Thunderbird represents a peculiar turning point in the X-Men mythos. There was a decision in the mid 1970s to turn X-Men into an international book that prominently featured minorities. The intention was that to join the X-Men, the characters would have to pass an entrance exam. Thunderbird was set up to fail the exam and get kicked off the team. The reasoning was that he was a rural type from the Reservation and he didn’t have any book learning. Man, the stories behind the last few members of the Krakoa Rescue Team are freakin’ rough.
John Proudstar was a brave guy who agreed with Xavier’s dream and he wanted to save innocent people. Proudstar was a former Marine Corporal who had served a tour of duty in Vietnam. After the Krakoa mission, Thunderbird found himself in a constant battle of words with Cyclops. Cyclops had felt like he was already losing control of a team that had proven to beat Krakoa when he couldn’t. The skirmish ends when the team has to fight Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men. While Count Nefaria tries to escape in a jet, Thunderbird leap onto the cockpit and tries to beat his way in. Ignoring Professor X’s telepathic commands to leap to safety, Thunderbird stays on too long and gets caught in the jet blowing up. Thunderbird would die, while Nefaria would resurface a year later.
After John’s death, his little brother James blamed the X-Men for what happened and eventually joined the Hellions. Fearing that he would never get the chance to make the X-Men pay for what happened to his brother, he went AWOL and kidnapped Banshee. Forcing the X-Men to follow him to Cheyenne Mountain, James confronted them over his brother’s death. Eventually he came to realize that it was no one’s fault and that he shouldn’t blame the mutants. Professor X offered him a spot on the New Mutants, but he declined to rejoin the Hellions. Over the next year or two, James would be approached by Cable to join his versions of the New Mutants and later X-Force. James refused and decided to go find himself. When he returned to his family’s home, James found his entire tribe had been slaughtered. Now going by the name Warpath, James would stay with Cable for years as he sought to find his tribe’s killers.
Neil Shaara was the last mutant to use the codename Thunderbird and he was a later era Claremont oddity. Neil’s father was the Chief of Police in Calcutta, so he grew up in a rather privileged home. It wasn’t long before Neil discovered that he could produce fiery plasma from his body. Karima Shapandar met Neil before either person had joined the X-Men. They teamed up to rescue Neil’s brother, as they began to learn that they had a taste for heroism. Eventually, Neil would seek out family friend Dr. Moira MacTaggert, as he was becoming scared of his powers. Moira would introduce Neil to the X-Men, as a means of controlling his powers and learning to help others. This began the second era of Claremont aka WHY DID YOU COME BACK TO MARVEL, CHRIS…YOU AIN’T JACK KIRBY!
Neil Shaara would continue to be a pet character of Claremont, as he used him throughout the run of X-Treme X-Men and kept him around for his The End mini-series. Neil would eventually get a boner for Psylocke, but Psylocke wasn’t into spicy Indian boners and nothing came of it. Neil Shaara would continue to mope around with lengthy Claremontian monologues until people stopped reading every book that he was in. Claremont left Marvel and the time of Thunderbird finally came to an end…for now.