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Alpha Flight Annual #2 (1987, December)

April 14, 2016

Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). I’ll be livetweeting The Force Awakens tonight, probably around 1am EST. So, you know, if that’s something you’re into. But for now, let’s finish off 1987. By Mantlo, Brigman, McLeod, Sharen and Chiang, “The Fire Inside!”

The Fire Inside!

This cover could be way pulp-ier.

We start in Antarctica, and Ice Station Redleaf, a Canadian science facility. The four scientists down there are planning on leaving shortly, and the three guys joke around about marrying the female there, who has a fiance back home. Then things go bad. A geyser of steam comes up from the Earth’s core, melting the ice. The ice station slips into the ocean, with one guy still inside. The three who made it outside get attacked by cavemen and dinosaurs. The two guys are knocked out, and the woman carried off. Soon after, a ship has arrived, and finds a dead pteranodon. They get to the ice, and find a dead allosaurus. One of the guys managed to crawl over to it to keep warm, and is still alive.

Later, Alpha Flight is flying down. They’d gotten a call from Gary Cody, asking them to investigate what happened. This story takes place before the Bedlam the Brain Blast story. Heather, despite being rampantly paranoid towards the government, decides to go investigate to look for the scientist who’s still missing. During the flight, Heather broods about whether she’s a good leader, and Sasquatch talks about the original team being a bunch of misfits that was already on the verge of splitting up.

Then a volcano goes off and knocks Box out. Heather hops out of the ship to fight pteranodons, widely recognized as the most punchable of dinosaurs. (Joke stolen from Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men.) Then she gets hit by lightning, because it turns out that flying around in the middle of storm clouds isn’t a great idea. She falls, and falls, down a hole, and into a jungle. Meanwhile, Box and Sasquatch have crashed, but survived, and Sasquatch gets in a fight with a T-Rex. Box helps out, and then they go looking for Heather.

Heather’s alive, but her suit’s shorted, and she’s suffering amnesia. And then a snake attacks her. She runs from a dinosaur, gets chased by a sabretooth tiger, and gets groped by a caveman. All in all, not a great day for her. Sasquatch and Box spend the next few days trying to get through the ice and find her. Meanwhile, she’s adapting quite well. She’s fashioned herself a bow and arrow, and uses it to kill a bird for food. She finds some footprints in the ground, and follows them to a village, where some freaks are in cages. There’s a woman who looks like a pteranodon herself; I think Dinah Saur of the Great Lakes Avengers was probably based on her design. There’s a rock-looking guy. And there’s a dude who looks particularly wild. She thinks of the prisoners as “misfits,” which brings Alpha to mind, and she jumps in to help.

She shoots the village chief in the arm with her bow and arrow. She rescues the freaks. They escape into the forest, just as Box and Sasquatch break through. They find the missing scientist, who mentions a strange woman. Heather’s led the others to her camp, and while they eat, sets about learning her language so she can start training them as a team. We get some backstory: When the Savage Land was destroyed, a bunch of survivors fled to some pockets of warmth, where a few ended up being changed and mutated.

A few days later, the flying girl sees an enemy tribe planning an attack on the village. The group decides to help. In the melee, the bird-girl gets hurt, and is about to be killed, when Heather remembers how to use her suit. The suit that is now mostly tatters. How . . . I’m not sure how this even works? Oh well. She’s still low on power, running on reserves, but the two big guys misfits come to her aid. And she has a vision of Mac telling her she knows the real power of being a leader comes from the team.

In the aftermath, the village welcomes the misfits back into the fold. She tells the misfits not to trust the tribe, because their power will always set them apart and make some distrust them. Holy shit, that’s cynical. I’m not sure I can agree with that. It’s basically saying that, if you don’t fit the norm, then you will never find acceptance. Which, I mean, come on. Give people a little more hope than that.

Man, this just really gets into something I find so weird about Mantlo’s Alpha Flight. It’s really, really sceptical of the government, to an extent that, frankly, isn’t really realistic for Canada. We are not the US. We do not have the same animosity towards government that Americans have. So for a book about Canada’s super-team to take a stance of “don’t trust your leaders, they will screw you over time and again, you can only rely on yourself” – it’s a disconnect. It’s the sort of thing that would be right at home in an Avengers comic. But in Alpha Flight? It really does feel odd.

Beyond that, this is OK. It’s a fairly conventional story. It’s cclear Mantlo wanted to do a Savage Land story, and just worked out some bullshit justification for how it could be the Savage Land even though the Savage Land was destroyed. It works well enough, and I certainly don’t begrudge him wanting to do a Savage Land story. It’s always fun to do. And it’s stupid that it was destroyed; that shouldn’t have been done. Reportedly, Shooter had introduced a policy of tying up loose ends when series ended. So when the Ghost Rider series ended, Johnny was split from Zarathos, and Zarathos locked in a crystal for all time. When Spider-Woman’s series ended, she was killed off and erased from everyone’s memories. When Ka-Zar’s series ended, the Savage Land was soon after destroyed in Avengers. I guess he reasoned that, since it wasn’t going to be in any ongoing book any more, it shouldn’t be hanging around. Which is a really stupid policy. (Fittingly, given it debuted in the pages of the X-Men, it would be an X-Men Annual that would bring the Savage Land back.)

So it’s a Savage Land story. And those are generally pretty fun, and it is pretty fun here. It’s fun seeing Heather survive on her wits and guts, because she’s always had plenty of those. The misfits are . . . OK. They’re not exactly inspired ideas or designs. Though I do like the flying girl’s design. At the very least, the fact that a reptilian woman has breasts is justified by her having originally been human (more or less). Still, not exactly memorable characters.

The art is good. I’m not sure I would have put Brigman on a Savage Land story, though. I think her art might be too nice for the Savage Land. Actually, Jim Lee would have been a great choice. A lot of other artists would have done great work, too. That’s not to say the art here is bad. It’s just that it’s not the best use of Brigman’s talents. Still, it is a great-looking book. Very good art.

Overall, the Annual’s a fine done-in-one story. Nothing memorable, but not bad.

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