Alpha Flight 0.1: A Canadian Perspective

Let me preface by saying I'm glad to see Alpha Flight up and running again, and with the original cast (except for Puck - booooooo!!!) to boot. I'm equally juiced that Canada's premiere (read: only) super-hero team is being handled by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente, two writers who very seldom do wrong in my book. However, neither of these guys is Canadian, and... it shows? Well, that's what the present article aims to uncover. What did they get right? What did they get wrong? And fellow Canadians, don't be shy about chiming in. It's a big country and I've never been west of Winnipeg or east of Antigonish.

Election Day. So to start with, the story takes place on May 2nd, which indeed was the date of Canada's last election. Though the Marvel Universe claims to be OUR universe, except with superheroes, it's gotten farther and farther away from it in recent years. So while Obama is the president of Marvel's USA, and there seems to be an economic crisis, etc., Canada just elected a completely fictional party. That's fine, it's a comic book trope, and since our elections aren't on a fixed time table, you could conceivably put a fictional parliament in power, defeat it and have another election a few months after the last. And if you want to be political about it, the so-called Unity Party could be a sly pastiche of the current Conservative party in power. [Short history: When Alpha Flight started, there were really only three parties expected to win seats at the Federal level - the Conservatives (akin to the US' Republicans), the Liberals (similar to Democrats) and the New Democratic Party (bit more to the left). Eventually came the rise of more regional parties - the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec and the more right wing Reform party in the West. Reform tried to grow in size and changed its name to the Alliance, and when the Conservatives were soundly defeated by the Liberals, the Alliance absorbed the Conservatives and took their name, finally establishing enough of a foothold to win an election. Though until the last election, they were always a minority government. Prime Minister Harper's reputation is 1) that he's a robot and 2) that he is Canada's answer to George W. Bush, complete with media smokescreens, military agendas and let's cut taxes at the expense of social programs policies.] So this Unity Party could represent the current Conservative regime if you like (though quite possibly the writers never intended it). The leader is undoubtedly a supervillain in disguise (robot or otherwise), the party's name refers to an alliance of parties, and no one can understand why people would vote for them.

Now let's look at the top of the first page:
Montreal. Yeah, this is where we get in trouble. Now YES, Montreal has the largest concentration of English-speaking people (Anglophones) in Quebec, so this exchange could definitely be held in English. We'll have to accept that Officer Mackenzie has that Scottish name because, well, that's Snowbird's secret identity. Again, no reason why someone with that surname shouldn't live in Montreal. What IS wrong in this picture is the English-only sign in the window. In Quebec, Bill 101 prohibits the use of English-only signage (or any non-French language signage), and in fact, bilingual signage that uses a non-French language more prominently. Super-hypnosis or not, there's no way a federal party would try to win seats out of Quebec by using English signage. Because this is comics, I would expect an iconic representation of Canada, so I have to question the use of Montreal in this sequence as opposed to another Canadian city. Citizens of Quebec seeking unity (as opposed to sovereignty) is not iconic. It's entire possible, especially in the more multi-cultural city of Montreal, but it feels wrong on an iconic level. Like having a scene all about pedestrians in Los Angeles ;-).
Grand-Lac Victoria Indian Settlement. Exists and is situated in Quebec, near Val-d'Or. The reservation is home to the French-speaking (oops) Algonquin community of Kitcisakik. Its 430 inhabitants do not actually have a hospital.
La Grande Dam Power Station. Exists, in the sparsely populated North of Quebec, off James Bay. It is NOT anywhere near the St.Lawrence River!
Canada's SWAT Teams. Police departments in Canadian cities of course have SWAT Teams, but they aren't called that. For example, Toronto has an Emergency Task Force, while Vancouver has an Emergency Response Team. As we're in Quebec here, that truck should be marked G.T.I. (Groupe tactique d'intervention). AmCan, if it had referred to a real company, would either produces ball bearings or, since this is Montreal, work in imports or offer financial services. The AmCan energy conglomerate seen here is fictional.
The French. The entire book could be "translated from the French", dissipating my Quebec-centric criticisms. However, there is actual French dialog in the book, so there's no universal translator at work. And it's some of the best French I've ever seen in an American comic! On this blog, I grumble a lot about bad French in comics. It's like DC and Marvel have Babel Fish on staff. Terrible! But Alpha Flight 0.1 contains absolutely NO errors, horrendous syntax nor bad grammar. This is nothing short of an achievement! Yes, I realize there are just a couple of sentences. (I do have to say Purple Girl/Persuasion is lucky everyone understands her commands in English... why yes, I have been known to beat a dead horse.)

I'm happy to see the original Alpha Flight back for another run, but I'll be keeping my eye open for more discrepancies between my Canada and Marvel's. And you too can be an unofficial member of the Comic Book RCMP (ou de la GRC de la b.d.). If anything bugged or enchanted you about the comic, or if my this very post contains inaccuracies, report it in the comments section!


Doctor Mi said...

You're nitpicking! The signage issue: one could argue that the large French part is offpanel. Its very minor.
However, the La Grande dam on the St-Lawrence, that is a MAJOR flaw. Thats akin to saying Hoover dam is on the Mississippi. Come on writers: use Google!!!

Siskoid said...

Hey Doc! Long time no see! Hey I'm going to Montreal for a few days in August, you still in those parts?

There are multiple views of the Unity Party signs, it's fairly clear there is no French version.

For more geographical crazyness, interested parties should free to click the Canada tag under the post. I'd say most entries under that title contain some Hoover Dam in Mississipi-type commentary.

Martin Gray said...

Excellent post! It's fascinating to get the gen on the accuracy or not of the book's portrayal of French-Canadian culture. Keep the reports coming!

Colin Smith said...

You're not nitpicking!

I really enjoyed your analysis. There's some small measure of comfort in knowing that Britain isn't the only nation which is somewhat misrepresented in superhero books :)

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

alright Siskoid look at you getting political! that was a very interesting read my friend. i haven't read through this issue but i did browse through it and among other things i thought the art was very impressive. i had a about a dozen Alpha Flight issues through out the 80's but pretty much lost touch with all things Alpha Flight by the time the 90's came around. i had even forgotten about North Star having come out of the closet until i saw that panel of him kissing that guy in this issue. anyways my friend to the north, would you consider this issue a good jumping on point? speaking of kissing guys Siskoid i'm not trying to kiss ass here but i've always liked all things Canadian and i do so even more now that Canada has recently reaffirmed it's support for Israel.

Siskoid said...

Colin: I bet the U.S. is misrepresented too ;-).

plok said...

Unemployment's also been in double digits since I was in kindergarten! Ha!

You have to appreciate the effort to inject Canadianness, but a red-and-white-striped English sign for a "Unity" party, incredibly with the slogan "Just Watch Us"?

In Montreal?

What could possibly make that guy think Anne even guesses he's voting for the Unity party?

Siskoid said...

The Unity Party: The barber's pole of politics.

plok said...

Actually now that I think about it, that sign...would be pretty damn extreme in real life, wouldn't it? Like, "hang it up and watch a massive riot explode into existence within five minutes" extreme. I hate Harper like poison, but I think I'm inclined to stop short of saying he actually is a Nazi...

But then Bendis already had Canada host superhero concentration camps for Norman Osborn, when Harper only had a minority, right?

Gives one pause!

Siskoid said...

Goes to show Marvel's Canada has been without its heroes for too long!

No, not a Nazi, just a right wing Republican (I'm not implying one is like the other). His agenda tries to push Canada into American-style government (he sees himself as a president, not as a member of Parliament) and politics (divisive red/blue polarity).

The Unity Party: Candy Canes for Everyone!

plok said...

I wrote some stuff on Colin's blog, by the way? Feel guilty presenting myself as "THE CANADIAN VIEWPOINT", especially since I cribbed a lot of it from you.

Please to check, as of now I have two more comments pending approval there.

Siskoid said...

Just discovering Colin's blog now and I think it's gonna become a favorite. Lovely analyses.

As for the Canadian perspective, I'd just call it A Canadian perspective (indefinite). Who can lay claim to such a broad thing as that? I'm gonna catch up on the discussion during work breaks throughout the day.


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