Discovering resilience: how X-Men '97's Storm inspires trans women

Storm XMen 97 scene lightning eyes
Storm XMen 97 scene lightning eyes

I grew up with a love for X-Men. The comics, action figures, animated series, and films. Of course, my heart was for Storm. In part, she reminded me of my strong-willed, graceful, African-born mother. But also, as a Black femme youth, Storm had the poise and grace I always dreamt of having as an adult.

Decades later, I'm joyfully excited to watch the revamped X-Men '97 series play out, occasionally with a morning bowl of cereal. But this new series is very different. I've been familiar with the comic book series being at the forefront of creating storylines and characters that address social issues and society's evolution, especially around queer representation. But the Black femme youth who adored the series of the 1990s is now a Black trans woman of the 2020s.

(L-R): Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith) and Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97.Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

And I've never been more excited to find comfort, familiarity, and identity with the African weather goddess.

Warning: Spoilers below

Ororo Munroe, a.k.a. Storm, an Omega-level mutant with the power to control the weather, enters the series, helping a captured mutant, Sunspot, wearing her 90s white-and-gold costume and rocking a mohawk-mullet hairdo, a nod to a storyline from the early 60s. The Mistress of the Elements continues giving us the epic speeches that would make any queer 90s kid giggle with glee ("Ancient sands, heed my command, and reclaim these relics of hatred.")

(L-R): Jean Grey (voiced by Jennifer Hale) and Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97.Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

In between kicking ass and fighting Sentinels, Storm shares an intimate moment with Jean Grey (who is later to be revealed as her clone Madelyne Pryor), who shares her concerns about explaining to her child about those who hate them for their gifts. Storm, in turn, shares her dreams of living without the burdens of her godlike abilities.

(L-R): Forge (voiced by Gil Birmingham) and Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97.Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

Storm loses her powers in the second episode, protecting Magneto against members of the anti-mutant Friends of Humanity (FoH). Unable to cope with the loss, she departs from the X-Mansion at the end of the second episode. At the end of the third episode, we see her again when she meets the mutant Forge at a bar. We return to Storm and Forge in the fourth episode, adjusting to her new life without her powers. After a failed attempt at restoring her powers, Forge reveals he helped construct the weapon that neutralized her abilities. Before the credits begin to roll, we're introduced to Adversary, a demon who feeds on misery and other negative emotions and bites Forge's shoulder with a demonic infection.

After a wild fifth episode - I never thought I'd gasp and cry (RIP Magneto and Gambit) from a cartoon - we return to the Storm/Forge storyline in episode six. Adversary, feeding on Storm's fears, reminds her of the "tempting daydream" she had told Jean, to renounce her powers to live a non-mutant life. After casting the demon back to the desert, Forge tells her the remedy is in a cave. Despite her fears of tight spaces, Storm obliges to gather the cure.

(L-R): The Adversary (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith) and Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97.Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

Crawling into the cave, Ororo once again encounters Adversary. The demon continued feeding Storm her fears and convincing her to give in. With the walls closing around her, Storm gathers the courage to push back. Admitting the neutralizing weapon was partly to blame for losing her gifts, Storm realizes it was her believing in the lie that continued holding her back. "You all are an echo of who I am," she tells Adversary. "So let them thunder, for I am lightning!" With her powers restored, she bursts out of the cave and ascends to the skies. This new Storm harkens back to the character's original and fiercest look, wearing her iconic 70s black and gold outfit with her long blowout in regal glory.

Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97.Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

The Mistress of the Elements is back in action.

I can't tell you how many times I've rewatched that scene! I am not only geeking out with my friends ("Yes, with the 30-inch bust down!") but also realizing how this scene has a special place in our hearts. As trans individuals, we've all experienced going through our journeys with moments of self-loathing and bouts of self-doubts. The dreams of existing - passing - in a world without the gawks and stares. To not have people look down upon us or attack us for wanting the freedom to live. The fear of existing in our truth can take its toll.

Back at Forge's home, Storm soothes his infected shoulder with the remedy. "What are demons, but reflections of our fears and shame," she tells Forge. "Things we bury within us, hide from loved ones, even as they poison our hearts...until we finally heal our adversary by embracing it."

Sans mutant powers, I know what it's like to navigate in a world that increasingly uses fear and hatred towards people like me for simply being who we are. And like our white-haired heroine traversing through that cave, the trans journey can be wrought with slick crevices and tight corners, even the occasional run-ins with our Adversaries.

But when we embrace our identities, we transition into our most authentic form. And no one can deny our potential.

The demon of fear can be debilitating. It can make us deny our ability to love ourselves while questioning who we are and how we live. Fear is the greatest enemy of freedom, and we should refuse to let it take hold of our destiny.