The Day Canada Died (Happy Canada Day!)

ALPHA FLIGHT #12, Marvel Comics, July 1984
Back in the 80s, you couldn't throw a dart at a comic book store without hitting one of John Byrne's rags. He was as ubiquitous as Mark Waid or Grant Morrison were in the 90s and 00s. During his run on Uncanny X-Men, Byrne co-created Alpha Flight, Canada's premiere superteam (well... its only superteam, really), and would later go on to write and draw them in their own series.

#12 was the first issue I ever bought, and it hooked me enough that I tracked down the rest soon enough. It hooked me principally because they were Canadians, I'm pretty sure, cuz re-reading the issue now, I really don't agree with its politics. I don't think it was conscious on Byrne's part of anything, but his Alpha Flight isn't a well-trained group like the Avengers or a family like the Fantastic Four. It's a loose collection of entities Ottawa has put together, but who don't really like each other. If you wanna read that as a metaphor for the provinces, be my guest.

Byrne's take on Quebec separatism/sovereignism is particularly dubious. The only two French Canadians (the Beaubier twins) are the least likely to win role model awards: Northstar is a jerk of the highest order who has ties to the Quebec Liberation Front (increasing their membership by some 20%, I'm sure), and Aurora is one of the skankiest superheroes ever, wanting to have superspeed sex with Sasquatch instead of answering an emergency call. Plus, it's hinted that they have an "unnatural" brother-sister relationship. Eep!

Then there's the rather bold statement about the team's leader, Guardian:
Likening him to Captain America is fine, but "a unifying force in a country torn by internal bickering"? First, it makes us sound like a former Soviet state. Second, if your goal is to unify Canada, wrapping yourself in the maple leaf isn't the way to do it. Just ask Quebec. Can't really expect Byrne to actually research all this though, not when there are more pressing issues to deal with like the word "botonist" making an un-proofread appearance on page 18.

The plot is a revenge play starring Jerry Jaxon, Guardian's former business partner who had his life destroyed when Mac "Guardian" Hudson stole the technology which would later become the Guardian suit rather than see it used for military ends. Jaxon lost everything. So now he's back to destroy Alpha Flight, Guardian's pet project. He uses all the other Canadian superhumans he can find, and steals the Box robot which he mentally controls to enact his plan.

After the Alphans fight amongst themselves, they fight Jaxon's "Omega Flight" (it's a double-sized issue, so twice the fighting!). The most interesting bit (though Aurora getting a nipple clawed off by Wild Child may be a close second) comes when Smart Alec, a guy with enhanced perception and IQ thanks to a big, dorky helmet, steals Shaman's medicine bag and looks into it. I don't think you're supposed to do that.
"...as the last dwindling spark of his sanity flickers out, for an instant, Smart Alec knows why." Hey, that's pretty cool, right? And you didn't see a lot of photocopier tricks back then. (Alpha Flight actually has a history of photocopying tricks.)

Oh yeah, and the cover says "And one shall surely die!" So who is it? Aurora bleeding out from her ripped nip?
Nope. Snowbird turning into a bag of bones when she leaves Canada? Neither. Northstar of terminal assholeism? Not yet. Puck from Sasquatch sitting on him? No. Jaxon gets who he really wants to get. Guardian bites it. After a fight with Box-Jaxon, Mac fries the bad guy's brain (harsh!), but his suit is severely damaged in the explosion. He has only 10 seconds before a power pack explodes. Cool use of the comic book panel here:
But then, Mac's milfy wife (and Wolverine crush) Heather walks in, having escaped from Jaxon's robot secretary. He's distracted. BOOM!!!
Now look at what's left of Mac Hudson and tell me he could really return to life in Alpha Flight #89. I didn't think so. Never call 'em dead until you see a body. Well, that's the body. And it's pretty frickin' obvious Guardian isn't coming back from the dead.

5 comments:

rob! said...

i was floored when i read this issue.

it seemed so shocking, and for Guardian die basically because HE GOOFED and got distracted...man, John Byrne was messing with our heads!!

JdR said...

This was my first issue of a 'superhero' comic as a young fella. Up 'til then I was reading Archie and Disney and such. But this was so unexpected and I was hooked.

Siskoid said...

Harsh first experience!

I can't remember mine, sadly, now that you mention it. I know I had a tattered copy of the Micronauts as a child, but no memory of it (and certainly couldn't read English at the time). So my first ones were probably French-language "Jumbos", which looked a lot like Showcase Presents except they were a black and white pot pourri of various companies' product (the Flash next to Fantastic Four next to Charlton Horror comics next to The Phantom). Must've been one of those.

Dr. K said...

I actually wrote a letter to Alpha Flight about this issue, claiming that it would be the last John Byrne comic I would ever buy.

It's a good thing it wasn't printed, because I would then have to admit publicly that I lied.

Also, I typed the letter in red ink, which, in hindsight, was a bit hyperbolic.

Siskoid said...

So... big Guardian fan?

 

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