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Alpha Flight #31 (1986, February)

June 12, 2015

I won a new book. The Unnoticeables, by Robert Brockway. Today, though, by Mantlo and Mignola, “The Grateful Dead!”

The Grateful Dead!

A chubby guy is supposed to be a threat to the whole team. Sure.

In an alley, Deadly Ernest kills a guy for some clothes. A punk outfit. He plans to get revenge against Nemesis. Nemesis has sensed his return, and is ready to kill him again. At the local hospital, Jeffries asks if his brother wants to join Alpha Flight. Lionel declines, wanting to return to surgery. Puck lets out a cry of pain, but tells Lionel it’s nothing medical science can do anything about, and he just needs to focus past it. A “mysterious” pain. The “mystery,” of course, was never intended to be a mystery. The point was that Puck suffered dwarfism, a condition that does often cause pain. Mantlo was a hack, so he never looked it up, so he presumably figured that Byrne intended it as a mystery. Frigging Mantlo.

Anyway. An ambulance arrives with the guy Ernest killed, and Lionel’s quick attempt to heal him fails. His explanation reminds Northstar of Ernest. A doctor comes out to report a missing corpse – Ernest’s.

In the north, Snowbird is searching for Shaman. She rejoins Doug Thompson on the ground. She picks him up and flies into the air, but a sudden pain causes her to drop him. She manages to catch him before he hits the ground. She agrees to abandon the search for Shaman. Shaman, meanwhile, stumbles on a cabin – the one he used to live in in Alberta, when he was training to become Shaman. His grandfather’s skull is there. He offers to help Shaman regain his faith, and with it, his power. Shaman agrees.

Back in Montreal, Alpha’s looking for Ernest. Heather reminds everyone she’s the team’s leader, and Northstar reminds everyone that she has no powers. Aurora gives a recap of their previous encounter with Ernest, back in #7 and #8. Jeffries picks up something on the scanner that he thinks might be Nemesis’ sword.

Nemesis is tracking Ernest, and realizes he’s in the subway. He bumps a woman, and her boyfriend gets pissed off and demands he apologize. Ernest kills the guy. Alpha and Nemesis arrive at that moment. Box confronts Ernest first, figuring his robot body will protect him. Nope! Box is dead, and Ernest throws him at Nemesis. He then kills Northstar and Aurora. He then takes Heather as a hostage. Heather gets all angsty about not being able to help Alpha Flight.

Nemesis tosses Puck her sword while she watches over Ernest’s victims, keeping them alive temporarily until Puck can retrieve their life essences. Puck thinks about how he swore not to kill again when Guardian recruited him, but that he has to save Heather. He catches up to Ernest and attacks, slicing him up. While Puck slices Ernest up, he thinks about how his own death would release a great evil, and remembers a Black Blade that lived on stolen life. He cuts off Ernest’s head, and then grabs Heather before a train runs her down. Ernest gets hit by the train instead.

Puck and Heather return to Nemesis, who uses her sword to revive the others. Then she explains that she was Ernest’s daughter, sworn to kill him, and with that done, she dies and crumbles into dust.

This series gets worse with every issue. As Mantlo explores the characters, he ends up making them shallower, which is the exact opposite of how it’s supposed to work. Heather goes from having some doubts about her role as leader, to a self-pitying mess who whines about being useless. Of course, this was to set up her becoming the new Vindicator, but holy hell, was Mantlo familiar with the concept of subtlety? Puck gets it even worse, though. At least he doesn’t spend too many thought bubbles pining over Heather, but instead, he spends them all on thoughts of his pain and the “mystery” behind it. Mantlo wastes no time at all building up the plot point. He just spends the entire fight scene saying, “Hey! Hey guys! Guys! This is really important and it’s going to be revealed next issue!”

Speaking of next issue: Holy shit. Probably the darkest moment in Alpha Flight’s entire history. The entire team being blown up wasn’t as insanely stupid as the next issue. Although, Northstar being an actual fairy is a very close second. I just want to make it clear how unbelievably bad Bill Mantlo’s run on Alpha Flight was, because seriously, it was terrible.

Mignola’s art here sure is comic book art. It doesn’t enhance or detract from the story. It’s there, and it’s fine, but it’s totally forgettable.

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