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Alpha Flight #43 (1987, February)

November 28, 2015

All right, let’s get this comic out of the way. Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). By Mantlo and Ross, “Strike Across the Border.”

Strike Across the Border

The Sentinel on the right looks like it’s pouting.

In a prison in Washington State, Mesmero is freaking out about the helmet on his head blocking his power. A prison psychologist wants to remove the helmet. He collapses, and the psychologist removes the helmet, thinking it’ll save Mesmero’s life. But it was all a trick, and he escapes, driving north. Some Sentinels are sent to retrieve him. They’re cloaked, to prevent the Canadian government from knowing they’re there. The designer of the Sentinels is freaking out a bit, saying they’re not ready.

In Vancouver, Box starts freaking out about being trapped in his armour. Northstar collapses in a coughing fit, so Vindicator blasts Box hard enough to shock him back to his senses. Ugh. This scene is stupid. See, Mantlo wanted to show that Box is upset about being trapped in the armour. Rather than do it in any subtle way, though – rampage! Because Mantlo decided subtlety had absolutely no place in this title. Aurora tells Box off for threatening Northstar . . . and Box goes crazy again. Sigh.

Jeffries uses his power to restrain Box, then saves the plane from crashing by turning it into a big unicycle. The coolest mode of transportation. He calls it a monopede, but nope, I prefer unicycle. Anyway, they continue to meet Lionel Jeffries, so he can cure Box’s case of the bends. Which means Box freaked out on the way to getting treatment. Which is pretty silly, but Mantlo needed a Box freak-out, so we got a Box freak-out, logic be damned. So they get to Lionel’s secret lab, and convince Box to submit to treatment.

Meanwhile, Mesmero’s asleep, which makes it hard for the Sentinels to find him. It turns out their stealth systems interfere with their mutant-detecting systems, so they can only detect mutants when they use their abilities. Mesmero wakes up at Expo ’86, in Vancouver. He uses his power, and the Sentinels attack the Expo to grab him. They unstealth in the process. And they can’t be recalled – another design flaw.

Alpha Flight – Vindicator, Northstar, Aurora and Puck (with Puck moping about having to be carried by Vindicator, because he has no powers and so is useless and she can never love him) – go to see what’s going on. They find the Sentinels in a quandary – Mesmero has a bunch of human hostages, and he’ll order them to their deaths if they attack him. He has one woman jump just to prove he’ll do it. It feels somehow wrong that we never even learn this random woman’s name. She’s just “The Human.” Maybe that’s her name. I’m going to say that’s her name. Farewell, The Woman. May you be in Heaven a half-hour before the devil knows you’re dead from being ordered to jump to your death by a green dude while giant robots just sat there watching.

Alpha tells the Sentinels they’re taking over the operation. The Sentinels seem unwilling to oblige, so Puck goes after Mesmero while the others fight the Sentinels. The Sentinels say they’re being attacked by “super-humans,” and Northstar finds it weird they don’t identify him as a mutant. I wonder if Mantlo had already decided on the idiotic elf story? His original plan was definitely for Northstar to have AIDS, but I don’t see how that would throw off a Sentinel. So, maybe he was already working towards that utterly stupid elf plot? I don’t know. Either way, Northstar and Aurora both get taken down, and Puck is grabbed by Mesmero’s human shields and put under Mesmero’s control, because under Mantlo, Puck was never allowed to actually be of any goddamn use to the team.

Jeffries and Kara arrive in the plane, and Jeffries jumps out to attack a Sentinel, since Heather’s in danger and he has feelings for her. Heather’s impressed with him. Another Sentinel goes after Kara, who aims the plane at yet another, making the Sentinel chasing her smash into it. Debris ends up hitting Puck and hurting him. Because, again, I’m reasonably sure that Mantlo just straight-up disliked Puck.

Vindicator and Jeffries team up against the final Sentinel. She carries him while he turns part of the Sentinel he destroyed into a javelin she can hurl at the last one. And they flirt a little while they’re at it. And Kara goes after Mesmero, using her own power to take control of his slaves and ordering them to seize him. And an injured Puck feels sorry for himself for just being so gosh-darned useless.

Ugh. This issue makes it clear that Mantlo had no idea what to do with Puck, and didn’t even particularly understand the character. The extent of his character here is, “I love Heather, but I suck too much for her to love me.” It’s stupid and frustrating. I think the problem is that Mantlo wasn’t actually all that good a writer. I know he’s an icon in the comics industry (and he was before his accident, so I don’t think sympathy is why he’s so well-regarded), but I’ve never found him all that good. And he was especially awful on Alpha Flight. He couldn’t do depth. Puck was a character of layers, but Mantlo had no talent for that, so he threw it all out in favour of “idiot in love.” So awful.

The other characters were similarly shallow. They each have a couple traits, and that’s all they’re allowed to be. Depth is not allowed. It’s piss-poor characterization. The plotting in this issue is mediocre at best. A definite degree of “things happen because they have to happen to have the next thing happen” going on.

The art is fine. Dave Ross was always an OK writer. He was acceptable. There’s no stand-out panels here, for good or ill. Very mid-level artwork, nothing to inspire but nothing to offend.

This is one of the worst issues of Alpha Flight yet. And unfortunately, it’s going to be a long time before it gets much better.

One Comment
  1. Yeah, that scene with Mesmero forcing the hostage to jump always bothered me, too…if the Sentinels are programmed to preserve human life, why didn’t they make any effort to save her? And if Mantlo couldn’t bother to give her a name, couldn’t she at least have gotten a dramatic close-up before her death?

    Later writers have tried to make Mesmero a sympathetic character…I would have loved to have seen those scenes interrupted by somebody mentioning “Hey, remember that random Canadian woman you killed?”

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