This week, in Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1, Nyla Rose, the first trans Women’s Champion in a major U.S. wrestling promotion, is a co-writer—sidebar: time to wave my hands in the air, because, woo! trans rep! support trans creators!—tackles John Proudstar’s journey to reclaim himself after his resurrection. The main review contains two fists full of spoilers, so scroll to the Rapid Rundown if you’re looking for a spoiler-lite mini-review of Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi #1!
What did you think of this week’s new Marvel Comics issues? Let The Beat know in the comment section or on social media at @comicsbeat.
Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1
Writers: Nyla Rose & Steve Orlando
Penciler: David Cutler
Inker: José Marzan Jr. w/ Roberto Poggi (pgs. 13-15, 20-22, 23, 25)
Color Artist: Irma Kniivila
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Design: Tom Muller w/ Jay Bowen
Cover Artist: Ken Lashley & Juan Fernandez
“Mutant resurrection. Mutant technology. A whole mutant island. I die, and two white men go and build themselves a reservation, call it freedom.”
Even if you’re not a fan of the X-Men, you should be excited about this issue. The giant-sized issue subtly and beautifully deals with what almost rises to the level of John Proudstar’s metafictional self-awareness of his flawed introduction into the Marvel universe while still bringing action-packed heat that includes fighting cops, corporations, and colonialism. Marvel Comics’ first mutant to die for Xavier, John Proudstar, aka Thunderbird, was recently brought back from the dead. Now, he’s ready to rewrite his history in Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1, penned by Orlando, a dedicated wrestling fan, and Rose, the first openly transgender woman signed by a major U.S. wrestling promotion and the first trans Women’s Champion—whom I just learned about for this review, and I think is so f***ing cool (she is also an actress on a trans-focused Canadian sitcom The Switch, according to an extensive profile of the wrestler from The Daily Beast).
Rose is Oneida and Black and a long-time comic book reader. As a wrestler, she frequently wears wrestling gear inspired by comic book characters, like Mystique and Deathstroke. So, when Marvel introduced the idea of resurrecting Thunderbird, Orlando immediately thought of reaching out to Nyla instead of having his “clown ass writ[e] it,” he explained to them. And luckily for Orlando, Rose was interested.
Rose first learned about Thunderbird because she “was big into the 1994 Fleer Ultra series.” The trans wrestler added, “When I saw Thunderbird, I was like, ‘What? A Native character?’ It blew my mind. And then you flip to the back, and it’s like ‘deceased.’ Like, what? I just met this guy, and he’s already — he’s not here? It was such a rollercoaster.”
The first Apache mutant, Thunderbird, debuted in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1 by Len Wein, Dave Cockrum, Glynis Wein, and John Costanza, only to die months later. After being brought back briefly for two Marvel Comics events in the late-aughts, Thunderbird was recently resurrected in Leah Williams and Lucas Werneck‘s X-Men: Trial of Magneto by what looks like Krakoa’s very own “Lady Gaga Egg.” It only took the comics FIVE decades, which makes the 37 years it took to resurrect Star Trek seem like nothing… However, unless you’re an X-Stan or a fan of FOX’s The Gifted, in which French, German, and Indigenous actor Blair Redford played Thunderbird, a lead character on the series, you may be unfamiliar with John — but what was written in the last half-century doesn’t matter (i.e., no need for you to catch up before reading Thunderbird #1) because John Proudstar is ready to become famous for living, not dying.
Thunderbird #1 is well-aware of its history. Rose told Comicbook.com, “I think we all say Thunderbird, John Proudstar,” and it’s clear that one of this issue’s goals is to redefine the Apache hero as John Proudstar, Thunderbird. Throughout the issue, the creators carefully and purposefully revamped the hero for a new era, with the most noticeable change being the costume. Thrown in the dated pile was Thunderbird’s 1975 X-Men outfit, so it wasn’t resurrected along with the character, allowing him to shed the cliches of the past. Instead, he gets updated gear that’s more him. Designed by Rose, Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation artist Cutler and Jumbo Carnation (who was also resurrected using the “Lady Gaga Egg”), Proudstar’s new duds are turquoise, the color of strength and skill, and power and invincibility, accented with red, black, and yellow, and designed to be practical in combat (and who better to consult on that than a pro-wrestler?) while incorporating important visual motifs and colors from Apache culture.
“Nothing was done haphazardly or by accident … we didn’t want to put things down that were just like ‘Native,’ we did research on Apache culture, traditions, religion,” Rose assured them. “It wasn’t a broad paintbrush of ‘what is it to be Indigenous?’ It was ‘what is it to be Apache?'”… Back from the dead, that is also the question Thunderbird is asking himself.
In Giant-Size X-Men, Proudstar’s first heroic journey is to save his Apache elders from Hydra on steroids. While looking for his grandmother in Arizona, Thunderbird learns the U.S. government sold the rights to Indigenous X-Genes to a private contractor, Orchis, an organization formed from the fear of humanity’s impending extinction (for others who don’t follow the X-books, learn more at Marvel).
The real villain of the comic is colonialism, and the issue offers a glimpse into systems of oppression that plague U.S. reservations. The first big bad that Proudstar must fight is a corrupt police force. When he arrives home at Camp Verde, Arizona, the town is almost deserted: corrupt cops came to collect the mutants, but the elders refused to reveal the mutants in the community, and the cops arrested the whole town. Even worse, when Thunderbird initially confronts the cops, they play jurisdictional games with him and say he should try the B.I.A., Bureau of Indian Affairs. Although Rose, Orlando, and Cutler introduce a singular villain for Thunderbird to fight with his fists, he is also fighting a corrupt system of oppression that uses political and financial power to prey on vulnerable communities. Fill the right pockets, get the X-Gene reclassified as government property, and use eminent domain law. The use of unique legal challenges and human rights abuses facing tribes and reservations in the U.S., such as jurisdictional confusion, eminent domain abuses, and medical experimentation at boarding schools, adds even more to the plotline.
According to Rose, “In the past, every Native culture celebrated and revered Two-Spirit folks. They were not just accepted; they often held high places within the community. It wasn’t until settlers taught Native people about shame and all these outside influences that things got lost in the generations and perverted.”
By the end of the issue, Thunderbird is confronted with a problem that forces him to learn more about being both a mutant and an Apache. Most importantly, he realizes that he would be a celebrated member of his community, not alienated or pushed to the outskirts or ashamed of himself… But proud. Marvel Comics’ first Apache mutant creates a new beginning for himself in Giant X-Men: Thunderbird #1, so without ruining the final page of the issue: the story ends where it begins, but this time John Proudstar says, “Maybe I don’t win all the fights ahead. But you can still be damn sure; I’m gonna pick every one of ’em.”
- Star Wars: Obi-Wan #1
- I haven’t read Star Wars comics in a long time, but this was a welcome treat. The contemplative Kenobi Christopher Cantwell writes for in the intro and narration feels like a natural extension of the old and wise Alec Guinness version of the character. Ario Anindito and Carlos Lopez’ art feels dirty and grimy when on Tatooine and immediately transitions to a much smoother style when we segue to Obi-Wan’s past on Coruscant. This opening issue does a good job at showing the reader hints of who Obi-Wan will grow up to become and the difficult challenges that await him. The chase after Gehren is strongly indicative of the kind-hearted person Obi-Wan is, but it also shows the reader how strong the connections he forms with other people can be. That’s not inherently bad, but it is for a Jedi Youngling who is supposed to let go of their connections. If this issue is a sign of what this series is going to be, I’m excited to kick back and enjoy the rest of these issues (not to mention those Phil Noto covers are nothing short of exceptional). — CB
Next week, Hulk and Thor go to war!