Storm, Yukio and queer subtext

Queer comic characters Storm and Yukio have had their relationship relegated to subtext, but contributor Stephanie Williams has found comfort there.

The comic book medium has always been and will always be one of my favorite mediums of storytelling. The art-filled pages beautifully blend genres and often provide evidence of things left unsaid in the text, offering a chance to make an easier connection with subtext, especially when what you’re interpreting is also backed up by the art of the page. For a long time, I found comfort in subtext. Sometimes I still do because it helped me navigate parts of who I am when I didn’t know how to voice it.

Marvel’s X-Men were my gateway into comics thanks to both the arcade version of Marvel Vs. Capcom and the original animated series. One character in particular automatically stuck out to me, and yes, the answer is Ororo Munroe.

While it helped that Storm is a Black woman who could control the weather, it wasn’t just that aspect that drew me to her. It wasn’t until I got familiar with the Storm in the comics that I began to understand better what it was about this character that allowed me to grow such a genuine appreciation. She was and still is a character who is expected to exist in the limited confines of whatever is easiest for others to digest, and by others, I mean her white teammates and readers.

The events that led up to Storm’s most freeing moments in her existence stick with me because not only does she question who she is and who she wants to be, but the catalyst for that change creates a relationship full of subtext I found highly relatable and have continued to go back to as the years have gone on, even as I’ve gotten comfortable with all of who I am, my sexuality included.

Storm’s liberation by Yukio is something that my closeted self felt. It read like the beginnings of the kind of romantic whirlwinds of a relationship I had only seen in heterosexual pairings.

When Storm first meets Yukio in Uncanny X-Men #172, she stands at a crossroads. Yukio initially serves as a nudge in the direction of exploring what it means to be Storm. She’s embarking on this journey to find out how she can live her life in such a way that she doesn’t have to uphold her mythical image. Storm’s been thought of as a goddess, but as flattering as that might be it robs her of the space to be as openly vulnerable and insecure as some of her teammates. Yukio on the other hand refuses to be bound by constructed ways of being—she relishes the dangerous, life-threatening choices she makes as indicative of her freedom. She is precisely who Storm needs to go forth and enter her iconic mohawk phase finally.

Storm’s liberation by this woman is something that my closeted self felt. It read like the beginnings of the kind of romantic whirlwinds of a relationship I had only seen in heterosexual pairings. This gave their relationship a level of intimacy that always read as more than just gals being pals to me. It was tender in a way that her interactions with Callisto, one of Storm’s iconic frenemies, weren’t.

queer Storm and Yukio
Uncanny X-Men #173/Marvel Comics

Yukio spoke to a part of Storm that represented her most authentic self. While there has never been any confirmation of their friendship being more romantic than platonic, the subtext has been there to say what hasn’t been said, and that has always spoken to me. I found comfort in the things that weren’t explicitly said because, at the time, I also had no idea how to voice my bisexuality. It was something I felt and understood in my gut, in the same way I felt and understood their relationship by the time they meet again in Uncanny X- Men #311.

That issue makes it quite challenging to read their relationship as not being romantic. Yukio has Storm meet her at a church turned nightclub, a read on Storm’s transformation from a prim and proper goddess who learned to shed her inhibitions and be okay with doing so despite how it made those around her feel. Their reunion is interrupted by the arrival of a cybernetic species, but the chaos provides a poetic backdrop to the nature of their relationship. Some of the most intimate panels occur as the story continues in Uncanny X-Men #312.

Yukio’s true motivations for leaving Japan to come to the States to seek out Storm are revealed in a tender moment shared by the two after Yukio is attacked. It’s the first time Yukio admits being capable of feeling fear, and that fear she felt was for her friend. It’s a highly intimate moment in which Yukio all but confesses her undying love for Storm. The romantic in me couldn’t help but savor those panels. It’s all thanks to how the artist Joe Madureira made it such an achingly tender scene with the art that accompanied writer Scott Lobdell’s words.

I hope one day Storm can canonically exist in a way that embraces the parts of herself that reside in between the panels.

Now of course it would be great if Storm and Yukio’s relationship wasn’t so steeped in subtext. I’d love to see their relationship exist on the page in the same explicit manner as her romantic relationships with men, but that doesn’t mean there is no value to be found in it. Most queer subtext in general isn’t necessarily wholly positive or downright negative but varies on a case-by-case basis. Some examples are more archaic than others and are outright harmful, and I can completely understand wanting distance from that material. However, in some cases, like Storm and Yukio, the subtext works because it’s woven into the story of a woman finding herself and a beautiful relationship coming into existence because of it.

Unfortunately, their relationship has been stuck in subtext and will probably continue to be stuck in subtext for years to come. Well, that was until I took it upon myself to liberate a couple I’ve always adored in a fancomic I wrote, Living Heroes. I’m no longer living within the subtext of my life, so it only felt right to bring their love into the light.

I hope one day Storm can canonically exist in a way that embraces the parts of herself that reside in between the panels. I’ll always be grateful for the inch of her character presented in her interactions with Yukio because I definitely took it and made it a mile when I needed it most.

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