December 7, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #292: Thunderbird

An Indian man gains some mutant powers and joins the X-Men...for a little while.

When the whole “House of X’ thing happened, it seemed as if every mutant in the Marvel Universe, no matter whose side of the mutant rights debate they fell on, became at least honorary X-Men.  Now personally, I haven’t had a chance to check in on those stories yet, so I don’t know if every mutant in the history of the X-Men franchise has popped up yet or not.

Take the last (to date) Thunderbird to join the team for instance.  Has he been seen somewhere yet, even in the background?  I don’t know.  Are there any fans dying to see him?  Eh, probably not, but here’s a column on him anyway.

Now, there was a Thunderbird on the X-Men before.  That was one John Proudstar.  He was a Native American who preferred his own name over the codename the Professor gave him (now there’s a bit that hasn’t aged well).  Recruited to the “All-New, All-Different” team, he died on something like the second or third mission.  Why him?  Maybe because his basic power set of superstrength made him somewhat redundant next to Colossus, or maybe the original plan was to kill Wolverine and the creators changed their minds, or maybe there was a feeling he wasn’t working out with the others.  I don’t know.  He was killed off, and later his brother James would join X-Force with the equally racially questionable codename of Warpath.

John Proudstar as Thunderbird

Unless he’s been resurrected in House of X, it’s worth noting John Proudstar didn’t seem to be one of those mutants who came back from the dead.  So, that’s something.

But then we fast forward to the year 2000.  Chris Claremont, longtime X-Men scribe who tends to blow on and off the books these days, is back for the most 90s sounding title for an X-Men book to be published after the 90s, X-Treme X-Men.  The basic premise there was X-Men mainstay Storm took a squad of X-Men to go do…whatever it is Claremont wanted to do that he probably didn’t like was going on in the main books, truth be told.  Beyond the usual bunch of mutants that seem to pop up frequently in Claremont’s X-work like Rogue, Storm, and Psylocke, there were some new faces of sorts.  One was Claremont’s new all-purpose asskicker who had sort of been around for a while but with the X-Men now in the form of Sage, and another was one Neal Shaara, the new Thunderbird from India.

Now, here’s where I point out a little personal ignorance.  While I am aware that the “Thunderbird” name has relevance to a Native American character (depending on the tribe), does that word mean anything to an Indian?  Again, I’m not sure, but it does seem weird that an Indian man would take a codename last held by a Native American, even if the word “Indian” has often been used to describe Native Americans who, you know, don’t come from India.

Regardless, here was a new X-Man.  Neal had been a popular ladies man from a well-off family when his journalist brother Sanjit just disappeared.  Finding a sudden sense of responsibility, he decided to go looking for his brother while his father has his best detective follow Neal.  Her name was Karima Shapandar, and during the course of this misadventure, X-Men foe Bastion would capture both, convert Karima into the Omega Sentinel, a character who aids the X-Men when she can resist her programming and be herself, Sanjit was badly hurt, and Neal had to make a run for it before Karima’s programming stopped him.

On the run, Neal soon fell in with Storm’s X-Men group, using his mutant powers to generate solar plasma to do all kinds of things involving heat blasts and the like.  And he took the name Thunderbird himself, but see above on my thoughts there.

Neal stayed with the team for a while, briefly romancing teammate Psylocke before settling in for a relationship with another forgotten teammate, Lifeguard.  He had Bishop to help him learn how to use his powers and formed a friendship with Colossus.  After the “X-Treme” team broke up, Neal and Lifeguard settled down with the X-Corporation until Cyclops disbanded it and…I have no idea what happened to either of those characters since.  Is there room for another mutant or two in the current X-Men series?  Probably, but would we notice them standing around in the background?

Probably not.