Alpha Flight Special #1
Issue(s): Alpha Flight Special #1
Scott Lobdell takes the approach of introducing this early iteration of Alpha Flight through a point of view character, a police officer named Sean Benard. The issue starts with him in a shootout with some corrupt cops that aren't happy that he ratted them out to Internal Affairs. Corrupt or not, the fact that he's shot other cops was going to put him in a tough situation, but he's rescued by Wolverine and recruited into Department H and "the Flight", at first without being told what it's all about.
The Flight at this time consists of some characters we know: Wolverine, Snowbird, and Smart Alec, and a new one, the god Saint Elmo.
James Hudson is the civilian leader of the group, and a pre-Sasquatch Walter Langkowski is working with him. Benard has been recruited to wear an early iteration of the (Guardian) exoskeleton suit. He'll be called Groundhog.
Another previously unknown member is "Stitch", a character with not much power and clearly some trauma in her past (when she inexplicably hugs Benard right after the scene below; it's said to be her first non-violent action in the three months that she's been with Department H). We'll later learn that her face was injured in a training session with Wild Child.
The bad guys in the story are a group of established villains led by Egghead.
This group does make a kind of sense. Powerman and Swordsman have had a partnership, and Egghead employed Swordsman in Avengers #65. The Eel and Porcupine were part of the team that Count Nefaria assembled, and if they could be part of a random assembly of villains for Nefaria, they can be recruited by Egghead, too. Rhino is not an early Silver Age character like the others, and Solarr was introduced even later, but they'll both work with Egghead in Defenders #42-43.
Benard is not even aware of the Fantastic Four, which is odd considering the fact that the Rhino, introduced in 1966, is running around (not to mention Solarr).
Egghead has built a nuclear missile and says that he'll launch it at the United States from the Canadian border if the US president doesn't abdicate to him. I guess that's a sufficiently Silver Age scheme for a villain like Egghead; it's arguably even unambitious and uncomplicated by his standards.
Wolverine leads the Flight against Egghead's group.
Smart Alec manages to disable the missile's guidance system, but Egghead triggers the detonator, so that it will blow up locally. Egghead stands up to Wolverine's attempts at intimidating him and refuses to disable the sequence. And we find that Smart Alec's weakness is that despite his vast intelligence he collapses under pressure.
So Saint Elmo sacrifices himself to contain the nuclear explosion.
In the end, Shaman shows up to complain about how James Hudson is using Snowbird...
...and then Bernard/Groundhog quits the team in protest of Hudson sending a group of raw recruits "with a borderline psychotic for a leader" against super-villains, especially in light of the death of Saint Elmo. Hudson doesn't regret his decision, but does acknowledge the need to break the group into A and B teams so that people that need more training aren't sent into battle.
This is not how i pictured early Alpha Flight. I never needed to see Saint Elmo or Stitch, and i don't love the idea that Smart Alec was demoted from Alpha. Really i just liked having the tidbits of information that we had from John Byrne's original back-ups and i didn't need to see it fleshed out (if we can call it that) any further. Especially since what we have here is a very generic story that really adds nothing.
It's said in the lettercol of Alpha Flight #118 that in response to "considerable (and immediate) reader requests", there will be a sequel to this story. It was to be called "The Blooding", and was supposed to be available in mid 1993. It never happened, though.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: It's possible that the intention was that this take place after Defenders #42-43 (cover dates: Dec 76-Jan 77), since that had Egghead recruiting Rhino and Solarr, but obviously this story would have to take place before Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May 75), since Wolverine is still with Alpha Flight. The MCP place this much earlier, circa the 1967 publication date, and since Wolverine has been part of Department H since the 1963 publication date thanks to Wolverine/Cable: Guts and Glory, that can work. It does mean that the flashback showing Solarr's origin in Captain America #160 (Apr 73) must take place much much earlier than the main story, but that is workable as well. I'd really like to place this much later, after Solarr's publication debut and closer to Wolverine's, but at that point Swordsman has reformed and is with the Avengers, so that doesn't work. So i am following the MCP. As noted in the comments, for placement purposes i am ignoring a final splash page showing all Alpha Flight members past and present and narration from Bernard looking back on these events from the present day. Since Snowbird is part of the team, this should take place after the back-ups in Alpha Flight #5-8. But since Walter Langkowski isn't Sasquatch and Northstar and Aurora aren't around, this should take place before the back-ups in Alpha Flight #9-11.
Continuity Insert? Y
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showEel, Egghead, Erik Josten, Guardian (James Mac Hudson), Porcupine, Rhino, Sasquatch, Shaman, Smart Alec, Snowbird, Solarr, Swordsman, Wolverine 1967 / Box 4 / Silver Age
1967 / Box 4 / Silver Age
I think that's the sad thing about Alpha Flight: they'll forever be branded as "that group Wolverine was a part of before the 'All-New, All-Different X-Men'...after all those other groups and things he did like fighting in at least one or two wars". I guess we are lucky enough that Byrne did give a damn during his original run to give them the BG they did get.
Posted by: Ataru320 | January 11, 2016 2:49 PM
I don't love Pat Broderick's art here, I think he's capable of some good workman-like stuff (Firestorm, GL, Planet of the Vampires), but I thought the action looks stiff here and the expressions look too cartoon-y. That said, I was intrigued by some of the ideas here - most notably a rationale for Smart Alec turning on the Flight program and more of a motive for Guardian to don the suit. It certainly isn't a great story and the villain plot seems sort of stupid, but I do like the fleshing out here, even if some of it doesn't work (like Stitch or St. Elmo). Do we ever see Sean Bernard again?
Posted by: Mark Black | January 11, 2016 3:56 PM
It's Sean Bernard and Saint Elmo's only appearance. Stitch appears in flashback in Alpha Flight #127.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 11, 2016 6:49 PM
Not how I imagined Alpha Flight's origins either. This is poor quality work. Scott Lobdell is like the Bill Mantlo of the nineties. He has basic mastery of the craft, but his work is mostly pedestrian.
Posted by: Chris | January 11, 2016 8:03 PM
Fnord, regarding placement, there's a final scene with all the members of Alpha Flight including Weapon Omega and narration from Bernard that Alpha Flight continued after Hudson's death. I take it you're ignoring that scene for placement purposes?
Posted by: Michael | January 11, 2016 8:11 PM
Hey fnord, if you hate the idea of Smart Alec being demoted, you must really hate the idea that it had to have happened at least twice. He wasn't even considered Beta Flight material at the time Department H was shut down for the first time. Instead, he was cooling his heels all the way down in Gamma Flight. And that would have been years after the events here.
Posted by: Dan H. | January 12, 2016 12:13 AM
@Michael, yeah i'm treating that panel as symbolic and ignoring the narration similar to how i ignored Gambit's narration in Gambit and the Champions and other such things.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 12, 2016 11:51 AM
Is it explained what happens to Stitch between this issue and Alpha Flight #1? Or does she die here too?
Posted by: Tuomas | January 13, 2016 6:07 AM
She doesn't die. To my knowledge, she's not mentioned again outside of that flashback in Alpha Flight #127 (which takes place before this issue).
Posted by: fnord12 | January 13, 2016 8:04 AM
I might be alone but I really love this team line-up (except for Groundhog, who's prety dumb). It feels like it's getting back to the Byrne vision of a team made up of people who are broken, disabled or inhuman in various ways. I personally would have liked to see more of Saint Elmo and Stitch. Maybe I'm just perverse.
Posted by: Greg T | October 9, 2016 8:30 PM
How come Alpha Flight got stuff like this instead of "Annuals"?
Posted by: Jon Dubya | October 9, 2016 8:49 PM
Sean Bernard looks like a promising character with a badly needed POV quality. I wish we had seen more of him.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | October 9, 2016 9:41 PM
Jon - I don't have access to an original copy to verify the page count inclusive of ads, but this special appears to be both 12 pages shorter than the other Marvel 1992 annuals, and simultaneously 25 cents more expensive, so I'm not sure what's going on here. Someone with an original - was this on better paper stock or something?
Also in 1991 Marvel put out four "Alpha Flight Specials" which were really just a reprinting of the Final Option storyline with no new material. There was no annual in that year (nor had there been one since 1987). This 1992 "Special" has similar branding to the 1991 releases so presumably it was trying to associate itself with them.
Posted by: Greg T | October 10, 2016 6:56 AM
Although I enjoyed certain elements of this story overall it was king of poor. I did like Saint Elmo and wish they hadn't killed him off. I did not like how Hudson was portrayed at all. I placed this much later on my reading list after Wolverine's first appearance in the Hulk and also after Solarr's fist appearance in Captain America.
Posted by: Bobby Sisemore | November 12, 2016 8:34 PM
Stitch and Saint Elmo were both kind of transparently throwaway characters, third-generation riffs on old Byrne tropes (the way St. Elmo is not a Norse God, and not in Narya's pantheon, but seems to weirdly mix qualities of both)...that said, I did like them both quite a bit when I first read them, and I do think they both had potential, and they probably dodn't deserve to just decompose in the old Lobdell dustbin
Posted by: George Lochinski | November 13, 2016 11:10 AM
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