Alpha Flight #102-109, Special #1 (November 1991 – June 1992)
Written by Scott Lobdell (#102-108, Special #1), Sven Larsen (#109), Simon Furman (#109, Special #1)
Pencilled by Tom Morgan (#102-105, 107-108), Mark Pacella (#106), Craig Brasfield (#109), Pat Broderick (#109, Special #1)
Inked by Chris Ivy (#102-105), Dan Panosian (#106), Tom Morgan (#107-108), Ralph Cabrera (#109), Bruce Patterson (#109, Special #1)
Colour by Bob Sharen (#102-109, Special #1), Ariane (#109)
Spoilers (from twenty-seven to twenty-eight years ago)
I feel like there were two tiers of crappy Marvel comics in the early and mid 90s. One is the familiar kind drawn and then “written” by superstar artists who just wanted to introduce new characters every few pages. The other kind is the B-list books that tried to make their way by imitating X-Force. When I think about books like that, one of the names that quickly comes to mind is writer Scott Lobdell. For some reason, he was given control of Alpha Flight, and was joined by Tom Morgan, who did his best to imitate the Liefeldian school of bizarre anatomy and no substance. What I remember from these books is, of course, the famous “coming out” issue that centred on Northstar, which I remember at the time as being very disappointing, because of just how bad it looked and read. Beyond that, I remember being annoyed by the direction the book went, and not really being interested in the introduction of Weapon Omega, a desperate attempt to leech off the growing popularity of Deadpool at the time.
Are these comics as bad as I remember? Are they possibly worse? Let’s find out…
Let’s track who turned up in the title:
- Guardian (Heather Hudson; #102-109)
- Puck (Eugene Milton Judd; #102-106, 109)
- Windshear (Colin Ashworth Hume; #102-106, 109)
- Northstar (Jean-Paul Beaubier; #102-109)
- Box (Madison Jeffries #102-105, 109)
- Diamond Lil (Lil Crawley; #102-105, 109)
- Sasquatch (Walter Langkowski; #102-109)
- Weapon Omega (Kyle, FKA Wild Child; #102-109)
- Aurora (Jeanne-Marie Beaubier; #104-109)
- Witchfire (#109)
- Laura Dean (#109)
- Goblyn (#109)
- Persuasion (Kara Killgrave; #109)
- Talisman (Elizabeth Twoyoungmen; #109)
- Aurora (Jeanne-Marie Beaubier; #102-104)
- Whitman Knapp (#104, 109)
- Wolverine (Logan; Special #1)
- Smart Alec (Alec Thorne; Special #1)
- Snowbird (Narya; Special #1)
- Saint Elmo (Special #1)
- Walter Langkowski (Special #1)
- James MacDonald Hudon (Special #1)
- Groundhog (Sean Benard; Special #1)
- Needle (Jodi; Special #1)
- Michael Twoyoungmen (Special #1)
- Diablo (#102-103)
- Whirlwind (#102)
- Headlok (#102-104)
- Pink Pearl (#105)
- Mr. Hyde (#106)
- The Brain Drain (#108)
- The Master of the World (#108)
- The Hand (#109)
- The Dreamqueen (#109)
- Egghead (Special #1)
- Porcupine (Special #1)
- Eel (Special #1)
- Swordsman (Special #1)
- Power Man (Special #1)
- The Rhino (Special #1)
- Solarr (Special #1)
- USAgent (John Walker; #102-103)
- Major Mapleleaf (Louis Sadler, #106)
- Havok (Alex Summers, X-Factor; #107)
- Polaris (Lorna Dane, X-Factor; #107)
- Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair, X-Factor; #107)
- Strong Guy (Guido Carosella, X-Factor; #107)
- Multiple Man (Jamie Madrox, X-Factor; #107)
- Valerie Cooper (National Security Council; #107)
- Le Peregrine (#108)
- Shamrock (#108)
- Micro-Max (#108)
- Prodigy (#108)
- Omerta (#108)
- Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards, Fantastic Four; #109)
- Gunther (Department H liaison; #102)
- Joanne Beaubier (Northstar’s adopted daughter; #106)
- Susan Dean (Laura and Goblyn’s mother; #109)
- Darby Dean (Laura and Goblyn’s father; #109)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
- A man in a brown uniform sings about wanting to live in America as he melts like the Nazi at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is happening to entertain Diablo, the alchemist villain who has taken over the nation of Tierra del Maiz, and is finding little amusement in torturing the regime he deposed. He is told that intruders have entered the jungle and are moving against him, which makes him unhappy. We see Guardian, in a black stealth suit, flying through fire from the ground. She is there to help overthrow Diablo’s regime. She uses her suit’s ability to disengage from gravity to avoid some bazooka fire, and upon returning to the foxhole that fired on her, she finds the soldiers in it all knocked out, as if someone is secretly helping her. She suspects it’s Wolverine, but rejects that idea. At Department H, Puck is not happy in his new role as Chief Administrator. Some new liaison named Gunther and Windshear try to change his mind, but instead he gives the job to Windshear and rolls out of the room. Northstar, also in a black stealth suit, learns that Diablo has changed Tierra del Maiz’s water into vinegar. He is surrounded by poor locals, and wants to help them, but is attacked by the villain Whirlwind. Box, in a ship configuration, has crashed upon hitting communication scramblers’ signals, and has been injured. Lil sits with him. Sasquatch also makes his way through the jungle on his mission to destroy the communication scramblers. Heather gets close to Diablo’s castle but is grabbed by vines. Diablo has her prisoner, and recognizes her from their previous battle, which he was embarrassed in. He is about to kill her by turning the vines that hold her into acid when he’s kicked in the face by another Alphan in a stealth suit that covers his face. His speech (with thick coloured borders) and mask immediately makes the reader think of Deadpool. He introduces himself to Heather as “Department H Field Operative: Weapon Omea”, but they are both zapped unconscious and trapped in a bubble by Diablo. Somehow all of this took place in front of bleachers full of representatives of other countries who applaud him, but, we learn, are just humouring him to get their hands on some vibranium. Northstar continues to fight Whirlwind, all the while maneuvering him to create a dam, cutting off the source of tainted water. Whirlwind gets knocked out, the water returns to normal, and people cheer Northstar and maybe give him an oddly-sized baby to baptize? 90s art. Jean-Paul heads out to hunt Diablo. At Department H, two guards dressed like baseball back catchers look in on Headlok, who seems catatonic. Once they are gone, he starts talking to a terrified Aurora, who is maybe in his cell, and not lost in another dimension with Beta Flight? Walter arrives as the communication scrambler dishes, and is about to blow them up. He notices they are built by Roxxon, and is struck by USAgent, who claims Walter is violating a UN agreement, and who wants to start a fight.
- Diablo has Heather and Weapon Omega in his lab, where he’s shrunk Heather’s body and stuck it in a flask, and is attempting to torture Weapon Omega, who appears to not feel pain. Diablo explains that his goal is to sell the most powerful nations in the world quantities of vibranium that will require regular upkeep from him. A fire elemental walks through the jungle of Tierra del Maiz, approaching the still injured Box and Lil, who won’t leave him. As the creature gets close, Madison asks Lil to marry him (he apparently does this a lot). Sasquatch fights with USAgent, who we learn has disabled the explosive Sasquatch planted. As they fight, the Agent talks about the UN’s decisions regarding the country. Windshear is on a television show, in his role as “acting chairperson”, and he basically throws Heather under the bus, saying he wouldn’t have defended Her from the Consortium. Puck watches. Weapon Omega frees himself, and then Heather, from Diablo’s bonds, restoring her body to full size. Heather destroys some earth elementals that try to stop them from escaping, and Weapon Omega demonstrates regret that they died. As USAgent and Sasquatch keep fighting, a fight that should be more one-sided, one of Walter’s explosives goes off. Northstar fixed all the bombs, thereby destroying the comm-scram towers. Diablo gets ready to auction off his fake vibranium to the representatives of different countries, when Guardian and Weapon Omega fire at him. He summons an Elematrix (all four elements in one elemental). Heather fights it while Weapon Omega goes after Diablo. They are joined by Northstar and Sasquatch. The Elematrix is destroyed by the sudden arrival of Box. Madison is still in rough shape, but has somehow made and piloted (without phasing into it) a drill-vessel. Diablo prepares to kill everyone with cyanide, but Weapon Omega tosses a number of his potions at him, and he disappears or melts or something, complaining about having to reconstruct his body. Northstar makes it clear to the various representatives that they were all never there. Heather thanks Weapon Omega for his contribution, and he unmasks, although we don’t get to see his face, claiming he owes the team a debt. They are surprised by his identity, but all we know is that he has long hair. At Department H, Headlok messes around in Aurora’s head.
- Alpha is in their jet, returning from their covert mission, and Sasquatch and Northstar are arguing, while Lil is trying to get everyone to be quiet. Heather lashes out, quieting everyone. We see that medics are working on Madison, and figure out that they are mostly arguing about Weapon Omega, who is revealed to be Wild Child. Heather sticks up for him, siding with the Department H folk who cleared him for active duty and apparently helped him heal his homicidal urges. For his part, Omega promises that he’s better, and that he would never let Alpha Flight down. At Department H, a guard in the secure psychiatric wing hears screams, and opening Headlok’s cell, sees a floating and glowing Aurora calling for help. Headlok messes with the guard, and then returns into Aurora’s mind, where he visualizes her various personas in a church. He focuses on her pre-teen self, and we see her shatter. Windshear is giving a tour of Department H to the media, and has them on the roof as the team’s jet lands, scaring them. Sasquatch points out that this is not the best way to end a covert mission, Heather yells at the pilot, and Windshear steps in to control the narrative. Jean-Paul somehow senses that Aurora is alive, and rushes off. We see that Headlok, in the guise of a nun, is trying to get Jeanne-Marie to remember what actually happened the night of her first flight, but she resists. She lashes out and causes him pain, which is witnessed by the team, which has assembled in the door of his cell. Headlok continues to fight with Aurora in her mind, and unwittingly brings the original Jeanne-Marie to the fore. She uses Aurora’s new light powers to shatter him in the real world. Jean-Paul catches her, noticing that they neither cancel one another out anymore (although that was already taken care of at the end of Mantlo’s run), nor do they send out bursts of light when they touch. A week later, the team has figured out that Aurora was not actually in the room when Laura Dean teleported the rest of Beta Flight away, but was somehow caught in some kind of psychic backlash caused by the fight against the Consortium, which also shorted out the device keeping Headlok under control (this explanation is garbage). We see that Alpha has new matching uniforms that are pretty awful. Madison and Lil join the rest of their teammates, announcing that they are both leaving the team and getting married. Jeanne-Marie also arrives, saying she will join the team, as she is worried that Aurora will gain control of her again. Puck points out that with him working as a “trouble-shooter”, whatever that means, and Windshear mostly riding a desk now (although I don’t know why he’d need to stay in his armor for that), Alpha needs Aurora’s help. The new core team, then is Guardian, Sasquatch, Northstar, Weapon Omega, and Aurora. I’m not sure if they are going to keep up with the Beta and Gamma Flight designations now, as it seems clear Lobdell doesn’t care about that stuff.
- Walter, Jean-Paul, Judd, Colin, and Kyle (Weapon Omega), all in civilian clothes, have taken Madison out for a bachelor party (also, it’s Christmas Eve). They are hanging out in the bar where Judd used to work. Madison picks Kyle to be his best man, because apparently they were best friends back in the old Gamma Flight days (despite the fact that Byrne portrayed Madison as a loner, Mantlo had him being best friends with Roger Bochs, and James Hudnall had him dating Lil at the time). We see some guy cock a shotgun outside the bar. An interlude in Poughkeepsie, where apparently it’s still daylight, shows an older undertaker couple preparing to put a recently deceased woman in the wedding dress she was supposed to wear the day after she died. Heather and Lil are hanging out in Heather’s new apartment before a night out. Aurora (or Jeanne-Marie) arrives outside in a car, and they joke that they can’t tell which one it is. The people in the bar don’t believe that Judd is really Puck (which is ridiculous), and Jean-Paul overhears some guys being homophobic towards two men on a date, and pantses them. Walter is about to apologize to Kyle for something when a guy busts in with a shotgun to hold up the bar. Jeanne-Marie leads the girls to a place called Cloisters that Aurora made a reservation at. It turns out to be a Chippendales-type place, and Jeanne-Marie, who has massive hair now, is not happy. The men of Alpha have a good laugh at the stick-up guy’s expense, despite the fact that he’s promising not to hurt anyone and pay back the money he wants to steal. They take him out quickly. The hardest part of this issue to swallow is that Lil asks Heather what she should expect on her “wedding night”, suggesting that she’s a virgin. Jeanne-Marie talks about how it’s a necessary evil to be endured, but then she switches into Aurora mode and starts dancing with one of the dancers. The would-be robber explains that his landlord has raised his rent and his family is so poor they are practically starving (it is Toronto, after all). Kyle points out that the shotgun that the guy cocked outside is empty. The team decides to help him. Aurora gets grabbed off the stage by the proprietor, Pink Pearl, who is not happy to see her. There is a short fight, and Lil knocks the large woman out the front window. Puck, Windshear, and Sasquatch visit the robber’s landlord to pull a Christmas Carol homage, and tell him they want to buy the guy’s house. Madison, Jean-Paul, and Kyle follow the robber home, and Jean-Paul collects some scrap metal that Madison can transmute into toys (despite not knowing how many kids they guy has, or how old they are). Kyle sneaks them into the house. Jean-Paul returns home and gets ready for bed. He listens to a voicemail message from Aurora saying that the girls need to be bailed out, on account of attacking Pearl, who is now legit, but he thinks it’s a joke and goes to sleep.
- It’s time to take a look at issue one hundred six, a flashpoint of controversy and contender for the title of worst comic of the 90s. Some people view this comic as controversial having Northstar come out of the closet, but personally, I think it is guest artist Mark Pacella’s understanding of human anatomy that made this book one that shocked and offended on many levels. In the beginning of the issue, we see an old man who looks a lot like Cable watching a TV recording in a messy apartment. The show he’s watching is a documentary about Major Mapleleaf (Mapleleaf is never spelled as one word except here), a retconned Canadian hero who fought Nazis in World War Two in a skin-tight RCMP uniform. He was apparently an unofficial member of the Invaders, who retired in 1963 to raise his son Michael. He pauses the TV on his infant son’s image, and then hugs it. Sasquatch, Northstar, and Guardian are fighting Mister Hyde in Toronto. He swats Northstar into an alleyway. Jean-Paul hears a strange noise, and discovers an incredibly tiny and oddly drawn infant girl abandoned in a garbage can. He rushes her to the hospital, while Sasquatch finishes off Hyde. Three weeks later, Alpha Flight is assembled in the hallway of a hospital, having a debriefing. We learn that Jean-Paul hasn’t left the building because they can’t figure out why the baby has a fever. Just then the doctor comes in to let the team know that the baby was infected with HIV in the womb, and is diagnosed with AIDS (which I feel is maybe unlikely?). We see Northstar brooding over the child’s incubator. Another three weeks later, the old man is watching a news broadcast that explains that Joanne Beaubier, the baby, has not improved. There was a service for the dead homeless woman believed to be her mother, where Guardian spoke. When the newscaster (who is wearing a choke collar) says that the whole country is behind this baby, the Major throws his remote through the TV screen. Judd convinces Jean-Paul to leave the baby for a little while to get something to eat. As they sit in the lounge, they hear a crash. Major Mapleleaf, in costume, has busted through an exterior wall and into the right room to yell about the baby. Puck recognizes the Major, who is about to smash the baby or the incubator. Jean-Paul flies him out of the room, and into a billboard. The Major is angry that people fawn over the baby, while his own son Michael died of AIDS and didn’t get any attention because he was gay. The Major thinks that people only care about the baby because her AIDS isn’t her fault. Jean-Paul begins to fight back (by the way, he’s taking way more of a beating that he normally could, because he doesn’t have super strength), and he tells the Major that he’s gay. He also starts lecturing on how AIDS is not just a disease of homosexuals. This makes the Major more angry, as he thinks that Jean-Paul could be using his platform as a highly visible hero to combat prejudice (while referring to being gay as a “lifestyle”), and holds him responsible for Michael’s death. This makes Jean-Paul more angry, but as he punches the guy at super speed, he also claims it’s time to talk more about AIDS. They embrace. Heather and Kyle stand together in Department H, looking at the skyline, and talking about the problems of humanity. Later still, at the hospital, the doctor announces that the baby (whose incubator is now the sole thing in a massive room) is dying. Jean-Paul holds her, prays, and is in turn held by the Major, who tells her that his son is with her. The last page of the issue is a mockup of a newspaper with the headline “Alpha Flight’s Northstar Proclaims Homosexuality.” Okay, this book came out in 1992, and discourse has come a long way since then, but the whole thing comes off as pandering, and way too “after-school special” for me. It’s very weird that Jean-Paul’s sister has nothing to say about her brother adopting a child and coming out. It’s also weird that the letters page would have a letter from someone (named Burns D. Gross, of all things) complaining about how he or she could never look up to a hero who “can’t follow the natural pattern of sexual conduct.” It must be a plant.
- The Statement of Ownership for 1991 cites an average press run of 80 000 for this title.
- In Poughkeepsie, something strange is going on that is leading the lead investigator on the case to call for government-sponsored superheroes. Alpha Flight has arrived in Washington as part of a World Tour to meet other government-sponsored superheroes. Somehow, their luggage got lost, so they are all wearing X-Factor uniforms to meet the members of that team (Havok, Polaris, Wolfsbane, Strong Guy, and Multiple Man). Their meeting is cut short when Valerie Cooper sends them all to Poughkeepsie. In that town, we see a young man being prepared by some animated corpses for a wedding. As the teams travel, they chat about being mutants working for governments. Havok sees their work with the US government as a way to normalize mutants. We learn that Heather was wearing her battlesuit under her clothes, but not her costume, which is why she is still able to fly and stuff. They arrive in Poughkeepsie, where they learn that someone has kidnapped three hundred people and dragged them into a cemetery. Everyone gets annoyed when Madrox suggests, upon learning of robberies in flower and catering shops, that someone is getting married. The teams enter the large graveyard, and discover two animated corpses acting as ushers. They are brought to the place where the wedding is to take place, and the bride gets upset with them, thinking they are the band. The groom says that he invite them as guests, and she is nice to them. She explains how she died the night before her wedding, of food poisoning, and then stayed conscious during her autopsy and burial. She somehow willed herself out of the grave, and found she could animate the corpses all around her. Havok and Sasquatch figure that she’s a mutant. When none of the heroes move to sit at her command, she gets angry and sends tons of corpses to attack them. Walter figures her rage fuels her powers. Aurora decides she can calm her down, but instead of flying over to her, she decides that she needs Madrox to make dozens of copies of himself to help her move through the crowd, which can only happen if Northstar punches him a bunch of times at super speed. She gets to the groom, and convinces him that he still loves his dead bride. He pacifies the bride and agrees to marry her. They conduct the ceremony, which causes all the corpses to de-animate, and then once they are married, she falls dead. This was a weird, pointless issue, with way too many characters in it.
- Alpha Flight, now wearing weird white jackets over their costumes, are in Switzerland to meet, via satellite uplink from their own countries, five European heroes. Le Peregrine is in France, Shamrock Ireland, Micro-Max England, eight-year old Prodigy is in Poland, and the silent Omerta, Italy. There is some kind of reception built around this event, but then all the TV feeds go staticky, and an ice sculpture starts to glow, and then explode. Inside it is The Brain Drain, an old villain who troubled the Invaders. Basically, he’s the classic brain in a jar type, and he’s used his powers to command the heroes, over the TV feeds, to kill their country’s head of government. He takes over Alpha’s minds, freezing them in place while recounting his life story. Jeanne-Marie gave over her brain to Aurora though, and she tosses him into the Alps (although she’s never had super strength), which frees Alpha from his control, but not, apparently, the other heroes who are much further away. Alpha splits up. Sasquatch starts to fight Le Peregrine in Paris, and defeats him. Aurora catches Micro-Max in 21 Downing Street and knocks him out. Heather has to deal with the fact that Prodigy can control her battlesuit, but she shuts it off and beats on him. Northstar arrives in Ireland (weirdly, it seems to take him longer to get their on his own power than it does the rest of the team to their locations). Shamrock’s luck powers protected her from Brain Drain’s control, so they have tea. Weapon Omega fights Omerta in silence. Later, everyone is back together in Switzerland, having a party. Later again, the Master of the World retrieves Brain Drain from the snowy mountain where Aurora left him, claiming him as the first member of the new Omega Flight.
- Lobdell’s run ended with issue 108, but I decided to include issue 109 in this column, as it finishes the World Tour ‘92 arc, despite including a back-up story by the incoming creative team, and a guest team on the main story. Sven Larsen and Craig Brasfield made the main story, which has Alpha Flight, joined by Puck, walking around Red Square in Moscow acting like tourists. Puck has come to bring the team back to Canada, as there is some kind of problem brewing in the US that needs them, but they have to kill some time before meeting with some government officials. While looking around, they are attacked by a group of silent ninjas. As they fight them off, they are helped by some Russians wearing typical 90s badass gear (think weird headpieces). They are taken to KGB Headquarters (remember, this is just as Russia is opening up to the world), where some guy named Mickey Romanov, an old associate of Puck’s, tells them that they need Alpha’s help to stop The Hand from taking over the Omega Red Facility. Alpha agrees to help, and they fly to the complex with the Russians that helped them before. They are shot out of the sky, jump from the plane, and then start fighting the Hand. Heather and Alexei, the Russian’s leader, head into the complex, which is rigged with weird booby traps, while the rest fight outside. The Russians get killed off, and Alpha struggles, except for Weapon Omega and Puck, who do well. Aurora turns into Jeanne-Marie in the middle of the fight. Heather and Alexei are about to enter the self-destruct codes into the computer when Alexei is killed by a ninja that Heather then kills. Alpha and the surviving Russians get away as the base blows up.
- In the backup to issue 109, by incoming creators Simon Furman and Pat Broderick, Witchfire, Laura Dean, Goblyn, their parents, and Persuasion are seen to be running from the Dream Queen in Liveworld. They are being chased by Dream Demons, and there is no mention of where Shaman, who was last seen teleporting away with them, might be. At Department H, Alpha Flight talk to Reed Richards via videoscreen. We learn that they cut short their world tour to take his call, and that they’ve recalled Box and Diamond Lil from their honeymoon. Reed explains that he needs Alpha Flight to come to a meeting the next morning in New York regarding the fate of the world. They leave. Windshear and Whitman Knapp stay behind, and are surprised to see a portal to Liveworld open, and their former teammates come pouring through, chased by demons. Windshear knocks the demons back as Laura closes the portal. Windshear is angry, and Witchfire yells at him, referring to the fact that he sits behind a desk, which she couldn’t have known. In the corridor, Elizabeth Twoyoungmen senses that something bad is coming.
- For some reason, the same month that Scott Lobdell handed the writing reins to Simon Furman, they collaborated on a Special that showed the first adventure of The Flight, the Department H team that James MacDonald Hudson put together before dividing his recruits into the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Flights. There is no explanation, we are just tossed into this story, which seems to be set so early in Marvel continuity that most people haven’t heard of the Fantastic Four yet, although a number of Marvel villains are shown as being in operation. In Vancouver, a cop named Sean Benard is being chased and shot at by other cops, who he exposed as corrupt. He’s given aid by Logan, who kills one of his attackers. Egghead arrives at an estate somewhere in Canada, declaring himself “master of all”. Logan has taken Benard to the Prime Minister, where they’ve arranged to transfer Benard to Department H (for some reason that isn’t clear). Logan takes him to some remote space near Thunder Bay, and sends him to a house to sleep. He’s being watched on a big viewscreen by James Hudson and Walter Langkowski. Benard isn’t happy to learn that his roommate, Smart Alec, talks in his sleep. Going for a walk, he runs into the naked Narya. Villains Porcupine and Eel make their way into Canada, where they are joined by the Swordsman and the first Power Man. Benard meets Saint Elmo, a large supposed god with the power to turn people into light temporarily, and then he chats with Smart Alec. Going for a jog with Langkowski, Benard learns that Canada is putting together a superhero team. Hudson meets him and shows him the cybernetic suit he built, which they intend for Benard to wear. Egghead explains to his gathered villains, which now include Rhino and Solarr, that he is going to use a nuclear device to blow up New York and then take over the world. In a training session, The Flight spar, but when Narya, shaped as a snowy owl, gets too feral, Logan has to jump in and calm things down. Afterwards, Logan and Mac argue about a girl named Jodi and whether or not she’s ready for the field. Benard overhears and goes looking for her. He finds her – a mute teen girl who is using her limited telekinesis to sew up her own face. Jodi likes him. Egghead makes an ultimatum to the US government, making it clear his nuclear missile is in Canada. Hudson pilots a helicopter containing the Flight – Wolverine (in his later X-Men costume), Snowbird, Smart Alec, Needle, Groundhog (as Benard gets called), and Saint Elmo. Egghead is chatting with his hired villains when the Flight attacks. They fight for a bit, while Smart Alec heads to defuse the missile. Rhino almost wrecks Benard’s suit, but Needle saves him. Smart Alec chokes, and triggers the bomb. Egghead won’t defuse the bomb, so Logan tries to manage the situation. He has Groundhog dig a hole to hide in (cause that’s how you survive being at ground zero), but in the end, Saint Elmo turns the whole missile into light, although the strain of doing that turns him into the brightest manifestation of the Northern Lights ever seen. Later, Michael Twoyoungmen yells at Hudson for endangering Narya, and Benard quits, although the issue ends on a positive note, honouring Hudson’s memory and the good Alpha Flight has done.
The bar for good comics in 1991 and 1992 was shockingly low, but I still think that this run managed to come nowhere close to it. Fabian Nicieza spent his entire run setting up a new structure for the team, complete with an elaborate support network, and Scott Lobdell effectively wiped it away, focusing on a core team that never really did very much.
He added Weapon Omega in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of both Deadpool and Wolverine, but then didn’t give him that much space or the spotlight. He restored Aurora’s previous mental instability, and then just used it for the occasional joke. For some reason he made Windshear the team’s administrative leader, I think just as an excuse to get him out of the book most of the time, and relegated Puck to hanging around the office. Guardian lost prominence, and was written in such a way that Heather Hudson was unrecognizable. He got rid of Box and Diamond Lil.
And then there’s Northstar. I think that having Jean-Paul come out of the closet could have been, were it handled better, a much more important statement, and the start of some very thoughtful stories, but instead, we got an overwrought coming out story, followed by nothing at all. Basically, Jean-Paul got tossed back into the closet, because his sexuality didn’t get acknowledged or even mentioned again during Lobdell’s run. It instead became a gimmick designed to juice sales on one issue, which I can’t imagine attracted many new readers to the title, being as awful as it was.
I got the feeling that Lobdell didn’t much care for the concept of a Canadian super team, as the team spent much of his run travelling to other countries. Lobdell is a controversial writer for me. He drove me off the X-Men around this same time, where I hated his blend of nonsensical action issues and sit around and talk issues. Killing off Colossus was a final straw. I know he has his fans, both back in the day and even for his current DC work, but it’s not something I’ve ever understood. I’ve always found him to be terrible with characters.
I’m not sure why the Special was written, introducing three new characters, one of whom was immediately killed off, and the other two just immediately forgotten. It added nothing to the team’s history, and in some ways, contradicted established continuity. I don’t think that continuity needs to be treated as sacrosanct, but if you’re going to make changes, there should at least be a good reason for it.
And then there’s the art. Tom Morgan’s work on this run moves from barely acceptable to pretty terrible. Most memorable for me is the way in which he drew Sasquatch, making him look like the creatures that turn into Gremlins if you feed them after midnight. Jeanne-Marie has massive hair, as does Heather, and Kyle, when not wearing his Weapon Omega mask, looks nothing like how he was portrayed in every appearance before this. The normally lithe Northstar, who was a downhill skier, now looks like a bodybuilder. I get that there was pressure in this era to try to ape artists like Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, but Lee never drew these characters looking like this when he was on the book!
I don’t even think I can talk about Mark Pacella’s issue.
The best thing that can be said about this run was that it was mercifully short, although I don’t believe that Simon Furman’s run was much better. I did end up dropping the title while Furman was writing it, but we’ll talk about that next time.
If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.
This run hasn’t been collected anywhere as a whole run, but you can read issue 106 in this collection:
Astonishing X-Men: Northstar
Tags: Alpha Flight, Retro Reviews