By Jon Durmin
Thus far we at Rogue’s Roulette have done our best to add more excitement to some of the liveliest heroes in the Marvel universe! This week we thought we’d shift gears a bit by proposing some new foes for a mighty Marvel hero who isn’t so lively. In fact he’s most well known for being one of the most reliably deceased superheroes of all. I’m talking of course about John Proudstar AKA Thunderbird!
A mutant by birth, John was gradually developing ever-escalating strength, stamina, sturdiness, speed and superhuman senses. Sounds like he could have been a genuine superman someday to me! Growing up as a member of an impoverished Apache community in the American Southwest, John was drafted into the US Marine Corps and served in the jungles of Vietnam (A link to the Vietnam war was once an integral part of the personal histories of many Marvel characters including Tony Stark, Jim Rhodes, Forge, Flash Thompson, and Frank Castle among many others. For characters who are still active this has shifted over the years to accommodate the slow progress of time in Marvel Comics. Without this sliding time-scale, if Flash Thompson, who attended high school with Peter Parker were a Vietnam veteran we’d now be reading the adventures of the Sexagenarian Spider-Man. This being the case it would presently make sense to consider Proudstar as serving during the early part of the US-Afghan war instead). Though serving with distinction in combat and honorably discharged, John returned home with strong feelings of survivors guilt and isolation from his civilian community. Things seemed like they may look up when Professor X appeared to John, offering him an opportunity to become an X-Man which John accepted, taking on the identity of Thunderbird. Unfortunately, John’s depression stood in the way of him connecting with his fellows at Xavier’s school. It also drove him to be reckless in his efforts with the team, taking actions that were self-destructive. On the All-New, All Different X-Men‘s second mission, Thunderbird met his end attempting to aprehend the international criminal Count Nefaria.
Thunderbird’s death has not been the end of his story. Mourning his loss brought his fellow X-Men together more strongly than before. His similarly powered brother, James, would seek to avenge John’s death and honor him, first as a foe of the X-Men and later as a reliable member of both that team and X-Force. John has even acted twice in recent years from beyond the grave. He was one of the key individuals resurrected and enslaved by Selene to serve in her attempted apotheosis during the Necrosha storyline. Later, during the Chaos War. In this tale, John finally was able to prove himself a true hero. With a team of fellow deceased X-Men against the sinister Carrion Crow, an entity that served the Chaos King by devouring the dead into an absolute oblivion. John’s leadership and spiritual grounding won the day for the team. John even seemed to find the first stirring of what, in another life, might have been love with slain-stepford-sister, Sophie Cuckoo. When Hercules defeated the Chaos King (in the main Chaos War mini-series, of course), Thunderbird and the other dead X-Men who survived the battle with the Carrion Crow were returned to their place in the Afterlife.
This is where we could pick up a thrilling new series unlike any before in the already exciting history of Marvel Comics! The land of the living already has it’s share of heroes, champions and protectors of the weak – what about the lands of the dead? We’ve seen time and again that the Marvel-616 is host to a number of dimensions of the non-living, such as the Hela’s Nifflheim, Hades realms of Tartarus and Elysium, Mephisto’s Hell, and Belasco’s Limbo. Usually our heroes visit these shadow lands, solve some immediate problem and return to the land of the living. With all that regular superhero resurrection going on there’s a real need for a hero devoted to the defense of the dominant defenseless population of the deceased as they do their darnedest to find their peace. As a daring-do-gooder and one of the most dependably dead heroes in the 616, John Proudstar seems like just the man for the job! What fiendish foes might our favorite, fearless, fringe-and-feather fitted fighter face? Read on, True Believers!
John Proudstar was an X-Man passed too soon was he not? Too soon to have ever encountered some of the merry band of mutants most malicious menaces that is! Our first nemesis that Thunderbird might face would be none-other than the founder of the earth-bound, anti-mutant religious sect the Purifiers. I’m referring of course to the military man turned anti-mutant evangelist, Reverend William Stryker. Stryker first appeared in the immediate classic Marvel Graphic Novel, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills where he sought to manipulate mutant civil rights leader and X-Men founder Charles Xavier into becoming a genuine, WMD (Weapon of Mutant Destruction). So assured of the righteousness of his cause I can’t imagine Stryker would take it well to find himself in the more punishing parts of the post-mortem plane. In fact I expect Stryker may, at this very moment, be assuming that he can’t have been condemned to such firey floggings in punishment of his role as a purveyor of hate and murderer of mutant men, women and children (including his own infant son). No, to somebody with Stryker’s conviction it would seem, even in death, even with the explicit words of his infernal inquisitors that he was being punished not for the acts he committed, but for failing to complete his self-solicited crusade to rid the world of mutants. Devoted to such devious delusions Stryker would concoct for himself a new crusade to send all mutants in all realms of the dead to a final, punishing hell or oblivion. “Surely then,” wicked, Will Stryker would say “I’ll earn my place in heaven!” Doubtless, Stryker would be able to rally a cult of the most hateful individuals who ever plagued the Earth to form an army with his promises of posthumous paradise. Have no fear post-mortem mutants! Thunderbird is here to defend against these zealots’ predations.
Now don’t fret, Reverend Stryker won’t be filling up all the slots on Johnny Proudstar’s dance card. I’ll tell you this though; it was mighty difficult to pick just one more rogue for him to wrangle in the great beyond. Then it hit me! Why not put Thunderbird up against a whole gang of fallen foes? Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to a menagerie of mortified menace: The Hellfire Below Club! Many of its members were affiliates of the earthly Hellfire Club. Now, in the fires below they scheme with and against one another to twist control of the infernal realms from the devils that rule there now. Classic Hellfire Club members Ned Buckman, Harry Leland, Friedrich von Roehm, Emmanuel da Costa, Jason Wyngarde, Elias Bogan, Gordon Philips and Selene are joined by other deceased deviants like Unus the Untouchable, Jack of Diamonds, Obadiah Stane and more as their schemes unfold and make life in hell more insufferable than was ever previously imaginable. It will be up to Thunderbird to foil them and their agents and make life for those already condemned to the nether realms no more unbearable than it is supposed to be. With so many participants in this club’s ghoulish game vanquishing their villains will be no small feat. Don’t worry though Johnny, we believe in you!