Alpha Flight #61 (1988, August)
Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). My latest pull list post is up, if you care to check it out. But now, by Mantlo, Lee, Milgrom, Sharen and Chiang, “. . . Inquisition!”
Heather and Box are at a hearing at Parliament, to determine the future of Alpha Flight. They’re asked why they were in China, and she reminds them of the time they sent Bedlam the Brain-Blast after Alpha. Which, uh, that’s not how it happened? Gary Cody released Bedlam the Brain-Blast on his own. He made the call himself. There was never any indication that he talked to anyone about it. Some people are watching the hearing on a TV through a window, which always amuses me in comics. Is that a real thing that happens? Do people gather outside of electronics stores to watch TV? Maybe it happens in bigger cities, I don’t know. It’s such a common trope in fiction that it must at least happen in New York, right? Anyway, the rest of Alpha Flight is also out and about. Ad I have to say, the sheer level of Whit’s cynicism here is actually a little endearing. I still can’t accept him dating a teenager, though.
Anyway, more of the hearing, with some recapping, and some kind of amusing scepticism.
This guy also accuses Alpha Flight of staging the fight against the Dreamqueen. Which is another of those comic book cliches. People always accuse superheroes of staging things to look better. Which I don’t really get. It would be like accusing police of faking arrests in order to look good. The guy’s a dick and Heather gets fed up and blasts his desk. Which is, uh, not the best move she could have made? “You people are menaces!” “Menaces? Would a menace do this?!” *blast* “. . . Yes. Yes, I believe that is exactly what a menace would do.”
The MP, who suddenly seems a lot more reasonable, continues to rant about Alpha Flight needing to be neutralized. There’s a brief debate about whether Alpha should be controlled, given they’ve always fought on Canada’s behalf, with baldy saying if they don’t control Alpha, Alpha will one day control them.
Meanwhile, the hearings are being discussed on a US news show, where a black couple sees some images of Laura. It’s her parents!
And in the diner where the rest of Alpha is gathered, some guy changes the TV station to a Leafs game. The TV announces another goal for the Maple Leafs. Which is maybe the most outrageous thing in this comic. The Leafs suck. They were especially awful in the ’80s. When Walter objects to the Leafs game being put on – I guess he probably prefers teams that don’t suck – the guy then proceeds to hit on “her” (since Walter is in a female body at this time). Kara tells the guys to get lost, and they wander off. Walter tries to pay for the drinks with his credit card, still under his male name, which the waitress objects to. And, somehow, this sets off a bar brawl.
Back to the hearing! The anti-Alpha guy points out they didn’t sanction Cody’s release of Bedlam the Brain-Blast, and also notes that, given Mansion Alpha was rebuilt with government funds, installing bugs was a pretty reasonable decision. And, I mean, he’s right. I know we’re supposed to hate this guy, but honestly, he raises a lot of entirely valid points. He also suggests the villains Alpha’s fought may not have come to Canada if Alpha wasn’t there, with another woman saying there were no supervillains before there were superheroes. Which is, again, kinda true. The funny thing is, when Box objects, he mentions Omega Flight . . . who were formed directly in opposition to Alpha Flight. Not helping your case there, buddy.
Then a brief return to the bar, and this:
Alpha leaves the bar, unsure of what their next move should be, with Walter noting that they’re broke. While Heather shouts that she doesn’t want the government’s money. That they risked their lives, not for money or fame, but for love of country. Walter remembers that he’s rich, and heads to a bank to make a withdrawal, but once again, he’s in a woman’s body, and even his signature looks different, so the manager refuses to give him the money. He freaks out, and Kara forces him to leave.
We see other hero teams watching the hearings. The FF, Avengers and X-Men, specifically. And we get what is, I think, the key argument of the issue:
The guy’s right. Superheroes are terrifying. The idea of them running around with no oversight? That’s a scary idea. They should be accountable. They should have oversight. Meanwhile, Kara thinks about going back home, and figures she could take Laura and Goblyn with her. And Whit says he’s been thinking of going back to medicine. Finally, the hearing’s Chairwoman asks if Alpha will accept government oversight, and Jade Dragon finally speaks up and says they shouldn’t do it, that they should be free.
Heather decides to reject the money. The anti-Alpha guy tries to talk Box into leading a government-funded Alpha. Box damned near breaks the guy’s hand. And then, outside, Heather proposes to Box.
Walter heads to one of his old houses, where his ex, Ronnie, now lives. He convinces her he’s still Walter, despite his body, but she hates him so she has no intention of letting him have his money.
This issue . . . I don’t know, man. There’s some interesting stuff. Mantlo actually lays out some solid arguments for why the government would want to have authority over Alpha Flight. But a lot of the arguments are presented by a guy who’s an ass an who we’re pretty clearly supposed to hate. That way, his very reasonable points can be ignored by having him froth at the mouth. I dislike that approach. It feels lazy. And honestly, it never feels like Heather actually counters any of the points any of the MPs raise. She just complains about the government not trusting them. She comes across as whiny, petulant and stubborn. She only wants the money if there’s no strings attached. If they’re allowed to do what they want, when they want, with absolutely no oversight or accountability. And that is not how the real world works. Alpha Flight should have government oversight. Ideally, all superheroes should. Put morality clauses in place that allow heroes to opt out of doing anything they feel to be wrong (this would include things like attacking specific targets). I don’t like Heather’s rabidly anti-government stance.
The stuff with the rest of Alpha is a bit uneven, as well. Some of it is good and works well. Other bits just feel odd, somehow. Like, the bar brawl. That splash page of Sasquatch holding everyone up? It’s a cool image, but I don’t know if it makes sense. How does a woman using a man’s credit card lead to a bar brawl? Were the guys trying to beat up a random woman? What the hell happened?
The art is good, though it’s still wasted in this book. Lee does good work. Though I think he was part of an unfortunate trend, with the rise of multiple splash pages in a single issue. This issue has four of them. It’s a talking heads issue, and it has four splash pages. And they look good, no question there. Lee nails each of them. But the thing is, a splash page is a single static image. In a medium like comics, where every single page is precious, too many splash pages can sometimes mean less story. It’s fine here. Nothing is lost in this issue. But I’ve read comics with piss-poor actions scenes that resulted from too many splash pages. But like I said, that’s not a problem in this particular issue, and all four splash pages actually do a really good job of conveying quite a bit. So Lee’s good here.
All in all, while I wouldn’t call this a bad issue, it does have some problems.