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Sep 6

X-Men Gold #33-35: “Godwar”

Posted on Thursday, September 6, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Here’s one for the “what the hell was that all about” file.  It’s a story that seems to be groping haphazardly in the direction of big themes… and what is it actually trying to say about them?  I’m very much unclear.  Let’s go through it and see if I can figure it out.

This is a story about the village in Kenya where Storm was living just before she was recruited into the X-Men.  You know, the place that was worshipping her as a goddess.  This isn’t something that comes up terribly often these days, because let’s be honest, it’s a depiction of Kenya that was dodgy in 1975 and has aged really quite badly into 2018.  I’ve always viewed this part of Storm’s backstory as distinctly patronising – there are traditional religions still being followed in parts of Kenya, but they don’t seem to bear much resemblance to this – and it’s something that’s often ignored, downplayed, not taken literally, or simply blurred into her own “bright lady” stuff.

But this story takes it literally and head-on.  If Storm was being worshipped by the villagers, then her departure left a void – fair enough.  It’s now been filled by a new religion, which worships somebody called Uovu.  “Uovu” is Swahili for “evil”, so this is not exactly subtle.  But the story points that out, so let’s assume we’re in the same ballpark as stories where Satan shows up to tempt people, openly introducing himself as Satan.  That’s all reasonable territory.  Then again, we’re also told that the village is called Uzuri, which seems to be variously translated as “good”, “beauty” or “grace”.  At which point we’re at Pilgrim’s Progress levels of subtlety.

A flashback reveals that Ainet, Storm’s foster mother, prayed to “the old gods of the old ways” to do something or other about Storm.  That’s why her magic hammer from Asgardian Wars suddenly showed up a few issues back.  Quite how a random person praying to unspecified gods makes a magic hammer wake up is mystifying even by the standards of Marvel Universe magic.

In the present, Storm is alerted to what’s going on by people at the Wakandan consulate, who tell her that Ainet has died, and that some sort of death cult has taken over the village.  Naturally, Storm heads to Uzuri “on the outskirts of Kenya” to investigate.  And seriously, what’s “the outskirts of Kenya” when it’s at home?  Who talks about countries having outskirts?  Let’s pause here and note a fundamental problem for this story – I don’t buy this for a minute as a depiction of a remote Kenyan village rather than a dated trope about superstitious villagers. Artist Michele Bandini does a reasonable job of at least giving the place a consistent feel but I still get the vibe of something made up from old parts.

There’s a genuinely good scene when Storm first arrives in the village, in which a village elder gives her the “each to their own” speech and tries to shrug off Uovu as just another legitimate religion.  (“This term ‘death cult”, it smacks of bigotry.”)  The cultists are divided about whether to keep their heads down until Ororo has paid her respects to Ainet and gone home, or whether to try and recruit her; Uovu himself is up for a bit of recruitment.

Uovu greets Storm politely enough and wheels out her parents, back from the dead, as a gesture of goodwill.  This seems to be intended as genuine; Uovu’s point is partly to demonstrate to Storm that he is a “real” god, not a pretender like she was.  Meanwhile, we establish that Uovu’s power is derived from the faith of his believers, and while he’s got an evil plan in mind, he doesn’t want to jeopardise his support base by having something dodgy befall Storm.  I’m not clear exactly why he thinks that would damage him – are these meant to be people who still worship both of them? – but that’s certainly what he says.

Storm finds that Uovu has been collecting the bodies of dead villagers for years – how big is this village anyway? – and confronts Uovu, who responds by raising the bodies of all the dead as some sort of zombie army.  Apparently Storm’s parents are supposed to be an example of the same thing but… hold on, they died in Egypt.  So if his scheme is mainly about storing the bodies of dead villagers and then reviving them, where did he get the bodies of Storm’s parents?  And if he doesn’t need the actual bodies, what’s with the catacomb?

By the start of part 3, Storm’s hammer has stopped responding to her (because… she’s having a crisis of faith…?) and the narrative caption has decided that Uzuri is now “near Kenya”.  What do you mean, “near Kenya”?  Have we now relegated this odd little village to one of those magic Marvel Universe micro-states, where it can nestle gently between Kenya and Uganda?

So… okay, the symbolism here is meant to be something along the lines that the magic hammer has abandoned Storm in the same way that she once abandoned the village.  But the hammer comes back for no apparent reason, there’s a big fight, the X-Men show up to help.  The story seems to suggest that you can undermine Uovu’s powers by physically removing his followers and putting them to sleep, which, um.  But despite his speech in the previous issue about the importance of his followers, it turns out that that doesn’t matter after all, and there’s a final big fight in which Uovu is meant to be vanquished but really just kind of disappears between panels.  And the magic hammer is burnt out, so we can forget about that storyline.

And… no, I’m none the wiser.  What the hell was all that about?  There ought to be a decent story in the fact that Storm really just abandoned a village that was kind of dependent on her, but this isn’t it.  Some early gestures towards big ideas and nuance really come to nothing, and in the end, it seems to have nothing to say about anything much.

Bring on the comments

  1. Taibak says:

    There ought to be a decent story in the fact that Storm really just abandoned a village that was kind of dependent on her, but this isn’t it.

    That would also potentially solve the first problem, wouldn’t it? It would let Marvel change the story from “inherently superstitious villagers” to “Storm used her powers to convince the villagers she was a goddess”.

    Whether or not that would irreparably is another issue.

  2. Si says:

    Agreed. There could be a great story in Storm facing up to the fact that when she was an orphan teen who didn’t know better, she deliberately took a bunch of isolated people and fooled them into thinking she was a god. I mean confidence tricks aren’t so removed from living as a pickpocket after all. Even if she believed she was a god from the outset, or came to believe her own story. Because there’s nothing inherently primitive about thinking someone who can throw lightning must be supernatural, after all.

    And yeah, “Outskirts of Kenya”. Kenya, that postcode in the nation of Africa.

  3. Brian says:

    Here’s one for the “what the hell was that all about” file.

    That seems to be most of the stories reviewed of late…

  4. Brian says:

    Let’s all assume it’s Kenya City, Kenya (in Kenya County). With everyone from Marvel being from NYC, they probably just assume that everywhere else works like they do in naming things.

  5. Joseph says:

    Not going to miss Guggenheim’s tenure as x-writer at all. It’s really a shame that he abandoned the Greg Pak take on her life as a “goddess.” I found Storm’s characterization in Black Panther and the Crew to be some of the best work with the character in years. The latter, especially, was able to pick up on her history and tell stories about race without getting bogged down in the mutant metaphor. This feels like such the wrong direction for the character.

  6. A.J. says:

    Wasn’t there a storyline a few years ago involving that same village that implied the villagers knew she wasn’t a goddess but decided to play along?

    Something along the lines of “Well, whatever she is, she can clearly affect the weather for our crops, so we may as well humor her?”

  7. Taibak says:

    Ack. Meant to say “irreparably damage Storm”.

  8. Chrs V says:

    Yes, I was pretty sure that those interpretations of Storm’s back-story had already been touched on in the recent Greg Pak run on Storm, and also that some questions about her being a “goddess” in Kenya were addressed in Byrne’s X-Men: The Hidden Years.
    I mean, it’s been a few years for both, so I could be misremembering, but I thought those issues were cleared up and explained already.

    This very much felt like a throwaway fill-in story-arc.
    I found myself rushing to read through each issue to get done with it.
    It was simply wrong that this took three issues to get through.

    Here’s another vote for reading Black Panther and the Crew. That was one of Marvel’s best series in years. I was sad to see it canceled.
    It seemed to have a direction for Storm, something she’s pretty well lacked since sometime during Claremont’s tenure on Uncanny X-Men.

  9. Voord 99 says:

    Because there’s nothing inherently primitive about thinking someone who can throw lightning must be supernatural, after all.

    Unfortunately, I think that doesn’t take account of the history of this particular trope. There’s a long and very bad history of stories in which “primitive” people decide that (usually a white) person is a god because they have apparently magical powers (usually due to their knowledge of “Western Science”).

    Storm is obviously not white, but that doesn’t magically erase the problem here, because it lies in how the other people are portrayed. Neither does the fact that she actually does have powers, because we the readers know that they’re “really” explicable by science — a large part of the problem is about how it encourages the reader to see himself or herself as a superior modern sophisticated person to the characters in the story.

    All this interacted with ways in which colonial subject populations were seen as childlike and in need of guidance and control by “more advanced” nations in general.

    Basically, just don’t go there. Honestly, I think this is a part of Storm’s backstory that we could simply forget. It’s not actually that important to the character. That she lived in Kenya is important, but we could lose the whole “people thought she was a goddess” bit, and nothing much else would change.

  10. Nu-D says:

    [i]“a large part of the problem is about how it encourages the reader to see himself or herself as a superior modern sophisticated person to the characters in the story.”[/i]

    I think this is a good diagnosis, and I agree with your point, Voord.

    I’d like to toss out a counter-point, however, that the author of this back story treated American Christian faith in a similar way in the Brood story that ran c. Uncanny 230. There was a Christian pastor who attributed the events of the story to miracles and Divine WIll. While he and his wife were compassionately portrayed, we were expected to see them as naive compared to the more sophisticated readers and X-Men.

    I think the risk of perpetuating a patronizing view of the Other is higher in the context of the Storm origin story primarily because the readers by and large have no first-hand experience with African villagers, so we have less information to judge the accuracy of the portrayal. In contrast, many of us know personally Euro-American Christians, and so we’re less likely to form indelible ideas based on a fictional character.

    (I’m deliberately ignoring Stryker, the villain from GLMK, because I think we’re meant to read his villainy as rooted in bigotry, with religion as a post-hoc rationalization; Stryker was not ignorant of the science; he just used faith to cover his hatred).

  11. wwk5d says:

    Personally, I don’t care about the issue of Storm’s village and all the connotations that are associated with it. This was just a bad, boring story that felt like filler and was stretched out to 3 issues.

    This series overall has been disappointing. Some nice ideas here and there, qnd a few good indicidual issues, but overall…meh.

    And yes, he author’s inability to know that Kenya is a country is just baffling. This is 2018, Google it, ffs.

  12. Moo says:

    Guggenheim aside, you’d think at least one of the book’s four credited editors would have caught the Kenya errors.

  13. ASV says:

    This was just a bad, boring story that felt like filler and was stretched out to 3 issues.

    Running the streak of same to 35.

  14. mrjl says:

    I always thought of it as far in the backwoods. If you had a map of Kenya? Storm’s village would have not appeared on it

    There’s still Christians who believe Jesus will come back someday, so why can’t other religions have that sort of thing

  15. Chris V says:

    Right. I don’t think it’s inherently racist in how events were presented with Storm in this issue.
    After all, there was an actual god who showed up in the story! So, it’s not as if the native should be considered superstitious for thinking that a woman with seemingly magical powers was a goddess.
    Also, many religions have concepts of avatars, where the deities take on material form.
    Rather than mistaking Storm for a weather goddess, perhaps they felt that their weather deity incarnation was Ororo.

    The biggest issue is that the story was just plain bad.

  16. Flinkman says:

    Is anyone going to miss Marc Guggenheim? Because I just can’t think of one contribution to the X-Men he’s made that I care about.

    Oh, sure…I’m thrilled Rogue and Gambit got married, but he flat out admitted that it wasn’t his idea…so…

    nuPyro? I kind of like him, so I’ll give him that.

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