Alpha Flight #30 - A Canadian Perspective

Category: Alpha Flight
Last article published: 1 July 2017
This is the 17th post under this label
In the past, I've looked at Greg Pak's, Fred Van Lente's, and John Byrne's depictions of Canada, but what about Bill Mantlo's? He wrote the book for a good long while, taking over from Byrne with issue #29. It was not a run I loved because I never felt young Mike Mignola was well matched to scratchy inker Gerry Talaoc, nor the ugly Flexographic coloring system. Since those days, I've come to like Mantlo's writing quite a lot, calling him Marvel's answer to Bob Haney, but I haven't gone back to look at those issues of Alpha Flight. Let's rectify that now. What is my Canadian Perspective on issue #30? #29 was a changing of the guard, which makes #30 the first issue of his actual run.


The book starts with the team moving to Walter "Sasquatch" Langkowski's mansion on Tamarind Island in the Juan de la Fuca Strait (not Straits, as the issue says). The house was introduced in Byrne's Alpha Flight #20, so I can't lay all the problems at Mantlo's door, but let it be known that Tamarind Island is a fiction. It does not exist (well, there's one in Myanmar). Comics is full of fictional places, even Marvel's despite their pride in using real places (but Latveria, anyone?). I will say that it's a TERRIBLE place from which to defend Canada because it's very nearly at the Western end. Reaction time to problems in Atlantic Canada is gonna be slowwww. The strait in question separates Victoria Island (across the way from Vancouver) and Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. Indeed, I'd say the mountains in the background are more likely to be Olympic National Park (to the South) than the Rockies (a bit farther to the East). Problem is, while there are a lot of islands between Vancouver and Victoria, they're not technically in that strait. So either Tamarind does not exist in our world, or we call Smith Island (just above the marker on the map below).
Meanwhile, Shaman and Snowbird are in the District of McKenzie in the Northwest Territory--oops! You meant Territories, plural, didn't you Mr. Mantlo? Today, the Territories are no longer subdivided into districts, because the old NWT were split into NWT and Nunavut, NWT pretty much getting the whole of the District of McKenzie (North of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan).

The villain of the piece is Scramble, Alphan Madison Jeffries' brother who can manipulate flesh the way the hero can manipulate technology. He was a surgeon at Montreal General Hospital, which is real. It is the teaching hospital that is part of McGill University, and thus a perfect place for an English-speaking character (the Jeffries' brothers are from Manitoba and have English names) to work if you're going to put them in the principally French province of Quebec. Mignola depicts McGill, in fact, not the hospital itself. They are down the street from one another, but Heather can't possibly be on hospital grounds here.
I don't know about the padded cells shown, but MGH does offer psychiatric care.

The military
I asked Canadian military history expert Mike Lacroix from the Canadian Military History Podcast (as close as I have to an "army buddy") about the uniforms depicted in the issue. I wasn't expecting him to be this thorough, but then, I did ask an EXPERT. Take it away, Mike!
Thanks Siskoid, for asking me to comment on these images from 1985’s Alpha Flight. I will make my comments in the standard military debrief format for the Canadian Armed Forces.

The task is for Mike Mignola to visually depict soldiers of the Canadian Army in comic book form. I find the depiction to be ineffective for the following reasons.

First the strong points:
The soldiers are wearing green.
They are clean shaven with sideburns cut off at the centre line of the ear.
Their boots are mostly black and all are properly bloused.
The rules in 1985 did allow the combat shirt to be tucked into the pants when the lower pockets were not in use (CFAO 17-4), nobody ever did that. There was a version of the combat shirt that was specifically made to be tucked in, but that was in 1991 and they were very limited in use. (Reference)

Areas to improve:
While some of the soldiers are wearing the standard green beret of the Canadian Army, many are either wearing a French Army Kepi or a USMC ‘Cover’. There was a field cap in 1985 that we just don’t talk about anymore. (Insert Worf "Trials and Tribble-ations" sound bite here, folks). All soldiers would be ordered to wear either the field cap or the beret, but not a mix of both in one unit on the same task. Many Canadian Army units have red either in their cap badge or behind it; none have a round, red cap badge.
Shirts are all worn improperly; no name tags, no rank insignia. Some forgot to button the shirt all the way up and the sleeves are only partially rolled up. This is completely unacceptable for 1985. In 1985, sleeves were rolled up to four fingers above the inside bend of the elbow and they were formed perfectly square. Pocket were slanted on an angle, and not square to the centre line of the body.

In 1985, the Canadian flag insignia was rectangular, subdued in colour and on the left sleeve, not the right. An interesting fact about the subdued Canadian flag was that in regular light, it was dark green on light green, but if you shone blue light on it, it would turn red and white!! Round is a complete failure though.

The web belt was darker and consisted of pouches attached to it, but there was a yoke at the back and two shoulder straps to the front coming from the tops of the magazine pouches. The belt was never worn alone and if you tried, it would just slip down off the body as a soldier walked due to the weight. (Reference)

I did say that some of the soldiers were wearing black boots, but others are wearing green boots. Green boots were an experiment in or around 2010, but they didn’t last long. Black boots only in 1985.

Next, haircuts; these people have not seen a barber’s chair in over a month! Some are clearly touching the ear and Blondie with the skateboard almost has a pony tail. It’s a wonder they can get around that room without stepping on each other’s hair! Sunglasses were not authorized for wear unless driving.

Finally, where is your rifle, soldier?!? The standard issue rifle in 1985 was the FN C1A1, or an alternative that was available was the Sterling 9mm sub-machinegun. None of these weapons are visible in any of the panels. If these guys are on an active operational task, they would be carrying their rifles.

So, to summarize; people in green clothes that took the time to shave, but not visit the barber, with some wearing black boots were depicted in a 1985 issue of Alpha Flight, but you failed to depict Canadian Soldiers as ordered, Private Mignola! You will be given an opportunity to try again in two days and the noted improvements must be included. Here is your recorded warning for failing to meet the standard, sign here.  Any questions?
Thanks Mike! Moving on...
According to Jeffries' flashback, thousands of Canadians enlisted in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. This is true (thought the word "enlisted" may not be accurate). Around 30,000 Canadians volunteered to serve with American armed forces during the conflict. 134 of them didn't come home. Ironically, 30,000 is also the estimated number of American draft dodgers that came to Canada to avoid serving.

The government liaison, Gary Cody, talks about the "new administration" finally accepting that superheroes can be part of the country's defense strategy. This was published in late 1985 (cover date January 1986), a year after Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's Conservatives came to power. That jibes with both "new" and "finally". More surprising is that there are no strings attached; all the government wants in exchange for funding is that Alpha defends the country, which they would have done anyway. A likely story. Puck is at least suspicious, but the interference from the military is minimal and quickly waved off.

Aurora and Northstar's French was not great under Byrne, and it isn't under Mantlo either. Aurora calls her brother "ma frère", erroneously using the feminine possessive instead of the masculine. Not that Quebeckers would ever use that turn of phrase. More likely would have been "le frère" ("the brother" but the equivalent of saying "brother" as opposed to "my brother"). She later says it right, so I'm gonna blame the editor. When Aurora speaks in English, she's given a pretty thick accent, but it's from France, not Quebec. "This" should not translate as "zis", but rather as "dis". "Walter" should be "Walteur" instead of "Waltair". And so on. As per previous comics, the Beaubier twins use the expletive "Sapristi", which is a French-ism. I've never heard it here in the wild though I suppose it's not impossible, maybe as an alternative to "esti" which is accented form of "ostie" (a holy wafer), which IS one of our favorite expletives.
As far as being in Quebec goes, I don't care if it's Montreal General caters to an English-language university, it's going to have signage in French, with the French likely more prominent. It's the law of the province. We'll have to accept that door has been translated for Marvel's readers.

Byrne grew up in Alberta so had an incomplete perspective on Canada. Van Lente had the benefit of his artist's wife being French-Canadian AND the Internet. Mantlo had none of that, and consequently, you might expect his run to be less "Canadian" and focus more on the superhero drama. And yet, he does use real places like McGill and historical elements like the Vietnam stuff. It's less "Americanized" than I thought it might be.


Anonymous said...

Come on, me both know nothing ever happens in Atlantic Canada ;) (Actually, Saskatchewan would've gotten the shaft too, as usual ... but at least Byrne had one of the characters (Roger Bochs) born here; Roger was okay ... until he went nuts.)

I was never quite as sold on Mantlo as you, but I really liked his Spectacular Spider-Man runs, so I was disappointed by his Alpha Flight. It seemed like he never quite got the characters' nuances right. Of course, most of the writers after Byrne seemed to have trouble with Alpha Flight, even Nicieza, who I usually like.

Mike W.

Siskoid said...

Puck is also from Sask. (Saskatoon according to his OHOTMU entry.)

I didn't like the Mantlo run either at the time, perhaps mostly because of the art. Nicieza's was terrible. Even the Byrne stuff was deeply flawed, when I read it again.

The only Alpha Flight series my adult self is able to recommend is Van Lente's.

Brendoon said...

I wonder if the internet has had any DOWN side to writing and artwork?
Obviously accurate research is much more available...
...but has that availability caused any creative problems?
I can't imagine so, at first glance it all seems a plus.

LiamKav said...

At the very least, London is noonger depicted in constant fog whilst horse drawn carriages transport people in top hats to the local public house.

As to saying that the house is in a poor location if AF are supposed to protect all of Canada, I do feel the need to point out that the Avengers are usually headquartered in New York. Where's the cry for the Rust Belt Avengers, headquartered in Kansas?

(My US geography is terrible so that might be all wrong.)

Allen W. Wright said...

I remember when this issue came out (I was in high school at the time), a friend of mine was angry about Alpha Flight's government status.

Me: "Oh, you don't like the idea of them working for the government."
Him: "No, I don't like that they're saying it's Mulroney who's helping them out."

Siskoid said...

Liam: They don't pretend to cover the entire United States (though yes, it's always been silly that all threats come to NY and all heroes live in NY), and they did expand with West Coast and Great Lakes Avengers, and eventually the Avengers Initiative putting heroes in every state. So there ARE Rust Belt Avengers.

That island doesn't even give you great response time for a threat in Vancouver! I know they use fast Quinjet type vehicles, but how long was that trip to Montreal? They're very lucky not to get anywhere before it's too late.

Allen: They were set up by Trudeau Sr., so equal opportunity. I think the PMs were pretty interchangeable in comics writers' hands.


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