Welcome to the D-List: Pyro
Pyro was one of my first connections to the world of comic books. When, as a child, I saw the cover of X-Force, Vol. 1 #5 I understood that Pyro was a villain. The cover showcases The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, led by Toad. Say what you will about Rob Liefeld’s art (are feet really that important?), but I knew immediately that no one on that cover was a super-hero.
Guess which one’s Pyro.
Saint John Allerdyce was first introduced in the final pages of Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 #141, dated January 1981. He was created by Chris Claremont in part 1 of the famous “Days of Future Past” storyline. I attended New York City Comic Con in 2014 and noticed Chris Claremont had a booth located in Artists’ Alley. A longstanding writer on various X-titles and considered a hero by many X-fans, Claremont successfully revived the X-Men from obscurity in 1975. Upon seeing him, I immediately wanted to know if he had any sort of inspiration in creating Pyro. Maybe Claremont really loved his fireplace and that’s where he drew inspiration. Maybe he was a smoker and struggled through the withdrawals of quitting. Maybe he had watched Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends on Saturday mornings and thought Firestar was cool! What could have inspired this D-list character, Mr. Claremont? You created hundreds of characters, but there must be some reason why my favorite exists! His response was, “No, because I didn’t create him.” WOAH WAIT WHAT? But Wikipedia says! “Yes you did. Uncanny X-Men 141, Days of Future past,” I argued. “Oh, I guess I did,” he replied (if you listened closely, you could hear the sound of my hopes and dreams drowning in a sea of regret).
Not even Pyro’s creator remembered creating him! (But, in his defense, the 80’s was a crazy decade; I blame the confusion on drugs and John Hughes’ films.) Having been a fan of this character for so long, I’m surprised that I didn’t turn into dust and blow away or burst into flames (see what I did there?) upon hearing his response. I assume most fans of things, fictional or not, would want to ask those responsible, “What was your inspiration for X,” or, “How did you feel when Y.” Well, my question was never answered by Mr. Claremont, and that’s ok. Just because the man created him doesn’t mean he had the last say in what happened to the character. Similarly, though I do know many details about Pyro, my knowledge is not exhaustible.
Pyro was never given much depth or even a particularly interesting backstory. He’s Australian and he was a struggling writer before being recruited by Mystique to assassinate Senator Robert Kelly because of the Senator’s anti-mutant platform. Essentially, Pyro became a terrorist because he was bored. Though not exactly the twisted origin tale of Wolverine or Batman (but still cooler than Spider-Man, because spiders are gross and scary), it is certainly interesting to see a character become bad for no other reason than that he had nothing else to do. His suit is designed to protect him from fire and is equipped with kerosene tanks and flamethrowers. Pyro can’t create fire, he can only control it. And in his first fight with the X-Men, Storm created a rainstorm over him. Like Kryptonite to Superman, Pyro can’t do much in the rain (I bet he can sing in it, though. Man, am I on fire today or what?).
Not long after The Brotherhood’s confrontation with the X-Men, Mystique offered her team’s services to the government in exchange for a full pardon of charges. This caused Pyro to become a hunter for the Mutant Registration Act, seeking out unregistered mutants to be captured and/or forced to register their real names and powers. His new job led him and his teammates into conflict with the likes of the Avengers, Daredevil, and various X-teams. Pyro managed to form a close friendship with his teammate, Avalanche, but was abandoned by him in Kuwait after a mission had gone wrong.
He’s not evil. He’s too happy to be evil
In 1993, it was revealed that Pyro had contracted the deadly Legacy Virus, which attacks the mutant X-gene causing the carrier to lose control over their powers, eventually killing them. Pyro struggled with the effects of the virus for years in the handful of appearances he made, and finally succumbed to the virus in Cable Vol. 1 #87, January 2001, exactly 20 years after his first appearance. In Cable, he attempted to repent for his past villainous actions. Pyro aided Cable and the X-Men in taking down Avalanche and a different incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants when they tried to, once again, assassinate Senator Kelly. Pyro not only saved the man he was tasked with killing on his first mission, but he died a hero. This incident occurred during a period in which I was not reading comics, and I was heartbroken when I found out Marvel had killed off my favorite character.
Why, Marvel? Why kill off such a perfectly unpopular villain right at the height of his unpopularity? No, I will not complain (I complained about it for years, actually.). The fact is that a writer at Marvel knew Pyro had contracted the Legacy Virus years earlier and decided that, instead of letting this character fall into the sad abyss of obscurity with an unfinished storyline, a resolution should be written.
The circumstances surrounding Pyro’s death add more depth to the character (giving him a certain extra flare – ok, I promise I’ll stop). For many years, it was clear that Pyro was inherently a bad person, and would do things solely for personal benefit. But in the end, he had relinquished the colorful uniform and the ties to former teammates and defended a man he once tried to assassinate, sacrificing his own life in the name of peace. I shed a tear when I read the closing chapter of Pyro’s life (just kidding, I wept like a baby), as he had surely realized that the way of violence and intimidation was not going to solve the problem between mutants and humans.
I want this tattooed on my back. Or my face. Maybe both
Though Pyro is dead in the Marvel 616 universe, he has made quite a few appearances since his death, including, but not limited to, an alternate reality in Exiles vol. 2, during the Necrosha storyline that ran through a handful of X-titles, and, more recently, in Secret Wars’ Inferno book and X-Men ’92. Sadly, he has never been officially brought back from the dead and used in mainstream continuity. Regardless, I squealed like a child on Christmas morning when I saw a preview for the cover of X-Force Vol. 3 #21 (drawn by my favorite artist!). I was hoping he would stick around after the Necrosha event came to a close; I remember coming up with ways that he could be reintroduced to the 616. Unfortunately, I don’t make final decisions at Marvel, or any of the decisions at Marvel (yet).
Though Pyro is not a character with a rich backstory, nor did he appear in multiple books per month, he was a darn good villain. He was certainly not the most powerful mutant, and frequently took beatings from the good guys. However, he was deemed a substantial enough character to appear outside of the comics in every iteration of an X-Men cartoon, including the Pryde of the X-Men pilot. He was featured in the first three X-Men movies, a fan-made series, some X-Men video games, the arcade game, on trading cards, action figures, and even a statue. Though Pyro is a deceased D-list character, no comic book hero or villain has to stay dead, so I still hold onto the hope that one day he will return to the land of the living and make his presence known in the Marvel Universe, regardless of whether he is a hero or villain.