It seems that nobody stays dead anymore.
From writers Steve Orlando and Nyla Rose and artist David Cutler comes the return of a character more famous in death than in life with Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1. Featuring inks from Jose Marzan Jr. and Roberto Poggi, colors by Irma Kniivila, and lettering by Travis Lanham, this one-shot revives and reintroduces us to the first X-Man to die under Xavier’s watch. With a thoughtful, complex, and poignant script and equally thoughtful visual design, this return will undoubtedly stand as one of the most important X-Men comics in recent memory – for more reason than one.
“The world John Proudstar has returned to is completely different from the one he once knew. Looking to find refuge in the familiar, Thunderbird seeks out someone from his past at an Apache reservation…and uncovers a horrifying threat to the Indigenous mutant community. Will Thunderbird be able to save his people? Or will his justified rage lead him astray?”
Writing & Plot
Thunderbird really wasn’t around long enough to be firmly established as a character, so it’s great to see Steve Orlando and Nyla Rose do some thoughtful character building in Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1. Having the long-dead Native American mutant given the Krakoan resurrection treatment requires a careful hand. Fortunately, Native American pro-wrestler Nyla Rose teamed up with Steve Orlando to be just that. Here, Rose and Orlando establish that John Proudstar never quite felt at home with the X-Men back when he was alive. He’s grateful for what Xavier and the X-Men did for him, but for Proudstar being in a superhero team wasn’t that much different from his time in the Marines. The choice to send Thunderbird on a journey back home immediately after his resurrection on Krakoa is a bold and wise choice. I can’t get into spoilers here, but the writing in this one-shot plays around with ideas of identity, legacy, and loyalty in ways that are both direct and buried under clever subtext. This is a very exciting comic not just for the whole “bringing back a dead character” aspect, but because it handles said resurrection with such intelligence. The socio-political ramifications both in the Marvel universe and here in reality of bringing back a Native character in the year 2021, in the wrong hands, could have ended up with some elements that were rather…problematic. Orlando and Rose really impress with their efforts here.
Major thematic and metanarrative concepts aside, this comic also succeeds in just being a good Marvel comic book. The sequence of events that set up the action have the same kind of stakes and tension that old-school X-Men comics do. Orlando and Rose’s dialogue has that classic comic book-y one-liner snark. Even with the more serious tone of some of the book’s subjects, it still knows how to be a hell of a lot of fun.
Relative newcomer to mainstream comics and member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation David Cutler lends his craft to the pages of Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1. He, along with inkers Jose Marzan Jr. and Roberto Poggi, craft a visual experience that is unique to itself while still sharing the house style of the other Krakoa-era X-books. Cutler’s compositions are super-tight, and his actions sequences that make up the entire middle section of the comic are full of energy and a blast to witness. His facial animations and detail work, again with the assistance of Marzan and Poggi, makes even the conversational sequences engaging and endears the reader to each individually designed character. This one-shot’s pacing feels so effortless and natural because of Cutler’s careful composition. Quite a lot happens in this comic, and Cutler cuts it all together with simple yet impressive layouts. Now, the big elephant in the room regarding this comic’s art is Thunderbird’s new costume design. Liking or disliking the new suit is entirely subjective. A superhero costume can only be seen as “bad” if it somehow betrays what that character is supposed to stand for. Thunderbird wasn’t originally around long enough to be able to stand for anything. Here, under the creative thumb of two native creators, that has changed. Cutler has made John Proudstar’s new turquoise costume with the symbolism that is important to his nation and origin. Regardless if you like this costume or not, it’s certainly more meaningful than the original.
Speaking of colors, Irma Kniivila provides the rich tones of Proudstar’s new suit and every other surface in this one-shot. Her work here is vibrant and helps craft the setting of each scene with that fantastic final detail. Sunlight settling over the rocky cliff of the American Southwest has scarcely looked better in a comic. The lettering from Travis Lanham adheres to the same style that the other current X-books have been using, but with some especially great SFX features. The dialogue and narration letters are smooth and unobtrusive, hiding them in the reading experience. His FX work serves as the perfect punctuation to the action sequences, with their presence highlighting all the big impacts in those panels perfectly. Overall, this is a very solid looking comic book that offers a smooth and often gorgeous read.
Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1 is a bold and thoughtful return for a long-dead character. With insight and intelligence, Steve Orlando and Nyla Rose’s script engages with John Proudstar’s legacy as both the first mutant to die for Xavier, and as a Native American superhero. The visuals from David Cutler, Jose Marzan Jr., Roberto Poggi, and Irma Kniivila are well composed and rich, and perfectly pace every plot point this comic covers. Be sure to grab this major moment in mutant history when it hits shelves on May 4th!