Published on July 11, 2013 by Casey
Thunderbird (John Proudstar) is a fictional character, a Marvel Comics superhero who was briefly a member of the X-Men. An Apache, Thunderbird possesses superhuman athletic ability. He was a short time member of the “Second Genesis” group of X-Men gathered together in Giant-Size X-Men #1 as he died on their second mission.
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Thunderbird was created by writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum for the new X-Men, specifically to be a member of the team who would fail the entrance exam. Having already decided that the previously introduced characters Sunfire and Banshee would fail the exam, Wein and Cockrum felt it would be unrealistic for only older characters to “flunk out”, and set about creating a new character to fit this role. After developing Thunderbird, however, they decided that they liked the character – his costume in particular – too much to write him off after only one issue, and decided to keep him on.
The character debuted in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May 1975). While working on the first issues of the regular series, the creative team realized that having Thunderbird as a regular character was problematic. According to Cockrum, “…we created him as an obnoxious loudmouth, and we already had an obnoxious loudmouth in Wolverine. So one of us decided to kill him off after all, just for shock value.” Chris Claremont, who scripted the story, confirms that it was Wein who decided to kill the character, and added, “He figured there are two ways to do this. One, you spend years, if not decades, building up a relationship between the audience and a character, building the emotional bonds between them so when something happens to that character the audience is devastated. Or you do it right off the bat, when no one is expecting it.” The story culminating in Thunderbird’s death appeared in X-Men #94-95.
Thunderbird was one of the feature characters in the 2011 two-issue limited series Chaos War: X-Men.
John Proudstar was born into an Apache tribe on a reservation in Camp Verde, Arizona. As a teenager, Proudstar discovered he possessed the mutant abilities of superhuman senses, strength, speed, stamina, and sturdiness.
Proudstar was drafted into the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and earned the rank of corporal. He returned to his tribe after the war, but he was unhappy and listless.
He was then recruited by Professor Charles Xavier to join his third group of X-Men. Eager to prove his prowess, Proudstar agreed and assumed the superhero codename Thunderbird. He assisted the other X-Men in rescuing the original X-Men from Krakoa the mutant island.
During the weeks of training which followed, the ill-tempered and individualistic Thunderbird often found himself going head to head with the X-Men’s leader, Cyclops. The new team’s second mission took them to Valhalla Base, Colorado, to combat Count Nefaria and the Ani-Men. When Nefaria attempted to make his escape in a jet plane, Proudstar leapt on board. Disregarding Professor X’s orders to jump to safety, Thunderbird hammered at it with his bare fists. The plane exploded, killing Proudstar. (Count Nefaria is later revealed to have survived the crash.)
Thunderbird’s brother, Warpath (James Proudstar), has similar powers, although to a much greater degree, and is also an X-Man.
When Warpath goes to visit Thunderbird’s grave during the Necrosha storyline, he encounters the Demon Bear. After defeating the creature with the aid of Ghost Rider, he finds out that former Purifier Eli Bard has dug up Thunderbird and everyone else buried there. It is revealed that Bard used a version of the Technarch virus to resurrect Thunderbird and the others as his servants. Thunderbird is later seen with Selene’s Inner Circle and Caliban being led to the ruins of Genosha, which she dubs Necrosha. Thunderbird fights Warpath, who snaps his neck and then kills Selene. Thunderbird’s spirit is seen departing, telling his brother that he “can let go now”.
During the Chaos War storyline, Thunderbird is among the fallen X-Men members (consisting of himself, Banshee, Moira MacTaggert, Esme and Sophie of the Stepford Cuckoos, and three deceased dupes of Multiple Man) to return from the dead after what happened to the death realms. He remembers the last time he was briefly revived during the events of Necrosha, albeit faintly. Thunderbird leads the revived X-Men members into looking for a diary written by Destiny that might hold the key to defeating Amatsu-Mikaboshi while evading Carrion Crow, Eater of the Dead. Thunderbird called upon the mythical Thunderbird to get him and his group away from the Carrion Crow. He and the group discover that Moira MacTaggert has been possessed by Destiny’s ghost. In the aftermath of the defeat of the Chaos King, Thunderbird is returned to the afterlife after reality is restored by Hercules. Thunderbird contemplated that his life finally meant something and hoped that next time he was resurrected, it would be with Sophie.
Thunderbird was a mutant that possesses superhuman strength (sufficient to rip apart a fighter jet with his bare hands), speed (he was fast enough to outrun a bison, possibly much faster), stamina, and durability due to his dense musculature. His senses were also enhanced, enabling him to become a highly adept tracker.
Thunderbird had received military training in hand-to-hand combat.