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Alpha Flight #32 (1986, March)

June 22, 2015

From a story that was cheesy but fun, to a story that’s just awful. By Mantlo and Jon Bogdanove, “Short Story!”

Short Story!

At least Vindicator does look good.

Heather meets with Puck for battle training, wearing the Vindicator costume. Puck tells her the costume killed Mac, but she says it was his lack of combat sense. If she’s going to be team leader, she wants to know how to fight. She wants to be a warrior. Bochs and Jeffries watch her flying around, proud of their work. Jeffries decides to start putting her through her paces, using his power to make the room attack her. Puck tries to go up to help her, but gets hit by pain. He makes a reference to a mysterious “he” attacking when Puck’s distracted by concern for one he loves. Ugh.

Heather’s glasses get knocked off by a stray blow. Jeffries launches some missiles at her, which track her electronic fields. So she turns her suit off, so the missiles miss her. Puck is angry at her for taking such a risk, and she’s angry at his anger, and I’m angry at Mantlo’s terrible writing. Jeffries and Bochs head down and give her a visor for her suit, since wearing glasses in a fight is a bad idea. Heather leaves, saying she’s going to find someone willing to train her. Puck stumbles into an elevator in pain, and passes out as black smoke comes out of his head.

Up on the roof, Northstar and Aurora are talking about the whole “can’t touch” deal. They see Heather come out and fly off. Then the black smoke comes out. The elevator roof is blown off, and a tall man is seen inside. The smoke calls itself Razer, and says it’s Puck in the elevator. Yep, this is the story that reveals that Puck isn’t actually a dwarf, because Bill Mantlo sucked.

Down in the lab, Bochs gets a sense something’s wrong, and checks it out as Box, though not before Jeffries reminds him he can’t stay phased too long, and Bochs wondering if he wants to leave the robot. One of those “has to be stated every single issue” things. He sees the twins being attacked by Razer, and Northstar gets cut, and loses six inches of height. Box gets cut, too.

Jeffries reaches the roof, and finds Puck. 6’6″, and 71 years old. Puck gives the quick story – Razer was an ancient sorcerer who infused his essence into his Black Blade. Puck was hired to steal it, and his curiosity made him accept. When he touched the sword, Razer’s spirit came out. He cut Puck, who realized he’d had some of his life force stolen, resulting in him becoming shorter. He decided to imprison Razer within his own soul.

With the story over, Puck tries to develop a plan. In the end, he decides to imprison Razer again, figuring the pain is worth the extended life.

Awful. Awful story. Just so, so stupid. Frustratingly, it also reduced the level of diversity in the book Рit turned Puck from a person suffering dwarfism, a real medical condition and disability, to a guy carrying a literal curse. The fact that Mantlo did the story to follow up on a plot point that never existed is pathetic.  Byrne had Puck mention living with pain because dwarfism often causes pain, but Mantlo thought Byrne was setting up some plot point. So, he came up with this awful plot.

Even beyond the stupid, stupid plot, the writing is just bad. All the various problems the characters face are laid out and explained, even when they’re not actually relevant. In a few cases, they go on and on about those problems, like Puck repeatedly thinking about his feelings for Heather, in the most angst-ridden way possible. There’s no actual development on most of the points, either. Northstar will tell Aurora they can’t touch, and that’s it, and it’s only thrown in to let new readers know they can’t touch, even the story has nothing to do with them not being able to touch, and their feelings about not being able to touch are never explored. And if it annoyed you that I repeated “not being able to touch” so often, then man, stay away from Mantlo’s Alpha Flight, because what I just did is nothing compared to what Mantlo did.

And aside from each character giving the basic run-down of what they can do and what’s making them feel sad, there’s no real characterization here. Even Puck, who gets the bulk of the character stuff here, ends up feeling inconsistent in how he speaks. He’ll go from rough and casual to very formal, mostly when he’s delivering exposition. It makes the flashback to his first encounter with Razer really awkward to read, because at no point during the story does it feel like Puck is speaking.

The art is fine. Nothing special. It’s there. It’s not particularly strong art. It’s so bland that you don’t even notice it’s there.

This is one of the all-time worst issues of Alpha Flight.

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