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Alpha Flight #45 (1987, April)

December 28, 2015

So this wraps up the month of April. Whew. Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). By Mantlo, June Brigman, Whilce Portacio, Bob Sharen and Jim Novak, “Resurrection.”


Brigman and Nowlan definitely nail the cover.

Alpha Flight is holding a funeral for Snowbird (still in Sasquatch form), her husband, and her baby. Man, when you’ve got a dead baby, a comic is a bit of a downer. Heather gets really upset and leans on Jeffries – she still calls him Mr. Jeffries, which I find hilarious – while Puck mopes about her not being able to love a dwarf. Dammit, Puck, stop being such a mopey bastard. Heather and Jeffries then pull Kara into their hug, and Puck feels even more sorry for himself. Also, Mantlo’s writing is so bad.

Alpha Flight #45

This is such bad writing!

Northstar and Aurora talk about Walter, in the awkward expo-speak that Mantlo does. We also find out that Aurora’s accent even applies when she speaks French. She’s speaking French, and still says “brothair” and “zat.” It’s so silly. Also, Northstar’s dying. Shaman calls the Northern Gods, and gets them take Snowbird’s spirit, and the spirits of her family. Aw, how sweet, I guess. Shaman leaves, too.

But Bochs returns, with Lionel Jeffries. And Bochs now has legs. And Puck wonders if Lionel could cure his dwarfism so Heather could love him. Dammit, Mantlo. His Puck is so goddamn one-note. “I love Heather! But Heather can’t love a dwarf! But I love her! But she can’t love a dwarf! But I love her!” Holy shit. Hey, remember when Puck was an intelligent, cultured man who loved a good scrap and was something of a Team Dad? Remember those days? Because Mantlo sure as hell didn’t! Also, Kara and Lionel’s assistant both like each other.

That night, Snowbird-as-Sasquatch rises from the grave. Inside, Heather is doubting her leadership abilities, and also still thinks Mac performed experiments on Wolverine. She then spots the shrunken-down Smart Alec wandering around, and throws a lamp at him. Damn, girl, that seems a little excessive. He’s a few inches tall. You don’t need to kill him. She catches him, and just as he’s about to explain the situation, Sasquatch smashes into the house.

The rest of Alpha rushes in. Puck gets his back raked rescuing Heather, but he’s fine with it just for the chance to hold her in his arms and dammit Mantlo we goddamn get it already can you give him a personality beyond his crush on Heather you goddamn hack! The Box armour is fighting Sasquatch, and Box is possessed by the spirit of Walter Langowski. Sasquatch is possessed by Pestilence, and learning this makes Heather sink to the stairs in a depression. Alpha struggles against Pesti-squatch, until Heather comes up with a plan. Box electrocutes Pesti-squatch, forcing his spirit to flee the body, and Heather tosses Shaman’s old medicine pouch at his spirit.

The fight’s over. Smart Alec’s body was crushed during the fight. Walter’s spirit is inside Sasquatch’s body. Aurora is happy to have her man back and jumps into his arms. But when he turns back to human form, his body’s female. He is in Snowbird’s body, after all. Which is actually a really interesting development. It could’ve made for a really cool story, had it not been Bill Mantlo writing it. Instead, we got issue after issue after issue after issue of “Walter’s now Wanda.” There isn’t really a complex exploration of gender identity. I’ll actually cut Mantlo some slack on that, as he was restricted by the standards of the time. For one thing, there was the “No Gays” rule at Marvel, which would’ve complicated any potential romantic arc. “Wanda” couldn’t date a woman, because of the female body, and he also probably couldn’t really date a man, because of the male mind. On top of that, the ’80s weren’t really all that enlightened in regards to transgender issues. For example, Walter is being called “Wanda” by the very next issue, and it doesn’t take long for female pronouns to be the only ones used with him, even though, logically, he should still identify as male. But back then, the body a person was in determined who they were – a female body means you’re a woman, a male body means you’re a man, and that’s that. These days, people are getting a lot more open-minded about that sort of thing, so someone in a female body can still be male, and someone in a male body can be female. Or they can be both. Or neither. Whatever. That wasn’t the case in the ’80s. So I’ll cut Mantlo slack for not getting the pronouns right by modern standards, and I’ll give him credit for actually exploring gender identity in an ’80s comic. But that doesn’t mean I won’t criticize him for how he handles it, because he largely handled it the same way he handled everything else: By just having characters repeat their problems over and over.

On the plus side! June Brigman art! June Brigman was really good. She launched Power Pack with Louise Simonson, and she did some other stuff here and there. And she was always great. (I’m sure she’s still great, but I’m talking about her ’80s stuff here.) It’s a really clean style, and very pleasant, and very good at expressiveness. Sharen’s colours are actually a perfect complement, making it bright and just the barest touch of cartoonishness. So this is a great-looking issue. It’s the best the comic’s looked since Byrne left it. So yay for that.

Oh, I should probably actually talk about Mantlo’s writing in the issue. It’s better than usual, actually. His handling of Puck is still infuriatingly bad. His handling of Northstar still sucks. His Heather is . . . awkward and inconsistent, honestly. This issue has her full of self-doubts, while other issues have had her feeling confident, and it’s just weird how she bounces back and forth between different moods. I guess it’s justified here with her guilt over killing Snowbird. Most of the characters are fairly flat. But there are some good points in the issue, and the plotting is actually pretty solid. So there’s that, at least.

Overall, this is almost a very good issue. As it is, the art elevates it enough that it can’t really be called bad.

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