Alpha Flight #66 (1989, January)
Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). My pull list post is up. In honour of today’s American election, I’m going to talk about a comic about Canadian superheroes. Look, I didn’t plan it that way, it’s just how things worked out, but I’m still completely fine with it. Anyway, by Mantlo, Haynes, Talaoc, Sharen and Chiang, “Killing Me Softly With His Word Processor!”
So, this issue is Mantlo’s final issue of Alpha Flight. It’s also my favourite issue of his run. You probably think that’s a joke. That it’s my favourite because it’s his last. But no, I genuinely enjoy this issue. Why? Well, maybe the opening splash page will give you a hint:
It gets better.
Yeah, Mantlo’s creation is yelling at him, and calls him insecure. He even notes that his own creation was done because Mantlo had written himself into a corner with the Scramble story, and needed someone to rescue Alpha, and the ending of the story. He also has his future self scan for Mantlo.
And Whit calls him a sadist. And finds out what Mantlo has planned next.
Whit’s angry, both at his own impending death, and at the grief it’ll cause Heather. And he decides he’s not going to go along with it. He quits.
And now, we cut to Heather, in her wedding dress, crying. She can’t take her battlesuit off. Outside, Jeffries goes to check the mail, and also has some fun.
Look, Mr. Rogers was a goddamn treasure and I will support referencing him and his show. Anyway, there’s a letter from Kara, talking about her fight against her father, the Purple Man, where she says the zombies disappeared after she destroyed him, and the whole thing now feels like it was a nightmare. That makes Jeffries think of his own recent battle against the Box armour, and Sasquatch’s battle against the Great Beasts. Then he sees Heather blast off through a wall, and he gives chase in his armour.
Out in the wilderness, Sasquatch is fuming about losing his money, because of his female body. He sees a hallucination of his ex, and starts attacking it, and in the process, he smashes a cliff and exposes a lot of gold. Then, to Ottawa, where Jade Dragon is attacked by China Force.
And now, Heather again, as she attacks the hospital where Whit works, demanding his help.
Heather and Box fight their way to where Whit is, and Jeffries pops out of the armour to try to use his power on the battlesuit. But it doesn’t go as planned and she blasts him. Finally, Whit has no choice but to send his others into the fight, though he runs off with Proto. Heather gives chase, and is about to kill him, when Proto drops down. Whit thinks it’s the end, but it turns out it’s fine, Proto ate the suit off her and survived.
Heather and Box leave, and Whit tries to figure out what happened, but just as it comes to him, the memory slips away.
This is a great issue. It really is. It’s wonderfully meta. Mantlo wasn’t the first to go this route. He wasn’t even the first at the Big Two to do it, though this does predate Grant Morrison’s famous Animal Man finale by a year. But while Mantlo wasn’t the first mainstream comic writer to break the fourth wall, this was definitely one of the earliest instances at Marvel, and while I don’t think it inspired later instances, it does feel like it kinda predicts the coming trend. Byrne’s run on Sensational She-Hulk was coming up, and it was very famous for breaking the fourth wall. In the late ’90s, Joe Kelly would break the fourth wall with Deadpool, which is still a prominent trait of his. Comics that break the fourth wall have become very common today. But in 1989? Not as common. So Mantlo gets credit for even doing it, but he gets more credit for doing it well.
It’s a fun comic. He has his own character yell at him, and then he’s “forced” to write around that character to get the result he wants, and there’s some really fun interactions between Mantlo and Whit. It’s easily the most interesting Whit has ever been, full of defiance and anger. Heather’s dialogue and angst is over-the-top, which is usual for Mantlo, but it works so much better here, because the whole thing is so weird to begin with. Of course she’s over-the-top, because the whole story is over-the-top. Like, there are a couple things about the issue I could probably still complain about. But screw it, it’s Mantlo’s final issue, and he goes out with an issue that is just plain fun and clever.
And it also has a Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood reference. I award bonus points for Mr. Rogers references.
The art is good. It’s fine. It’s pretty normal superhero comic art. Nothing special. Nothing memorable, for good or bad. Sometimes, that’s good enough.
So, yeah, I really like this issue. Mantlo busted out his best work for his last issue, and it’s great.