Thanks to a tweet from actress Alexandra Shipp this weekend, there’s been a lot of discussion amongst fans and spectators as to whether her character, Storm, will be sporting a mohawk when she appears in next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Oddly enough, the importance of this issue goes beyond merely questions of style.
When Storm first appeared in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men No. 1, created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, she sported long, flowing hair that served many purposes. It marked her as being traditionally beautiful in the comic book tradition for female characters, while its unrealistic, magical length underscored the character’s ethereal, exotic nature (and, helpfully, magically covered her body when she appeared nude, which happened often in her earliest appearances). Storm’s initial appeal was that of a glamorous self-proclaimed “goddess” who nonetheless remained in the background for the majority of X-Men storylines until the plot required her to contribute in some relatively small way; villains fell in love with her repeatedly to underscore that her beauty was arguably her most important attribute.
All of which made her makeover in 1983’s Uncanny X-Men No. 173 (designed by artist Paul Smith) more dramatic. Unlike other superhero redesigns, Storm’s new look went beyond a simple costume change — although it offered that as well, with the superhero outfit designed by Cockrum in the ‘70s replaced by what was essentially street clothes consisting of a leather vest, pants and top.
The most obvious change, however, was that Storm’s trademark long hair was gone, replaced by a mohawk. It wasn’t just fans of the X-Men comic book who were unhappy with the change; other characters were appalled as well. “Your clothes! Your…hair! What have you done?!” exclaims one, while Professor Xavier asks himself whether the change is “indicative of a deeper, more serious metamorphosis.”
The answer to that is, of course, yes; the visual upgrade was merely an outward expression of a change in Storm’s personality and outlook that writer Chris Claremont had been working on for some time — eight years into her superhero career, it would have been unrealistic for her to be quite as forgiving and naive about the world as she had been initially, after all, and the second Storm was harder, stronger and perhaps a little more suspicious of the world than when she first appeared. The mohawk and outfit change was merely a visual signifier to underscore that this was no longer the character as she had debuted — a fact underscored when, a year later, she lost her superpowers.
It also was a sign of things to come; at least for the remainder of Claremont’s time writing X-Men (He stayed with the series for 17 years, and remains one of its core writers in the eyes of most of comic book fandom); when Storm went through a shift in status or personality, her hair would change. When she regained her powers, her hair returned to a longer style that was closer to her original appearance, albeit bigger in a style befitting the late 1980s; when she was kidnapped and brainwashed by villains, her head was shaved bald — perhaps Shipp’s tweet was a hint that fans should expect that storyline in Apocalypse — and so on.
In recent years, Storm has returned to the mohawk, with writer Sam Humphries embracing the character’s hair subtext. “I wouldn’t have [brought the look back] if it didn’t reflect a change in [Storm]’s inner life,” he explained in an interview at the time. “As excited as I am for the mohawk, I’m more excited about what it means for her as a character.”
When teasing that her Storm will break away from the long-haired look favored by Halle Berry in earlier X-Men movies, Shipp is not merely suggesting a visual break from the way the character’s appeared onscreen; she’s also hinting that, perhaps, this Storm will differ from what movie audiences have come to expect as well.
X-Men: Apocalypse will be released May 27, 2016.