Alpha Flight #11-12
Issue(s): Alpha Flight #11, Alpha Flight #12
Soon, these heroes will face their greatest challenge.
It's the first time a character's death has been used in advance to promote a comic (at Marvel anyway - see the comments below). The identity of the character that would die was a well kept secret at the time. Most letter writers wrote in predicting that it would be Northstar, on the grounds that he's unlikeable and Aurora has the same powers anyway.
There is a legend that Peter David, then working in Marvel's sales department, distributed advance artwork revealing who dies, but details vary regarding why he was doing so (David says he was given the art by the editor as part of a package to promote), who David was supplying the art to (either a limited group of dealers, or on the floor of a comic convention), and the degree to which Byrne, also at the convention, flipped out about it. But David and Byrne haven't been on friendly terms since.
Delphine Courtney has continued to recruit members of the old Beta and Gamma Flight teams, as we saw her recruit Smart Alec in Alpha Flight #7. The only member that has doubts is Roger Bochs, who control the giant robot Box.
But he plays along and meets up with the others in the World Trade Center in Manhattan. It seems that the members of Gamma didn't know the members from Beta, and vice versa, so introductions are made.
The team has been gathered at the request of Jerry Jaxxon. Jaxxon was James Hudson's boss in the origin back-up from Alpha Flight #2 that showed Hudson stealing the exo-suit that he developed. Jaxxon was disgraced and humiliated by Am-Can after that incident, and now he's after revenge, with the backing of Roxxon, who wants Guardian's suit. The entire job offer turns out to be part of the set-up.
Heather gets kidnapped and used as a lure for Guardian. To Heather's (and Byrne's) credit, she has no interest in being bait and tries to take matters into her own hands.
Unfortunately it turns out that her captor, Delphine Courtney, is a robot (and one with subtle mind-control powers)(and it's also said that Courtney's influencer has been turned on the former Beta and Gamma Flight members, aggravating their annoyance at the disbanding of their groups (this is stated even more clearly in the recap for issue #13); this potentially allows for the reformation of the Omega Flight members at a later date).
When Guardian arrives, he faces Omega Flight.
Before entering the trap, Guardian used the Alpha signal device to summon the rest of the team. It will be the first time the entire team has been together since issue #1.
Well, almost the entire team. Marrina is busy frolicking with the Sub-Mariner and misses the call.
Aurora picks up Sasquatch. We last saw her showing up at Langkowski's apartment, but she's been off partying in St. Tropez without him. She's feeling frisky and is annoyed that he insists they go immediately to join the group.
Northstar picks up Puck. Prior to the call, Puck was meditating to focus past pain that he was experiencing.
Regarding this, Byrne has said:
Of course, he [Mantlo] then went on to do the "origin" of Puck, with the whole "demon inside" thing being based, apparently, on the single reference Puck had made to being in constant pain, something which Bill failed to grasp was an effect of the condition -- achondroplasty, called by name in the same issue that referenced the pain -- which caused Puck's dwarfism. (This was a manifestation of something I used to call "Claremont-itis", before it came to infect almost everybody -- that manner of backstorying characters in such a way that absolutely no one, nowhere, is ever "normal".)
After Northstar arrives, he's snippier than usual; he's still hurt over the fact that Aurora has "broken up" with him. When the group all gets together, he tries to make amends with Aurora but she's not interested. The argument results in a fight that quickly gets out of hand (and makes Roy Thomas' Avengers look like a happy family).
Sasquatch loses control of his beast form, and the rest of the team is forced to subdue him. Aurora is able to calm him, but Sasquatch will be less effective in the fight ahead because he's concerned about losing control again.
After the in-fighting, Shaman teleports the team to New York, where they join the fight with Omega Flight.
I love that line when Snowbird says, "Hold, Wild Child! You are not the only one with claws...". Unfortunately for Snowbird, it turns out that she's not actually able to leave Canada. Once she does, her power and youth drain away.
Despite some set-backs, Alpha generally does ok against Omega. Smart Alec manages to grab Shaman's medicine bag, but that doesn't work out very well for him.
However, Box manages to separate Guardian from the group, and proceeds to beat the holy hell out of him. It turns out that Box is being controlled by Jaxxon, not Bochs, who is tied up. Guardian defeats Box by exploding a damaged power pack in his face. The feedback kills Jaxxon, but Guardian's suit is now badly damaged and in danger of exploding. Ten second countdown...
...and then Heather wanders into the room, distracting her husband at a key moment. He dies in a fiery explosion that Heather is forced to be witness to.
Tragic and traumatic. It's an arc that clearly has an impact. And in the meantime, we've got some great characterization and a cool team super-fight.
As Heather is walking through her empty old house one last time before the trip to New York, the narration captions are filled with dialogue from memories of the past. Of interest is the fact that Heather, from an Irish Catholic family with lots of brothers and sisters, tells James that she doesn't want to have children (much later, she'll change her mind).
...and when he later learned that Banner became the Hulk, Langkowski followed in his footsteps. With funding from Department H, he went up to an isolated area in northern Canada (an area that Snowbird warned was dangerous for mystical reasons, to no avail), and recreated the event that created the Hulk, but under controlled circumstances. The result, surprisingly, was a giant furry orange monster, not a green Hulk. The transformation art looks, i think deliberately, a lot like the way the Innuit Gods were depicted in Snowbird's origin back-up in Alpha Flight #7.
After the transformation, Sasquatch goes on a rampage that he'll have no memories of. It's said that Snowbird, since she's also a metamorph, will train Langkowski so that he can control the monster that he turns into.
It's worth noting that of the panels depicting Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Flight that we saw in Alpha Flight #1, we've now met all of them except for one nondescript looking member of Gamma, who will turn out to be Madison Jeffries.
A letter in Alpha Flight #12 has a humorous ironic tone, but shows some of the criticism of John Byrne that was going on at the time.
I've just begun reading ALPHA FLIGHT and I really enjoy it. I'm looking forward to your continuing on the title for at least the next 200 issues. I'm sure after that long it will become an institution and you will have the characters evolved into so truly unique and mature individuals with fiercely loyal fans.
The response is that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby both support Byrne's efforts on FF, but that really misses the point of the criticism (not that i necessarily think the complaint was valid).
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Implant? N
Reprinted In: N/A
Inbound References (12): show
The whole Brass Bishop situation is a complete mess. Two Brass Bishops were introduced- one in Alpha Flight 121, one in the 1997 Alpha Flight series. The Marvel Appendix discusses the mess here:
Peter David maintains that Byrne caused his own problem by throwing a loud fit over the artwork, supposedly causing more attention to be attracted to Guardian's surprise death than it would have received if Peter had just quietly handed the art out. I'm not sure how Peter could know that, but Peter David rarely acknowledges his own blunders anyway.
DC did use the death of Batwoman as advance promotion of Detective Comics in the late 1970s, and I think it was done sporadically a few times prior by DC as well.
I'm not very DC-literate, so thanks for the correction on my "advertising a character's death" comment.
Byrne's "Claremont-itis" line, besides just being nasty and childish, also never really made sense as a criticism. They're writing SUPERHERO comics. How NORMAL are the backstories going to be? These are people who, first, have superpowers (in most cases), and who then actually decide to become superheroes and supervillains. They're weird people. Their lives are probably weird to start with, and they're probably a bit crazy (which would make their lives even weirder).
Extraordinary people have extraordinary backstories. What was Byrne asking for? "Well, I can shoot lasers out of my eyes, and time travel, but I've just been going to community college part-time and hanging out with my friends. But ya know, I think me and my weird powers will go fight/commit crime now. But until this decision? I'd been totally normal!" That wouldn't make very much sense.
I think what Byrne was getting at was how Claremont and others kept turning regular people into super-people. Colleen Wing is suddenly a samurai. Doug Ramsey is a mutant, not just Kitty's geeky friend. Puck isn't just an acrobatic dwarf; he's an ancient dude with a demon sword in his head. More recently, Rick Jones, General Ross, and Betty Ross all become Hulks. Flash Thompson is Venom. I think it's an inevitable phenomenon in an ongoing fantasy universe, not something you can pin on Claremont, but it is a little annoying.
I actually agree with it, put like that. I think in the case of longtime supporting characters (Ross, Ross, Jones, Flash Thompson, Aunt May) they should be left alone - although certainly they could be plausibly brought into greater involvement, if it's done carefully (more carefully than it was actually done).
But Doug Ramsey appeared six times over about that many months, in a very light supporting role, before Claremont made him a mutant. So for that one I don't think it's a fair criticism. Plus Kitty is explicitly referred to as a computer genius (I believe) in her early appearances, so if some local kid is keeping pace with her or even outdoing her, it being a mutant power is actually a no-prize kind of explanation.
Puck is a fair criticism because it was unnecessary (he was already super-powered and weird, and it was explainable w/o the addition) and stemmed from a misunderstanding by Mantlo. I don't know enough about Colleen Wing to say either way, but wikipedia says she battled alongside Iron Fist in her debut, and gives her a samurai backstory (tho I imagine it was supplied later). So I don't know how she was actually portrayed early on.
And of course poor Madelyne Pryor is the opposite case. Claremont wanted her to just be a normal gal.
I will say that if they'd made, say, Stevie Hunter a mutant, that would have been a perfectly valid criticism.
Just checked, the White Queen says Doug is a mutant in NM 15, which I think is his third appearance. And his being a mutant is probably half the reason she invited him to her Academy, which invite took place in his 2nd appearance. So he was a mutant from the start.
Paul, Claremont did make Amanda Sefton a sorceress after she'd been around for four and a half years without any hints of powers.
But even there, while it was four years, it was only her sixth appearance, with never more than two in any one year. That's very few appearances, and very sporadic (never more than two appearances in any one year); she hadn't really been established as a supporting character in that time in such a way that to suddenly reveal her as having powers was shocking or upsetting or jarred with the portrayal - there hadn't really been a portrayal. That's very different from Flash Thompson or Betty Ross, or even from Stevie Hunter (who appeared in 20 comics in four years).
But she'd been in danger twice- once she was kidnapped by Arcade and once she was held at gunpoint by an evil circus owner- and she never considered using her powers to save herself.
We have no way of knowing what she considered.
Significantly (I think), she was also in danger a year after her reveal as a sorceress - abducted by Arcade, along with (non-powered) loved ones of various X-Men. It's just the portrayal, at least to that point. Maybe she didn't feel she was really in such great danger any of those times, or maybe she wasn't that powerful. In her next appearance after being a hostage, a very silly issue of Man-Thing, she's a prisoner AGAIN.
According to Byrne, Box was originally supposed to be a quadruple amputee called Tank. He changed both details because of the amputee in Frank Miller's Ronin and the character Tank in DNAgents.
Byrne also stated that Wild Child was supposed to have the same origin that Byrne thought up for Wolverine, but got tossed away by Claremont.
It's worth taking with a grain of salt Byrne's claim that Mantlo misunderstood the reference to Puck's pain, in light of how Byrne has misremembered other "error" on the part of fellow professionals, such as the Wendigo sunset incident. Maybe Mantlo was ignorant of achondroplasia, or maybe he wasn't and decided to make Puck's backstory more elaborate anyway.
Byrne himself was guilty of Claremontism in making Puck not just a secret agent so cool even Logan respected and could I'd his handiwork, but a guy who knew Hemingway, too. And unless Puck is well into his 40s, he couldn't be a normal guy who in '84 recalled bullfighting with Papa, even if we take that as referring to Hemingway's last excursion.
The minimum age for a bullfighting license in Spain is 16- I think that Byrne intended him to be exactly 40 in 1984. (Grell intended Oliver Queen to be 48.)
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