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Alpha Flight #52

April 1, 2016

Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). In honour of April Fool’s Day, maybe I should be nice to this issue? Nah! By Mantlo, Brigman, Portacio, Sharen and Chiang, “Spectres!”

Spectres!

Oh goody, a Wolverine cameo. Just what I always want.

I should note that the issue is actually called “Specters,” using the American spelling. But I’m Canadian, and I’m talking about a book set in Canada, about Canadian heroes. So screw you, Yanks, I’m using the Canadian (British) spelling. And before I get to the issue, I may as well start with something awesome: Library and Archives Canada, as an April Fool’s joke, has acquired the declassified records and journals of James “Logan” Howlett. Kinda nice, that this joke was done on a day I’m talking about a comic he’s in!

Anyway. Gary Cody is in some old, empty lab building. He’s there to find something James Hudson left. So now we start seeing recordings of Mac. He talks about wanting to serve Canada, and his proposal for Department H (‘H’ for Hudson, apparently, which I think is Mantlo trying to get cute). He declares himself Canada’s first superhero, though more accurately, he’s Canada’s first superhero of the modern age, as there were Canadian superheroes in WW2. Though I’m not sure the earlier heroes had actually been created at that point. So I don’t think this is an error by Mantlo.

Anyway, he’s been tasked with assembling a team of superheroes. The first one he found was Wolverine, who left soon after to join the X-Men. The next recruits were Shaman, Snowbird, Aurora, Northstar and Sasquatch. Later stories would throw the timeline off a little bit, though again, that’s not Mantlo’s fault. At the time this story was written, I don’t believe there’d been any strong indications that Wolverine had worked with Alpha Flight. A quick check confirms that, in AF’s first appearance, Wolverine said he never met any of them before. This will be retconned. Anyway, Mac also assembled Beta and Gamma Flights.

Cody thinks about Alpha being really powerful, and unaccountable, and worries what would happen if they turned on humanity. Which is kind of a stupid concern. Why would they turn on humanity? Look, I’m all for keeping superheroes accountable. If they cause $10 million in property damage stopping a guy who robbed a bank for $1 million, then they need to be held accountable for that. But fearing that they’ll turn on humanity? That’s getting unreasonable.

Back to more flashbacks. Mac and Logan meet in Mac’s lab. Mac’s been having problems finding people with powers, so he’s decided to start making them. They head to a secret chamber, where Mac explains he’s developed a device that can lead him to people with latent powers. It led him to a prison, and a murderer, who agreed to be experimented on in exchange for a pardon. Mac wants to activate his powers, then train him to be a hero. Because that’s sure to go well.

Cody goes into the hidden lab, to see if the experiment succeeded or failed, thinking that if it worked, Canada could breed its own army of superhumans to keep control of the existing ones. This is such a terrible idea. “Super-beings are out of control! What do we do?” “More super-beings!” “And what if those ones go out of control?” “More super-beings!”

Anyway, inside the lab is a cocoon. Cody, being a Smart Man, decides the wisest course of action is to check the cocoon out.

Back at AF HQ, Heather’s going for a swim. It’s the anniversary of Mac’s death, and she’s at peace. She thinks about how she never really knew Mac, and how he may have experimented on Logan. Something she has no actual proof of. It’s been a little while since we got her thinking about that, actually. I’m pretty sure we’ll be getting more of it going forward. We also see Kara and Whit, talking and flirting. Box watches them, and points out something I keep saying:

Alpha Flight #52

WHY ARE YOU NOT MORE CONCERNED?!

The book has now acknowledged the age difference! And does nothing about it! The very next panel is Box musing that he trusts Whit. He trusts the med school graduate who’s in a romantic relationship with a teenager! This is not a guy you should trust to be responsible! Holy shit, how does Mantlo not see anything wrong with that relationship? It’s very inappropriate! It’s totally, completely, 100% inappropriate! But he’s making sure the narrative says it’s totally OK. It is not OK, Mantlo!

Regardless, Box then phases out of the armour to go swimming and sexing with Heather. Though he also makes a comment about “June-mooning.” I’m not sure what that means. I Googled it, and it just brings up The Handmaid’s Tale. Can anyone explain what the hell that phrase is supposed to mean? Walter (as always, I consider Walter a man in a woman’s body, and thus use his male name and male pronouns) watches, and muses that everyone is finding love except him. And once again, I have to wonder where Mantlo would’ve taken that story without Marvel’s “no gays” rule that was in place at the time. Would Walter/Wanda have hooked up with a woman? Would being in a female body lead to a relationship with a man? Or would Mantlo still not have explored Walter/Wanda’s romantic life, even if he’d had the freedom to do so? I wish it was possible to ask him about it.

Anyway, it cuts back to the secret lab, where Gary Cody’s Smart Idea has predictably gone poorly. The cocoon is open, a hole’s been burned through the wall, and Cody is catatonic. A panel in the lab makes a call to Logan, with a recording of Hudson saying Bedlam is free.

On an amusing note, there’s two letters from the issue I want to mention. One criticizes the book for some things I’ve also criticized it for: Over-explaining things and worrying too much about their effectiveness, being the two I share with the letter-writer. But even better is a letter complaining about all the death in AF, saying that, “No one from the Fantastic Four or someone like the Hulk will ever die.” It was a complaint that established characters never die. It’s funny, because killing off established characters has since become pretty normal, a common way of getting attention. They seldom stay dead, of course, while more minor characters – Roger Bochs, for example – usually do. (Even more likely if they belong to a minority group, such as, say, people with disabilities.)

Anyway. This issue. It’s not as bad as usual. A lot of it is basically just exposition, to set up the villain of the arc. It’s probably not a good sign that I like Mantlo’s AF more when they’re not in the book. Mantlo does continue his character assassination of Mac Hudson, which is a shame. I think it’s the next writer who ends up clearing Mac’s name, but it might happen under Mantlo. I don’t remember and don’t feel like checking. We’ll find out together! But yeah, I’m not a fan of Mantlo somewhat vilifying Mac. I feel like it’s a mistake.

I’m always glad to see Brigman’s art, and it’s a pretty great match for the story. The scene at AF HQ is especially fantastic, artistically. Brigman’s soft style just gets across the quietness of the scene so perfectly. Sharen’s colours help a lot, too. The whole thing has this really peaceful, romantic feel to it. Even if one of those romances is really, really wrong. The art is solid throughout the issue, though.

This was an OK issue. Not great, not bad, but OK. Better than usual for Mantlo’s Alpha Flight.

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