Alpha Flight #55-60
Issue(s): Alpha Flight #55, Alpha Flight #56, Alpha Flight #57, Alpha Flight #58, Alpha Flight #59, Alpha Flight #60
Oh goodie, a six issue space-hopping story with Alpha Flight.
We start with "Wanda" Langkowski finally taking the fact that he is now a woman seriously.
Vindicator responds by diving into an expository recap of the past few issues. Thanks for the support, Heather.
She moves on to check in on her new boyfriend, Madison Jeffries, who, along with Manikin's Highbrow persona, convinces her that they really can make a new base out of Bedlam's Arctic headquarters.
Wanda, meanwhile, has transformed into Sasquatch and gone for a romp in the frozen terrain outside. And she encounters two of the Great Beasts: Tundra and Somon.
Soon all of the Great Beasts are showing up.
Langkowski rejects their invitation to join them, so they get into a fight with Alpha Flight.
Goblyn had been in her Laura Dean persona (or i should say she switched places with Laura) and was refusing to change back, but she does change when she's attacked.
Meanwhile, Madison Jeffries absorbs metal into his Box armor to grow in size so that he can fight Tundra.
However, Tundra just keeps adding more snow to his own body to compensate. So Sasquatch suggests melting all that ice.
But when Box does so, there's a big explosion and the last thing we see is just a big hole in the ground.
This is Mantlo's second use of the Great Beasts, and again he uses them as a big group and they're basically on equal footing with Alpha Flight instead of being a mega threat. I think the Beasts should be used much more sparingly, if, frankly, at all. Snowbird's purpose on Earth was to defeat the Beasts, and it was a big deal when she succeeded. To have them keep popping up after that kind of misses the point.
Anyway, forget all about them because they have nothing to do with the rest of this story. We'll come back to them with issue #64. For now, the process of converting some of his mass into energy to melt Tundra has driven Madison Jeffries crazy. The rest of Alpha Flight (except Purple Girl and Laura Dean, who were teleported away when Laura swapped places with Goblyn) had been riding inside of Jeffries and are being taken along for the ride in space. Goblyn has a freakout and runs off. Vindicator treats Goblyn like an animal, telling her to "heel"...
...but all of Alpha Flight should know that she is a (black) human, albeit a mutant with developmental issues due to the fact that her parents tried to abort her with radiation. And man the insensitivity of having someone tell a black girl to "heel" is just staggering.
Goblyn does not heel, and discovers vats full of strange creatures inside Jeffries, and unleashes them.
The creatures are dubbed "Bedlamites" based on the fact that Jeffries has built himself up out of the headquarters of the now deceased Bedlam.
Goblyn fights her way to Jeffries' "brain" and starts tearing into it. Manikin, a doctor by trade, was attempting a more delicate procedure, but had the same basic idea; it turns out Jeffries' "brain" has a "tumor" made out of "Bedlamites".
Vindicator has to again be dissuaded from just killing Goblyn. What is her problem?
They manage to take care of the tumor and get Jeffries back in control, and they head back to Earth. After some robotic nookie, of course.
But they are off in deep space, and Jeffries is using his own mass for fuel. So they land on a random planet so that Jeffries can absorb more material. But first, more nookie.
You can see that Manikin is getting upset. That's because while all this is going on, Purple Girl and Goblyn's sister Laura Dean are in "Liveworld", the dimension that she goes to when she's displaced by Goblyn (and vice versa). She calls the real world "Deadworld" because unlike her safe little pocket dimension, you can get hurt there. But it turns out a danger is lurking in Liveworld too.
Back on "Deadworld", Manikin's griping gets Goblyn mad at him, resulting in a fight and more disparaging remarks from Vindicator.
But then Goblyn senses that Lauren is on danger back in Liveworld - not the first time, apparently - so they swap places again, and Laura and Purple Girl are back on Earth, while Goblyn turns out to have a cozier relationship with the mysterious villain than we would have suspected.
You may have noticed in one of the "nookie" panels above a bit of out of place dialogue about the origins of life. That's set-up for our next challenge, which is that Madison Jeffries actually triggers the creation of life on this world by landing here.
That's right. Alpha Flight created life. And now they have to fight it.
It's actually Goblyn - who replaces Laura again when there's danger - who is able to communicate with the crystals. Vindicator's response: "But Goblyn's nothing but an unthinking animal!". But with this she finally starts trying to accept her. I get that this made for a little character arc for Heather, but man, it's totally undeveloped. No one else in Alpha had this visceral hate for Goblyn and there's no indication of where it's coming from with Heather.
Everyone wonders why, when the danger's over, Goblyn doesn't trade places with Laura again. And the answer is
More importantly, as we move on to issue #58, we find that we've reached some sort of meta-commentary level where the characters themselves are complaining about the recaps.
Every issue is somebody's first, people!
Ok, on to the story. While Alpha Flight is busy trying to figure out how to chart a course back to Earth, the Dream Queen attacks Laura Dean in Liveworld because she's trying to find a way out of her dimension.
This causes some chaos back in the real world, and Purple Girl, merged with Goblyn, bumps into Madison Jeffries' computer brain inside his ship form and it somehow causes the ship to get redirected to Liveworld, which i guess means it's not strictly another dimension but actually somewhere out in space. They get there very quickly, too. And then they crash land, with Jeffries shedding off all the extra mass he needed to maintain the ship during the crash. And Vindicator's power suit is stuck with the forcefield turned on.
Meanwhile, the Dream Queen tortures Laura Dean with visions of her parents dressed up like Goo Gams (the fiend!).
Goblyn leaves the rest of the stranded Alpha Flight and shows up to confront the Queen.
Before we go any further with that, though, a detour. We check in on what's happening with good old Puck. Or, at least, old Puck.
Puck is in a border country between China, India, and the Soviet Union, later identified as Danwei. It's not the same one that we've seen in Doctor Strange #66, although they have their own "High Lama". He comes across a group of Chinese soldiers harassing a group of monks, and feels powerless to help due to his loss of youth. But it turns out they are protected by magic.
Puck is clearly wistful about his time with Alpha Flight, with a couple of "Hey, could that bright light be Northstar and Aurora?" and "If only Sasquatch or Box were here" moments.
But he does try to help out a little bit with some explosives.
However, the soldiers have some help of their own.
"Cut from the same cloth as the Radioactive Man and the Collective Man"? That is some cloth!
However, the Jade Dragon actually has conflicting loyalties. His parents were killed as part of China's Cultural Revolution. He was then raised to slave away in an ore mine, but he eventually met a Geomancer that turned him into a dragon.
So really, not the best guy to rely on for your army.
Puck encounters the High Lama...
...and soon gets into a fight with Jade Dragon in front of the Llama, who is killed. But comes back in astral form while Jade Dragon turns on the soldiers and prevents the slaughter of the rest of the priests.
The High Lama opens up a portal to Liveworld, because why not?
And that allows Alpha and the Dream Queen to come spilling through.
The arrival of Alpha Flight and the Dream Queen's minions in this disputed border region troops creates an international incident.
There's a big mess of a battle...
..and then the High Lama tells Puck to use his years studying the mystic arts to see through the Dream Queen's illusions....
...and Puck attacks the Dream Queen (she had read all of Alpha Flight's minds to learn more about their team, and i guess that's why it's ok that she calls him a dwarf).
It turns out that Laura Dean also is a mutant, and has the power to open portals, and that's how she and Goblyn have been trading places.
Puck winds up getting trapped behind the portal holding back the Dream Queen as Laura closes it. The High Lama fixes Vindicator's forcefield problem and then teleports them back to Canada (where the government isn't too happy with them).
Oh and also, Walter Langkowski apparently was married.
I can't tell you how many times during this review i thought to myself, "WTF am i typing?". Liveworld and Deadworld? Dream Queen? Goblyn with a Y just because? Plus we've got a cast that has become almost unrecognizable. Madison Jeffries' powers merged with the Box armor have taken him to impossible levels. Manikin alone is responsible for four outlandish but uninteresting (or at least underdeveloped) weirdos. Old Puck. A new Chinese super-hero that makes the likes of Shamrock and Arabian Knight seem like well thought out ideas not at all based on ethnic tropes. Vindicator may look the same but her personality is inexplicable. That has me latching onto Sasquatch, which is ironic considering the character's convoluted backstory at this time, but at least it's a familiar face. Not that i'd need a familiar face if any of the characters had a personality, but that's not the case at all. By jettisoning Northstar and Aurora, Mantlo got rid of the two characters that he had distinct voices for. Awful, stereotypical voices, but at least they were distinct (Northstar was snippy; Aurora teetered between madness and despair). The people left behind are bland.
Another problem with this arc is how slight it is. Six issues, but a story that could have been told in two. With the exception of the jump to Puck for issue #59, and the brief Veronica Langkowski scene in that issue, there's no subplots. It's just a very straightforward story that gets dragged out way too much. You can summarize this as Alpha Flight gets knocked into space after a battle with the Great Beasts and they fight the Dream Queen and are joined by Puck and the new Jade Dragon. But just getting to Dream Queen takes 2 whole issues of nothing. I'd say that this is at least partially due to Jim Lee's art, since we're getting to the point where bigger panels and splash pages are more commonplace and feeding a trend to a kind of decompressed storytelling, but in Lee's defense he's not given much of a plot to work with and at least his dragon is awesome looking.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 201,692. Single issue closest to filing date = 129,087.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showDream Queen, Goblyn, Jade Dragon, Kariooq, Madison Jeffries, Manikin, Pathway, Persuasion, Puck, Sasquatch, Somon, Tolamaq, Tundra, Veronica Langkowski, Vindicator (Heather Hudson)
Sasquatch's wife was previously mentioned in Alpha Flight 10 but the same issue made it clear Walt had a son and as we'll see, no son appears in these issues.
Posted by: Michael | May 15, 2014 7:50 PM
I never could figure out why Mantlo wrote "Four Great Beasts"; there were originally seven.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | May 17, 2014 6:29 PM
With stories like these, how did Alpha Flight last so many issues?
Posted by: clyde | May 23, 2014 9:47 AM
Clyde, I've wondered that myself many times. Obviously there must have been fans of this series post-Byrne but I would be very interested to know if its sales were strong enough to keep it going or if there were other behind-the-scenes reasons.
Posted by: Robert | May 23, 2014 3:08 PM
I wonder if it had to do with the fact that there were no other super-teams in Canada in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps that notoriety was enough to keep it going.
Posted by: CLYDE | May 23, 2014 4:03 PM
I wasn't reading Alpha Flight at this time. I don't even remember seeing it on the rack. So the first exposure I had to all of these weird new characters was in the Update '89 Handbook. There was nothing about them that appealed to me and made me want to seek out this title. Looking at these issues as fnord has reviewed them has me even more puzzled. It doesn't even look like a Marvel book to me.
Posted by: Robert | June 4, 2014 8:00 PM
How does blowing up Tundra not do massive damage to Canada? That was the gimmick of Tundra way back in issue #1, and Mantlo just ignores it here!
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 26, 2015 5:51 PM
Alpha Flight died with John Byrne's last issue... after that it became just horrible garbage. I love these reviews because I want to see if maybe I was wrong to stop collecting some titles (long ago). I definitely didn't miss much dumping AF
Posted by: Rick | January 1, 2016 9:28 AM
I also encountered most of these characters and stories via the Update 89 Handbook. It just seemed so bizarre to me in a bad way, and actually seeing the pictures on this website confirms my impression.
I think what's worse is that these bizarre stories and character beats damaged Alpha Flight permanently, and is a major reason it's never been a top tier book since Byrne left. Anyone trying to write these characters has to deal with all this unfun strangeness.
Posted by: Charles R | January 20, 2016 3:24 PM
Bill Mantlo, in his mission(either self-imposed or editorially mandated) to make Heather Hudson a "strong" female leader, pretty much eliminated all her previous positive characteristics to make her a melodramatic paranoid who apparently has extrajudicial authority to sanction at will and the inclination to do so. It's like Bill Mantlo read X-Men #138 and set out to methodically prevent anyone being able to relate 1987 Heather to 1980 Heather.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | March 20, 2016 1:48 AM
Shooter allowing Mantlo to stay on this long is pretty much unforgivable
Posted by: George Lochinski | July 2, 2016 9:44 AM
It's been suggested that Shooter had to keep Mantlo on because of a lawsuit. See the comments here:
Posted by: Michael | July 2, 2016 10:10 AM
Comments are now closed.
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