinking – after 100 years, are cartoons now merely a source of entertainment to be read while eating our meals? Or can they provide more food for thought in thinking about social issues and international affairs? I was asked by a reporter at the exhibition what I would like to see more of in Zaobao – my answer was: given the current political and economic instability overseas, reading humorous cartoons can help us to relax. But I would also like to see more coverage of international current affairs as it is important for our young to know about supply chain issues and other volatile events that will affect us. And these can be in the form of words, pictures and cartoons. This would be a return to the tradition of newspaper cartoonists as commentators and journalists.


This was also the focus of a keynote address I gave on comics in Asia recently at a comics exhibition opening in Penang. Angin Berlabuh was an exhibition organized by an NGO in Malaysia who wanted to showcase social issues using the documentary comics of Taiwan and Malaysia artists. So far, there are few Anglophone books written on non-Japanese Asian comics (see Asian Comics by John Lent published in 2015 and Mangasia by Paul Gravett published in 2017) which cover 16 to 18 countries / territories, centering on the regions of East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. But, in reality, depending on which websites you checked, Asia is much larger than that. It is the largest continent in the world with 4.7 billion people, about 60% of the world’s population. There are almost 50 countries if we include Western, Central and North Asia. We can even include Russia if we are generous and be more encompassing in how we view the world.

With all these diversities, how do we even talk about Asian comics and its role in today’s world in 2023? It is precisely because of current global conflicts, which have resulted in globalization receding and nations putting up barriers and emphasizing on boundaries, that we should look for commonalities, connections, convergences and leading to collaborations. Diplomacy plays a big part in this, but culture and in this case, comics and cartoons can help people to see the possibilities in the sharing and movement of ideas and the creation of networks. Not to over-generalize issues nor to ignore local factors, histories and identities, but in this time of flux and conflict, something like comics can cut across borders and for us to identify the things that can still unite us. The role of comics is to lend perspectives and provide common grounds for dialogue.


For example, one of the themes I noticed in some of the Asian comics I have read in the last 15 years is the concern for the environment and climate change. In the story, Flooded House, Flying House by Shari Chankhamma (Thailand), which was published in Liquid City Vol. 2 (Image Comics, 2010), the divide between the rich and poor has reached new heights – the rich live in the sky while the poor lives on the sea (the world is flooded because of environmental disaster) and have mutated to have fins on their hands. It is a dystopia that touches on the environmental and economic threats we face today – a theme that any readers in the world can identify with.

Another powerful theme is social justice. Priya’s Shakti (2014) written by Ram Devineni and Vikas K. Menon and drawn by Dan Goldman has the look and feel of your traditional comics about Indian mythology. But it was inspired by the tragic events of the gang rape and murder of a female student on a private bus in Delhi in December 2012. The success of the comic, online and in print, has led to sequels such as a comic story about acid attacks on women.

Only by focusing on the bigger picture (or cartoon) about issues that concern all of us that hopefully we see beyond conflicting national interests which seem to dominate our narrative these days. It is intentional of me to include Russia as part of Asia earlier in my article. If we only see them as the bad guys (and Russia is not monolithic and some opposed the war), there would be no room for resolution and dialogue. Call me an idealist, but you are talking to someone who grew up reading comics and cartoons all his life and never stopped. In the Chinese dialect, Hokkien, it's called jiak beh tua (never grow up). But I believe that is the role of comics in Asia or anywhere - to help us see the world more clearly and perhaps innocently as well.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Book review: Hero Me Not: The Containment of the Most Powerful Black, Female Superhero

Chesya Burke. Hero Me Not: The Containment of the Most Powerful Black, Female Superhero. Rutgers University Press, 2023. 172 pps.

Reviewed by Stephanie Burt

When I teach X-Men comics I teach the Dark Phoenix saga, Uncanny X-Men 129-137 (1979-1980), one of the story arcs that established Marvel’s mutants as A-list heroes. And when I teach these comics, to high school and college students, I have learned the hard way that they absolutely require a warning: not about the destruction of an entire species of sentient humanoids; not about suicidality, gaslighting, or mind control, though I warn about them too. At the cost of whole two hour class sessions, I have learned that I must warn students about the two panels in Uncanny X-Men 133 where Jean Grey, manipulated by the evil Mastermind into believing herself an eighteenth century lady, hallucinates that her teammate Storm is enslaved. Chris Claremont and John Byrne, the white men who fashioned this story, likely never expected that two frames of Ororo Monroe in a headscarf and choker would dominate modern students’ take on their work. And yet it can, and will: it’s a sign—as casual as such things often are—that white supremacy is everywhere, that you can’t dig very far into any story without finding some trace of the horrors and crimes on which the West was built.

Storm-- Ororo Munroe—is surely the most famous Black female superhero, and has been since the early 1980s. With her literally planet-shaping (see Planet-Sized X-Men [2021]) [] weather control, her status as an Omega Level mutant, and her history as a local goddess and a Wakandan queen, she’s also been the most powerful Black woman in the Marvel  comics universe, both in political and in physical terms. Other characters admire and trust her, as a mother-figure, a best friend, or a romantic and sexual ideal. She is, as one podcast has it, “better than you and always will be.” [] She also lives, most of the time, in mostly white spaces, and works with a mostly white team, written, when she’s in a starring role, mostly by white creators (Eric Jerome Dickey, Marjorie Liu and Greg Pak are the exceptions). Is she a role model? Can she be? Is that page from Uncanny X-Men 133 an outlier? Or does it illustrate her consistent failure to do what Black women need and demand?

Chesya Burke says she’s largely a failure. Her new study of Storm, in the comics and in the X-Men films, argues with consistency and clarity that Ororo Munroe has been, almost always, confined to stereotypes that keep Black people (real and fictional) subordinate: stories about Storm display her “containment.” Much of the book—the first fifty pages—does not cover Storm directly. Instead, citing such titans of African American studies as Hazel Carby and bell hooks, Burke introduces major concepts from the study of race and racism, showing how “those with power often use it to create harmful stereotypes against those without power.’ [34] Black women characters fit invidious tropes: the nurturing, asexual, older mammy; the sexually threatening jezebel; the magical Negro, there to inspire white characters; the strong Black woman, “taking care of the community” [24] without complaining. Citing Anna Saini, Burke lists three more “dominant stereotypes that Black women inhabit within comic books” (that is, company-owned superhero comics): “the quiet queen,” close to nature; “the dominant diva,” impulsive, perhaps revolutionary; and “the scandalous soujourner,” “often the center of a cautionary tale.” [47]

It’s easy to find, in the comics, panels or plots that match most of these roles.  Often Storm shows up as a strong, “magical” or maternal supporting character, what Burke calls “the spiritual Negro woman.” [28] Burke’s take on Storm supports the much broader critique provided by Allan Austin and Patrick Hamilton’s All New All Different? Race in American Superhero Comics (2019), which argues that company-owned cape comics, generally, have not done as they should.  Burke’s argument might also feed the persuasive take on Storm advanced by andre carrington in Speculative Blackness (2016). For carrington, “it becomes useful to interpret the story of Storm as a negation of the negations involved in constructing Black womanhood as a figment of the normative imagination.” [carrington 91] Certain moments and plots in comic books about Storm, written and drawn largely or wholly by white people, cannot present Black women’s lived experience, but those moments and plots (so carrington argues) can negate, complicate, or overwrite the harmful stereotypes that the comics also display.

Storm is, at first, in Len Wein and Dave Cockrum’s Giant Size X-Men 1 (1975), an “African” “magical Negro,” in touch with the land and governing “primitive” tribes: as Burke rightly says, this earliest appearance makes Storm “the ‘good’ Black woman who is wild and needs to be.. brought down from her own high ideas of herself,” by Charles Xavier, a white dude. [65] In 1980s stories written by Chris Claremont, however, Ororo “is auditioning for various performances of race, gender and power.” [carrington 107]   Within these comics Storm finds affinities with (and in fact flirts with) the Japanese anti-hero Yukio. She battles, and then befriends, a leader of underground outcast mutants, Calisto. She proves her courage, in the famous “Lifedeath” (Uncanny X-Men 186), after she loses her weather powers (which she would later regain). And in Uncanny X-Men 180 she tells the teenage white mutant Kitty Pryde, who’s shocked by Storm’s new punk rock appearance, “I am not—must not be—your mother… I must keep learning, striving to find my true self… I must live my life as I see fit.” As carrington says, Claremont’s Storm is not “a coherent vision of Black womanhood,” and cannot be—but she can grow and change. [110] Burke mentions neither Austin and Hamilton, nor carrington: of her five case studies—Giant-Size; Storm (1996); Ororo: Before the Storm (2005); Astonishing X-Men: Storm (2006); and Storm (2014)— none come from the seventeen-year Claremont run. (Burke promises to discuss “Lifedeath,” but never does). [60]

It is obviously not for me—a white woman-- to say that a Black woman should feel empowered when she does not, or see empowerment where she does not. As Burke says, Marvel should hire Black women to write Storm: it’s a shame and a scandal that the company has not done so already. Burke’s caustic take on the Fox X-Men-films includes delightful, and accurate, quips: “Jean Grey is the ultimate Karen.” [104] “Xavier is the villain.” [118] (Hero Me Not spells her name as Gray, and Mystique as “Mystic,” over and over: [103, 104, 105, 106, 108, 111] all authors make errors—this one’s on the editors.) I see no way and no reason to defend the treatment of Storm in these films, where she’s “simply irrelevant,” [90] comparatively “silent and seemingly less powerful” (to quote Burke) than in X-comics. [52]

That said, after re-reading carrington, and re-reading a stack of Storm-centric X-comics, I found myself wondering what Burke would make of comics she does not discuss.  For example, Burke opines: “Black woman superheroes, such as Storm, are not offered the sexual freedom that their white female counterparts are given.” [51] In X-Men comics, at least, I’m not sure that’s true: consider Storm’s thrilling courtship in all but name with Yukio; her troubled, soap-operatic romance with Forge; and her much-remarked tension with Callsto, recapitulated in a much later story by Claremont and Igor Kordy, X-Treme X-Men: Storm; The Arena, which ends with Ororo, Yukio and Calisto in a hot tub. She’s also been the sexual ideal, the unattainable perfect woman, for charismatic villains as diverse as Dr. Doom, Loki and Dracula, all of whom try, and fail, to make her their queen.

When Storm has a sex or romance problem in X-comics, it’s one also faced—alas-- by highly successful women in real life: few potential partners are her intellectual, social or physical equal. T’Challa, the Black Panther, is one of the few: Burke discusses their courtship (in Astonishing X-Men: Storm, written by Eric Jerome Dickey) but not their divorce. I also wonder how Burke’s view of Storm as a figure subordinated to mutant causes would hold up in “Lifedeath,” where Ororo has lost her powers, breaks up with Forge, calls him (in essence) a tool of Western industrial patriarchy, and walks away from the superhero life: “my feet may never leave the ground,” she resolves, “but someday I will fly again.”   If Storm does conform to a consistent stereotype about Black women, all the way through Claremont’s seventeen-year run, it’s the one where non-black fans expect Black omnicompetence: compare the real-life reverence, among non-black listeners, for another queen, Beyoncé.

Is it OK for a queen to be wrong? That’s the question writer Greg Pak and penciller Victor Ibañez ask in Storm (2014) no. 1, which Burke does discuss: here a mutant teen named Marisol wants to quit the X-Men’s school and go home to her family in Mexico. Storm tries to argue her out of it, fails, and creates an indoor rainstorm out of frustration. Burke finds that in encouraging loyalty to a science fictional group (mutants) over a real one, Ororo is “conforming to whiteness and invoking white supremacist ideas.” [83] But Ororo draws the same conclusion: Storm brings the girl back to Mexico and to her mother, and leaves without trying to get her to return.  Storm was wrong to recruit other people, especially people of color, into a project they may not share: that’s Pak’s point, and Ororo’s realization that she blew it drives the story.

Burke asks not only for figures of survival, for story arcs involving pathos and pain, but for figures of Black women’s power as such. Dickey’s Astonishing X-Men: Storm fails because “many images of Black women other than Storm in this series are negative.” [76] Pak and Ibañez’s Storm (2014) reveals “several positive aspects of the character”; she displays sexual agency and cares for children without becoming either a jezebel or a mammy. [84] Still, she chooses to care for mutants, and for the Earth, rather than attending to “her people.” [64] “Because Storm is Black, working with the X-Men is repressive because she is supporting the very status quo that is oppressing her as a Black woman.” [88] She should, she must, overthrow that status quo instead: anything less is containment, or complicity.

Here Burke makes not so much an argument against particular portrayals of Storm but an argument that Black characters, perhaps any nonwhite characters, or disabled characters, or even trans characters, should not be superheroes at all: protection against external, criminal, and science fictional threats (what superheroes normally provide) is at worst betrayal, at best inadequate. Storm “is not a threat to white America,” and she should be. [130] Fictional heroes with exceptional powers who belong to subaltern groups should either overthrow that status quo themselves, or work directly for its overthrow, or else work primarily within their group.  X-comics have heroes, and anti-heroes, and villains, who try to do so: Sunfire quits the X-Men (more than once) to protect Japan; Magneto wants to protect all, and only, mutants. But Storm wants to protect, where she can, her friends, her students, and then the whole world, including mutants and humans, Kenya and Mexico and Quebec and Detroit.  On the one hand, Burke writes,  “Storm is not ‘free’ and she likely never will be until she is re-envisioned by Black female creators,” as she should be. [127] On the other hand, “in the comics, Storm is given the space to find love, fight for her Black community, and make decisions… in a way that is almost unimaginable for the film version.” [114] That’s Burke’s verdict, too: maybe that has to be enough.

Stephanie Burt is a Professor of English at Harvard University