Alpha Flight #67-70
Issue(s): Alpha Flight #67, Alpha Flight #68, Alpha Flight #67, Alpha Flight #70
James Hudnall wrote Alpha Flight #63 as a fill-in and possibly try-out, but it's with these issues that he becomes the regular writer of Alpha Flight. Hudnall previously wrote ESPers for Eclipse, a series that apparently got him a little acclaim and which is followed up with a series called Interface for Marvel's Epic line, and he's also replacing Peter Gillis on the (non-Marvel universe) Strikeforce: Morituri. Alpha Flight and a Graphic Novel called Agent seem to be his only Marvel universe work (unless you count Malibu's Ultraverse) and he seems to mostly have done independent projects, later turning to web based political cartooning. Here's a link to his (pretty awful, in my opinion) Obama Nation.
But his Alpha Flight debut does exactly what was necessary after Bill Mantlo's deconstruction (or perhaps destruction) of the group. This arc re-forms the team, changes Sasquatch back into a man, restores Talisman and Shaman to the group with their proper names, and de-ages Puck in preparation for returning him to the team. Hudnall also jettisons Manikin before the start of this issue (Heather, after summoning the group to discuss the Dream Queen's recent manipulations of the team: "Manikin is the only one who refused to come. He doesn't want us [sic?] to be a part of Alpha Flight any more"), and Purple Girl, Goblyn, and Pathway are sidelined for a while at the beginning of the next arc.
The story also makes the Dream Queen responsible for more of the past stories than Bill Mantlo intended, implying that both Purple Man and the Great Beasts that attacked Sasquatch in the courtroom were illusions, and also quickly reversing the idea from last issue that Sasquatch randomly found a pile of gold that would keep Alpha Flight funded forever.
I was initially reserving judgement on Hudnall's writing style because i wanted to wait until we get out of these initial four issues, which are really about restoring the team while they are dealing with an immediate crisis, so there isn't really a ton of room for character development. But that breakneck pace will continue unabated for nearly all of 1989. So i can say that the character work is actually pretty thin; the stories mostly focus on moving the plot forward. That said, it's a break from Bill Mantlo's histrionics.
One thing that seems to come up repeatedly is the topic of rape. And that's actually how we start these issues, with an origin for the Dream Queen that involves Nightmare raping her mother.
The story is that female demons give birth to themselves, so Nightmare drops the pregnant demon in a pocket dimension and that's where the Dream Queen is "born".
She had complete control over the dimension that she was trapped in but she eventually got bored (despite occasional taunting visits from her "father"). And luckily for her, one day a mystic from a tribe of Chickaqua Native (Canadian) Americans projected his astral self into her dimension hoping to get help from a Goddess regarding a drought problem. Instead she plagued the Chickaquas with nightmares until the mystic was killed. It wasn't until 350 years later that she got another visit, this time from Pathway and Gobyn, since their powers opened a portal to her dimension. Her first effort at escaping ended with her getting pushed back into her dimension with Puck, who she has subsequently been torturing while also making him "young again... able to withstand the physical abuse"
Meanwhile, she's been manipulating the dreams of the rest of Alpha, strengthening her ties to the material world. Here's more evidence that the Purple Man and Great Beasts appearances were illusions.
Her second, current, attempt to escape is through an artifact that the Chickaqua mystic was buried with, but which Elizabeth Twoyoungmen found on an archeological dig.
Her fellow archeologists have touched the artifact and are trying to get Elizabeth to touch it, but thanks to a message from Snowbird, Elizabeth realizes that she still retains some mystical abilities from her days as Talisman.
While Dream Queen watches Talisman fight off her thralls, Nightmare appears again to taunt her.
But despite his warning, she attacks Alpha Flight before Elizabeth can get to them.
Here's a full page scan of the scene where Elizabeth finds out that the Dream Queen has already made it to Alpha Flight, just to give you a feel for John Calimee's art and storytelling style. It's clean, almost cartoony, but also kind of stiff and weird with faces.
Dream Queen leaves after doing something secret to Sasquatch, and they all wake up without knowing what happened to find Talisman shouting at them that they need to go find Shaman so she can get the Talisman headband back.
They go to Shaman, who is at the Eye of the World.
And here's another full page scan. I'm kind of fascinated by the weird body poses. I'm seeing a kind of Mike Allred thing, too. But it's weird and i don't think i like it.
Elizabeth acknowledges that her previous behavior as Talisman was immature, and she's ready for the responsibility now. So Shaman agrees to give her the headband. That's when the Dream Queen's manipulation of Sasquatch comes into play though. He/she grabs the headband and tries to kill the others, using both her Sasquatch form...
...and the Talisman's magic.
But then Snowbird briefly appears...
...and restores Sasquatch to his/her male form.
And that removes Dream Queen's control, allowing Elizabeth to become Talisman again.
Having failed to acquire the Talisman headband, the Dream Queen uses her nightmare powers to cause riots in the streets of Edmonton.
Our only other thread in this story is really more like another clean-up effort. Alpha Flight #66 had the Jade Dragon facing off against the newly introduced China Force. Issue #69 opens back in time a bit, with that same fight in progress, and Jade Dragon losing and getting knocked out.
Then, some time later they get on a plane with the intention of taking him back to China. During the flight, it's said that in addition to the current China Force, there used to be a Horse, Dog, and Monkey that have all defected (these guys will appear in the Agent graphic novel). The plane never makes it to China, though, because Dream Queen manipulates them into going to Edmonton instead.
So they wind up fighting Alpha Flight at the Edmonton Mall (same locale as in Alpha Flight #26-27), while Alpha is also subjected to the Dream Queen's illusions.
Pathway eventually opens up a portal to (medieval?) China, and China Force is forced through.
Notice that now that Sasquatch is male again, he's also orange. Also notice that now that Shaman is no longer wearing the Talisman, he is back to using a medicine bag, albeit a white one.
Jade Dragon decides to go back to China too, to face up to the charges against him.
So that's that storyline wrapped up. Purple Girl was injured in the fight, and Shaman put a spell on her to sleep until she's healed, so she's out of the story too.
The art seems to take a nose dive in issue #70, maybe due to the multiple inkers.
Script-wise, one interesting thing is Talisman becoming cold and aloof, like her father was when he wore the headband.
But Vindicator doesn't like that and wishes Purple Girl was around to mind-control her into being more forthcoming.
That's potentially interesting if the idea is to continue to show Heather as ruthless and kind of immoral. And Talisman is holding back; she wants to face the Dream Queen alone so that she can kill her without the others stopping her. But it's all a bit clunkily delivered.
So while Talisman heads directly to Dream Queen, the others explore the other rooms in the building they are in and are confronted by Dream Queen's illusions.
I do love those tables.
On the top floor, the Dream Queen tells Talisman about how she keeps men around to "pleasure me while I did my work".
And it turns out that Talisman can't beat the Dream Queen on her own, so luckily the rest of Alpha Flight show up and Pathway opens up another portal that they can shove her through.
Definitely an anti-climax of an ending, which i'm somewhat sympathetic to since i'm not at all interested in the Dream Queen and i see this arc as just being a way to get the team back in working order. But i definitely question the decision to jump right from here into another multi-part arc with another uber-powerful mystic threat. And that's exactly what's coming.
In terms of the direction of this book, the right moves are being made here. Alpha Flight is a team again, some of the core members have been returned, and a lot of extraneous stuff has been jettisoned. Again, in the next arc we'll see a different problem with the direction, but at least we've got a functional cast. Unfortunately the craft, the writing and art quality, is not that great. If you've been dragging yourself through the end of the Mantlo run, it's definitely a pleasure and feels like an uptick. But the scripting is at best dry and the art is stiff and stylized in a weird way. I do want to acknowledge that Hugh Haynes and Gerry Talaoc do better on issue #67, and do a cool thing by extending the art into the margins with psychedelic patterns for the origin of the Dream Queen. And i can imagine some people liking John Calimee, or at least thinking it might work better in a different setting. But overall the issues are at best functional, good for what they do more than how they do it.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 129,540. Single issue closest to filing date = 96,900.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: These four issues are the "Wrath of the Dreamqueen" storyline. The story goes pretty much directly into the three issues that follow, beginning with Alpha Flight still in the (defeated) Dream Queen's apartment. But issue #71 is narrated in the past tense, so i will be placing them in a separate entry, although directly following this.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): show
That art is strictly amateur hour. I know I've brought this up before, probably more than once, but I can't believe this book was still going and would continue to go into the '90s. Were sales really that good or, as someone else here suggested before, was it the Canadian thing? I mean it's obvious to me Marvel didn't care enough about the title to put quality talent on it yet they kept publishing it for nearly a decade after Byrne left. It boggles my mind. Boggles, I tell you!
Posted by: Robert | September 18, 2014 6:03 PM
Regarding the art: A lot of that just looks like Mike Allred to me, not necessarily a bad thing.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | September 18, 2014 6:12 PM
It definitely wasn't that sales were good. You can see the Statement of Ownership numbers here, and that's compared to Average of Past 12 months = 239,584 listed in issue #43.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 18, 2014 6:25 PM
Well there we go. A terrible drop of over 100,000 in two years yet they soldier on for another five years. These aren't marketable characters that have successful merchandising. It's not a critically acclaimed book with a respected creative team (that includes Mantlo). If it was the Canadian angle and Marvel was getting some kind of incentive there, why weren't they making more Canadian titles? There's a missing piece of the puzzle somewhere.
Posted by: Robert | September 18, 2014 6:41 PM
Wow, the Dream Queen must have a rather intense libido if she needs to keep FOUR sex-slaves on hand at a time...
Posted by: Dermie | September 18, 2014 6:57 PM
Fnord. there's an interview here where Hudnall attempts to explain why he had problems with his Alpha Flight run- for example he claims that the editors forced him to turn Sasquatch back into a man a couple issues sooner than he liked:
Posted by: Michael | September 18, 2014 7:43 PM
Was this the year of things returning to "status quo"? Avengers gets back core members, FF gets back core members, & Alpha Flight gets back core members. Thank goodness the "events" this year were so awesome, IMO. Acts Of Vengeance rocked & even Atlantis Attacks was a cool storyline.
Posted by: clyde | September 18, 2014 8:06 PM
Clyde, Clyde I think that can be the motto of the Tom Defalco era in general. X-Men subverts this for a bit, but eventually they they succumb to "status quo mania."
The other Defalco trademark around this time is releasing TONS of books flooding the market. That aspect may be why Alpha Flight sticks around for a bit (it certainly isn't the first poorly-recieved Marvel book that continues long past it's sell-by date.)
Posted by: Jon Dubya | September 18, 2014 8:28 PM
That's a good interview, Michael. Sheds some light on some things, such as the question fnord raises in the 71-73 entry about why they have Alpha Flight facing supernatural threats.
Posted by: Robert | September 18, 2014 8:31 PM
The John Calimee interview is worth reading, too, http://alphaflight.net/content.php?137-John-Calimee-Interview . He's a humble guy, and it's clear that some of what Hudnall wanted him to draw was technically impossible: Hudnall made the neophyte mistake of asking for too much in too few panels and failing to understand the trade off between distance and detail. The editors perhaps deserve more blame than Hudnall, though, since they're supposed to know things about art and its limitations that a writer wouldn't know. Some of this is basic professional knowledge.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | September 18, 2014 10:36 PM
Just wanted to chime in and say I saw the Allred affinities too, before reading the commentary or the comments,
Posted by: Cullen | September 19, 2014 1:17 AM
Marvel keep producing a book like this but drop New Warriors (2014) as soon as sales drop. Odd, to say the least.
The art is decent but very stiff and the poses are weird. Sort of poses that I'd draw as a teen. To be fair to him, the sales aren't good so the editors can afford to have guys learn their trade on it. Anyone: does the quality in terms of art improve on this book from either John Calimee?
Posted by: JSfan | September 19, 2014 4:32 AM
From Hudnall's interview. It doesn't sound like Calimee did improve.
Posted by: JSfan | September 19, 2014 4:51 AM
@JSfan: The owners and editors changed quite a few times in these 25 years, so I'm not sure the comparison holds.
I'm not sure why Alpha Flight soldiered on despite such an obvious lack of both purpose and sales, either. Maybe it was feared that cancelling it might cause a backlash among Canadian readers?
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 19, 2014 7:15 AM
To follow up on Luis' point and illustrate the different business models and economic realities, the 2014 New Warriors series was selling under 20,000* when the cancellation was announced. Alpha Flight's horrible sales of 96,900 for the issue closest to filing date would have put it in the Top 5 of the same sales chart.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 19, 2014 9:03 AM
Calimee did a servicable job on Strikeforce:Morituri.
I hope that you're planning on doing profiles; maybe I'll try it out. You do such a good job, though.
Posted by: Vin the Comic Guy | March 12, 2015 6:58 AM
We all should have some sympathy for those who had the misfortune to be associated with Strikeforce: Morituri...
Posted by: Luis Dantas | October 10, 2016 8:19 AM
Due to the mysterious green auras that have been appearing around characters' heads since #62, I would argue that Hudnall is doing exactly what Mantlo intended, not changing it.
Posted by: Tony Lewis | September 19, 2017 10:42 AM
Comments are now closed.
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