Alpha Flight #36-38
Issue(s): Alpha Flight #36, Alpha Flight #37, Alpha Flight #38
However, at the same time, Mantlo has been working to tear down the individual members of the team. Not in a deconstruction sort of way; he's just been breaking the characters. Arguably this is even true of Heather Hudson, who was a pretty distinct character as the non-powered leader of a group (ok, sure, there was Candy Southern but that never really got off the ground and was really a different kind of leadership). But i, at least, am willing to see that traded-off for giving Heather powers and bringing the Guardian/Vindicator suit back into action. The real obvious breaking of a character was with Puck in issue #32. But we've also seen Marrina, last seen looking and acting perfectly normal if a bit worried about her nature in Power Pack, suddenly an inarticulate monster. And we saw last issue that Talisman's headband had drained her of her humanity, something that i don't think there was any hint of in Byrne's run (sure, she got mad at everyone when they supported her father, and Byrne expressed her anger as a cold anger instead of histrionics, but that's very different than the way Mantlo seems to have interpreted it, as we'll see more of in this issue). We've also seen Northstar descend into pure sniping dickery (which by itself is arguably just Mantlo's less subtle writing style compared to Byrne, but taken on top of everything else adds to the feeling that something is happening to all the Alpha characters), and Snowbird afflicted with a mysterious ailment.
We could have done with more stories of the team acting in their new status quo and having some fun, and maybe taking apart the team more slowly if that's what Mantlo wanted to do. But it's all hitting at once. These three issues are all about internal conflict, and the only subplot is about Marrina (which at least is in service of an upcoming crossover with Avengers, but for now just features Marrina trapped in a bubble worrying a lot).
We start with the revelation that Snowbird isn't actually sick; she's pregnant (love Heather's gummy bear pajamas).
Pregnancy for any character, and especially a primary, non-supporting character, ought to be handled with care because it's a pretty big deal with long term implications. For all his faults, Steve Englehart has been spending an entire year examining the Scarlet Witch's pregnancy. Snowbird's pregnancy is a lot more like the infamous Ms. Marvel story. She hasn't been raped (thank god) but her pregnancy comes on with no warning (doesn't seem to have been something she and Doug Thompson have been planning) and immediately becomes a supernatural problem. The odds of a mystical pregnancy ending well for anyone involved, creative team and audience included, are very low.
The pregnancy also has a major effect on Doug Thompson. I'm not going to complain too much about such a minor character, but he was pretty much defined by loving Snowbird unconditionally, even when she revealed her monstrous true face to him. We see no sign of that character here. It first turns him into a jerk...
...and then later completely unhinges him.
Thanks to a newly demonstrated ability of Madison Jeffries to build whatever is on someone else's mind...
...Shaman is able to determine that Snowbird's baby is indeed mystical, "as unformed as when I delivered" Snowbird. And therefore he needs to find the proper place to deliver the baby. It's here than we get a clear understanding of the change in Shaman's powers that happened last issue. The idea is that every object is inhabited by a spirit, and Shaman has the ability to call on those spirits and ask for help. However, the spirits are not required to help him; they would obey his daughter, Talisman, but he can only beseech.
And his beseeching does little good in this case. Neither the spirits in Alpha Flight's headquarters, nor Snowbird's pantheon (despite being called the "nameless Shaper" in the image below, the Shaper will be named Turoq later in the arc)...
...will give him any help. So Shaman instead calls upon Dr. Strange, who arrives in astral form.
Shaman is at least able to summon a wind spirit so that he and Vindicator can keep up with Strange.
Strange leads Shaman to a Place of Power, which turns out to be very near the place where Shaman delivered Snowbird into the world. However, Dr. Strange detects that there is a evil in this place. Shaman, though, pulls that old "oh you guys from the south, you don't know anything." routine. I do this myself; when i go out to my company's headquarters in San Francisco and they cry because it's a little rainy, i tell them, "Pffft! This is nothing! You should see New Jersey in February!". And that's a really bad habit, but that's what Shaman does here, and it's off-putting enough that Dr. Strange gives up on the warning and heads home.
But it turns out that the place really does have an evil presence.
Issue #37 begins back in 1848, reading from the journal of a Captain F.R. Crozier who was the science officer on a failed expedition to find the northwest passage to the East Indies. As the crew froze to death around him, Crozier took an elixier that was supposed to put him in a deathlike state where he'd be able to wait out the worst of the winter. Instead, though, the crew buried him.
I'm not quite sure how he managed to write out those last few paragraphs in his diary.
Back in the present, Alpha Flight have managed to calm down Doug Thompson, and they've boarded their omniship to take everyone to the Place of Power. Aurora uses the occasion to announce that she's joined the Micronauts.
Alpha Flight are interrupted by Talisman on their way to the Place. They allow her to join them, on the condition that she constantly talk about how much she hopes they'll all fail...
...and even actively interfere.
Snowbird's family shows up one last time to try to prevent the birth...
...and then the "birth" happens, but thanks to Talisman and the presence of Captain Crozier, it doesn't go well. Are you surprised?
...flies, and Pestilence, who is Crozier revived by the spirit of Snowbird's baby.
Talisman is happy to see it. But her goal was to see Shaman fail so that she could step in and be the hero...
...and it turns out that's not going to be so easy.
Issue #37 ends weirdly, without a Next Issue blurb or a typical ending splash panel or any kind of indication that it's actually the end of the issue, and issue #38 opens with a less than inspired splash page that has a narration box that says "Thanks to..." but doesn't actually thank anyone (including the indicia in the splash panel below just to show there's nothing below the narration box).
After six pages of the Atlantean subplot, which i'll come back to, we get a proper credits splash.
I'd guess issue #37 was originally intended to be double-sized or something, and may explain why this story drags on for three issues.
Pestilence pulls off Talisman's headband, and the possibility of Shaman putting it on himself is telegraphed, but that's delayed when Alpha Flight manages to temporarily drive Pestilence away. With the tiara off, Talisman acts like a regular person again.
However, Pestilence returns, and this time he's unleashed all of the Great Beasts as well.
The Great Beasts were Alpha's arch-foes, but we're told that since they're not fighting in their home dimension and since they are under Pestilence's control, they aren't as powerful (which raises the question of why use them?). As it is, the Beasts are easily defeated. Shaman, meanwhile, puts on the Talisman headband and takes control of Snowbird, who is in her Sasquatch form, and forces him to attack Pestilence.
We see that Shaman is now as heartless as Talisman was.
Pestilence nonetheless escapes, leaving Snowbird and Doug Thompson no sense of closure regarding their "baby". And while Shaman is now emotionless, Talisman has become cloyingly emotional.
In the Marrina subplot, we begin with Namor's cousin Byrrah infiltrating the Avengers Mansion.
There is an extended and more histrionic version of the conversation from Avengers #270, but we are missing the nice scene that Roger Stern included where the Black Knight tried to convince Namor to take the Avengers with him, and failed because Hercules wouldn't back him up and instead shouted encouragingly to Namor about the honor of doing things alone.
I guess as consolation, we have the Black Knight wearing his helmet with the big ears.
Namor attempts to invade Atlantis on his own, but is repelled...
...and so on Byrrah's advice, he returns to the Avengers to ask for help while sending Byrrah to ask the same of Alpha Flight.
About those "usual Mantlo problems", i already mentioned above Northstar's continued attitude problem. That sort of clunkiness permeates that book. Here's Shaman - prior to giving up his humanity, mind you - being all mysterious and vague about the fact that Snowbird is pregnant.
And here's the team reacting to the shocking revelation.
The other big Mantlo problem is the unnatural expository scripting, which reaches comic proportions when you have some characters explaining in great detail the motivations of other characters...
...or where each character's thoughts are used to represent a back and forth debate between all of Atlantis...
...or when they provide background for the readers in huge wordy chunks, even finishing each others sentences, like a Greek chorus gone horribly wrong.
What's extra disappointing about this is that Mantlo has an obvious interest and passion for these characters. He's not phoning it in. He's done research both on Canada (as cited during Shaman's story last issue, and the northwest passage reference in this arc) and on previous issues (as demonstrated by the fact that nearly every past issue of Alpha Flight is listed in the references below), and he has complex plans for the characters. It's just not translating into anything good.
As for David Ross' art, it's tolerable. We've had our expectations gently lowered over the past several issues. We've gone from John Byrne's signature style, and what will be for me the only real representation of the characters, to Mike Mignola's stylized look. From there, some fill-ins, and now David Ross, who at least is going to provide a consistent look for the series. He's got a difficult task in front of him, having to handle characters as distinct as Sasquatch (via Snowbird) and Marrina, and also Mantlo's wild concepts like Aurora covered in Maggots, which doesn't look so good...
...but he'd be just fine if Mantlo were providing better stories.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: I'm allowing some time to pass since the end of last issue. It's clear that at least a little time has passed; there's heavy snowfall on the ground around Alpha's HQ but it was clear when Heather and Puck arrived there last issue. And Shaman has had time to set up a room for himself with tribal decorations. And Snowbird's pregnancy surprises the rest of Alpha Flight; she goes from not showing at all to looking eight weeks pregnant overnight. There was no hint of pregnancy while she and Doug were first traveling to HQ over the last few issues, so i'm not thinking that i'm on a time table until this issue starts. I also need issue #35 to take place soon after Secret Wars II #9 while this arc has concurrency with that Avengers issue. The scene with Byrrah in issue #36 takes place concurrently with the end of Avengers #270. This also ought to take place before Dr. Strange's cloak is damaged in Doctor Strange #77, although i suppose we could say that Strange chose not to reveal the damage while he was in his astral form, if we had to.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (9): show
F.R. Crozier was a real person:
Posted by: Michael | December 31, 2013 6:47 PM
Despite his weaknesses, I liked Mantlo's work on other titles. I thought he was a good "base" writer. He's a C+ writer who has occasional dreck and occasional high quality work. He just misfired on Alpha Flight. It went from being a top pick under Byrne to quickly dropped.
Pestilence is a good mystical villain in line with the Great Beasts and Canadian mythological threats that have been present for the team. His introduction is terrible though. Snowbird's pregnancy is all too sudden. It would have been better if Mantlo set up an attempt to summon Walter Langkowski's spirit and reassemble his crumbled form to return him to the team. Then Crozier could have used whatever mystical energy/macguffin used to resurrect Langkowski to revive himself.
It is a mistake for Snowbird to resume the form of Tanaraq. As a one time thing to defeat Sasquatch, it was perfectly fine. But if you want to bring back that physical power, then you should bring back Langkowski and allow Snowbird be the character she is supposed to be.
Too many Alphans are just being violated. All of the team's characters were likeable. A nd despite some emotional wringing that Byrne put them through and various revelations, there was nothing that could have returned the team back to good times. I just don't want to see bad things keep happening to these characters. X-Men is somewhat tragic book with its core concept, but that isn't Alpha Flight.
I did not know Crozier was a real person. Tacky. I disapprove of using real people like this. Far better if is iy was thinly veiled version of him.
I like David Ross's art, but Gerry Talaoc inks don't help.
Posted by: Chris | December 31, 2013 7:19 PM
I was a fan of Mantlo on Alpha Flight. No, it wasn't Byrne, but I found Mantlo doing some interesting things with the characters. It was pretty dark, and I was intrigued by the way Mantlo played with gender and body image during his run. It was a bit strange, and it was different.
Byrne was a classic. I loved it.
I've found myself enjoying Bill Mantlo much more as I've gotten older. I used to really love his run on Iron Man, but otherwise I tried to avoid his work. Now I own all of Mantlo's Marvel work.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | January 1, 2014 4:34 PM
Was nobody working on this book reading Avengers? None of them thought, hey Black Knight has been back in the Avengers for a year and a half now and never worn the helmet with the wings?
Posted by: Erik Beck | June 25, 2015 12:53 PM
Speaking of Francis Crozier and the failed arctic expedition, I invite all you to read Dan Simmons' "Terror". Great book, if dark.
Posted by: Piotr W | March 14, 2016 7:32 PM
I don't understand why Madison Jefferies was so wonderful that Mantlo essentially threw over most of the team to make him so powerful. It's taken me 20 years to finally realize this. Maybe because of all the other character assassinations Mantlo was performing getting in my way of noticing.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | April 15, 2016 8:03 AM
Pestilence having the power to command the Great Beasts is just wrong. His origin would make him a mystically empowered mutate, not a demigod with far greater powers than Snowbird.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | October 2, 2016 6:51 PM
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