Getting to play as Storm, Mistress of the Elements, is a highlight of any X-Men gaming experience, whether it be Konami’s classic arcade beat ‘em up, the beloved action-RPG X-Men: Legends, or as part of the Certified Gay Trio of Storm, Rogue, and Psylocke in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. As a lover of all the female X-Men, and a believer that the meme juxtaposing an image of Storm, Rogue, and Jubilee with To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar is one of the internet’s best creations, playing as any of these women is a gift, especially given that the films often sideline them in favor of focusing on dudes like Wolverine and Cyclops.
That’s why, when news came that Midnight Suns, the critically adored but underperforming deckbuilder tactical RPG from XCOM makers Firaxis, would feature Storm as the final character in its season 1 DLC, I was through the roof: This was a major coup for me, owner of a Storm tattoo, and for all X-Men fans who know that mass media depictions of its women are sorely lacking.
Only one video game, according to Wikipedia’s count, features more female X-Men than men: Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past. In the 2014 mobile side-scroller, users can pick from among Kitty Pryde, Scarlet Witch, Storm and Polaris, or any of three men: Wolverine, Colossus and Cyclops. (Important to note: Though Scarlet Witch plays an enormous role in the main story of Midnight Suns, and was first introduced to the Marvel universe in an X-Men comic, I am not counting her here, given that she has never officially joined a team of Xavier’s mutants. If you want to count her, great, my point still stands! Argue with yourself!)
Storm deserves complexity in X-Men stories
Despite being arguably one of the most powerful members of the X-Men, with an incredibly cinematic backstory to boot, Storm’s layered, complex comic book storylines have not translated well to previous visual media representations. “Within the movies, sidelined is probably an understatement,” Dr. Chesya Burke, assistant professor of English at Stetson University and the author of the literal book on Storm, Hero Me Not: The Containment of the Most Powerful Black, Female Superhero, tells Kotaku. “It is not logical that she would be so subservient to the X-Men in the way that she is in the films.” Burke describes Storm’s depictions in the films as “muted” and a “shell” of who she is in the comics: an Omega-level mutant who, despite her legendary powers, often plays a background role to other members of her team. In her book, Burke compares Storm’s treatment to another enduring Hollywood trope, that of the “mammy figure,” an enslaved Black woman who is often tasked with taking care of the children on the plantation, just as the film’s version of Storm often emphasizes her role of taking care of the young mutants at Xavier’s School for the Gifted.
Though Storm is in many ways synonymous with the X-Men, and her formidable powers are well-known throughout comic book lore, she is nevertheless not the focus of the films, which chose gruff Australian Wolverine as their main character, despite him not being the “lead” of the X-Men in any sense in comic book lore (the comics tend to depict them as an ensemble cast). It makes sense that Wolverine, given his demeanor and power set, would be chosen to appeal to a certain moviegoing demographic (read: white male), but it isn’t really accurate to the character according to comics writer Stephanie Williams.
“Within the movies, sidelined is probably an understatement.” — Dr. Chesya Burke on Storm
Williams has written for Storm and other X-Men as an author on 2023’s Scarlet Witch #2 comic. “On the surface level, execs saw this brawler who drinks beer,” Williams said. “But at the core of his character, he’s no Andrew Tate. He would probably eviscerate Andrew Tate to be honest.” She added, “Wolverine can be very vulnerable, he is a champion for women, he leans in.”
Wolverine’s ubiquity in the movies has led to an overemphasis on the character in other media as well. Despite being introduced 10 years after the superhero team debuted, he’s the focus of several video games, stretching back to the original X-Men for Sega Genesis, in which he’s the only playable avatar, all the way up to a still-mysterious upcoming PS5 game. Though he is present in Suns, it’s a marvel (pun intended) that the team doesn’t figure him into the game’s central plot more. He basically shows up as a counterpart to Sabretooth, a victim of Lilith’s corruption. But beyond that, he’s barely featured in the game’s larger storyline, which focuses on the main character, Hunter, being revived to fight Lilith, a Marvel villain who has herself been revived by Hydra for typical world-conquering shenanigans.
Midnight Suns has done well by its women
Wolverine, however, would be a fan of how Midnight Suns treats all its female characters. An entire subplot of the game focuses on Magik’s residual trauma from being lured into Limbo, a Hell-like dimension in the comics, and abducted by villain Mephisto. During this subplot, Hunter must walk through Limbo to have a conversation with Magik in which she discusses her PTSD, which prevents her from participating in a surprise birthday celebration thrown by her best friends. (Bonus: I played the main character, Hunter, as an Afro-Latinx woman, meaning that the heart-to-hearts between the characters were some truly great displays of female friendship and processing.)
And though it’s an optional side quest, those who decide to explore the grounds of the game’s headquarters, the Salem, Massachusetts-based Abbey, will uncover a touching story that adds emotional heft and resonance by exploring the deep history between Hunter, Scarlet Witch, the ghostly figure of Agatha Harkness, Caretaker (the game’s female NPC headmaster), and ubervillain Lilith, who is the main character’s mother. Midnight Suns is already deeply interested in the interior lives of its women, perhaps more than any other X-Men video game previously and certainly more so than any film released so far.
It’s unclear yet what role Storm will play in the DLC, which has so far involved a subplot around vampyres, as well as the villains Sin and Dracula. In the comics, the Mistress of the Elements has an extensive history with the blood-sucking baddie, a history that ditches her motherhood storyline and instead casts her as the (very powerful) object of Dracula’s enchantment and affection. And given the game’s emphasis on magic, perhaps there’s room to explore the magical origins of Storm’s powers.
Midnight Suns, which is not part of MCU continuity, has featured deeper storytelling than I’ve seen in Disney’s multimedia superhero soap opera for a while. On film and TV, Phase 4 of the ubiquitous franchise, which featured films like Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, was marked by an increasing reliance on explaining the multiverse and suffered from a lack of an overall story. But so many characters who have grown stale in this medium have been given new life in Firaxis’ lovely RPG. Captain America espouses his leadership philosophy during a book club discussion of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Blade gets to nurse a crush on Captain Marvel. Spider-Man wrestles between staying as a member of the Avengers or leaving to join the games’ titular gang of heroes.
Seeing these characters interact in meaningful ways as part of a cohesive ensemble—things like outings around the Abbey’s grounds and giving each other gifts as gestures of friendship—gives me hope that the Storm we see in game will have more dimensions than the one we’ve typically seen onscreen. For one of the most powerful mutants in the world, this isn’t just good game sense, it’s justice.
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