Warning: spoilers for Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1 are ahead.
Thunderbird is widely known in Marvel Comics as the first member of the X-Men to die in battle, an event that has finally been unpacked in his own one-shot story, Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1. While the X-Men have long been a team geared towards addressing social issues and systemic injustices, the individual experiences of mutants on the team have not always adequately reflected this mission. John Proudstar, better known as Thunderbird, was originally written out of the X-Men’s story before he got the chance to shine as a character. Now, Marvel has given Thunderbird the spotlight he has always deserved in a new one-shot story.
As the first Indigenous mutant featured in X-Men comics, Thunderbird (of Apache descent) was originally recruited by Professor X for his new X-Men team because of his unwavering tenacity. His hardheadedness put him at odds with Cyclops and Professor X, reflected in his decision to sacrifice his life to prevent a villain from escaping. After remaining dead for close to fifty years, Thunderbird was resurrected on the X-Men’s island nation of Krakoa, where he was reunited with his brother, Warpath (James Proudstar). In his new one-shot, Thunderbird explores the effect that joining the X-Men had on his life and death, and the specific challenges that the X-Men’s new era on Krakoa poses for him as an Apache mutant.
As Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1 shows, Indigenous mutants suffer from Professor X’s assimilationist ideals. That is, for Professor X, the goal of “mutant unity” on Krakoa supersedes his ability to recognize the cultural contexts that mutants of color come from. Charles Xavier fails to understand the ramifications for expecting Indigenous mutants like Thunderbird to conform to his vision of what “mutant culture” should be. Not surprisingly, the unique culture on Krakoa is a shock to Thunderbird, who feels alienated due to his strong connections to his Apache heritage, a fact made even more painful when he visits his reservation and sees how his community has changed since his death. Reuniting with his grandmother, Thunderbird expresses ambivalence towards identifying as Apache or as a mutant, to which his grandmother reminds him that those identities are not exclusive of each other. Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1 is written by Nyla Rose and Steve Orlando, with pencils by David Cutler, inks by José Marzan Jr. with Roberto Poggi, colors by Irma Kniivila, and letters by Travis Lanham.
Thunderbird realizing that he can be both Apache and mutant is important in undoing the harmful elements of Professor X’s assimilationist philosophy, and is reflective of how Krakoa has given mutants the chance to redefine themselves on their own terms. The issue cements this relationship between Thunderbird’s Apache heritage and life on Krakoa through him planting a gateway to the island on his reservation, giving his brother Warpath a reunion with their grandmother. In doing so, Thunderbird lays the groundwork for him and his brother’s seamless access to their Apache culture as well as their community on Krakoa. He redefines being a “man of two worlds” as a fundamentally healing experience built on plurality, as opposed to one marked by turmoil and a pressure to “choose” one over the other.
X-Men’s Krakoan era gives Indigenous mutants the chance to unpack their own identities and experiences like never before, presenting opportunities to rectify the reductive and stereotypical characterizations of the past. This Thunderbird story beautifully shows the power of self-determination and cultural reunification, setting the stage for John Proudstar to enter a new stage of publication history built on celebrating his perspective, rather than squelching it. With Thunderbird set to appear next in X-Men: Red #3, the future has never looked brighter for X-Men‘s Indigenous mutants.
Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1 is available now from Marvel Comics.