17.5.11

Alpha Flight: They're Ba-ack!


One of the first teams whose stories I followed on the newsstand back in 1985 wasn't the X-Men, it wasn't the Justice League, and it wasn't even the Micronauts. I distinctly remember walking into Triangle News in downtown Beaver Falls (which long ago went out of business) and buying the above book, Alpha Flight #24. And from then on, I was hooked on the Canadian super-team. It was hopeless.

The characters were interesting--Sasquatch was my favorite, in part because he was in the first comic I'd ever bought (Incredible Hulk #272), but also I liked the idea of the Great Beasts, whose mega-arc really was a backdrop for the series under writer/artist John Byrne. I liked the self-made-man James MacDonald Hudson as Guardian, his sexy wife Heather, and their relationship with the then-enigmatic Wolverine. I liked Puck (who wouldn't, eh?) and Shaman, a sort of Native American Dr. Strange (before I really got into Dr. Strange). Snowbird also really appealed to me as a goddess who was trying to live life as a normal woman. I even found Marrina an intensely fascinating character in spite of her complicated backstory and the out-of-control thing she became near the end. And Aurora and Northstar were...well, Aurora (n'est-ce pas?) and Northstar. Beta Flight, Gamma Flight, Omega Flight...wow! And add in the wild story of Guardian's "return" from death. It was thrilling stuff and a great time to be a fan.

I've followed the team's exploits since then--buying the last few issues of John Byrne's two-plus-year run, then enjoying a mail subscription to Bill Mantlo's issues, which were turbulent and really upset the original team dynamic. (Not to mention the editorial interference I've heard about since!). I left shortly after the book went direct-sale only with #52 and upgraded formats with #61. I remember seeing various artistic talents on the book, from Mike Mignola, to Dave Ross, to Jon Bogdanove, to future superstar Jim Lee. I remember the introduction of the Purple Girl, Pestilence, Goblyn, Manikin, Scramble and the Dreamqueen. I remember when they brought back Sasquatch in Snowbird's body. (Anyone else wanna forget they ever heard the name 'Wanda Langkowski'?)


So yes, eventually I fell off the Alpha Flight bandwagon, but years later I'd return, and even amass a collection of every issue I'd missed. That included the return of James MacDonald Hudson as Guardian for just over a year in Fabian Nicieza and Michael Bair's "Building Blocks" series-within-a-series, a few crossovers with the Infinity War and Infinity Crusade that ran rampant in the early 1990s, and the series finale by Simon Furman. Fortunately it also included the remainder of John Byrne's tenure. I also bought the second and third volumes of the series, but many years later, the only issues I still own are Byrne's, and a small handful of the rest.

It's interesting that John Byrne's series is so highly regarded, and yet precious few have actually used the same group as he did for those two years and change. Both the second and third volumes used very different lineups, as did Omega Flight which didn't attract me beyond the second issue. It's also worth mentioning that for much of his series, the team wasn't united, but off having adventures in certain contingents. Sasquatch would go off by himself, Northstar and Aurora would do their own thing, Puck flew solo, etc. Only for a few issues in the middle and toward the end did they really form a cohesive team, and those moments were fleeting until Mantlo took control, steering the team toward a more conventional feel.

A few short months ago, Marvel Comics released word that they were bringing back Alpha Flight in an eight issue limited series (which has since added one issue). And for the first time since the original Byrne series, some...things...are happening. I've got the feeling this is going to be great, and to prove it, I recently interviewed co-writer Fred Van Lente, who with Greg Pak (Incredible Hulks, Herc, Silver Surfer) is bringing Alpha back. Take a look, why don't you?

Click here to read my interview with Fred Van Lente at Jameson Lee's The Daily P.O.P.!


~G.

10 comments:

  1. I have fond, and somewhat peculiar affection for Alpha Flight, possibly because it was one of the few books I was able to get in on the ground floor of when I was young and first started reading comics . . .

    . . .and it was the first comic I saw utterly implode right in front of me. Seriously, that later Mantlo era is just . . .wow, it's kind of . . .not good, but in an entertaining Troll 2 kind of way because it was so misbegotten. Apparently the editors wanted it to be the equivalent of a Marvel Vertigo book, which somehow led to Mantlo trying to write like Grant Morrison and it was so gloriously mad that it was like comics had ate their own tail or something.

    I haven't followed it past the second volume--which I think was Steve Seagle and Scott Clark, and while I was intrigued by it, I think there was ultimately one conspiracy subplot too many and it just got way too deranged.

    I didn't ever read the last 2 launches, but I'm kinda intrigued by this the previews for this one and I may end up picking it up.

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  2. From what I've seen, the new relaunch is definitely worth picking up on the strength of the pedigree alone. And wow, mentioning Mantlo's run in the same sentence as Morrison? More audacious than I, sir. (Interesting, too, since I don't believe Morrison was really writing mainstream US comics until '88?) Still, point taken, even if the suggestion is an insult to Morrison's own prodigious talent.

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  3. Yeah, the previews really make it seem like it might be fun but actiony and barring Lobdell's attempt in the last decade, it's not been easy to say that of AF . . .well, for most of my life, really.

    Oh, I have great reason to draw the Morrison/Mantlo comparison, tho--in the post #50s, somewhere around the Dreamqueen stuff, he did a riff on Grant Morrison's "the writer is an active participant in the book" stuff from Animal Man in a story that he apparently just had to call "Killing Me Softly With His Word Processor."

    I had a copy for many years, and let me tell ya, it is exactly what you would imagine Bill Mantlo covering Grant Morrison would look like.

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  4. Ah, yes, Mantlo and his predilection for appropriating song titles for use as story titles. Who can forget "I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet, and the Sky Come Tumbling Down!" and "Waiting for the U-Foes," among many others? (We ought to get a master list going...)

    ~G.

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  5. I have a certain fondness for the Mantlo-Flight issues. And yeah, I liked "Wanda" Langkowski. Was a little disappointed on the reversion from Wanda back to Walter. Could have been a nice build-up or story arc, but it came off as just a one-panel trick. (Then again, Mantlo was off the title, so it wasn't on his plate of priorities.)

    James Lansberry

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  6. Gary,267 or 268 was called "What a day for a day dream"another old music song. That was the issue that gave Glorian,the helper of the Shaper who was introduced in Len Wein's run a origin. He was Fantastic Four character./

    Killing my softly.... was the last issue of Alpha Flight Mantlo ever wrote. Unless comic book database is mistaken. I have not read the issue myself. Have you?

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  7. I'm looking forward to the new Alpha Flight series so much I became a mod on Dale Eaglesham's new message board! Most of the creators of the new series chat there, would love to see you there!

    http://www.daleeaglesham.com/Denizens/index.php

    the4thpip

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  8. Kazesage's observation that ALPHA FLIGHT "was the first comic I saw uttterly implode right in front of me" sums up exactly how I felt.

    As far as the MANTLO era, I can only hope that it is an alternate time-line that can be forgotten. The inconsistencies within the Mantlo storylines by themselves should be enough of a reason to at least consider it; the contradictions to what was established almost demands it.

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