Burner is a mutant who first appeared as a member of Magneto’s little-known second Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The villainous team is an institution in X-Men history, but I admittedly never knew that this incarnation existed until recently, and with good reason – the official team only appeared in a single comic book (with quite an absurd story). While Burner has appeared in many books since his introduction, his obscurity, amusingly unlucky plight, and destructive nature make him a hot commodity for the D-list.
Byron Calley was created by Jack Kirby and first appeared in 1977s Captain America Annual #4. Captain America rescued two mutants, Mr. One and Mr. Two, from the clutches of Magneto and took them to a S.H.I.E.L.D. medical facility. Mr. One was a tiny, immobile mutant with telepathic abilities, and Mr. Two was an enormous creature, monstrous in appearance. Magneto hoped to recruit Mr. One because he found a miniature alien spaceship and needed someone small enough to fit inside, as he hoped to unlock its secrets (cue the absurdity). The villain’s newest Brotherhood of Evil Mutants consisted of Peeper, with enhanced vision, Slither, a snake-like mutant, Shocker, with claws for hands and feet that could generate electricity, Lifter, with enhanced strength, and Calley, calling himself Burner, who created combustion and fire (check out these creative code-names!). Peeper was able to see Cap out for a jog with Mr. Two miles away, so the Brotherhood took the opportunity to catch them off-guard. Burner trapped both Cap and Mr. Two by surrounding them with flames and caused an explosion that knocked Cap unconscious. Shocker and Lifter beat Mr. Two senseless and the evil mutants made their getaway as S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives arrived. The attack was simply a distraction to lure S.H.I.E.L.D. agents away from the medical building so Magneto could break in and capture Mr. One.
Mr. One telepathically informed Mr. Two of Magneto’s location and had the monstrous being relay the information to Cap. Mr. Two also told Captain America about a connection that he and One shared – Mr. Two was a mindless body controlled by Mr. One, but if either one of them died, they would both die (*sniff sniff* I smell foreshadowing). Peeper spotted Cap and Mr. Two heading towards Magneto’s hideout, so Burner led the assault on the heroes by lighting Mr. Two on fire. The villain poured on the flames and took pleasure in murdering Mr. Two. Though Magneto had managed to force Mr. One into the spacecraft, the tiny mutant felt Two perish and began to feel his own consciousness slipping. Mr. One’s dying act was to pull a self-destruct lever in the spacecraft. As the ship exploded and destroyed the villains’ hideout, Magneto abandoned his Brotherhood.
The henchmen survived and kept their team intact, calling themselves “Mutant Force.” Burner and his companions attacked a military base in Colorado alongside a group of super-powered women known as Fem-Force (these team names sound really forced). The Defenders, a group of superheroes comprised of Wasp, Valkyrie, and Hellcat, received a distress signal regarding the attack. When they arrived, Wasp tried to zap Burner to no avail as the villain threw fire at a tank. The villainous teams succeeded in fending off the military and defeating the Defenders. Burner used his power to create combustion to act as a jet, lifting a piece of runway into the air with the heroic women as captives in tow. The one in charge of the combined villainous teams was the Mandrill, who had the power to control pheromones and cause women to obey his commands. His plan was to create an army powerful enough to take over the country, while stockpiling gold and military equipment (Mandrill 2016: No monkey-business). Mandrill used his powers on the three captured females and put Valkyrie in charge of his small army, greatly upsetting the men of Mutant Force, who were busy getting cozy with some of the mind-controlled Fem-Force members. Valkyrie led the charge into battle at the next military target, but Burner commented that he wasn’t going to let the women do all the work as he burned soldiers. Valkyrie and Hellcat came into contact with Shocker’s electric barrier, zapping the two heroes to their senses. Riddled with anger, Valkyrie single-handedly defeated Mutant Force.
Villains posing as government officials promised Mutant Force that the courts would overlook their crimes if the team was willing to help the government. Mutant Force was tasked with apprehending the Hulk when the green monster was rampaging through New Jersey. At first, Burner simply tried to light Hulk on fire in order to subdue him. When that didn’t work and the Hulk began smashing Giants Stadium (little known fact: Hulk is a Cowboys fan), Burner consumed all of the oxygen around the giant with flames. This strategy worked, and Hulk reverted into Bruce Banner as he passed out. Unfortunately for the villains, Hellcat and Valkyrie showed up in just in time to rescue the unconscious doctor.
The Mutant Registration Act was a law requiring all mutants to register their names and superpowers with the government. When the law was enacted, many mutants felt that it was unjust and opted to forego the registration process, effectively becoming fugitives. Some mutants, however, chose to openly and violently protest the Mutant Registration Act.
The new Captain America, John Walker, and his sidekick, Battle Star, were chasing after the mutant, Quill, in order to force the mutant to register. When the heroes caught Quill and were transporting him via helicopter, they were met by a group of mutants calling themselves the Resistents. These mutants were actually the former members of Mutant Force (or “The Artist Formerly Known as Mutant Force”), but with different costumes, codenames, and purpose. The villains were taking it upon themselves to rescue mutants from forced registration. The mutant’s mode of transportation was a flying boulder, courtesy of Lifter, now going by Meteorite, who not only had enhanced strength, but could decrease the force of gravity on objects. Burner, now taking the codename Crucible, blasted a fireball at Battle-Star, and Mutant Force was able to rescue Quill. Crucible then lit the heroes’ helicopter on fire causing it to crash, and the mutants made their escape. The Resistent’s next target was an armored truck transporting a captured mutant to the super-human prison, The Vault. The villains caused the truck to crash and rescued the psychic mutant, Mentallo, from the wreck. Crucible continued pouring on flames until the truck exploded, killing the nearby guards.
The government used Freedom Force to stage a trial with a mutant as the defendant, hoping to lure the Resistents into attacking so they could plant a mole in the terrorist’s ranks. With Mentallo now in tow, the ruse was discovered. Angry over the ploy, Meteorite hurled a boulder at the court house containing the farce. Captain America arrived, leapt on to the Resistents transport, and knocked Crucible off of the boulder. The impact from the fall surely would have killed the villain, but Meteorite saved him just before he hit the ground. Enraged, Captain America singlehandedly defeated the mutant terrorists.
Years later, the superhero team, the New Warriors, encountered the villains, calling themselves Mutant Force once again, trying to rob an armored truck. Burner tried blasting the hero Aegis with fire even after the hero told the villain his armor absorbed it. Namorita turned transparent in order to catch Burner off guard. The heroine grabbed Calley and locked him in the back of an empty truck (he got burned). The rest of the villainous team was quickly defeated and thrown in the truck along with Burner until police arrived.
A character calling himself Burner most recently appeared in the Secret Wars miniseries, Age of Apocalypse. “Oh thank you, Marvel, for using such an awesomely obscure character in a current series!” Not so fast, true believer! Though the character was given Burner’s codename and powers, it was revealed in the final issue of the series that his real name was Adam and he was the long-lost third Summers brother. This is a reference to the 90s character, Adam-X (a.k.a. he who must not be named). Fabian Nicieza, the creator of Adam-X and writer of the Age of Apocalypse miniseries, had written the character more than two decades ago with the intention of making him the third Summers brother after Mr. Sinister alluded to Scott Summers that he and his brother Alex had another sibling. Nicieza was never afforded the chance to write that story and the idea was scrapped for some years before a different resolution was written. It was incredibly disappointing to find out that this character was not Byron Calley, but a mutant much maligned in X-Men history.
Though he was constantly defeated by heroes, Burner never gave up his villainous ways. While some may credit that as stupidity, I view that as dedication (and a bit of stupidity). Burner is extremely powerful but, unfortunately, his potential has been grossly unexplored. He has been established as a murderer, a misogynist and not much more than a lackey, but as a member of the Resistents, he at least tried to help mutant-kind. With the current struggles mutants face, it would be interesting to see Burner either aiding mutant heroes or fighting (In)humanity. Were he properly trained to work with a team, he would certainly be a great asset to any heroic or villainous group. Of course, my interest in Burner is probably rooted in bias, as I’m partial to villainous mutants with fire-based powers (Pyro is awesome).
Marvel has used Calley in one alternate timeline story and he even appeared as an old friend of Gambit’s in the 90s X-Men animated series. Unfortunately, he has not appeared in any comics for quite some time. Though Burner was a member of the least popular incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, I believe that the Marvel Universe needs a new Brotherhood team in the post-Secret Wars Universe. Regardless of the part that he plays, I’m sure that one day Burner will be given another role in the books, bringing his own unique and destructive flare with him.