Monday, April 28, 2008

Made Me Quit Week: Canadiana

ALPHA FLIGHT #89, Marvel Comics, October 1990
I've been way too positive lately with my reviews, so it's time to do a little venting. Introducing "Made Me Quit Week" in which I showcase the last issue I ever bought of a series that I really liked until it started its downward spiral. These issues are the proverbial last drop that made me throw the rag across the room and cancel my subscription with all haste. And very often, I find that I waited too long.

Case in point, Alpha Flight. I had a lot of loyalty in regards to the only Canadian superhero team. All us Canadian kids probably did. And at first, that loyalty wasn't misplaced. It was being written and drawn by fellow Canuck John Byrne at the height of his powers and it featured all sorts of uniquely Canadian places and ideas. But Byrne only stayed on the book two years.

But I stuck with it. I stuck with Alpha Flight when the artwork became all grimy. I stuck with Alpha Flight when they started crapping in the characters' basic premises (Puck not a fun-loving dwarf acrobat after all, but a really tall guy that got cut down by a mystical sword, for example). I stuck with Alpha Flight when they started injecting more and more lame mutants into the team. I stuck with Alpha Flight when despite all this new blood, they never came up with a single character from the Maritime Provinces (jeers!!!). But sometimes, you can tell that even the editorial staff isn't "sticking with it", and the only reason it's being published is to either keep the rights to the title, or for some kind of obscure market share thing (which was Marvel's angle in the early 90s).

You gotta understand that the first issue of Alpha Flight I ever bought was #12 (I later collected the rest at no small cost) in which Guardian dies. He was the leader and founder of Alpha Flight and the guy wrapped in the Canadian flag. Well, I didn't really know him, but I thought his death was still pretty intense, and it had lasting effects on Alpha Flight and all its characters. This was one of those deaths, like that of the Barry Allen Flash or Uncle Ben that meant enough to stay permanent. But see that guy on the cover? "For real -- the return of the original Guardian". That's what I call crapping on my childhood.

This was all part of a story arc called "Building Blocks" in which the new writer (I'm gonna save him from himself and not name him) basically tried to resurrect the team he liked from back in the day. Guardian's back, Puck's back, they're all back. But in the worst frickin' way. I'm not even sure where to begin? Maybe just chronologically.

Our first set piece features the discovery of Puck, who's not dead, just horribly mutated. We're treated to a number of horrifying ass shots (Puck is naked throughout, and aww, Northstar's not even there to enjoy it -- he's not even gay yet, I think) and speaking of characters that have seen better days, Aurora - one of the sexiest characters ever to grace the Marvel Universe - is wearing the ugliest costume ever. Here's a sequence to show it off, but I warn you: The artwork is AWFUL. That's what I mean about Marvel giving up on the book (and yet publishing it for another 4-5 years). Everyone's ugly, and even the coloring is terminally defective. I just hope the scanner survives this.
It's not just Puck that's distorted here! The same page also features one of my pet peeves. See, Aurora's French Canadian (as am I), which basically means that she has this stupid French accent throughout and sometimes spouts whole phrases in French. "C'est incroiable!" she says. Goddammit, it's spelled "incroyable"! I hate it when the writer can't be bothered to check his 7th-grade French in a dictionary. For God's sake! I'm sure the X-Men mangle German and Russian all the time, but those countries'll have to fight their own battles (and we'll beat them again when the next war comes). Oh, and they mistakenly call her Jean-Marie throughout, while her actual name is Jeanne-Marie. Sorry, but Jean-Marie is a GUY'S NAME!!! (But judging by the art, I wasn't sure if she'd had a sex change...)

Anyway, Aurora's mindfuck is an excuse to get some flashback-type exposition into the book, and for a story arc that's supposed to launch a new era of Alpha, we get an awful lot of "who cares?" continuity, like "remember that vial of Puck's blood taken in AF #5?" This is supposed to explain how they'll fix Puck, but he'll genetically be a dwarf again. Like he would mind after looking this grotesque for half an issue. As long as he stops spelling everything he says, I'll be happy.
Eventually, a two-bit villain called the Master of the World shows up and reveals that he's been behind everything, ever, for the last 85 issues. Yeah ok. Thanks for living up to your name, dude. If you're so tough, how come you've never faced anyone but Alpha Flight?

Meanwhile, Vindicator (Guardian's wife and replacement) is hanging with Wolverine (who's always had the hots for her because, well, she's a redhead and he's into that) and they're questing for Gamma Flight, the Canadian heroes you HAVEN'T heard of (ok, well, even less than Alpha Flight). Despite Wolverine doing his best Kenny Easterday impersonation, this is a most boring thread.
"Now that I've caught a whiff of her..." He's sunk pretty low, sniffing at toilets this way. Then, they blow up that service station bathroom and well... that's it. Barely worth being on the cover, Wolvie. More interesting on a personal level is that they visit Sault St. Marie where my brother lives. Looks quite the vacation spot. Sorry I won't be visiting often, Dan.
Finally, a third segment of Alpha Flight have gone down a hole to find Guardian. This includes yet another hottie, Diamond Lil, in her best Black Queen apparel looking HORRIBLE. Yes, once again, we've been cheated of some masturbatory "boob war" material by the sub par art.
Alpha is here accompanied by Forge, the X-Men's super-inventor. Wolverine's ok, he's always been an honorary Alphan, but Forge? This smacks of editorial mandate. We NEED some X-Men or the book won't sell!!! But Forge? 1) Alpha already has a resident super-inventor (Box) and 2) he sucks as a guest-star! What's next? Cypher helps Sasquatch read Le Journal de Montréal?

So how can Guardian be alive after 6 years (our time) or even 2 years (the time they say in the comic) or 2 months (Spider-Man time)? Well, see, there was this issue back in the Byrne era where a fake Guardian "came back from the dead" with some outlandish story of having fallen in a wormhole at the time of death and rebuilt by aliens. It was all a hoax, of course. Nope, turns out it was all true. The real Guardian had the very same experience as a fake Guardian's bald-faced lie. WHAT?!? You want to bring back Guardian, I don't agree, but ok, it's your comic. But you can't even think up your OWN REASON why he'd still be alive? That's just cheap, Fabian Nicieza! (Ohh, there I went and named him anyway.)

This was Building Blocks Part 3 of 4, and I never even finished the arc. Can you blame me?

15 comments:

snell said...

The artwork is AWFUL. That's what I mean about Marvel giving up on the book (and yet publishing it for another 4-5 years). Everyone's ugly, and even the coloring is terminally defective.

Don't take it personally, as an insult to Canada. That was true of EVERY Marvel book of the 90s. It's as if an entire generation just forgot how to draw...

Siskoid said...

Oh I know. 1990 was the year of my great Marvel purge. I dropped all their books. Apparently, that generation also forgot how to WRITE.

Not to say there aren't real stinkers today (if the latest issue of Batman is any indication).

rob! said...

"Puck not a fun-loving dwarf acrobat after all, but a really tall guy that got cut down by a mystical sword, for example"

WHAT?!?

i'm glad i stopped reading AF a few issues after Byrne left! his run on the book was awesome.

Siskoid said...

You didn't know? The story involves a 7 foot Puck, a genie in a bottle, a sword that "cuts you down to size" and sheer lunacy.

Responsable: Bill Mantlo.

Surprised?

billjac said...

I picked up most of the post-Byrne Alpha Flights out of the quarter bins a few years back and I thought Fabian's run was one of the better ones.

Once he finished the contortions necessary to reboot the team he gave them some straightforward adventures and deliberately (if clunkily) gave each character at least one added aspect of characterization. For instance, Byrne established that Sasquatch used to play pro football but nobody ever brought it up. Under Fabian, he talked about it and had some football-based combat moves.

It wasn't fabulous, but it was a step up from Manikan and Purple Girl.

SallyP said...

Man, that art is horrible. Not that the story is any better. I actually have this, and some more, because I also kept waiting for Alpha Flight to improve.

Too bad the creators had pretty much given up on it by then. I was still at that stage where I didn't know that you COULD drop comics you weren't enjoying.

Siskoid said...

Like me, you started reading comics when their cost wasn't yet prohibitive. I think that has a lot to do with it.

mwb said...

Ah, man. I dropped that title well before then. And I'm glad that I did.

Jack Norris said...

You didn't mention Aurora and Northstar being "fairies" (literally) which may have been my last issue for awhile, though I remember still buying irregularly and having a bit of a liking for the Purple Girl, though none of the stories around her.
This looks pretty bad (don't remember it myself, I wasn't buying much Marvel at the time), but it does seem to me that it's a clunky attempt to correct decisions that never should have been made in the first place.*

*Slightly blasphemously, I include Byrne's killing of Mac in this. Maybe it wasn't a totally bad idea, but it was way too soon, like Byrne knew he was going to get bored and leave soon, so crammed in his longer-range story arcs into too short a span, and left any successors with a very difficult-to-work-with situation.

plok said...

Yeah, Byrne pretty much salted the ground before he left...

I was bugged by the AF headquarters being located in the Straits of San Juan de Fuca -- which, first of all that's in the U.S., secondly there's no "San" in that name, and third...yeah, let's put our HQ at the extreme southwestern point of Canada, that makes sense. Jesus. It's sort of a pretty big country, you know...

Oh, and Northstar was gay pretty much from the word go -- Byrne drops all sort of (in retrospect, more slimy than pudicious) hints about this throughout the first year's run.

Siskoid said...

That's debatable, Plok. He had an unhealthy relationship to his sister, and a lot of the secrecy had to do with his link to the Quebec Liberation Front.

His coming out was such a stunt and late in the game that it's hard to believe it was a character trait since the first issue.

plok said...

That's what I thought, too! But upon re-reading the whole run, I discovered that there are little indications in there that pretty much sailed right over my head the first time I read them. Byrne's pretty damn cagey about it -- a pattern of his, I think, see Maggie Sawyer -- and maybe the FLQ connection is supposed to mask it a bit, but if you re-read, for example, the Deadly Ernest issues, I think you'll agree with me that the way he talks about his old friend in Montreal is weighted in a way that makes more sense if it's about sexuality than politics.

My opinion, of course. But I was struck by it, taken by surprise -- I think there's a little something when he visits Jeanne-Marie at the school, too, but I might be misremembering that one -- and surprised to be surprised, and then I thought "but this would make perfect sense, this is quite the Byrne Method of doing things!" Also fits the reasonable amount of sex going on in AF...

Check it out, see if you agree! Possibly I'm way off-base, at that...

plok said...

It's my use of that "oh, and" construction...sounded bossy, didn't it? I know I always see a red flag when somebody uses that, what follows is usually just incredibly wrong...

LiamKav said...

"let's put our HQ at the extreme southwestern point of Canada, that makes sense."

Well, New York is hardly in the centre of the US, is it? Yeah, I know most Marvel superheros aren't working for the government, but I'm sure that someone official has their base there.

(for that matter, Belgium isn't in the middle of Europe, either.)

Siskoid said...

If you're gonna respond to threats all across Canada, Toronto is probably the place to be.

I'm in Atlantic Canada, and Alpha Flight being in BC inspires little feeling of security in me.