Retro Reviews: Alpha Flight #87-101 By Nicieza, Bair & Others For Marvel Comics!

Alpha Flight #87- 101 (August 1990 – October 1991)

Written by Fabian Nicieza (#87-101)

Pencilled by Michael Bair (#87-91, 93-95, 97-100), Dan Reed (#92), Michael Adams (#96), June Brigman (#100), John Calimee (#100), Tom Morgan (#100-101), David Ross (#100)

Inked by Mike Manley (#87-91, 93-96), Richard Bennett (#92), Chris Ivy (#97-101), Michael Bair (#100), Danny Bulandi (#100), Larry Mahlstedt (#100)

Colour by Bob Sharen (#87-101)

Spoilers (from twenty-eight to twenty-nine years ago)

After James Hudnall’s run ended, Alpha Flight took a big swerve under its new writer, Fabian Nicieza.  From what I remember, he re-established the team as Canada’s central force, returned them to a form of bureaucracy we don’t often see in American teams, and changed up the cast.  He brought back a long-dead character (which I always saw as a cop-out), added some new, non-Canadian ones, and tied the comic strongly to the American Marvel Universe. I remember him being joined by Michael Bair, whose art I’ve equally liked and found a little boring, but I also recall that Bair had a lot of guest artists.   This run brought Alpha squarely into the 90s, which you may recall is not often a good thing. I don’t really remember loving this run past Nicieza’s first four issues, but maybe my mind will have changed.

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

Alpha Flight

  • Vindicator/Guardian (Heather Hudson; as Vindicator #87-90, as Guardian #90-101)
  • Northstar (Jean-Paul Beaubier; #87 89-95, 97-101)
  • Talisman (Elizabeth Twoyoungmen; #87-91, 95)
  • Sasquatch (Walter Langkowski; #87-95, 98-101)
  • Aurora (Jeanne-Marie Beaubier; #87-95)
  • Shaman (Michael Twoyoungmen; #87-95)
  • Box (Madison Jeffries #87-91, 94-101)
  • Diamond Lil (Lil Crawley; #87-91, 94-101)
  • Puck (Eugene Milton Judd; #88-91, 94-96, 98-101)
  • Guardian/Vindicator (James MacDonald Hudson; as Guardian #88-90, as Vindicator #90-95, 97-100)
  • Snowbird (Narya; #92)
  • Windshear (Colin Ashworth Hume; #95-96, 98-101)

Beta Flight

  • Persuasion (Kara Killgrave; #87-91, 95, 97-98)
  • Goblyn (#87)
  • Laura Dean (#87, 89, 91, 97-98)
  • Windshear (Colin Ashworth Hume; #90-91, 93-95)
  • Witchfire (#90-91, 93-95, 98)
  • Talisman (Elizabeth Twoyoungmen; #95)
  • Shaman (Beta Instructor, Michael Twoyoungmen; #95, 97-98)

Gamma Flight

  • Nemesis (#87-88)
  • Silver (Jimon; #87-88)
  • Auric (Zhao; #87-88)
  • Witchfire (#87-88)
  • Aurora (Jeanne-Marie Beaubier; #95, 98)
  • Whitman Knapp (#97, 101)

Villains

  • Wild Child (Gamma Flight; #87-90)
  • The Master of the World (#89-90, 96)
  • Nemesis (Gamma Flight; #89-90)
  • Auric (Gamma Flight; Zhao; #89-90)
  • Silver (Gamma Flight; Jimon; #89-90)
  • Witchfire (Gamma Flight; #89-90)
  • Doctor Doom (Kristoff Von Doom; #90-91)
  • Latverian Liberation Front (#91)
  • Doctor Doom (Victor Von Doom; #91)
  • Headlok (#93-94)
  • The Consortium (#97-100)
  • Galactus (#99-100)

Guest Stars

  • Wolverine (Logan, X-Men; #87-90)
  • Windshear (Colin Ashworth Hume; #87-90)
  • Brian Mulroney (Prime Minister of Canada; #87, 90-91)
  • Valerie Cooper (National Security Council; #88)
  • Banshee (Sean Cassidy, X-Men; #88)
  • Forge (X-Men; #88-90)
  • Tom Corsi (X-Men; #88)
  • Sharon (not Mary) Friedlander (X-Men; #88)
  • Amanda Sefton (X-Men; #88)
  • Moira MacTaggert (X-Men; #88)
  • Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards, Fantastic Four; #92-94)
  • Invisible Woman (Sue Richards, Fantastic Four; #92-94)
  • The Human Torch (Johnny Storm, Fantastic Four; #93-94)
  • The Thing (Ben Grimm, Fantastic Four; #93-94)
  • Her/J’ridia Starduster (#97-101)
  • Nova (Frankie Raye; #97-100)
  • Quasar (Wendell Vaughn, Avengers; #98-101)
  • She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters, Avengers; #98-101)
  • Sersi (Avengers; #98-101)
  • The Vision (Avengers; #98-101)
  • Captain America (Steve Rogers, Avengers; #98-100)
  • Hercules (Avengers; #98-101)
  • Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff, Avengers; #98-100)
  • Wong (#101)
  • Dr. Strange (#101)

Supporting Characters

  • Samuel Higgins (Roxxon; #87-90)
  • General Jeremy Clarke (Canadian Military liaison; #87, 91-92, 97, 101)
  • Susan Dean (Laura and Goblyn’s mother; #89-91, 97-98)
  • Darby Dean (Laura and Goblyn’s father; #89-91, 97-98)
  • Patrick Kerry (government liaison; #91-92, 97, 101)
  • Gary Cody (original government liaison; #92)
  • Major Chasen (original military liaison; #92)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • I was surprised to see that my copy of issue of eighty-seven is signed by both Nicieza and artist Michael Bair.  I don’t remember meeting either of them… Anyway, the issue opens on Wolverine (it is officially the 90s after all) fighting some RCMP dressed in very strange uniforms in British Columbia.  We learn that he’s entered Canada to “settle accounts” but was seen sneaking in. He’s having some problems with his healing factor. In Denver, a Roxxon employee has brought in Roxxon’s British superhero, Windshear, to help with an issue that has machines in their facility from attacking them.  Windshear, who has hard air molecule powers, does not do well with this situation, so Higgins, the guy in charge, decides to call in someone from Canada. In Ottawa, Vindicator leads Northstar, Beta Flight and most of Gamma Flight to chase down Wild Child, who has gone mad or feral. He manages to hurt Northstar, avoid Auric and Silver, and hurt Goblyn.  When Laura Dean tries to warp him away, he guts her, and knocks down Nemesis. Persuasion’s powers don’t work on him, and he tosses Silver into her before running into a crowd. Vindicator, who hasn’t done anything in the fight, orders Jean-Paul to get Laura to the hospital. She then thinks back to the last few days, when after Llan was vanquished, the Canadian government held Alpha in custody until they could arrange hearings into their future.  Earlier that day, Heather spoke in Parliament at the hearing. She acknowledged that Shaman, Talisman, Aurora, and Sasquatch had left to hunt for the missing Puck, and sidestepped a question as to where Box and Diamond Lil have gone. The Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, explains that he recognizes that Llan was influencing them when they made Alpha illegal. He’d like to see Alpha work with the government again, but Heather insists on some conditions, which ruffles the feathers of General Clarke.  Heather wins points for stating her goal as serving Canada. Mulroney wants to restart Department H, and recommends that Gamma Flight be disbanded and placed in a training program under Alpha. This angers Wild Child, and he tries to attack the Prime Minister before rushing out a window. We see that Wolverine is watching him, and then we are all filled in. In a hospital, earlier, Elizabeth, Walter, Aurora, and Michael are looking for Puck. The room he was in carries mystical echoes, and they are able to see that he was taken.  Sasquatch gets angry and confronts the doctors. Madison and Lil, who is all in leather, arrive at the Roxxon facility. Box tries to get to the basement, and ends up communicating with an angry entity within the system. He blacks out. When he wakes up later, he talks about coming across an angry man. Logan catches Wild Child in a park, and attacks him. Heather flies around for a bit, thinking about how she doesn’t fully trust Madison, and doesn’t know if she should accept the government’s offer. She meets up with Gamma, including the recently arrived Witchfire to see what they should do about Wild Child.  Logan drops the unconscious Child at their feet and says hi to Heather.
  • Heather is not too happy to learn that Logan is still alive and didn’t tell her (remember, this is the early days of the Muir Island Saga, when the X-Men were presumed dead but were also no longer in the Outback).  Heather tells Kara that they are going to put Wild Child in custody, as he was only ever freed because of Llan’s influence. Nemesis doesn’t like this. Shaman and his crew, including Aurora who is sporting a hooded outfit designed to evoke a habit, but is still skin-tight) arrive in South Dakota, where they’ve learned Puck was taken.  As they are about to search, they are attacked by three men who have been transformed into monstrosities incapable of speech. Aurora tries to avoid violence, using her mutating light powers to bring peace to these creatures, but she causes them pain. Talisman uses her powers to commune with one of them, and learns that they are facing the Master of the World again, and that his base is inside the Black Hills.  At the Denver Roxxon facility, Higgins meets with his people, Windshear, Box, Lil, and via screen, Valerie Cooper. They figure that they can’t stop the entity taking over the Roxxon facility because it moves too quickly for Madison to keep up. Cooper suggests recruiting Forge to help. In Ottawa, Heather and Logan sit in a pub to talk. Heather updates him (and us), stating that Laura is barely alive, and that Northstar and Kara are with her.  Logan explains that he couldn’t tell Heather he was alive, and they talk about his failing healing factor and the fact that he’s dying. She suggests that they use Wild Child’s healing factor to jumpstart his, despite him being in jail. In South Dakota, Elizabeth opens a portal to the Master’s base, which is tucked underground and between dimensions. Sasquatch is dismissive of how much of a threat the Master is, but they are all surprised when they find the naked Puck trussed up, tall, and in the process of being deformed.  As the Boxship approaches Muir Island, Madison, Lil, and Windshear are attacked by a variety of secondary characters wearing X-Men suits – Banshee, Forge, Tom Corsi, Sharon Friedlander (weirdly identified as Mary), Amanda Sefton, and Moira MacTaggert. After a minor skirmish, they talk, and Forge agrees to go help them. Heather and Logan break into the correctional facility where Wild Child is being held. Heather uses her suit to break in, but also kills the power. Logan takes out some guards, but they find Wild Child’s cell to be empty.  In Denver, things are getting worse at the Roxxon facility, and many employees have been killed. They try to monitor the entity in the system, and discover that in the middle of it all is James MacDonald Hudson, who was thought dead for two years.
  • Shaman’s squad figures out, through a combination of Aurora’s, Shaman’s, and Talisman’s abilities, that Puck was injected by people working for the Master of the World, with a genetic compound made of enzymes from Scramble and Puck’s older DNA, from when he was a dwarf.  This is what began to reshape and mutate him, as part of the Master’s plan to create beings to mate with Marrina’s offspring. Sasquatch thinks he can cure him with science, but he’ll be a dwarf again. Puck, in pain, agrees. Vindicator and Wolverine are in Sault Ste. Marie, having tracked Wild Child to an abandoned Roxxon gas station.  They figure out that it was Gamma Flight that helped him to escape. Kara and Jean-Paul stand over Laura’s hospital bed, where she continues to be at great risk. She needs a kidney and a blood transfusion, but because of her mutant nature, and the fact that she warped Goblyn away, it doesn’t look like anything can be done for her. Just then her parents arrive, asking if they would be a suitable match.  At the Roxxon facility, Higgins worries for his job while Box’s crew investigate the fact that they’ve found James Hudson. Hudson begins to take control of Box, which leads to them revealing to Higgins that they know he’s there. Lil recounts the story that Delphine Courtney made up about Hudson being transported through space and time to an alien world, then sleeping for ten thousand years before returning to Earth.  Higgins reveals that was all true. In South Dakota, Sasquatch begins the treatment to save Judd, which is very painful. They are interrupted by the arrival of the Master, who has hundreds of mutated Remnant Men that he commands to attack them. As they fight, Puck, back to his smaller size but in perfect health, emerges from the test tube he was in. Vindicator and Wolverine track Gamma Flight to an industrial facility, where they are attacked.  Nemesis declares that they are going to protect Wild Child. The Boxship lands near Hudson, and Box merges with Forge to approach him. They avoid some attacks until they reach Hudson. There, Madison talks to him about all they have in common, from their days in Department H to their love for Heather. This wakes Hudson up, and he’s surprised he’s alive.
  • Vindicator and Wolverine engage in battle with Gamma Flight, immediately taking down Auric and Silver, then Nemesis and Witchfire, before Logan begins to give Wild Child a vicious beating.  In Denver, Madison and Forge work to examine Hudson, who explains that the story Delphine Courtney told about him travelling back in time and living with the Qwrlln was correct, only when he arrived on Earth, he didn’t revive.  He was found by a Roxxon research boat, and was brought to Denver where he slept and unconsciously accessed the computers. When Samuel Higgins decided to get rid of him, his unconscious mind fought back. Forge and Windshear confront Higgins.  Hudson prepares to leave, and has a quick chat wherein he forgives Lil for trying to kill him with Omega Flight, but then tells Higgins he can never forgive him for trying to kill him in the next panel. Windshear quits, stating his wish to come with Alpha.  Higgins writes in his journal about wanting to get revenge on Hudson and Windshear. In South Dakota, the other other Alpha squad continues to fight the Master’s Remnant Men. Elizabeth grabs Shaman’s pouch and puts it over her head so she can locate the correct spell to stop the Remnants, knowing it can have an effect on her sanity.  The Master decides to retreat. Elizabeth finds the right spell and uses it, just as the Master decides to teleport his base away, depositing Alpha outside. Elizabeth is unconscious, and leading Shaman to believe she might be dead (this did not seem high-stakes enough for this). Vindicator and Wolverine talk to Gamma Flight, giving them a choice on how to proceed.  Auric and Silver decide to return to China (despite having defected) and Heather wishes them luck. Witchfire declares her interest in joining Alpha’s training program. Nemesis refuses to take responsibility for her actions, and calling Heather and Logan hypocrites, triggers something on her sword which appears to disintegrate her and Wild Child. Logan gives a short speech about how Heather is the right person to be a guardian for Canada, and she thinks about the name.  Later, at the hospital, Heather arrives and is happy to see Puck back with the team. Michael explains that Elizabeth suffered neurological damage, and that they won’t know until she wakes how badly she’s been affected. We learn that Laura is out of critical, thanks to a transfusion from her parents, but is in a coma. Heather meets Laura’s parents, and then Madison, Lil, and Windshear arrive. Madison explains that he went to help Roxxon, which angers her, until she sees Mac.  They embrace and he seems pretty robotic. A couple days later, back on Parliament Hill, Prime Minister Mulroney announces that Department H is back in business, with Gamma Flight being an administrative and scientific wing, Beta Flight a training wing again, and Alpha Flight the superhero team, operating under Heather’s command. Heather is going to go by Guardian now, and Mac, wearing a costume that reverses the colours of his old one, will be Vindicator (which is not at all confusing).  There are thirteen Alphans, Puck points out. In Latveria, Doctor Doom prepares for trade talks with Canada, but also prepares to get what he wants.
  • Alpha has received a tip about an illegal weapons shipment coming into Corner Brook Newfoundland, and have responded.  Northstar, Puck, and Diamond Lil attack some dockworkers, and then engage with some armored foes from the Latverian Liberation Front.  Vindicator and Box arrive and attack from the air, and we see that Vindicator has new abilities, now that his battlesuit is basically a part of him.  They take out the terrorists, who then all get fried by their own suits to prevent their capture. Vindicator calls Guardian, who is in the old Department H headquarters in Ottawa to tell her what’s up.  She notices how distant and remote he is before going to update General Clarke. They were tipped off to all of this by Doctor Doom, who is in Ottawa to negotiate trade, and who demands that Alpha Flight provide him security.  At the hospital the next day, Heather checks up on Michael and Elizabeth. We learn that Elizabeth has basically lobotomized herself, and has no memory of her powers. Michael feels guilty again, and has taken to wearing a black hooded cloak.  We learn that Latverian water has become tainted, so Doom is hoping to negotiate with Canada, which has the world’s largest supply of freshwater (this is one of many random Canadian facts and/references made throughout this issue in an attempt to appear knowledgeable about the country).  They go to check in on Laura, who is still in a coma, and Heather tells her parents that when Laura is healthy, they are going to try to make Alpha Flight her legal guardians. Sasquatch, Witchfire, and Windshear are at the future site of Department H in Toronto, along with their new government liaison, Patrick Kerry, who isn’t introduced and who looks a lot like John Constantine.  While there, Windshear complains that he hasn’t been officially been made a part of the team. A cable holding scrap metal up on the building breaks (why are they building the headquarters out of scrap metal?) and falls towards them; the heroes save the day. Doom begins his negotiations with Prime Minister Mulroney, with Alpha present. Vindicator begins to suspect that Doom is not actually Doom.  More members of the Latverian Liberation Army teleport in and there is a fight. As Alpha prevails, Hudson senses something and has everyone back away just as the terrorists immolate again. Hudson realizes that Doom controlled that, and has been playing everyone, setting this up from the jump. Doom teleports away. Elsewhere, the real Doctor Doom gives the method of fixing his nation’s water to the Symkarian ambassador to Latveria; he is working to undermine Kristoff’s rule, proving that Vindicator was right in guessing that wasn’t Doom in Ottawa.  At a fancy restaurant, General Clarke meets with Patrick Kerry, despite their clear dislike for one another, to suggest that James Hudson should be in charge of Alpha Flight.
  • Issue ninety-two features are by Dan Reed, who I’m not familiar with.  He did a fine job. Guardian and Vindicator are engaging in a Danger Room-like sparring session, designed to test the limits of Vindicator’s new abilities.  They are monitored by Michael and Walter, as well as by General Clarke and Patrick Kerry, who now looks a lot like Gary Cody, instead of John Constantine. Mac uses his knowledge of Heather’s suit to shut her down, which angers her, as does his general aloofness since he returned.  General Clarke joins Mac in the change room, and tells him that he wants him to be the leader of Alpha Flight. The leads to Mac remembering a time in the early days of the team, just after his run-in with the X-Men. Department H, specifically Major Chasen and Clarke wanted the team implanted with a biochip that would allow them to be tracked and possibly controlled.  Mac takes it to the team, who don’t like the idea, especially since the chip is designed by Roxxon. Mac heads home and talks to Heather, who reminds him that he has access to Roxxon’s Sault Ste. Marie facilities (Nicieza seems to think these two places are close together – it’s an eight and a half hour drive between them). Mac heads into the facility (he’s shown driving there, so it’s amazing he got there in one night) where he reads the computer files and discovers that the chip would allow “sensory systems manipulation”.  He leaves, and we see that he was kind of set up by Major Chasen in some way. He shows his data to General Clarke, who suggests he take his battlesuit to put a stop to the whole thing. Mac returns wearing his suit (which Bob Sharen coloured in reverse, like his modern one, when it should have been his original – ah, 90s editing), and starts to wreck things. While trashing stuff and holding off guards, he begins to lose control of his suit, which he blames on a tech working there. This whole thing has left Mac shaken, and Clarke acts like it’s Chasen’s fault, firing him from his role as Alpha’s liaison.  Clarke then pushes Mac to develop his own chip to implant in the Alphans, for “the good of Canada” and Mac agrees. Later, Chasen and Clarke meet and we see they’d played Mac, having planned the whole thing (although I’m not sure to what end). In the present, Mac pushes back against the idea of being made leader, but Clarke gets manipulative again. He goes to see Heather in the women’s changeroom and tells her what Clarke wants. They end up embracing. In New York, Mister Fantastic reads an increase in “psychometric activity” in the remote Yukon, and tells the Invisible Woman that they are headed North to investigate.
  • Issue ninety-three is narrated by Headlok, in a slightly stream-of-consciousness manner.  The issue opens in the north, where four members of Alpha – Vindicator, Sasquatch, Shaman, and Aurora – as well as Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four, lie unconscious in a house.  As he narrates, he taps into each person’s mind, and reconstructs what led to this scene. The Fantastic Four came to Canada to investigate the weird brain energy they detected, and Guardian, who is wearing a different headgear now, almost completely open around the top of her head and face (despite the fact that it’s the helmet that controls her suit), sends the squad named above with them.  The Thing (in the era where Ben Grimm can turn human again) and the Human Torch stick around to watch a hockey game in a different city. When the team arrived, they found the area very quiet. All the townsfolk in Tuktoyaktuk approach them in a menacing, but also mindless way. Sasquatch wants to fight them all, and shows signs of rage, while Aurora is determined to find a peaceful solution. Some fighting happens, and we see that Headlok, in the present, is behaving very creepily towards Aurora (did I mention that he’s naked, except for the cloak he took from Shaman?).  Aurora was frustrated that her light couldn’t soothe the mindless people. Vindicator traced a signal discovered by Reed to a house outside of town, and we see how Headlok views Mac’s half-mechanical mind. When the team approached Headlok’s place (Reed recognized him from a West Coast Avengers file), he forced Reed into crashing the Fantasticar. Sasquatch raged, and then his mind shut down. Over a few pages, Headlok takes out the whole team, playing on some bad memories for Susan (of her miscarried baby) and Michael (of his failures to help Talisman). The last to fall was Vindicator.  After defeating these foes, Headlok puts on a ridiculous version of a supervillain costume, and prepares for the second wave – Guardian, Northstar, Windshear, Witchfire, The Thing, and the Human Torch, who have just arrived.
  • The squad just mentioned above has come looking for their missing friends, as Headlok’s annoying narration continues.  As the squad explores the town, Headlok watches, and sends the townsfolk to confront them again. He also sends in the heroes, as Vindicator gets the drop on The Thing.  Heather has Windshear set up some protection from the normal people, and Sasquatch jumps on The Thing. Vindicator and Heather begin to fight, while Northstar takes on Mister Fantastic.  Windshear fights the Invisible Woman, whose experience intimidates him, while Aurora uses her newer light powers on the Torch. He somehow flips her powers back on her, freeing her from Headlok’s grip.  She works to free Susan, while Witchfire uses her magic to free Shaman through emotional pain. As Sasquatch continues to pound on the Thing, we learn that he’s wearing a Thing exo-skeleton (it’s so hard to remember some of these random eras now).  As he gets beaten on, Ben gets Walter to realize he’s become a monster, and he turns human and regains his mind. Northstar stretches Reed almost to the breaking point, the pain of which causes Headlok to release him. Finally, Heather figures the way to free Mac is to override his human side.  She has everyone attack him, and his mechanical self takes over. He’s able to figure out a way to block Headlok’s signals. Realizing that his time is almost up, Headlok tries to escape but is easily captured. Jean-Paul and Walter are cruel to him, playing on his own sense of inadequacy. Reed creates a device to block his powers, which frees the townspeople.  The team piles into the Omnijet (which looks so much like an Avengers Quinjet that it even has a big A on it). Aurora and Windshear decide to fly back under their own power, and as they head out, they discuss how Aurora’s new powers make her feel like she should leave the team, and Colin talks about how he has so much to learn to be effective as a hero. In Toronto, Madison, Lil, and Judd, who have been watching the construction of their base, make plans to go to Lichee Gardens for dinner.  This did touch a nostalgic nerve in me, as I fondly remember this classy and dark Chinese restaurant well. They split up to get ready, and while Ll takes a shower, she think about how she thinks she’ll end up with Madison now that Mac is back. She also worries about a lump in her breast that she’s been ignoring for a year.
  • The Statement of Ownership for 1990 lists an average press run of 75 000 copies, with no newsstand returns, as at this point, the book is direct market only.
  • Issue ninety-five is just the type of comic I’ve always loved – it explores the lives of characters without a supervillain or major threat, and ends with lengthy discussions of the logistics of a superhero team.  I’m not being facetious, I really do like stories like this. In the first of three spotlights on characters, Jeanne-Marie goes to confession in a church in Toronto. She feels uneasy with the violence her role as hero forces her to use.  She provides the priest with her whole backstory, and talks about how her powers have changed to the point where her light provides people with inner peace. Leaving the church, she finds herself surrounded by homeless people, and she bathes them in her light, providing them with hope and faith.  Colin Ashworth is in Mount Pleasant Cemetery (a place I grew up close to and spent much time wandering through as a teenager), visiting the grave of his grandfather. It turns out that Colin, who came from England and just kind of ended up with Alpha after he quit Roxxon, is actually Canadian and started his life in Toronto, until his British diplomat father had to return to England, and his mom and Colin went with him, against his grandfather’s wishes.  We see that Colin lost touch with his grandfather, and when he died, decided to remain in England rather than return for his funeral. Now he regrets that, and is wondering if he’s got a place in Alpha Flight. Entering the subway, he sees someone getting swarmed for his jacket (ahh, Toronto of the early 90s and stories of swarming, how I don’t miss you), and uses his powers to protect the guy. In the now mostly-complete new Alpha headquarter’s gym, Heather and Judd help train Kara, impressing upon her the need to be able to fight in case her powers fail her in a situation.  Kara feels like she’s ready to be on the main team, but also accepts Heather and Puck’s arguments. Heather heads into the washroom and finds Lil on the floor crying. She ends up telling Heather she has a lump and discolouration in her breast, and that she is afraid. Heather says a lot of the right things, and gets her to go to Department H’s medical division, which has a mammography machine for some reason. Later, the whole team convenes in a meeting. Heather is about to explain the new roster, when Aurora announces she’s resigning from active membership, asking to be assigned to Gamma Flight to help the psychiatric unit counsel prisoners.  Heather agrees. Lil decides to tell everyone about her breast, and explains that the doctors can’t do a biopsy because of her invulnerability. She pledges herself to give her best to the team in the interim. Heather explains that there will be three levels of Department H – Alpha Flight will be the actual superhero team, Beta Flight will be the training wing, and Gamma Flight will be support staff, with members from Alpha assigned certain roles. She announces that Alpha will consist of herself, Vindicator, Sasquatch, Northstar, Puck, Diamond Lil, Box, and Windshear. Shaman is made the instructor of Beta Flight, which consists of Talisman (while she recovers from her injuries), Persuasion, and Witchfire.  As well, Vindicator, Sasquatch, Box, Witchfire, Talisman, and Shaman are given roles in Gamma Flight.
  • The Master stands in his spaceship with a falcon on his arm, narrating a very wordy issue.  He is both feeling his lack of success as the self-styled Master of the World, and also his superiority as he monitors everything that happens on Earth.  He is amused by news reports of an oil tanker spilling crude into a bay. At the same time, a small squad of Alphans – Guardian, Windshear, Box, Diamond Lil, and Puck, move to assist, so the Master decides to play a prank on them.  He takes a clone or a human he’s holding in stasis, and teleports him into the hold where he is made to look like an injured worker. As Alpha lands on the tanker, Madison and Lil talk about her potential cancer. Colin and Heather work to minimize the oil slick before joining their colleagues in entering the tanker to stop the leak and put out any fires below decks.  The Master, now naked and talking to his falcon, recaps his long life story and talks about how he has a vial of Scramble’s remains, which he wants to use to remake himself. Alpha fights fires, and moves into a more dangerous part of the ship because they know there is a person down there. The Master uses the vial on himself, and his body undergoes a painfully described transformation, until the scars on his head are healed, and he is whole and handsome.  He sees himself as the Master of Man and yells at the Earth for a bit. Alpha rescues the fake worker, but there is fear that all the oil will ignite because the water pumps aren’t working properly (I don’t get this part). Heather heads to the pumps to operate them manually, which visually looks weird, but then there is a flare-up of fire somehow, and Colin comes to rescue her. For some reason, she needs him to fly her out, despite the fact that in the panel before, she can still fly.  The anonymous single guy working to save the ship is happy. The Master’s prank didn’t do much, but he seems to be satisfied with things, and puts on a new more powerful suit of armor which is identical to the stuff he usually wears, and then he wrings his falcon’s neck to prove that he is the Master of everything. This issue kind of sucked.
  • Guardian and Vindicator tour the basically complete new Department H building, led by Patrick Kerry and General Clarke.  They are shown the communications system, and learn how they are connected with other nations’ supergroups. There is still some distrust, especially between Heather and Clarke, but they are all after the same goals.  In deep space, Her is running from an alien Consortium, and is running low on power. She jumps into hyperspace, and the aliens figure out she is heading for Earth. Shaman, Madison, and Dr. Whitman Knapp (he’s back!) work together to try to biopsy Lil’s breast, but the laser Madison uses isn’t able to penetrate her skin (I guess we aren’t worrying about her having an invulnerability aura anymore).  Kara interrupts their discussion with the news that Laura Dean has awoken from her coma. Her arrives outside of Earth orbit, and has barely enough energy to angle herself towards New York, but she falls into the Toronto Eaton Centre instead. In another part of space, near the planet Quwrll, some sentry Quwrllns freak out at the appearance of Nova, the Frankie Raye version, herald of Galactus. Michael examins Laura, who is conscious but not aware.  They are interrupted by Heather, who calls for Vindicator, Northstar, and Box to meet her on the flight deck. They get into one of their new scamper-jets to head to the Eaton Centre. Once there, without Northstar who likely isn’t slower than their jet, they find Her, who has also been going by the name J’ridia Starduster. She explains that she rescued a planet from the Consortium, and is now being chased. Just then, some of the alien ships (almost a dozen) arrive.  Angry that the destruction is about finances, Heather asks for more discussion. It looks like the Consortium fires on her, just as Northstar shows up, and they all start fighting. The fight causes damage to the city’s downtown, and the team debates if they are doing the right thing in the fight. They are given a sky-written message telling them to stand down, and a massive ship decloaks over Toronto, threatening obliteration if they don’t hand over Her.
  • The squad of Alphans prepare for battle as a large wave of attack craft come streaming out of the giant mothership.  Her joins them in battle, although she is feeling a little guilty about all the destruction being caused in her defense.  Sasquatch, Puck, and Windshear arrive in the Department H hangar bay, and call the rest of the team, who are all with Laura Dean.  Shaman prepares Beta Flight (Persuasion and Witchfire) and Aurora to come with him, and gives some instructions to Laura’s parents.  Lil asks if she’s cleared for action, which Shaman allows. Laura suddenly starts calling for Goblyn and teleports everyone except Lil somewhere.  The Quwrllns, acknowledging that Nova is the herald of Galactus, teleport their planet away (or maybe make it invisible). Sasquatch and his squad arrive at the scene of the battle.  Lil and Sasquatch jump on the attacking ships, while Windshear uses his powers in new ways. Puck and Northstar try to evacuate civilians, as ground troops land and begin to attack. Northstar breaks his arm in fighting them, and puts on one of their arm guards (although subsequent images don’t show it).  Lil gets shot with some kind of alien laser that hurts her, possibly breaking her skin. She goes after the alien that shot her, leaving the battle. Sasquatch and Northstar fight aliens for a couple of pages. Guardian is hurt, and in trying to save her, so is Windshear. Vindicator also takes a shot, which causes Her to think about giving herself up.  A third wave of aliens arrive just as Lil catches the little guy. Things look bad, but Alpha is joined by the Avengers (Quasar, She-Hulk, Sersi, The Vision, Hercules, Captain America, and the Black Widow). This issue also contains a full-page pin-up of Witchfire, which is probably more space than she’s been given since being created.
  • It wasn’t clear before, but when the Quwrllns moved their planet, into another dimension, we learn, they took Nova with them.  She is impressed that their society was built around protecting themselves from Galactus, but she points out that he can home in on her, and just then, he arrives.  As the Avengers join Alpha Flight in fighting off the Consortium, Her continues to wonder if she is in the right seeking refuge on Earth and exposing so many to danger.  Captain America questions the combined teams’ ability to hold off the invaders, and various team members, fighting away, echo those notions. Diamond Lil catches up to the alien whose weapon was able to pierce her skin, but she learns that its bonded to his arm, and that removing it might kill him.  The Quwrllns, worried for their planet, decide to contact their agent, who they claim the resurrected to help protect them from Galactus (despite the fact that they found him thousands of years before Earth established its ability to hold off Galactus from eating it). There is a lull in the battle in Toronto, and the two teams gather as alien forces amass around them.  Lil shows up, with the blaster in her hand, and apologizes for running off. Her explains why the Consortium is after her (basically, she helped a society return to their agrarian roots, in defiance of a contract). The Consortium sends an emissary to discuss negotiations, with heavy-handed terms. Her decides to surrender to them, but before she can, Vindicator receives a message from the Quwrllns, which causes his technology to take command of him.  He teleports a bunch of people away with him, including Her. This upsets the Consortium, who see it as a trick, and warn that they are going to take over the planet. On Quwrll, Vindicator arrives, with Sersi, Vision, Box, Hercules, Windshear, Quasar, and Guardian. Weirdly, Her is not shown as being with them. The Quwrllns let them know they are needed to fight Galactus.
  • The team that’s left on Earth continues to fight the Consortium, as Captain America leads them into the subway (which he calls the Metro, like we’re in Montreal).  Somehow Puck is invulnerable now. The squad that’s been teleported to Quwrll (Her is clearly with them now) confront Vindicator and the Quwrlln who brought them over teleporting them without permission.  They learn about Galactus, and Heather confronts Mac, trying to connect to his human side, which is not evident. The Quwrllns explain how they’ve built their society around protecting themselves from Galactus, and how they colonized other worlds, like the moon of Jupiter when Mac showed up there.  We learn that they made alterations to Mac’s programming after observing the Fantastic Four’s first conflict with Galactus so that they could recall him if necessary. Heather and the others question if the Quwrlln deserve to be saved from Galactus, and Her compares him to the Consortium, but in the end, they agree they need to save the innocent Quwrllns.  They begin to fight with Nova, and when Galactus turns his power on them, it fizzles out (literally, that’s the sound effect). On Earth, Cap’s squad decides on a course of action. He sends Sasquatch, She-Hulk, and Lil to distract the Consortium, and sends Northstar to find a vessel so he, Cap, Black Widow, and Puck can get up to the mothership. They can operate the ship because the Consortium have programmed Japanese into their translator, and Natasha and Judd both speak it.  Heather’s squad are able to hurt Galactus, which makes him very angry. Windshear talks to Nova, who they’ve captured, and the Quwrllns explain that the dimension they are in affects Galactus’s powers. Cap’s squad makes it to the mothership. Puck and the Widow disable their communications and recall all the vessels, while Cap and Northstar discover that the ship is powered by a small planet. On Quwrll, the fight against Galactus continues until he grabs Heather in his fist and threatens to kill her.  Vindicator is going to attack anyway, figuring that Heather’s needs don’t outweigh the needs of the many, but then his human side takes over, and he attacks still, managing to free Heather and bring Galactus down. With Galactus out of commission, the group decides they need to get him away from Quwrll, and head back to finish off the Consortium. Hearing this, Galactus mentions that they are known for using planets as fuel. Nova suggests that they work out a compromise. The Widow and Puck program the Consortium ship to depart, and communicate with Cap that they have to go.  Using Quwrlln and Galactus’s technology, Vindicator has built a teleporter (although we already know they have one) to send them back into the proper dimension and home, and bring the Consortium ship to this dimension (I’m surprised that Galactus is good with this, as it abandons him there). They need to use Heather and Mac’s battlesuits to power the device (even though Madison could likely make something just as effective), which means they’d have to stay behind or maybe die. This feels very forced. Heather and Madison share a moment (which is the first that their relationship has been acknowledged for a while), and they begin the teleportation process.  Cap and his squad leave the mothership, just as it starts to glow. Mac pushes Heather out of the way, and as all the teleporting takes place, he says goodbye. That group of heroes comes home, and the Consortium find themselves standing in front of Galactus (who is going to be nourished by this tiny planet?). With both teams fully assembled, Heather explains that Mac sacrificed himself, saying he’s dead, although when we last saw him, he was just surrounded by yellow light bubbles. We see how much destruction has been wrought in Toronto, including the legendary comic shop, the Silver Snail (which is likely where I got the first four issues of this run signed by Nicieza and Bair.
  • Some of the Avengers have stuck around to help Alpha Flight clean up after the fight in Toronto, and out of boredom, Hercules picks a fight with Sasquatch.  Quasar stops them before they create more destruction. Northstar has gone to New York with Sersi and the Vision, hoping that Doctor Strange can help him find his sister and the other missing Alphans (really, they’re all Betans).  Strange takes them to the Interdimensional Crossroads of Time so he can better search. Heather and Judd visit Mac’s first grave in Ottawa. Heather talks about how she doesn’t feel as lost as she did the first time Mac died. They are joined by General Clarke and Patrick Kerry, who express their condolences, and give Heather their support.  Madison and Whitman prepare to use the alien laser to biopsy the lump in Lil’s breast. Madison makes it clear that his relationship with Heather is over, and that he hopes he can find love with Lil. As the Avengers prepare to leave Toronto, Her tells Quasar she’s going to explore the Earth for a while. Sasquatch and Windshear decide to go back to the base and then go drinking.  Searching, Strange ends up opening multiple doors to different worlds, frustrated that he can sense the path the Laura Dean took everyone, but unable to find them. He’s under a lot of strain, and his open portals make it possible for a pile of monsters to come through the open gateways and attack them. The heroes clear them up quickly, but it becomes obvious that if Strange keeps searching, he might die.  Jean-Paul convinces him to stop looking and take them home. Jean-Paul flies off, feeling sad for having lost his sister. Later, the team stands over a new grave for Mac, this time in Toronto, and Heather pledges to continue to live Mac’s dream. When they return to Department H, Whitman tells Lil that the cyst in her breast is benign, and Northstar ends Nicieza’s run on a hopeful note.

Nicieza was only on this book for about a year, and spent much of that time setting up a complicated team structure that he then basically erased by tossing most of the secondary characters away to another dimension.  I don’t really understand the thinking behind that, unless it was one of the many indefensible editorial mandates that took over Marvel in the early 90s.

I liked the way Department H was designed to be more than a superhero agency, and would have liked to see further exploration of how team member’s dual commitments to Alpha and Gamma Flights might have played out, story-wise.  I was also curious to see how Shaman managed as the Beta Flight instructor, especially since he was still being portrayed as an aloof and mostly heartless character, a big shift from his earliest John Byrne-written appearances.

The thing I really don’t understand about this run is why Nicieza would bring Mac back just to kill him off within the year.  His return to the book wasn’t as dramatic as it should have been, nor did the few pages given over to his relationship to Heather land very well.  It felt like it was obligatory, but not something that Nicieza cared about. The same can be said for the subplot that had General Clarke wanting Mac to replace Heather as team leader.  I also found it very confusing that Heather and Mac swapped superhero codenames – it must have been very confusing for the other Alphans.

Character development was largely lacking during this run.  The character that probably got the most was Diamond Lil, and her cancer story was one of the few places where I found it possible to relate or even care about a person in this book.  Aurora got some decent character work as well, as her powers evolved, but that ended in her being effectively written out of the book.

Windshear was introduced during this run, and it’s not clear why.  His power set isn’t particularly exciting, although “hard air molecules” is definitely unique.  It wasn’t clear why he decided to go with Alpha when he quit his job at Roxxon, and once he got to Canada, and it was discovered he was born there, we only saw glimmers of his self-doubt, to no great effect.  That’s a story that could have been built up a lot more, especially since the rest of the team is now more seasoned than him, but it was just glossed over.

Maybe the problem is that there were just too many characters on the team for them to get much space.  Puck’s returned to the team, but doesn’t appear to have feelings for Heather anymore (also, he’s invulnerable?  I still don’t understand that one). Sasquatch is working alongside his great love again, but they barely talk. Talisman gets a brain injury for no good reason and just disappears.  Shaman’s guilt is gone. Northstar only occasionally remembers to be a jerk. Box doesn’t remember until the last issue of the run that he’s engaged. Nicieza filled each issue with story, but mostly forgot the characters, treating them as interchangeably as the guest star Avengers and Fantastic Four.  Even the Headlok story, which has the characters’ fears revealed, didn’t do anything to propel any of them forward, aside from Aurora.

I think of Nicieza as one of the most reliable journeymen writers of the early 90s.  His comics were never bad, but they were also never very memorable. His Alpha Flight work fits right into that zone.

In terms of the art, I was always pleased with Michael Bair’s work on this book.  He’s a difficult artist – he draws small and detailed images, which sometimes due to colour or inking errors, make it hard to follow, or to identify characters.  There are lots of places where I wasn’t sure what was happening, but in general, I really like his work.

Two things really stand out in Bair’s art, and I found that I became mildly obsessed with both while I was reading these issues.  For one, he draws flying characters in very strange poses. They often look like they’re falling from great heights, or gently floating like leaves dropping from trees in autumn.  He often draws them from odd angles, that help show off his other quirk. No one draws rear ends like Michael Bair! I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it’s a clear fact. The women in this book got a lot thicker during his time, especially Aurora, and her odd flight patterns helped draw the readers’ eyes right there.  I want to go back to his run on Young All-Stars (a future column, for sure) and see if the same thing was happening there, or if it’s something he developed just for this book.

Another thing I like about the visuals for this book is some of the new character designs.  Vindicator’s reverse-colourway Guardian suit looks incredibly cool.  I’ve always loved the Guardian look from Byrne’s day on the title, but this inversion really makes it pop, and gives Mac’s character some edge.  Likewise, I think that the new look Aurora sports, which marries conventional/sexy superhero tights with a hood that evokes her nun’s habit, is unique and a winner.  They’re not all gems though – I hate Windshear’s look, especially his boxy helmet.

Bair was succeeded on the book by Tom Morgan, whom I’m going to have a lot more to say about in my next column.  From what I remember, his work (and especially his Sasquatch) was beyond terrible, as was the writing when Scott Lobdell took over.  I remember having some hope for the next run, but ended up hating (although still buying) it. We’ll find out next time if it’s as bad as I remember, or worse.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you’re going to have to do some longbox digging, I’m afraid.

 

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