A classic figure from Xavier’s second class of mutants gets a new lease on life in Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1.
Thunderbird #1 is the latest installment of the Giant-Size X-Men anthology series, putting spotlights on individual mutants in the Krakoa era. While the prior four chapters all played into a larger narrative, though, it seems this one-shot is entirely self-contained. (Interestingly, John actually debuted in Giant-Size X-Men #1, the classic issue this series takes its name from.)
Thunderbird—real name John Proudstar—has an interesting legacy in that he’s pretty much always been defined by how quickly he was killed off after his first appearance and mostly stayed dead since. Barring a few special instances where he was revived temporarily for plot reasons, his younger brother James has more frequently been the primary bearer of the Proudstar name. That changed with his resurrection on Krakoa in the recent Trial of Magneto series. But now that he’s back, what’s next…?
As alluded to above, Thunderbird’s abrupt legacy means he’s primarily known in X-Men lore for dying in a reckless manner, which writers Steve Orlando and Nyla Rose explore further here. They’re quick to remind readers that not only was his death surprisingly fast, but it also marked an important milestone: John was the first X-Man to die on the page. If anybody deserved to be resurrected by the Five, it’s him. But as we later see in the issue, John’s tendency to kick ass first and ask questions later doesn’t always produce good results, forcing him to reckon with his fatal past mistake and reconsider his M.O. in his adventures to come.
But where Thunderbird #1 really shines, I feel, is its authentic portrayal of a Native American character. Co-written by AEW star wrestler Nyla Rose (making her comicbook debut) and drawn by David Cutler, both of whom claim Oneida and Mi’kmaq heritage, respectively, the authenticity allows this issue to have an edge that another version of this story might have lacked. Rose’s script with Orlando doesn’t hold back any punches—literally and figuratively—in regards to the way indigenous people like John (an Apache) are treated in America and how they’re taken advantage of by the government, which collides with the mutant metaphor rather neatly. The plot of this piece specifically involves indigenous mutants having their X-genes stolen for ill will; we all know how the American government has done similar unethical shady business with the various indigenous peoples of the land.
It’s a good step to make the mutants-as-minorities allegory more tangible than it usually is, as most of the characters who get the focus in this franchise are still largely white. (John’s grandmother has nothing nice to say about Xavier!) The Giant-Size anthology moving forward should really take more opportunities like this to reflect the diversity of the X-Men line and set up other characters for new storylines in other areas. John is currently slated to appear throughout X-Men Red, so I’m interested to see how he develops now that he’s back.
Cutler’s art is similarly vital here, selling John’s aggression and physicality in a way that makes the typical superhero action within feel more physical and real than it sometimes does. His powers mean he can take a beating and return it even harder, but he’s not bulletproof. (Literally, he’s shot and shown to bleed from it at one point.) Thunderbird’s new outfit, also designed by Cutler, has apparently been divisive among fans, but I really like it. It notably incorporates the color turquoise—a significant gemstone in many native cultures—which puts it in stark contrast to his old red/black/yellow gear and allows John to reflect his identity in a way he was never allowed to before.
A letter written by John to Krakoa’s resident costumer extraordinaire, Jumbo Carnation, explains what he wants for his updated look and why it’s important to him; it’s a satisfying way for Orlando and Rose to have John speak for himself outside of brief narration boxes and dialogue. Words and pictures obviously have to work in tandem with one another for a successful product in this medium, and Thunderbird exemplifies that pretty well all-around.
Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1
- Writers: Steve Orlando, Nyla Rose
- Artists: David Cutler (penciler), José Marzan Jr. with Roberto Poggi (inkers)
- Color Artist: Irma Kniivila
- Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
- Cover Artists: Ken Lashley, Juan Fernandez
- Editor: Sarah Brunstad
- Publisher: Marvel Entertainment