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Alpha Flight #44 (1987, March)

December 11, 2015

Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). Today’s story, written by Bill Mantlo, line art by David Ross, inks by Whilce Portacio, colour art by Bob Sharen, letters by Jim Novak, is called “Plague!”

Plague!

Ugh. This guy.

Alpha Flight returns home to a summons from Shaman and Snowbird. They’ve found her son and need Alpha’s help. Heather notes that the team is starting to feel like a family, and thinks maybe she’s a better leader than she thought. She also thinks about how she likes Jeffries. After Alpha leaves, Smart Alec comes out of Shaman’s medicine pouch. He’s still shrunk down to tiny size. And then elsewhere, Lionel Jeffries cures Bochs’ case of the Bends. When Bochs whines that he’s still a cripple, Lionel offers to make him whole.

Alpha arrives in Burial Butte, an Arctic town full of dead bodies. Northstar reminds readers that Pestilence can kill people. They find Snowbird’s husband, Doug, and he tells them Shaman and Snowbird went into some nearby mines, then he dies. So long, Doug, no one ever gave a damn about you. Alpha heads to the mine. Northstar’s cough is getting worse. They come to a fork in the mines, and Heather splits the team up. Heather, no. No. Don’t split the party, Heather. Naturally, they get attacked. Jeffries is knocked out and Puck caught in a cave-in. Because duh. Northstar and Aurora are attacked by rats, and Northstar stumbles and touches Aurora, which shuts off her light and the darkness makes her switch back to Jeanne-Marie.

Vindicator is confronted with an illusion of Mac, then of Wolverine, then Puck, then Jeffries. That last blast actually hits the real Puck, who’s not breathing. She gives him mouth-to-mouth, and he wakes up. He’d been using a Yogic technique to stop his breathing. Aurora’s light comes back on, and she sees Jeffries, in armour he transmutated out of metals in the mine. Because Jeffries’ power is actually to be able to do whatever the hell Mantlo wants him to do at any given moment. I suppose I shouldn’t really begrudge Mantlo his pet character, concerning I’m a fan of Stern’s use of Monica Rambeau during his Avengers run, and she was a textbook Creator’s Pet. But Stern used her really well. Her powers were well-defined and consistent. I feel like Mantlo didn’t do that with Jeffries. Plus, Stern was a great writer, while Mantlo was a hack.

Anyway! Aurora flirts with Jeffries, because of course she does. Of course Mantlo would have her hit on Jeffries. The moment is clearly intended to show how moral Jeffries is, to show how he’s a worthy match for Heather. Bleh.

Northstar finds Shaman, Snowbird and Pestilence. Shaman has taken the form of Sasquatch, and Shaman’s commanding her to kill Pestilence. Northstar tries to stop it, but just gets close enough that Pestilence can feed on the decay within him. Alpha arrives to fight. He turns Aurora into an old woman. He threatens to release Razer from Puck’s body, and Puck decides he can’t risk that, and so can’t get close enough to Pestilence to be touched.

Pestilence takes the form of Snowbird’s son, which lets her son almost take back over the body. Pestilence than tries to force Snowbird to kill him. Puck tries to stop her, but gets smacked away, because he’s weak and useless and can never be allowed to do a single damned thing right under Mantlo. I hate how Mantlo handled Puck. I hate it so much. I’ve never been a fan of the whole “I’m tired of being a punching bag!” type of characterization for any character. It defined a chunk of Beast’s time on the Avengers. Colossus got some of it in X-Men. But Mantlo took it to absolutely absurd levels with Puck.

Anyway. Vindicator tries to get Shaman to stop Snowbird, but he refuses. Snowbird kills her son, and Vindicator blasts Snowbird, too late, killing her as Pestilence’s spirit escapes. Ugh. Uuuuugh. Pestilence was so lame. But Mantlo was clearly so damn proud of the whole concept.

This issue sucks. It sucks hard. Mantlo’s Alpha Flight just does not stop getting worse. His characterization is shallow and one-dimensional. The dialogue is painfully awkward and inauthentic. The plotting is often very forced. The villain sucks. Vindicator killing Snowbird was stupid. The art is OK. It’s nothing spectacular. It looks fine. It doesn’t pop, but it also doesn’t turn me off. It’s pretty much just there. No panels that are particularly memorable, for good or for ill.

All in all, this sucks.

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