Warbird, the Misfit, and Me

I admit that the first time I ever saw Warbird in Wolverine and the X-Men volume 1, I barely paid her any mind. To be honest, I was so new to the comic book trade at the time that I didn’t know much about the Shi’ar. About all I thought at the time was ‘oh, cool, that chick has feathers for hair’. Maybe a token ‘She looks kinda like Storm,’ was thrown in there, too.

I was more fascinated by her charge, Kid Gladiator, who has since, alongside his father, been propelled up into the ever-growing list of my favorite Marvel characters of all time, holding solid places in the top ten. But Warbird was just sort of set aside, even after I learned more about the Shi’ar and their Imperium. I figured she was just another one of her people, not counting the royal family, Araki, and Korvus—warlike, and for the most part, without any individual characteristics of note.

And then Wolverine and the X-Men #13, “Born Warbird” came out and hit me like a proverbial slap in the face.

Warbird, now with a name, Ava’Dara Naganandini—how’s that for a mouthful? Rolls off the tongue though, doesn’t it?—had a backstory. Sure, it wasn’t much. Unlike Wolverine, whose backstory we’re still trying to untangle to this very day, it was summed up in one simple comic.

Warbird was different from the rest of her people. She never wanted to be a warrior when she was a child. I doubt she ever wanted to hurt anyone growing up. She was a loner, a gentle child, spending her time playing with flowers and butterflies and drawing some pretty pictures.

But this was not the way of the Shi’ar. So she hid it. She knew it was wrong in the eyes of her people. So she never told anyone. She destroyed all the evidence. And she pretended to be what her people expected. She embraced the way of the Shi’ar, but she was never happy. Despite all outward appearances, she was an outsider to her people.

A recent volume has even labeled her as a Shi’ar ‘born defective’. And that’s when it finally hit me. We were completely the same.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome soon after turning eighteen. Soon after I became such a socially inept mess I could no longer handle the daily strain of going to a normal high school. This is a failure I still haven’t recovered from or forgiven myself for, even though everybody understands it just simply isn’t my fault.

Ever since I was a child, I knew I was… different, somehow. I wasn’t like all the other kids. My family noticed it, too, but instead of thinking something was wrong with me, my mom raised me like I was just simply different. When all the other kids wanted to cuddle with their parents, I was sitting across the room doing my own thing. When my sisters were playing with their Barbies and Easy-Bake ovens, I was playing by myself or drawing. I was always drawing. I admit to being better than the average, but I’m nowhere near the level of some of the amazing artists that exist today. Good enough to be proud, wise enough to be humble, someone described it once.

My sisters always tried to get me to play with them, only for me to be violently expelled when I bit off the heads of their Barbies. And yes, I really did that. To this day I still don’t understand why they were so upset—you can pop the buggars right back on. I just thought it was funny that their skin-tones didn’t match their heads. (See? I told you I was different. It was hysterical to me. I’m also the kid that tried to memorize the dictionary when my sisters were reading Nancy Drew or The Boxcar Children.)

Basically, I was a loner. When all the other kids played together, I stayed by myself. Because I simply knew I was different, and what kept them happy didn’t keep me happy. I feel like an alien in human skin. Or something like a human, but not quite the same. A feeling I’ve never outgrown but have come to accept. And every time I tried to be ‘normal’, tried to fit in to what everybody thought someone ‘should’ be like, it was horrible. I suffered the entire time under that weight. I began to forget who I was.

It was the worst kind of pain imaginable, and it made Warbird really reach out to me. I admit I’ve had emotional attachments to several characters, but she’s the first that felt almost like she had been written specifically to appeal to me. Because she was, and still is, suffering that same exact pain. Of being an alien in Shi’ar skin, so to speak. Of trying to play a part you were never meant to play.

Of being ‘defective’.

When Gladiator left Warbird behind on Earth, I remember all of my friends thought that it was harsh. I didn’t. I admired him for it. It was the greatest kindness he ever could have shown her. She finally has found a place where she can try to relearn who she is. Learn what she wants, not what her people expect. She can be free, without worrying about the harsh, scrutinizing eyes of her own people. Kallark, my man, you’re amazing.

So my point is, while Marvel has many wonderful, diverse characters, up until now I have never had a character I could relate so entirely with. She reached out to me out of nowhere and on some level we connected in a way I couldn’t with the others. She symbolizes that one kid you know—or maybe you are—that doesn’t quite ‘belong’ and tries to hide it with all of their might, only to suffer for it.

So I’ll be keeping a very close eye on Warbird, and not just the characters around her from now on. I hope that she’ll soon come to terms with the fact that she’s different, and that’s okay. I hope she’ll be able to find herself again—separate Ava’Dara from Warbird.

It's a journey we all have to go through, after all.

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