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Alpha Flight #1 (1983, August)

July 5, 2014

So I said yesterday that today’s comic would be something special. And it is! Special to me, at least, since I’m a Canadian. John Byrne brings the debut of Canada’s own superhero team, Alpha Flight, in “Tundra!”

Tundra!

Why are all the other superheroes smirking? It’s like they find the idea of Canadian superheroes adorable.

Yay! We start with Vindicator – James MacDonald Hudson – standing in the gutted Department H complex. It’s two weeks after Uncanny X-Men #140, where Wolverine and Nightcrawler helped Alpha fight the Wendigo. Then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (side note: His son, Justin, is currently leader of the Liberal Party, and hopes to become Prime Minister himself in the next election) told him Alpha was disbanded. Vindicator thinks about what’ll happen to the team. He figures Alpha should be OK, Beta Flight he’s less sure of, and Gamma Flight he’s very concerned about.

Up in the Northwest Territory, some crazy guy uses his foot to draw a large pattern in the ground. Then he puts a small diadem on his head. On a Sarcee reserve outside Calgary, Shaman senses something and asks his grandfather’s skull about it. In La Valle, Quebec, Jeanne-Marie Beaubier gets a visit from her brother, Jean-Paul. The girls at the school Jeanne-Marie teaches at all flock around him, adoring him. He seems amused. Jean-Paul wants to take Jeanne-Marie away from the school, seeing it as a prison. He wants her to free her Aurora self.

Then, to Ottawa, where Vindicator comes home to his wife, Heather. They get a call from their friend, Gary Cody, to turn to the news, and learn about something weird going on. Vindicator goes to check it out, while Heather contacts the rest of Alpha Flight. In Toronto, Eugene Judd – all 3’6″ of him – throws a guy out of a bar, then gets a signal. In Newfoundland, a woman with green skin and a distinctly fish-like appearance named Marrina is alerted to a signal by a childhood friend, Dan Smallwood. He does not become important, ever. In BC, Walter Langowski turns into Sasquatch.

And then, up north, where we come upon Snowbird, daughter of Nelvanna. (The name is a reference to Nelvana of the Northern Lights, a Canadian superhero who debuted in 1941. She was Canada’s first national superhero, and one of the earliest female superheroes. A Kickstarter campaign last year made enough to put together a collection of her stories. You can buy it here, if you want. I can’t afford it myself right now, but I do plan on getting it at some point. I just think it’s really, really neat.) Anyway, Snowbird is just in time to see Tundra, a Great Beast, rise out of the ground and vow death to all who live.

Elsewhere, Marrina creates a huge waterspout. Northstar and Aurora are also flying towards the destination, with Aurora now playful. And back in Toronto, Puck finds it difficult to get access to a plane to head out. Back north, Tundra sends a swarm of mosquitoes at Snowbird, which are easily dealt with by an arriving Vindicator. Shaman arrives and tries to reason with the mortal mind within Tundra, but there is none. It also turns out Tundra is one with the land, and can’t be hurt without destroying Canada. Sasquatch lands on him and starts ripping him apart. Northstar and Aurora arrive and start whipping around him at high speeds, wearing him away with winds. Shaman creates some rain, which also works to erode Tundra. But it’s not enough. Luckily, that’s when Marrina’s waterspout shows up. The twins distract Tundra with a lightblast by joining hands, so it doesn’t see Shaman take control of the water to win the day.

Later, back at James and Heather’s apartment, everyone decides they want to stay together as a team, but they consider taking a different name. Puck shows up, and when he learns that they’re trying to think of a new name, he demands to be in Alpha Flight.

This is a fun first issue. It establishes most of the characters quickly. It establishes Aurora’s split personality. Vindicator seems a little less awful than in his previous appearances. Northstar’s an arrogant jerk, Sasquatch is light-hearted, Shaman is wise, Snowbird has a certain regal attitude. Puck and Marrina are the new characters created for this series. Puck is established as boisterous, someone who loves a good scrap. Marrina gets little characterization here, but honestly, she was never really given much personality after this, either. It wasn’t until the last volume of Alpha Flight, the one the emerged from Fear Itself, that Marrina finally became interesting, by becoming a punk.

This is pretty clearly an establishing issue. It’s meant to introduce readers to the characters, and give a general idea of what to expect. And it does that effectively. Byrne was a great writer. His Fantastic Four run – which was still going strong – showed his skill at writing compelling characters and entertaining plots. Marrina showing up at the end with a waterspout almost comes across as a deus ex machina, but it’s such a great moment that it’s easy to overlook that. It helps that it winds up being set up perfectly. The book also looks fantastic. John Byrne was always one of the best artists in the business. The designs are great, the action is dynamic and easy to follow. Tundra was an interesting villain, visually striking.

All in all, a very good start to Alpha Flight, Canada’s first superhero team book. Interestingly, this issue also introduced, visually, a bunch of other characters, from Beta and Gamma Flights. We only see them visually, but still, it’s neat.

Also this month, Daredevil #197, by Denny O’Neil and Klaus Janson introduces Yuriko. She’ll later be turned into Lady Deathstrike, but since she’s not yet, I won’t bother saying more about her. Rom #45 used the Soviet Super-Soldiers, who are mostly mutants, but they’ve seldom had any real connection to the X-Men. And finally, US1 #4 featured the debut of the awesome villain, Baron von Blimp. He’s awesome. He needs to make a comeback, he really, really does.

And for the song of the day, I suppose I should go with something from here in Canuckistan, so: Gimme Sympathy by Metric.

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