Neal Shaara was born to a wealthy family in Calcutta, India. For the most part, his childhood is unrevealed, though Neal attended Oxford University, where he even read up on the work of Reed Richards. Neal lived in his family’s estate on the Shaara Tea Plantation, one of the most prosperous in the state of Assam, with his mother, his older brother and his father, the chief of police. Admired for his good looks by the girls in the city, and thought of as care-free by the rest of the population, Neal’s life drastically changed one day upon his arrival home, where he discovered that his brother, Sanjit, had gone missing. Neal read through the files on his Sanjit’s computer and discovered that his brother, a reporter, was busy writing a story about recent disappearances among the poor in Calcutta. Refusing to believe that this was a coincidence, Neal immediately informed his parents and announced that he would go contact his brother’s sources on the story. His father, however, refused to allow Neal to investigate this matter any further on his own and preferred to leave the case in the capable hands of his fellow colleagues.

Neal’s arrogance got the better of him, and he stormed out of the house despite his father’s orders, not wanting to sit idly by. In the slums of Calcutta, he soon found himself in trouble, however, and was recognized by a group of thugs as a rich individual who did not belong in the area. Neal, trained in self-defense, attacked his foes, but was easily subdued by the gang. Before one of the attackers could harm Neal with his knife, fortunately, a detective of the Indian National Police, Karima Shapandar, leapt out of the shadows and quickly defeated her opponents. Afterwards, Neal learned from Karima that his father hired her to shadow him in his investigations, as he knew Neal’s arrogance would eventually lead him into trouble that he could not get out of on his own. With her presence revealed, Karima joined Neal in searching for Sanjit. However, many of Sanjit’s sources refused to talk, mostly out of fear of an unknown source. The two were able to surmise, though, that something serious and horrible was occurring in the streets of Calcutta.

During their time together investigating, Neal and Karima found themselves attracted to one another, as an emotional bond grew between the two. The two took one night off for themselves, but right before they had their first kiss they were knocked out by Bastion and his Prime Sentinels, who were alerted towards their investigation. Waking up in a local facility of Bastion’s Operation: Zero Tolerance, Neal found himself strapped to a lab table beside Karima. Even worse, his own brother, Sanjit, turned out to be one of his captors. Bastion introduced himself to the confused Neal and revealed that his brother had been transformed into a Prime Sentinel, along with the other missing people in Calcutta, in order to eradicate mutant kind. To that end, Bastion decided to transform Karima and Neal into Sentinels as well. Sanjit followed through with the orders to transform the couple into Sentinels and, while Karima transformed into an omega unit, and thus a much valuable resource to Bastion’s cause, things went awry with Neal.

At the last moment, Bastion realized that someone had forged Neal’s bio-scans and in truth the man was a mutant, whose latent powers were being catalyzed by the conversion process. With his facility destroyed by Neal’s solar plasma eruption, Bastion sent the Prime Sentinels to kill him, but Neal was then saved by his brother, Sanjit, who rebelled against his programming. Sanjit, however, was mortally wounded, so Karima defeated the last of the Sentinels. Sanjit died in his brother’s arms and, to make matters worse, Karima found herself unable to override her programming much longer, despite her love for Neal. She then ordered him to run as far from her and India as possible, to which Neal reluctantly agreed to, thus leaving his love behind. After being on the run for about seven months, Neal eventually headed to Muir Isle to stay with Moira MacTaggert, a longtime friend of his family.

Some of the X-Men happened to be visiting Moira at the time as well and, unaware of them being mutants, Neal began to bond with the group. He told them about his love for high speeds and was excited to learn that several of their group members were headed to outer space soon. Neal even found that he had many things in common with Piotr Rasputin, aka Colossus, as both lost their brothers. When he later witnessed the team using their powers, Neal was horrified and confused about the beings around him, and he lashed out in fear with his own abilities. He ran away into the forest, naked, as his clothes had all burned away. Jean, however, found him and explained to him that they were not there to hurt him, and even gave him the standard X-Men training uniform made of unstable molecules, so that it wouldn’t be affected by his solar powers. Although sad and reluctant to give up on his old life, Neal trusted Jean and accepted her invitation to join the X-Men, whose closeness with each other he envied. [X-Men Unlimited (1st series) #27]

Soon after joining the X-Men, Neal took on the codename of Thunderbird, despite him having no relation to the late John Proudstar, the original bearer of the name. Quickly, Neal found himself attracted to his teammate Psylocke, Betsy Braddock, which earned him the animosity of Archangel, her jealous lover. Archangel made his displeasure known quite early, but it didn’t stop Neal from continuing his flirtation, as he found a passion in Psylocke that he had never seen before.

With both of them being on the active roster of the X-Men, and Archangel only serving part-time, Neal and Betsy spent more and more time together, like when the team traveled to outer space to help with the construction of the Starcore orbital platform. [X-Men: Black Sun #2, X-Men (2nd series) #100]

Neal's fear of his own powers soon proved to be a problem as well. His inexperience and lack of awareness of his true potential often made him a liability to his teammates in the field, and at times the novice would oscillate between acting recklessly and being afraid to act at all.

Shortly after the Starcore station was sabotaged by the sect of mutants known as the Neo, some of the X-Men took the night off at Harry’s Hideaway, while the team leaders gathered to devise a plan against the Neo. That evening, Neal tried to distance himself from Psylocke in order to avoid differences with Archangel. It seemed that conflict was inevitable, however, as moments later, the X-Men were kidnapped by the slavers known as the Goth. To make matters worse, Neal found himself too scared to engage his attackers, who were using mind-controlled innocent people to do their fighting for them. Archangel did not make things easier for Neal, criticizing him for his hesitance and questioning his right to wear an X-Man uniform. [X-Men (2nd series) #103]

Thunderbird found himself not only a prisoner alongside Psylocke, Archangel and some other teammates, but an enemy of his fellow free X-Men, as Gambit had cut a false deal with the slavers in order to free his team later on. Still embarrassed for his inaction early, Neal confided in Psylocke, who revealed to him her similar fears about her new telekinetic powers. In battle against the free X-Men, Neal’s insecurity got the better of him again, as he refused to fight his teammates, thus forcing his captors to remove him from battle. Eventually, though, the two groups of X-Men were able to defeat their foes nonetheless. [X-Men (2nd series) #104, Uncanny X-Men (1st series) #385]

Around this time, however, a part of Neal’s past came back to haunt him in the form of the Prime Sentinels, who hunted down the fleeing Lady Deathstrike to the mansion. The incident served as a painful reminder to Neal that his love, Karima, was now an Omega Sentinel. Despite his new affection for Psylocke, he could not forget his past and feared that one day he would have to possibly kill the woman he still loved. [X-Men Annual 2000]

Several months later, around Christmas, the X-Men were left to deal with the diaries of Destiny, a precog who wrote thirteen volumes worth of predictions for the future of mutantkind. Fearing what effect the diaries would have on Professor Xavier, Storm gathered a group of X-Men to cut all ties with the mansion and to locate the diaries before they’d fall into the wrong hands. Possibly due to the fact that Neal had close to no relationship with Xavier (the mentor having spent much of his recent time in space), Storm asked Neal along with several other X-Men, including Psylocke, to join her team, to which he agreed.

That was not the only change in Neal’s life, however. The flirtations between him and Betsy continued once more, even in front of their fellow X-Men and Warren. Seeing how Betsy looked at Neal, Warren broke up with her. Betsy wasted no time starting her relationship with Neal, who at first seemed shy about their open display of affection now that Warren was out of the picture. [X-Men (2nd series) #109]

Soon, though, the two became much closer in the days leading up to their departure from the mansion to search for the diaries, and Betsy even tutored Neal on the use of his powers. With her tutelage, Neal learned to use his powers more offensively, without hurting his opponent much, such as blinding or stinging them. [X-Treme X-Men (1st series) #3]