“Alpha to Omega: Part 1”
Writer: Micheal Avon Oeming
Artist: Scott Kolins, Brian Reber (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Editor’s Note: The first issue of the five issue Omega Flight limited series arrives in stores this Wednesday, April 4.
Anyone else ready to conclude that the Alpha Flight concept is exhausted? This is the fourth Marvel super-hero series situated “north of the border,” and let’s face it: ever since Alpha Flight Vol. 1 #1 debuted in 1983, only one creator has been able to get this concept right and make it entertaining and unsurprisingly, that person is the creator of the concept, John Byrne. With all due respect to the talented writers and artists attached to the various Alpha Flight series over the past two decades, only John Byrne has been able to make the Canadian super-hero team concept work (and the irony is that most of Byrne’s Alpha Flight stories focused on one or two characters rather than the entire team).
This five issue limited series though is not titled Alpha Flight; it’s titled Omega Flight, and the name change is neither arbitrary nor cosmetic. For one, the “Omega” label signifies, perhaps, Marvel’s willingness to run this concept just one more time up the (Canadian) flagpole. I would hazard to assume that Walter Langkowski’s declaration in this issue that “with all the ups and downs of Alpha Flight’s past, this may very well be our last chance as a team” has contextual significance. It’s as if Langkowski feels not only the weight of Alpha Flight’s convoluted continuity on his shoulders but also the glare of Marvel’s sales department’s vigilant eyes as it watches how retailers order this series.
The Omega Flight creative team has also taken steps to distinguish this series from its Alpha Flight predecessors, including Byrne’s version; whereas Alpha Flight focused on a group of Canadian super-heroes, Omega Flight focuses on a group of super-heroes operating in Canada; some of these heroes are Canadian (Sasquatch, Talisman), and some of these heroes are American (Arachne, USAgent) who have been deployed up north to solve a Canadian problem that is completely American-made.
Here’s what’s happening: in the aftermath of Civil War, super-powered crime has skyrocketed in Canada. Super-villains are fleeing the States in order to pursue their criminal endeavors in the less super-hero crowded confines of Canada. (Of course, one wonders why it took Civil War for the villains to come to this realization; hasn’t Canada of the Marvel Universe always been relatively devoid of super-heroes? And what’s going to happen when these villains learn that the Canadian dollars they’re stealing don’t have the same buying power as the “all-mighty” American currency they’re used to?). The Canadian government reacts as they need to and authorize a team of super-powered operatives, and again, because Canadian super-heroes are scarce, American super-heroes are imported via S.H.I.E.L.D. But at least a Canadian is picked to lead the team.
Yeah, it’s all rather contrived, but what set-up in super-hero comic books isn’t? And despite its contrivances, Omega Flight is being produced by a team of professionals that have earned my respect, trust and admiration many times over: writer Michael Avon Oeming, artist Scott Kolins, colorist Brian Reber and editor Andy Schmidt. Indeed, ever since the cover to this issue was first released (and WOW, what a cover!), I’ve been most looking forward to reading an entire issue of Kolins’ “adjusted” art style that was first shown in Ultimate Fantastic Four #39. As best as I can tell, Kolins is now using the side of the pencil tip to create shading, particularly in characters’ faces. The technique adds a dramatic texture to Kolins’ already wonderfully dynamic and detailed style.
Stellar artwork aside, this first issue has one flaw: it’s unfocused. It’s caught between its references to Alpha Flight history (e.g. “clones,” the death of Alpha Flight in New Avengers #16) and its ties to the fallout from the end of Civil War, and the two don’t complement each other. The decision to point out as much Alpha Flight history and Civil War repercussions as possible comes at the expense of a unified theme. Honestly, I’m a bit lost on where this series is thematically headed, and many would argue that the first issue of any comic book needs to establish a clear thematic direction for its readers.
Then again, this first issue introduces enough intriguing elements that I’m willing to give Michael Avon Oeming the opportunity to focus the narrative, especially since the story is going to be presented by Scott Kolins and Brian Reber.
In fact, based on their impressive output over the past year with books like Red Sonja, Beyond!, X-Factor, and Annihilation, I have complete confidence that Oeming, Kolins, Reber and Schmidt will produce an exciting, high quality limited series with Omega Flight. If they don’t, then I might be willing to conclude that the alpha has finally reached the omega, and that Alpha Flight is truly an exhausted concept.
The planets are once more in alignment, and so Marvel is going to have another go at knocking out an Alpha Flight series; whether this attempt will be any more successful than any of the others remains to be seen (I’d guess not), but Marvel have assembled a very strong creative team to give it a shot.
I’m not sure what the point is of signing Scott Kolins to an exclusive contract then shunting him onto a series of minor (although generally excellent) titles, but I assume there’s some logic to it, and here he is again. He’s a great storyteller, conveying both motion and emotion equally well, and his figures are bold and dramatic, but my gosh, his linework sometimes drives me around the bend. When he’s working with an inker, as with his Flash work, it’s not a problem, as the collaboration tends to bring out the best of his linework. But when he’s inking himself (or doing whatever secondary step he does if it’s not inking) Kolins tends to pick out each and every line and give it equal weight, resulting in a glaring mess of lines which I just can’t deal with. Here, Kolins attempts something different, leaving his work at the pencil stage, with Brian Reber’s colouring over the top. It looks quite good, as all the strengths of Kolins’ style come through, but that irritating overly strong linework is muted; that said, it is perhaps a bit too muted and obscure, and the details can be lost somewhat in the murk. But this is only the first issue using this style, and once artist and colourist work out the right balance, this will be a fantastic looking title; at the moment, it merely looks very good indeed.
The writing is hard to put a finger on; while Michael Avon Oeming certainly packs a lot of information into this comic (perhaps too much; but more on that below), it nonetheless feels a little slow. Omega Flight consists of exactly one active member by the end of the issue, hinting that the full squad will only be assembled by the end of the storyline/TPB, and I can’t think of any situation in which that approach has been successful. It’s not that Oeming pads the issue out with vacant nonsense in the manner of his Powers collaborator, but he could perhaps have eased off on the backstory in this issue. There is a lot of background information thrown at us here, and some of it works well, successfully conveying the true significance of what it means to put together a new Flight team. But there are also whole chunks of this issue that left me utterly baffled, presumably because they’re wading about in the backwaters of Alpha Flight continuity, and that seems unwise to me; Alpha Flight fans are a dedicated bunch and are going to know this stuff anyway, and those of us coming to this title for Kolins’ art or Oeming’s writing or because Beta Ray Bill is on the cover are just going to be lost. Perhaps all this stuff will become relevant as the series goes on, but there must be more efficient ways to convey the information. All that said, there’s something about the writing that rises above the clunkiness and makes me interested in coming back for future issues. While Oeming doesn’t have much of a cast to speak of at this point, he does get right into the personalities of those few characters he does introduce and makes them a compelling bunch, and that’s no small feat considering they’re C-listers at best. I suspect that here is where his strengths will become most apparent in future issues, but we shall see.
This is a solid superhero story with some minor glitches in the art and a slightly leaden pace, but both writing and art show obvious potential, not least in Oeming’s ability to make these relatively obscure characters interesting and compelling. If the minor flaws can be ironed out in future issues, this deserves to be the success that Alpha Flight comics very rarely are.
Sasquatch, the lone survivor of the late Canadian super-team Alpha Flight, is kindly asked to serve his country as the leader of a new superhuman initiative, Omega Flight. His recruitment process hardly has time to get off the ground before he’s called into action against the Wrecking Crew who do their best to help reunite him with his dead colleagues.
More so than the death of Captain Anerica and Tony Stark being seduced by the dark side, Marvel’s killing off of Canada’s premier superteam is probably the most foolish and nonsensical thing they’ve done in the last year or so. The whole team, including long time members and fan favourites such as Puck, Guardian, Vindicator and Sasquatch, was wiped out off panel in New Avengers by Michael Pointer, now known as “The Collective” (wonder who came up with that one!), who had taken possession of the “energy” of all the mutants de-powered as a result of M-Day. Joe Quesada told Alpha Flight fans not to worry unduly, that perhaps all the members weren’t dead and that big things were in store for the Canadian superheroes. Well, the good news is Sasquatch survived. The bad news is that everyone else died! This isn’t the place to go on about this too much, but it should be mentioned because it means that there are hardly any Canadian heroes left, so the Canadian government has to borrow some from their friends across the border.
Thus we get Omega Flight, Canada’s last line of defence and probably the team’s last shot at their own book. Disaster struck the title even before it made it to the stands, with it being cut from an ongoing to a five issue limited series. To be honest, I can see the logic behind this. Marvel does have a lot of titles that have launched from, or have been heavily influenced by, the fallout of Civil War, and they should be wary of swamping the market. If this title does well, it’s been promised an extension, but cutting it down will have some serious effects. Firstly, from the sales point of things, limited series nearly always sell less well than ongoings. It’s just a fact. Many people aren’t prepared to invest in a book that will be over and done with in a couple of issues and who cares about the characters if they’re never going to be seen elsewhere? Secondly, this has led to Oeming having to rewrite the first five issues to allow for them to be a complete story in their own right and he doesn’t have the luxury of drawing out the assemblage of his team. This can be viewed as a good thing I guess, but I do feel sorry for him having to change things at relatively short notice.
So, Omega Flight is about to launch with the odds already stacked against it, but what’s it actually like? Good but not great in my opinion. This issue focuses on Dr. Walter Langkowski, a.k.a. Sasquatch, who’s asked to head up the government’s new superhero initiative. Though hardly keen to jump straight back in the game, he doesn’t have a huge amount of choice as Canada is currently being swamped by a host of metahumans fleeing the Registration Act in the U.S. Given that they’ve caused this problem, Tony Stark, in his infinite kindness, has offered Canada a couple of their own heroes to help contain the situation. Thus we get U.S. Agent, Arachne and the aforementioned “Collective.” U.S. Agent should have been more prominent during the Civil War. He’s had first hand experience of the dreadful consequences of having one’s true identity revealed with the murder of his parents. Yet he sided with Iron Man. Fair enough. He’s always been a man of law and order, but then surely he would have made a great poster child for the pro-reg camp: “look, here’s a guy who lost so much because of this in the past yet he still thinks it’s the right thing to do etc. etc.” Instead, he’s being shipped off to Canada.
Though I obviously have serious doubts about the team roster, I can’t comment on whether the various members’ inclusion is logical or not because, of the five heroes depicted on the front cover, only Talisman actually appears in the comic and that’s to reject Sasquatch’s offer of membership. If this were indeed an ongoing, I wouldn’t mind this in the slightest, but for a five issue limited series, not having the majority of team members appear let alone get together in the first issue is a bit worrying. This is where I really get the feel that Oeming is going to have to change things in coming months to accommodate the change in format.
All of this aside, this book still has something going for it. This is first time I’ve read an Oeming-scripted comic, and I rather like it. He manages to keep the tone relatively light yet at the same time suddenly bring in some quite shocking developments. The villains this issue are the Wrecking Crew. They’re always wheeled out as a test for any new superheroes and usually get the arses comprehensively kicked; even the Runaways took them down without really breaking a sweat. However, in this issue we’re reminded that they truly are “evil,” and when one hero tries to take them alone, they’re no laughing matter. Oeming’s dialogue flows easily and entertainingly, with, for example, some choice lines during the Prime Minister’s briefing on the current situation: “We’ve had a superhero registration act over here for years, and never once did it tear us apart or cause us this kind of strife,” “They’re Americans, Madame Prime Minister, what do you expect?”
Scott Kolins gets the task of drawing Canada’s finest. Not everything he draws turns out to be great, but overall I’ve been impressed with his recent work at Marvel. Beyond! is a perfect example of him on form. And he is even more so on this title. The amount of detail and dynamism in his pencils are a joy to behold. His Wrecking Crew and Sasquatch are superb. I was wondering how long it would take for Marvel to finally give him an ongoing title and then it happened… only to be snatched away again.
This is a good issue that finally reveals the superhero status in Canada and how their government means to tackle it. Unfortunately, Omega Flight themselves are conspicuously absent from this issue, and I hope that Oeming manages to successfully adapt the rest of his story to make it a solid limited series.
Plot: It’s the beginning of a new team book, so of course there must be a gathering of the teammates. Only not if the Wrecking Crew kill them all first.
Comments: Oeming has come up with a mixture of the old and the new in this title. Resurrecting Alpha Flight from the dead has become a bit old hat, even if this time they’re also reclaiming the Omega Flight name for the governmental side of things. Every time this team forms, so many bad things happen. Byrne’s original brilliant run was as entertaining as it was because he delighted in inflicting worse-case-scenarios on characters he felt weren’t worth more respect. And that pattern of bodily and psychological damage was set up for subsequent writers to follow, all the way up to Bendis’s crass off-panel execution of them by a non-entity mutant.
We’ve already lost Snowbird and Marina and Shaman and Box, and Diamond Lil and Wildchild are MIA, so the team has to be rebuilt from scratch. Walter Langkowski is pretty unkillable, but now he must work with Arachne and USAgent among others. Jean-Paul and Jeanne-Marie are among mutantkind again, but when were they ever stable enough to be real team players anyway?
The angle that America is suffering the fallout from Civil War (and handling it as badly as Canadians believe Americans do in so many areas) is a good one to re-ignite the premier Canadian super-team. Seems super-villains are looting wildly in Canada, seeing it as easy pickings compared to Registration Act America. Walter accepts the responsibility of altering that perception, but his first stop, Talisman, turns him down, unwilling to return to such a dangerous role with so little compensation for her troubles. And that’s bad news because as strong as Walter is, he’s unlikely to defeat the whole Wrecking Crew.
In fact, all his tangle with them seems to achieve is pissing them off royally. The ending of the battle sequence is rather abrupt, but it leaves us hoping for the cavalry to arrive next issue. Art-wise, Kolins does a great Sasquatch (keeping him somehow super-cuddly as well as grandly over-sized), and makes Talisman’s mystic visions beautifully dreamy and symbolic. The Wrecking Crew isn’t the most novel of threats, and the team is an as yet untried and unassembled. We’ll have to wait until the full team is present to judge the chemistry of this concept, but this is a decent, if somewhat formulaic, attempt to relight the fire.
With the death of Alpha Flight in Brian Bendis' New Avengers last year, the Marvel Universe has had a hole the shape of a maple leaf that has badly needed filling for a little while now - or so Marvel would have you believe. The trouble is, Alpha Flight has been absent from the shelves of comic book stores for some time, suggesting that there just wasn’t enough interest in the concept to support an ongoing series (or at least that the concept hadn’t been executed in such a way as to capture the imagination of readers in recent years).
Anticipating this lack of interest in a fairly impressive display of no confidence in the newest incarnation of the book, Marvel has reduced the status of Michael Avon Oeming’s Omega Flight from an ongoing title to a limited series before the first issue has even hit the stands, meaning that the title is not only facing the challenge of making a new audience care about Canada’s premier super-team, but it’s also fighting a battle to prove its commercial viability in a very limited timespan. So, is the book any good? Well, it introduces the new team concept pretty quickly and effectively, gets in a few good gags, and grounds the book with the most likeable (and only surviving) hero from Alpha Flight’s past incarnation in the form of Sasquatch. It also puts the skills of artist Scott Kolins to good use, and his detailed style is given a softness and delicacy by the painterly colouring of Brian Reber.
Whether softness and delicacy suits a book about a colourful team of super-powered heroes is another matter though, and I can’t help but feel that the artwork, beautiful though it is, robs the story of a little the urgency that Oeming’s script seems to be aiming for. Unfortunately, there’s such a lack of immediacy about everything that readers may struggle to really care about the book, and despite some interesting observations which spring out of Civil War (not all of which are logical - why would criminals be driven out of America by the in-fighting of heroes? Surely it would be the perfect time to strike?), the book simply doesn’t make a good enough case for why the team needs to exist.
Is this issue worth a look if you want to see how the fallout of Civil War is affecting the greater Marvel universe? Probably. Is it worth a look if you’re a longtime Alpha Flight fan? Maybe. Is it worth a look if you’ve got no interest in either? Not really. Omega Flight will likely find a certain audience, as I’m sure there are some fans who will relish the prospect of what looks to be a more old-fashioned and light-hearted superhero book starring a Canadian, C-list version of the Avengers, and followers of Oeming and Kolins’ work will probably find much to like here. It’s a competent comic book, with decent illustrations, but it can’t escape its contrived nature, and struggles to make this new Flight formation seem like anything worth caring about.
What did you think of this book?
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