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Alpha Flight #60 (1988, July)

July 4, 2016

Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). Happy Independence Day to any American readers. In honour of that, I’m talking about a comic about Canadian superheroes, on an adventure in China. If it makes you feel better, it’s by an American who understands neither Canada nor China, and really, what could be more American than that? Anyway, by Mantlo, Lee, Milgrom, Sharen and Chiang, “War! What Is It Good For?”

War! What Is It Good For?

Tall Puck is a travesty.

In Moscow, the Russians are suspicious of a Chinese military build-up on a border province. In Washington, there’s concern about the Russians mobilizing in response. And in Ottawa, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is told that Alpha Flight is in Danwei. And now we can go to China, where the Jade Dragon is chasing off Chinese soldiers. Alpha Flight fights the Dream Queen’s forces (which are actually dreams, shockingly). The High Lama watches, and wonders if Alpha’s path is as valid as his own. And Puck feels useless, because of course he does.

As the fight goes on, Box notices the Dream Queen’s monsters pass through the priests, and he notices that his sensors show the monsters aren’t even there. Sasquatch muses that Shaman and Talisman would be useful. Why yes, yes they would. A shame that the writer decided to purge all the characters of colour, isn’t it? (Yeah, OK, he did bring in the black Laura Dean. But still, I resent the way Mantlo had eliminated every bit of diversity from the book.) Puck talks to the High Lama, who tells him he can help. Puck enters a trance to see that the Dream Queen’s monsters aren’t real.

Laura is angry at the Dream Queen for tricking her and Goblyn, and thinks maybe, if she created a portal to Liveworld, maybe she can close one. Puck tackles the Dream Queen through the still-open portal, and Laura figures out her mutant power to create and close portals. She seals off the portal to Liveworld, with Puck still inside. So he’s gone again, but hey, at least he got to not be completely and totally goddamn useless. He got to do something. Maybe Mantlo felt bad about having previously written Puck as a useless sack of useless. Anyway, the Lama heals Heather and sends them home, with the Jade Dragon sent with them. Then he ascends to the next plane of existence, the Chinese forces get recalled. And then that’s that.

On a side note, one of the letters makes the point that Whit is probably in his mid-20s, and making moves on Purple Girl, who the letter-writer guesses can’t be more than 16 or 17. Close! She’s 13 or 14, depending on whether she’s had a birthday since her debut. I cannot stress enough that Bill Mantlo had a 20-something doctor hooking up with a 14-year-old girl, and treated it as a sweet romance.

Anyway, this issue. Meh. So very, very meh. I kinda feel like there’s just too much going on, so none of it really gets room to breathe. There’s a big fight, but we never get to spend much time on any of the action, because it always needs to do more exposition. Or to show that Tibetans are all magic people, who have all transcended our petty notions of existence. And, of course, the peace-loving High Lama decides that, hey, maybe punching your way to enlightenment is cool, too. It’s so that Mantlo can have him tell his followers to find their own ways to enlightenment, because Alpha Flight is so cool that they can even teach magic Tibetans new lessons. Bleh.

I actually have an even bigger complaint, though, and it’s about Laura Dean. She was introduced as autistic. By this point, there’s really no more trace of that. She’s behaving and speaking pretty much like a normal comic book character. She’s basically gotten over her autism. Which is, you know, kind of a gross thing to do in a comic. I don’t know if Mantlo forgot she was supposed to be autistic, or if he just decided it was too much effort trying to write her that way, or what. But once again, he took a trait that was underrepresented in fiction, and decided, “nah, screw it, I’m getting rid of it.” And this time it was with a trait he introduced! It’s so frustrating. Alpha Flight should be a title that embraces diversity, because Canada is a country that embraces diversity. But Mantlo never actually got Canada, so he just wrote Alpha Flight as a generic superhero comic, and this issue’s a good example of that. This story could just as easily have been an Avengers story. Most of this run would work the same if it was in an Avengers comic. Nothing about it says “Canada.”

The art’s good. Jim Lee was always a talented artist. Once again, he actually doesn’t get much to do here. He does a good job with all the fighting, but things jump around so much that he’s never really able to deliver a great action sequence. There’s no great dramatic moments, no great comedic moments, no great moments of any kind. So it ends up being not all that visually compelling, purely because the script gives Lee so little to work with.

So this remains really weak. Fortunately, there’s not too much left of Mantlo’s run. #66 is his last issue. So I just have to get through the rest of 1988, and then I get to move on to other writers . . . who also don’t do great jobs, admittedly. Sigh.

I may as well also mention Avengers #293, Walt Simonson, John Buscema, Tom Palmer, Max ScheeBill Oakley. So, during this era, Namor was a member of the Avengers. And since he was married to Marrina, she’d followed him and hung around as an unofficial member. Where she did basically nothing and had almost no personality. But then she turned into a giant sea monster, Leviathan, and in this issue, the Avengers find her rampaging, and shoot her with a big-ass harpoon containing a serum they hope will cure her. It does, briefly, but then she turns back into Leviathan again, so Namor uses the Black Knight’s Ebony Blade to kill her. She returns to her nest, where she’s laid some eggs that hatch as the Avengers arrive. And as she dies, she returns to normal. Very sad. Her kids apparently get followed up on in one of Namor’s solo Annuals. Marrina, of course, eventually got brought back for a Dark Reign issue, and then more permanently in the last volume of Alpha Flight, where she was finally made interesting by basically becoming a different character. I love Punk Marrina.

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