The Small Lebowski:
Alpha Flight #43-44
Issue(s): Alpha Flight #43, Alpha Flight #44
So it makes commercial sense that Mantlo would be re-introducing those themes, especially now that sales are declining to the point where the book will become Direct Market only by the September cover date. Issue #43 here really goes full steam on that, with a story that begins with Mesmero, currently imprisoned with a helmet that blocks his powers, faking psychological trauma so that he will be released.
To re-capture Mesmero, Sentinels are released...
...and when Mesmero flees into Canada, the US agents allow the Sentinels to follow in stealth mode.
It turns out they can't detect mutant in that mode unless the mutants are actively using their powers, but it's a moot point because Mesmero soon does.
Cameo by Sebastian Shaw, who worries that the US agents have set off an international incident.
Meanwhile, Alpha Flight are dealing with the problem of Roger Bochs, for whom having the bends and getting stuck in his robot shell has caused him to launch into such despair that he attacks his teammates (although bear in mind that it's a Mantlo comic, where both despair and histrionic fighting are commonplace).
Alpha has decided to enlist the help of Madison Jeffries' brother Lionel, aka Scramble. And while he's treating Bochs, and Shaman and Snowbird are off seeking Pestilence, Mesmero hypnotizes a group of human bystanders to hold as hostages to keep the Sentinels at bay. Mesmero kills a human to prove he means business.
That's when the remainder of Alpha Flight show up to attack the Sentinels.
During the fight, Northstar is surprised to see that the Sentinels don't identify him as a mutant.
This isn't gong anywhere good.
The ace in the hole for Alpha Flight, is Madison Jeffries, who can easily transmute the Sentinels.
Jeffries, by the way, is identified as a mutant.
Mesmero, meanwhile, has hypnotized the crowd into attacking Puck, but Purple Girl overrides his commands.
Puck is nonetheless injured, but while that's presented as a cliffhanger ending for #43, it's casually dismissed with a "Scramble healed me" at the beginning of #44.
It's not clear to me what happens to Mesmero. Alpha Flight destroyed the Sentinels that were supposed to apprehend him. Do they instead imprison him in Canada now? Does the US demand extradition? Does anyone complain about the US sending Sentinels across the border? The story deliberately raised these types of questions in the set-up, but there's no answer here.
Instead, Alpha Flight return to their headquarters and immediately get summoned by Shaman and Snowbird. The summons was via Shaman's medicine bag, which with his new powers he's no longer using, and so Alpha Flight leaves it beyond as they get in their Omnijet to respond to the call. And after they are gone, Tiny Smart Alec crawls out.
Alpha Flight is led to a small town called Burial Butte by Shaman's wind spirits, and they arrive to find the town full of dead bodies.
Among them is Snowbird's husband, Doug Thompson, who is dying but still alive. He directs Alpha Flight to a nearby mine. Doug says that Shaman and Snowbird didn't even try to cure him, and then he makes Alpha promise to save his son, and dies.
As Alpha enters the mine, we get one of several reminders in these issues that Northstar is still sick, and his wound from the rescue of Purple Girl last arc hasn't healed yet either.
The group is then attacked by Pestilence. They fight through his defenses and Northstar comes across Shaman ("Talisman" at the moment) ordering Snowbird to kill Pestilence.
Since killing Pestilence would also kill the body of Snowbird and Doug's son, Northstar interferes, but he finds that Pestilence can draw upon the "decay" within him to repower himself.
The rest of Alpha arrive to join the fight. Snowbird seemed happier with the idea of killing Pestilence, since her baby binds her to the mortal world.
She changes her mind, but then Pestilence takes control of her and forces her to kill him, which frees him from his mortal shell. Vindicator kills Snowbird a second too late.
Alpha Flight then returns home, and Heather goes to her room to cry, unaware that Tiny Smart Alec is spying on her.
While all of this is going on, Lionel Jeffries heals Roger Bochs' bends and also offers to heal his crippled legs.
Jeffries's assistant Dr. Knapp, will become an Alphan with the code-name Manikin.
Obviously these issues are very eventful, if nothing else. Ross' art is nice, if not spectacular (this is the end of his run). Mantlo's plot ideas are pretty good. If only he could script with a little less repetitive exposition and with some more realistic sounding dialogue. I also admit that i'm distracted by the intended developments for Northstar (not helped by his constant coughing!).
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: These two issues aren't directly related but i'm keeping them together because of the fake cliffhanger with Puck and the fact that Shaman and Snowbird start their quest for Pestilence (off panel) during the Mesmero issue.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showAurora, Black King (Sebastian Shaw), Box, Doug Thompson, Madison Jeffries, Manikin, Mesmero, Northstar, Persuasion, Pestilence (Alpha Flight villain), Puck, Sasquatch, Scramble, Shaman, Smart Alec, Snowbird, Vindicator (Heather Hudson)
I will give Mantlo the benefit of the doubt and assume there was no homophobic intent behind it, but the fact that Northstar's sickness is increased by a kiss from a man just has an unfortunate subtext to it, especially given the original plans for Northstar's illness to be AIDS.
Posted by: Dermie | April 4, 2014 9:30 PM
AF is clearly in the wrong direction, and Mantlo has killed almost everything that made it unique. It's now a rather generic superhero book with little of the charm that made it so beloved.
I never considered AF a mutant book although I acknowledged its tie to the X-Men. The themes of the X-Book have little place to a book whose primary distinguishing factor is that they are Canadians. Introducing mutant themes too strongly overwhelms that.
With all the deaths of the team, this is not the time to kill yet another member. Snowbird's death adds nothing to the book. At least Mac's death was very moving, and Sasquatch's death left open the possibility of his return.
With AF's sales decreasing to the point it'll become direct sales only, I am surprised Mantlo was left on the book so long. I'd have expected someone else to be put on the book to save it. In older days, that is what would have happened. In many ways the direct market killed effective editorial guidance.
Posted by: Chris | April 4, 2014 10:10 PM
To be fair, as late as Alpha Flight 45, Alpha Flight was outselling Spectacular Spider-Man. But yeah, it's weird that they didn't fire Mantlo before going direct-sales only.
Posted by: Michael | April 4, 2014 10:47 PM
If there's any truth to Jim Shooter's story about Mantlo getting a law degree on Marvel's dime and then immediately suing them, it may be that they were wary of a lawsuit if they fired him.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | April 8, 2017 8:57 AM
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