The Small Lebowski:
Uncanny X-Men #120-121
Issue(s): Uncanny X-Men #120, Uncanny X-Men #121
The X-Men leave Japan, but find themselves stuck in a terrible storm that forces them to land in Calgary, Canada. The storm turns out to be the work of Alpha Flight's 'indian of the group*', Shaman.
Cyclops is not looking to get into a fight in a blizzard on the airport runway until they know what they're up against, so they split up and head through the city. Vindicator catches up with Storm, Nightcrawler and Banshee in a department store.
Meanwhile, Sasquatch takes out Wolverine.
Eventually the fight makes its way to the Calgary Stampede, and the full Alpha team is revealed.
(Note the white highlights in Aurora and Northstar's hair, intended as a lighting effect. This will be misinterpreted by later artists/colorists, and Aurora and Northstar will have white hair until Byrne draws them again in Alpha Flight #1).
Shaman may be a terrible stereotype, but he pulls some cool stuff out of his medicine bag.
Snowbird is cool, too.
The fight is ended prematurely when the blizzard that Shaman created gets out of control, forcing Storm to sacrifice herself to set things right (Northstar takes the opportunity to knock her out). Wolverine then agrees to surrender to stop the fighting. But then as the X-Men leave the country, it turns out that Wolverine has escaped their custody and rejoined his companions.
A fun story line. Alpha Flight generated a lot of enthusiasm when they were first introduced as well, despite the fact that they were essentially created just to survive a fight with the X-Men.
Classic X-Men Back-ups: First is written by Tom Orzechowski, normally a letterer. It tells a story of one of Wolverine's pre-X-Men exploits, mainly running a con in a bar. It turns out that Banshee was there as well, on assignment from Interpol. Not a lot there. The second is even worse. Written by Ann Nocenti, it's got Cyclops, Jean, and Wolverine encountering an Alien style creature, but it's mainly a really overt, badly written attempt at creating some sexual tension between Jean and Wolverine. Wolverine's dialogue is especially bad.
*That's a Frank Zappa reference, people.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: These issues have to take place before Hulk annual #8. Hulk is tied up in a lot of stories in his own book, Captain America, Defenders, and Daredevil, so the X-Men need to get pushed back in publishing time to accommodate him.
Continuity Insert? P - (Classic X-Men Reprints add new scenes)
My Reprint: Classic X-Men #26, Classic X-Men #27
Inbound References (5): showAurora, Banshee, Colleen Wing, Colossus, Cyclops, Guardian (James Mac Hudson), Jeryn Hogarth, Mariko Yashida, Misty Knight, Moira MacTaggert, Nightcrawler, Northstar, Osama, Phoenix Force, Sasquatch, Shaman, Snowbird, Storm, Sunfire, Vindicator (Heather Hudson), Wolverine
A subsequent letters posed the question of how many Alpha Flight members were mutants, and the answer confirmed that Vindicator, Sasquatch, and Shaman were not. I'm guessing Claremont or Byrne changed their minds about Snowbird later.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 17, 2011 9:30 PM
These issues got quite a lot of media attention in Canada, and some Marvel folks(unspecified who, but presumably Claremont & Byrne) were interviewed by the CBC.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 2, 2012 1:34 AM
I'm glad that Northstar's personality was fleshed out later on because in his early appearances, with the sibling issues and his abrasive personality as well as his speed, he just seemed too much like Quicksilver all over again.
Posted by: Erik Beck | April 14, 2015 10:54 PM
Minor kvetch: when you’re introducing ANNE McKenzie and WALTER Langkowski in #120, maybe you don’t want to confuse readers by also having a pilot named Annie and a guy in the control tower (note the "Shooter" sight gag in page 10, panel 2) named Walt.
Posted by: Matthew Bradley | October 9, 2016 2:23 PM
From what I remember of the Brazilian Portuguese version of #120, Vindicator mentioned a suspected link of the X-Men with the American government. In hindsight, this was probably a non-commited reference to Fred Duncan. In 1979 the X-Men were as likely to receive orders from the government as they were not to.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | October 12, 2016 12:42 AM
Gotta figure Wolverine must have been pretty distracted thinking about Mariko to have not smelled Sasquatch from a block away. With all that fur that dude must be pretty funky.
Posted by: Andrew | January 8, 2017 7:21 PM
Is Bonnie Wilford an actual character, or a creator insert?
I didn't see Phoenix, Heather, or Moira in the issue, but I guess they were added in the Classic version. Same with Jeryn Hogarth, though his tag could be a behind-the-scenes because he provided the plane.
Posted by: Mortificator | January 27, 2017 2:09 PM
Pretty sure Bonnie Wilford was the name of Claremont's first wife. Her name was definitely Bonnie, but I can't say for 100% that "Wilford" was her last name.
How have I spent so much time on this site and never noticed Fnord's Frank Zappa reference? RIP Jimmy Carl Black.
Posted by: ChrisW | January 29, 2017 8:48 PM
That's what a search of "Bonnie Wilford" suggested to me as well, in addition to being a Marvel colorist, in which case fnord may want to remove her tag here and in 98-101. He doesn't usually track inserts of creators or their friends & family. But maybe there's some significance to this one that I'm not aware of.
Posted by: Mortificator | January 29, 2017 10:39 PM
Thanks guys. Removed Bonnie.
Heather, Moira, and Phoenix appear in added scenes from Classic X-Men #26 (inserted pages, not the back-up story). Heather working as a secretary having a quick phone conversation with Guardian. Jean talking with Moira on Muir Island, still under the impression that the X-Men are dead.
Classic X-Men #27 has a page with Jeryn complaining to the Canadian government regarding the destruction of the X-Men's plane.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 30, 2017 8:54 AM
In my book, Dave Cockrum is the undisputed best designer of super-hero costumes, hands down. Steve Ditko's also at the top of the list. John Byrne is somewhere near the bottom. You can really see it in that splash page of Alpha Flight. Vindicator? White and red triangles. Snowbird? White and blue triangles. Aurora? White and black triangles. Northstar? Also white and black triangles. Shaman? Orange and green triangles. For that matter: Wolverine? Orange and brown triangles. Valkyrie? Orange and gold triangles. Hercules? Okay, no triangles there, but still boring.
Posted by: Andrew | April 3, 2017 10:03 PM
I never noticed that until it was pointed out but I do think that having a bit of unity, even if it's sort of in maybe the triangle element, works for Alpha Flight. With Wolverine, it's sort of evident with his claws; with Vindicator, the maple leaf on the costume. Even with the twins Aurora/Northstar, you get a neat snowflake feel with the contrasts of black and white; while Snowbird is more akin to just the snow in general. Shaman...well, OK, that's a weird one with the green and yellow contrast.
Posted by: Ataru320 | April 3, 2017 10:34 PM
I think Byrne's better at visual design than he is at the basic details of costume design. I think the Alpha Flight characters look great, individually and together. They may not really be interesting, but they look interesting.
And be fair, not everybody can be Dave Cockrum.
Posted by: ChrisW | April 3, 2017 11:08 PM
Looking at the full-page spread, I definitely see what you mean about the triangles, but I also think it helps them look like a team. Not as much of a team as a giant "4" on their chest, but in a subtle way. The triangles also imply cold and ice, i.e. Canada, and Sasquatch is there for warmth.
Posted by: ChrisW | April 3, 2017 11:12 PM
I do agree that costume creation was not of Byrne's strengths. Every once and then though, he did very good. I don't have any problem with Alpha Flight's costumes. I think they work individually and as a team. One of his stronger visual creations at Marvel. JRJR is probably one of the worst at costume designs though. He produced some very awful stuff - not visually appealing at all. His dad was much better at that.
Cockrum is definitely one of the tops for costume designs though. Kirby and Ditko were good although Kirby's designs got more busy than necessary as he got older. Paul Gulacy did great work on MOKF characters. John Buscema was hit and miss but came up with some really good ones. Sal Buscema did some yeoman work - nothing that stands out, but rarely anything awful.
If I had to name one top character designer though, it would Alex Toth. Even crappy Hanna Barbera animation couldn't hide the appeal of his designs. However, I don't think he did any work for Marvel.
Posted by: Chris | April 3, 2017 11:15 PM
Although I agree that JRjr will forever be known as Marvel's Hunk of the Month, um, I mean the guy who designed every lousy X-Man costume after "Secret Wars," he did have some hits. Nimrod is an awesome character design. Selene was in the tradition of Hellfire Club villainesses, but JRjr gave her a distinct look from Emma Frost or Jean Grey. Rachel Summers looked like exactly the sort of shell-shocked survivor of "Days of Futures Past" that she was intended to be. Magneto looked like someone who was older and wiser after coming to terms with his past.
Granted, most of these characters (other than Nimrod) were created and probably designed by other people. JRjr just did his best with what he had to work with, and his "X-Men" tenure didn't result in many new characters. Draw a guy with long hair and a mustache, let the coloring department show that he's "Indian" and there's Forge.
I would vote Steve Ditko as the top costume designer. From Spider-Man to his newest character "Madman," they are so ridiculously distinctive that everyone else should hide their heads in shame.
But if Byrne isn't among the top, I'd say he's very good.
Posted by: ChrisW | April 3, 2017 11:27 PM
I agree about Byrne. He is better at the overall look of the characters. He is one of the few artists who draws a Sasquatch that looks "right"(see Ron Wilson's version in MTIO for contrast).
Posted by: Mizark | April 4, 2017 6:38 AM
Totally agree about Sasquatch. I've read very few comics with Alpha Flight in them, but if you're not drawing Sasquatch like that, you're drawing him wrong.
Posted by: ChrisW | April 4, 2017 9:33 PM
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