Who Are The Native American Heroes of Marvel Comics?
An Ignored Minority
Every so often I write something in these articles that makes me look back and assess things.
I think I made the statement regarding the number of Native American characters when I was writing up an article on obscure DC characters and when I found “Pow Wow” Smith, I thought that there really weren’t many Native American comic book characters in print. Since then I gave my mind a little bit of subconscious homework to see how many I could remember and whether I could come up with all or most of them.
This is the good news / bad news portion of this topic.
The bad news is that there really aren’t an overwhelming number of Native American characters in the Marvel Universe. I came up with thirteen. Is this the full list? It’s hard to say. What I can tell you is that I checked characters living and dead and couldn’t come up with more than thirteen. This was without going into old western comic books – which I refuse to do. I really only wanted to look at the current Marvel SUPERHERO Universe.
The good news is that of the thirteen characters twelve of them are good guys. Yup, we’ve come a long way from when I was growing up. I’m old enough to remember playing cowboys and Indians. In my bent generation, cowboys were the good guys.
Yes, we were freaking stupid.
I’ve since grown up, read up, and smartened up. I’ve seen the plight of the Native Americans and I hope I can, in my own little way, educate readers to how Marvel has created positive role models for this ethnic group. I may also do the same thing for DC pending on whether I can find enough characters.
We have twelve good guys and one really bad native American mythological demonic character.
But, hey, you can’t win em all.
I want to begin with the fallen X-man, Thunderbird.
John Proudstar was a mutant blessed with great strength (enough to rip a jet fighter in half with his bare hands), great speed (enough to outrun a speeding animal and bring it down), great agility, and enhanced senses.
Thunderbird was a character whose time was cut short after his introduction in Giant Sized X-Men #1. He was brought on board after the original X-Men were captured by Krakoa (The island that walks like a man) and Cyclops and Professor X had to establish a new team. When we are first introduced to John Proudstar, he is a man who has become disgusted with his people (the Apache) and has quite a large chip on his shoulder.
Professor X recruits him to this new team of X-Men almost as a dare saying that perhaps the Apache have become weaker. Thunderbird accepts the challenge and goes off with the new team.
While Thunderbird managed to prove himself in his first mission, he was not a good team player. Often he was combative and rebellious against Cyclops and really didn’t get along with anyone. On his second mission against the forces of Count Nefaria, Thunderbird’s reluctance to follow orders got him killed when he attempted to take down the Count’s plane and it exploded.
Realistically, the decision to terminate the character came because he was redundant. The team already had a rebel troublemaker in the form of Wolverine. At the time, it was a toss-up and Thunderbird’s character had to go.
Despite this character’s abrasiveness, I think he was packed with potential and eventually so did the writers. That’s why he is survived by this younger brother who had the same mutant gifts Thunderbird had.
Thunderbird’s legacy is…
James Proudstar was originally recruited by Emma Frost to be part of her young Hellions team. This was the evil equivalent of Professor Xavier’s New Mutants team.
James, like his older brother John, had an enormous chip on his shoulder which was magnified by an intense misguided hatred of the X-Men – as he believed that the X-Men were responsible for his brother’s death. This just made him a joy to be around. His thirst for vengeance led him to don his brother’s old costume in order to attack the X-Men and kidnap Professor X in order to kill him. When he discovered that he could not murder the Professor in cold blood he later made peace with the team. However, when he was offered a membership, he declined.
He quit the Hellions team as well, going home and spending time with his family on the reservation. Cable, looking for new members for his New Mutants team, invited James to New York for a seat on the team. James refused. When he got home, he discovered that his entire tribe had been murdered. James then joined The New Mutants team as he believed that it was the Hellions that had done the crime and he could take his revenge as part of Cable’s team. He eventually joined full time with the X-men and has served as part of their wetworks team.
This character originally took his brother’s code name of Thunderbird II, eventually however, he took his own name as Warpath. Warpath’s powers began to be very much like his older brother’s. Later on his strength increased and he developed an accelerated healing factor, a flight ability, and a shamanistic mystical power to fight demons.
This seldom used Native American hero comes from the Navajo nation.
Jesse Black Crow was a construction worker who fell twenty stories while working on a high-rise. The injuries were severe and he was paralyzed from the waist down. As he lay in a coma, the great Earth Spirit came to him and gave him powers to aid the plight of his people.
This led him into a conflict with Captain America – the current symbol of modern America. After a battle, Captain America made a gesture to appease the Earth Spirit and it was sufficient to end the fighting. Months later, after Captain America was poisoned by the Red Skull (Captain America was aging at an accelerated rate to do one final battle with the Skull as the Skull, himself, had lost whatever effects had allowed him to retain his youth during his hibernation from World War II and had also aged rapidly), Black Crow had come to help the Captain and strengthened his recuperative powers enough for him to burn out the toxins.
Black Crow is more a spiritual shamanistic figure as his powers (aside from being a major kickass) include shape-changing and certain spiritual purging powers – which lets him give visions to others. The Earth Spirit allows Jesse to mystically transform himself from a wheelchair bound paraplegic to that of a great warrior. He also has the ability to teleport himself (and others) through the other-dimensional land of Anasazi.
Red Wolf (I & II)
At least two Native Americans have carried the mantle of Red Wolf.
The first incarnation of Red Wolf was in the tail end of the 19th Century. Johnny Wakeley was a Cheyenne man who was raised by white parents. His adopted parents were killed by Native Americans in retaliation of the US military’s attack on their people. After that a land baron burned down his home when Wakeley refused to sell his land.
He later joined the military as a tracker and scout for the US Cavalry to renegade Indian war parties. After an incident that gave away his position to the tribes, he was chased to burial place of the last Red Wolf.
He adopted the Red Wolf identity and was visited by the spirit of a Cheyenne god named Owayodata. Wakely was given powers and abilities of Red Wolf and thereafter worked to create peace between the tribes and the whites.
In modern times, the Red Wolf mantle was taken up by a Native American (Cheyenne) named William Talltrees. Talltrees had heard of the Red Wolf legend as a kid. When his father refused to sell to a crooked businessman (later turned supervillain from the Zodiac, Taurus), his family was killed as a consequence, Talltrees was given the Red Wolf mantle by Owayodata along with his powers.
Red Wolf has been a member of the Southwest superhero group, The Rangers and as part of the Avengers Initiative has been sanctioned as an official superteam.
The men who have taken the mantle of Red Wolf have enhanced strength, speed, and senses. They all have been excellent hand to hand combatants and trackers.
It’s refreshing to come across a character who is a Native American and has powers that have nothing to do with being Native American. On the one hand, it’s entertaining to see these mystical elements to a comic book story, on the other hand, why can’t we just have a guy who has powers that have nothing to do with the culture.
Forge is such a character… mostly
While you could argue that he is a traditional Native American character (Cheyenne) in the sense that he was originally trained to be a mystical shaman, for the most part he’s anything but that. Forge is an inventor. He made his appearance at a time in the Marvel Universe continuity when Tony Stark was not available and everyone needed a weapons man. Forge came forward with his first two inventions which were the Earth equivalent to the detector and neutralizer used by Rom the Space Knight.
His mutant detector worked as it could easily analyze anyone within a specific radius of being a human, mutant, Dire Wraith, or alien. We found that his neutralizer worked quite well when one took Ororo Munroe’s (Storm) weather manipulating powers away for an extended period of time.
Since that time, Forge has been the unofficial weapon’s maker for the X-Men. His mutant power is that he can invent things easily. He’s an intuitive inventor with mechanical things. As a Viet Nam veteran who lost a hand and a leg during the war, he created new bionic ones.
Forge, since coming to the X-Men, has been the go-to tech guy for that team. However, as a mystic and a shaman he made one serious mistake...
This is the bad guy I was talking about.
The Adversary is a Native American demon that Forge let loose during the Viet Nam war when he and his platoon were surrounded. Forge, using his shamanic powers, set the demons loose to kill the opposing forces. While Forge successfully banishes the demon back to whence it came, it has a foothold to Earth.
Years later, the Adversary takes possession of Forge’s mystical mentor, Nazé. He uses that physical form to cause all kinds of cosmic chaos. He gets permanently banished in the end when the nine X-Men willingly sacrificed themselves as part of a ritual. The goddess, Roma, restores the X-Men to life though.
Danielle Moonstar (Psyche, Mirage, Spellbinder, Dark Rider)
Continuing on with Native Americans who are mutants we have Mirage.
Danielle Moonstar, a Native American of the Cheyenne, found that she developed the ability to create illusions based on people greatest fears shortly after puberty (the usual time mutant powers present themselves). Professor Xavier recruited her to be part of his New Mutant team, giving her the code name, Psyche.
Shortly after she’d joined the group, she began to develop new powers. In addition to manifesting other people’s fears to make illusions, she could create their heart’s desires, as well. She changed her code name from Psyche to Mirage, as this seemed to be a more appropriate description of her powers.
Danielle fought many battles with the New Mutants and after a trip to Asgard, she accidentally formed a bond with a winged horse named Brightwind. What she didn’t know was that Brightwind was one of the Valkyrie horses and once a rider has bonded with one of those horses she would become one of the handmaidens of the dead. She and Brightwind would not be separated until one of them died.
Throughout her time, Danielle had fluctuations in her powers and gained the ability briefly to see “death auras” around people who were about to die.
She continues to fight as a member of the X-Men.
Thomas Fireheart is a very rich Native American.
He is from a tribe of unidentified Native Americans (possibly the Kisani) located in New Mexico. He was bred to fight a being of unimaginable power and when the cosmic axis aligned properly he could use his powers to defeat that being – in accordance with prophesy.
What were Fireheart’s powers? He could transform himself into a puma-like cat-man. The transformation was not quick nor was it ever painless. Nevertheless, when Fireheart became Puma, he gained enhanced senses, strength, and coordination.
As Fireheart was a successful businessman, he also craved excitement and hired himself out as a mercenary for hire (as Puma). After he’d taken a contract from the New York crime lord known as The Rose, it brought him into conflict with The Amazing Spider-man. Puma was unable to defeat Spider-man and decided to terminate the contract when he saw Spider-man’s heroic actions when he saved innocents.
The time of prophesy arrives and the being that Puma has to fight and defeat is the Beyonder – a being that was God in another universe. As the cosmic alignments happened, Puma’s power grew immeasurably. Had Fireheart been able to keep his concentration, there may have been a strong possibility of him killing the Beyonder. Unfortunately, he lost focus and his power quickly dwindled.
Fireheart was able to track Spider-man to Peter Parker’s apartment through scent. He feels he owes him a debt of honor. And while the two of them have settled their accounts, Puma remains a reluctant ally of the wall crawler.
I thought the writers hit a home run with this character. He’s the Native American equivalent of Doctor Strange.
Doctor Michael Twoyoungmen is a member of Tsuu T'ina and became an accomplished doctor. When his father, a tribal medicine man, asked him to take on the role of tribal medicine man, Michael refused on the grounds that he did not believe in magic.
Meanwhile, Michael’s wife is dying in a hospital and his daughter has made him promise to do whatever he can to keep his wife alive. He fails and loses both his wife and his father (coincidentally) on the same day.
Grief stricken, he isolates himself within a cabin in Banff National. While he is dealing with his very intense emotions regarding the loss of his wife and father as well as feelings of resentment of his daughter, he has a vision of his grandfather. From then on, he begins to study Sacree magic and eventually becomes strong enough to draw items from his mystical medicine pouch. He becomes Shaman.
Shaman was a member of the Canadian superteam, Alpha Flight. As Shaman, he had the magical ability to draw medicines and other magical objects that could be used for a variety of mystical effects. The limits of these objects were limited by the opening of the medicine bag. The bag itself was a magical item that would not allow anyone to peek into its contents without them losing their soul. Two a soulless creature (like an android) the bag appeared empty.
Shaman has used the medicine within the bag to grab powders that would produce rainstorms, fog, ice and other fantastic effects.
Where Doctor Michael Twoyoungmen is Shaman, his daughter, Elizabeth, is Talisman.
Elizabeth was an archeologist who had contact with an ancient mystical skull. She survived an attack by a demonic entity that somehow allowed the release of her potential magical powers. When she reached into her father’s mystical pouch, she took out a magical coronet and donned it. The coronet opened her to the mystical potential of all her shaman ancestors (which was significant). She could also command the spirits of nature to do her bidding.
The only downside was that she couldn’t remove the coronet without immeasurable pain.
Since the disbanding and eventual deaths of the members of Alpha Flight (including her father), she has turned up every so often offering mystical assistance where it is needed.
In “Five Great Marvel Heroes You’ve Probably Never Heard Of”, I mentioned the rarely used Native American hero, American Eagle. For more information on that character, you may wish to read that article.
I’ll give a brief summary of his character here, though.
Jason Strongbow (Navajo) encounters the supervillain Klaw (Master of Sound), and through a combination of Klaw’s sonic power and some exposed uranium, he gains incredible strength, speed, agility, and stamina. He fights for the justice and the Indian nations.
Every so often, they pull this character out of the mothballs for more action. He last appeared as part of the Dark Reign storyline.
How can anyone not like Wyatt Wingfoot?
He’s been around since the early days of the Fantastic Four and was Johnny Storm’s (the Human Torch) roommate. At six foot five, Wyatt was the son of Big Will Wingfoot (“the greatest Olympic decathlon star this country ever had!") and part of the fictional Keewazi tribe in Oklahoma.
While having no powers whatsoever, Wyatt is an imposing figure who is a star athlete, tracker, hand to hand combatant, marksman, and animal trainer. Eventually inheriting the chieftain mantle of his tribe, he postponed it to assist the Fantastic Four in their battle against the alien, Terminus. He manages to entangle himself in a long term relationship with the She-Hulk.
After his days of adventure, it’s discovered that the Keewazi have been sitting on a massive oil deposit. Wyatt brokered the deal between the tribe and the US Government.
Wyatt Wingfoot, probably more so than any other Native American character in the Marvel Universe, is one of the most enduring during Marvel’s publication history.
Private Jay Littlebear
And now for heroes of days gone past.
During the waning days of the World War II, there was what was left of Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos and Combat Kelly and his Deadly Dozen.
Private Jay Littlebear was originally part of Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders. He was formerly a professional wrestler and was an excellent hand to hand combatant. When he used weapons he was an expert knife thrower, archer, marksman, and was known to throw the occasional tomahawk.
His trade move was the ever so politically incorrect “sitting bull swing” which would entail him to take his opponent and swing him over his head by the hair.
Obviously, he was a good man to have in a fight and served in the Leatherneck Raiders until he was part of a trumped up charge. This left him in the care of Combat Kelly and his Deadly Dozen (a Marvel variant of the “Dirty Dozen”). As part of his sentence he had to serve with eleven other criminals (including Kelly, himself).
Jay Littlebear unfortunately met his fate when he was shot in the back by a German.
The writing of this article was a bit of an eye opener.
There was a whole lot of stupid in the comicbook writing world. While it is a tip of a hat to acknowledge the ethnic skills of a Native American character, isn’t is kind of demeaning to have a stereotypical fall back that every Native American shoots arrows, can track an elk, and somehow has hidden medicine man roots for his mystic potential?
That is analogous to being Italian and having mafia roots, eating pasta every night, beating people up (just because), having slick backed hair, and being a wife abuser. And while that may be true in some extreme example, it is not, by any means, a rule that all Italians are like that.
No, not every Native American wears a feather in their hair. Some are like Forge or Wyatt Wingfoot. They are people who are making their way in the world. They have families, professional lives, and rarely do they find themselves hunting buffalo or doing a rain dance.
That being said, there is a lot of potential for plots that involve Native American myths. When we consider what we already know about skinwalkers, Lox, and the Chenoo Ice Giants, you could keep horror and adventure enthusiasts entertained for years. So long as the traditions and customs are true and kept respectful you can make a story that would put Tony Hillerman out of business.
My point is that as we are creating stories and a new modern mythology through comic books we can at least do some homework rather than just make up monsters from our imaginations.
I think one of the best characters that Marvel has produced is Danielle Moonstar. She is a Native American who has powers that are not ethnically related and then she departed entirely from her culture and became a Valkyrie – something from Nordic mythology. That’s progressive and it shows that characters don’t need to be slaves to their cultural roots. They are people with abilities that find themselves in unusual circumstances and have to use their noggins to get their problems resolved.
The fact that they are Native American should only be incidental. After all, does it really matter if their grandparents had feathers in their hair when they don’t? While it could be a good story of a teen who finds his heritage, it should be noted that the biggest obstacle for any writer is to not trip over the hackneyed stereotypes of Indians, cigar store wooden statues, rain dances, and peace pipes.
Marvel Superteams with Native Americans
Thunderbird, Warpath, Mirage, and Forge
Shaman and Talisman
Native American Superheroes on Amazon
On the cover, Danielle Moonstar
Do you think it's cool to use ethnic stereotypes in comic books?
© 2013 Christopher Peruzzi