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TAG TEAM REVIEW: Alpha Flight #1

Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2011
By: Danny Djeljosevic & Nick Hanover

Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente
Dale Eaglesham, Andrew Hennessy (i), Sonia Oback (c), Simon Bowland (l)
Marvel
Nick: How much does it suck to have your debut issue of your relaunch of a lost franchise be a forced tie-in to a summer mega event?
 
Danny: I have a feeling that that was a deliberate decision to bring some attention to Alpha Flight. You know how obsessive some fanboys can be. There are some dudes in the world that would buy Fear Itself: Marville if some asshole thought that should exist.
 
Nick: Oh, definitely. But from an artistic standpoint that has to be pretty irritating, especially with that hideous Fear Itself cover. Not that the uber-Canadian patriotism cover was much better.
 
Danny: After the event is over and we have a trade of Alpha Flight, I think it'll be a bit confusing to the casual reader. The same thing happened with Invincible Iron Man, where Stark losing his S.H.I.E.L.D. gig happened between trades during Secret Invasion. But I have a feeling Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente are only paying lip service to Fear Itself.
 
I mean, to a casual reader this would just be "Alpha Flight fights some fish man," not "Alpha Flight fights one of the Worthy that serve the Serpent, who is the actual All-Father which only matters if you know what Thor is."



Nick: True, the first issue more or less begins directly after the events of the Point One issue, with the Unity Party in charge and that's the real conflict rather than an even angrier than normal Attuma.

Danny: Fear Itself at this point looks to be a springboard for a Canada vs. Alpha Flight story. Which is how crossovers should be, right?
 
Nick: Attuma in this case is more like a handy but coincidental analogue for the Canucks Rioters. He even kind of looks like Fin, the Canucks mascot, when you think about it. Here's Fin getting ready to devour a woman:
  

  
And here's another. In case you couldn't tell, Fin has a taste for women. Just like Attuma, I hear
 
Danny: I love how talking to you about Alpha Flight has been a crash course in Canada. Before this, I knew Canada for Alpha Flight, Barenaked Ladies and the comedians we stole from them.
 
Nick: Fin is Canada's next largest icon after the Maple Leaf. I half expected some kind of Fin versus Attuma moment here, but I guess Marvel couldn't acquire the rights.
 
Danny: Did Stan Lee make a superhero out of him? Yes, he did.
 
Nick: Fun fact: if you go into any Chapters (Barnes&Noble but in iconic red and white instead of green and brown) in Canada, they have wallpaper that lists off every single person of any amount of fame who has even the faintest connection to Canada It's like the Vietnam Memorial of stolen comedians and people who aren't Canadian but Canada claims anyway
 
Danny: This combined with select Alpha Flight costumes makes me think that part of the Canadian identity is proclaiming you're Canadian. And I thought people just did that when traveling abroad.



Nick: People don't realize that Canadians are incredibly nationalist, even though they'd deny that, which is something I had hoped Pak and Van Lente would be exploring with this relaunch.

Danny: As far as I know, Pak and Van Lente are probably not wallpaper candidates.
 
Nick: You know, there is probably a Chapters somewhere that lists Alpha Flight. We sort of get it with Northstar, but that's more his French-Canadian arrogance, which is a whole different beast altogether.
 
Danny: Northstar has been so much fun in recent years. He was cool enough to join the X-Men during Fraction's run, and in this one he acts like me when I watch bad reality TV on Hulu. Except he's watching Alpha Flight fight Attuma.
 
Nick: And he can actually wander into the battle whereas you are legally barred from getting within 5 miles of the Jersey Shore cast.
 
Danny: I just want to touch Pauly D's hair!
 
Nick: But Northstar is probably the most famous and notable character on the current Alpha Flight roster. He's like Quicksilver but even more of a pompous ass since he's French-Canadian. The rest of Alpha Flight struggle with their identities, they waver between roles. The Hudsons especially have problems with this, since they alternate between being white washed do goodies and nearly psychotic assholes depending on who's writing them.
 
Sasquatch by contrast just gets saddled with Beast's cuddly scientificness and a horndog attitude, Shaman is a vaguely condescending take on First Nations mysticism, and then Aurora is just another in a long line of hilariously off takes on dissociative identity disorder.
 


Danny: Besides Northstar, Sasquatch and Marrina stick out the most to me in this issue (and probably for Pak and Van Lente themselves). I've never really understood Shaman and Snowbird. I've read this issue a few times, and I keep forgetting those two are even in it.
 
Nick: Their take on Marrina is pretty interesting. It's like van Lente wasn't done writing Machine Man after Marvel Zombies and decided she would do as a stand-in. "Die, Earth Scum!" could have been a Machine Man line if you replace "earth" with "fleshy."
 
But you're not alone in your problems with Shaman and Snowbird. Those two have been extremely problematic for quite a while, especially Snowbird, who goes through more bouts of crazy than Scarlet Witch.
 
Shaman, on the other hand, I don't think needs to be a problem. First Nations issues in Canada are a wealth of material. For as much as Canada likes to pretend to be they're the nicer, politer, more friendly version of America, their treatment of their First Nations people has been at least as deplorable as what America got up to during the time of the Trail of Tears with the added bonus that it continues today.
 
You only need to look back 20 years or so to see one of the worst human violations that ever occurred in the Oka Crisis, which happened because some Canadians wanted to extend their golf course a couple more holes and place it on top of ancient burial grounds. You can't tell me that a comic version of the Oka Crisis with Shaman as the star wouldn't be absolute gold
 
Danny: I think Shaman has that sense of what I'm going to call mystical distance, where weird magic guys are just written so enigmatically and in so much passive voice ("Deep meditation will be required to understand it fully.") that it's hard to appreciate them as characters. See also: foreigners, aliens.
 
Nick: The thing is, though, that we already have a pretty decent use of this character in X-lore with Forge, who managed to juggle the mysticism and character development way back in the "Fall of the Mutants."
 
Danny: I think you can trust Chris Claremont to write out all his characters.

Nick: So it isn't impossible to do, it just requires getting away from the deus ex machina moments that also make someone like Dr. Strange so problematic.
 
Danny: At this point, Dr. Strange is more of a narrative tool than a character.
 


Nick: Instead, here we've got accidental humor in everything Shaman does that is at times even funnier than something like Attuma/Fin knocking down what I like to call Space Needle Jr. Or maybe I'm the only one who can't read a line like "The Sea defers to MY presence" without bursting into laughter. It helps that that line is immediately followed by an amusingly condescending bit of religious superiority from the woman Shaman saved.
 
Danny: It's like he's a Venture Bros. character. Even there, the more memorable line to me is the lady's reaction: " Thank god! Or, uh, thank whatever it is you believe in…"

Danny: Every line of Shaman's comes with an air of "Please, pay little attention to the magic Indian."



Nick: It's also problematic that the entire beginning of this book is so heavy handed and obtuse. Without great character development to fall back on, the Vancouver rescue operation is the epitome of uninteresting. Also, I really need to call out Dale Eaglesham for the worst artistic interpretation of Vancouver I've ever seen. And I'm not doing that out of nitpickery but because they missed some great opportunities for amazing panels here. For people who haven't been to Vancouver, it has the nickname of the City of Glass for a reason -- this city is beyond modern, it's ridiculous. We've doomed all of our classic architecture to the limbo of the Downtown East Side (a war zone of sorts) and replaced everything else with massive, imposing glass structures.
 
Danny: Eaglesham does what most comic artists do: draw Generic Stand-In City for whatever city that writer's decided to set the story in. It's like how filmmakers use Vancouver to stand in for everything else. Except it's... Anti-Vancouver in this case?
 
Nick: Totally. And it's unfortunate, because Vancouver is very much a city on people's minds these days, for many reasons outside of the riots that Pak and Van Lente wouldn't have known about when they wrote this.
It's worth noting that big sci-fi productions are especially drawn to Vancouver. A huge portion of Battlestar Galactica was done in Vancouver, for chrissakes -- both the nuclear fallout portions (o hai Downtown East Side with yellow filter) and things like the pleasure ship (o hai UBC gardens).
 
Danny: Missed opportunities aside,I am glad they got Eaglesham to draw this. It seems like a big deal to me, considering he's coming off of a run on Fantastic Four. They could have handed this to someone mediocre, considering Alpha Flight's pedigree. But last time Eaglesham-drawn miniseries I was fond of was Villains United, which had a few fill-ins in the middle. I hope it won't be the case this time.
 
Nick: Yeah, exactly, but that's why I feel I need to bring it up, because Eaglesham is capable of better work. When your lone bit of Vancouver research is a panel where a knock-off of the Space Needle that no one in Vancouver gives a shit about, that's kind of sad. Fucking Douglas Coupland did an entire book of photo essays on Vancouver called City of Glass, Dale! Here you go, my treat, for next time.

I will say, though, that the fight choreography was excellent here. The book excelled when it showed Alpha Flight functioning as a team, rather than dysfunctioning as humans

Danny: Considering most of the first issue is a fight, it damn well better be. I think it does a lot of work in proving Alpha Flight is a proper superhero team and not a curious joke. It has a lady who can turn into a dinosaur! The X-Men don't even have that.
 
Nick: No, just their DC version, the Doom Patrol, and even then only sometimes. But you're right, it does go a long way towards proving that Alpha Flight know what they're doing. I don't know if Alpha Flight earned it here yet, though. It's pretty weird to see a first issue that doesn't do much setup and just throws the heroes into an instant battle with no real stakes. I get that the Point One was meant to do the set-up, but that was also pretty battle-heavy.

Danny: I think I actually prefer that model to the usual sort where the first issue ends with the team finally united. Alpha Flight is not the kind of superhero team you tease the reader with.

Nick: Yeah, but you and I both know that's not the only way to do an introduction -- just the most woefully overused alternative. I don't see why Pak and van Lente couldn't have reintroduced these characters through a session with the new prime minister. It would be logical and it would give the reader an opportunity to learn about the team since that's what the PM would be doing as well, even though this specific PM has some history with the group. Then you have them called away in the middle of their debriefing with the new government to go dinosaur on Attuma's ass.


Danny: As it is, all those introductory bits happen during battle. "Hi, I'm a Magic Indian." "I hate humans!" "We don't have custody of our child!" "I can turn into a dinosaur."

Nick: Mainly I suggest this because I think new Alpha Flight readers are feeling kind of baffled by Alpha Flight's history with Cody at this point.
 
Danny: Say it to me in Justice League.

Nick: The gist of it is that Cody is kind of like Alpha Flight's version of Amanda Waller and Maxwell Lord combined. So you can see why they'd be pretty pissed. The fact that, as far as I knew, Cody had been essentially destroyed made it very weird to see him before and Alpha Flight's odd nonsurprise at his return made me extremely confused My guess, based on the reveal at the end of this issue, is that he's the new Box. Or rather, has been taken over by Box. However you want to phrase it. Damn it comics.
 
Danny: Alpha Flight aren't phased by anything, I don't think. I loved the end of the issue, when Guardian was guessing the reasons behind the big betrayal. "Brainwashed? Robot? Alien?" When you've been killed and resurrected, you probably aren't surprised by very much.
 
Nick: That was an unusually great bit of meta-humor there, too bad the rest of the issue lacked it. My theory is that Box has evolved to take over humans now, or that Cody as Box can jump from machine to human or all at once. The fact that the end betrayal coincided with Boxbots attacking the rest of Alpha Flight indicates that there is some kind of connection at least

Danny: So that's what those Manhunter-like robots were. I like their style. Robots in wrestling singlets.
 
Nick: And since Cody was braindead last I checked, it would make sense that the similarly disembodied Box might have jumped into his vacant body.
 
Danny: That'd make him even more like Maxwell Lord.



Nick: Yeah, exactly. Regardless, the end of the issue did at least show the series might go in a much more interesting direction than this disappointing debut otherwise indicated.

Danny: It's the ending that makes me want to stick with this book.
 
Nick: Same here. Also, where else can I complain about the portrayal of Canada in comics?
 
Danny: They don't have Puck Digest in the supermarkets near you?

Nick: Speaking of Puck, what odds are we laying down that he's the poster boy Cody is referring to? I mean, it's either Puck or Wolverine. I'm putting 2-1 on Puck and 100-1 on Wolverine
 
Danny: Wolverine would be appropriate, except he's nobody's poster-boy. Puck (or at least someone posing as Puck) comes back in #2, that's already been confirmed.
 
Nick: Wolverine is the poster boy for the Canadian tuxedo set.

THE BIG SCORE

Nick:

Which is the equivalent of a Hodor penis in extremely cold weather.
 
Danny:

But I have never been to Vancouver. The good parts stood out enough for me.
 
Nick: If it had involved Fin biting a woman I would have given it a higher rating.



Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book writer, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no followup questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat.



When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.



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