Alpha Flight #1: A Canadian Perspective

To get you ready for tomorrow's Canada Day celebrations, here's a follow-up to my Canadian Perspective article on Alpha Flight #0.1. As you may remember (and if you don't, just follow that link), my love for both Canada's only superhero team and Fred Van Lente's writing didn't prevent me from finding flaws in the comic's depiction of Canada. How did Van Lente and Pak do with the following issue? Why, REALLY WELL, actually! Before we get into specifics, let me just rave about how fun the issue was. The Fear Itself crossover wasn't bothersome, acting as a background action piece. The characters were distinctive and had chemistry together, the only real personality reboot being Marrina, who went from boring back under Byrne's pen to crazy funny here. And Box robots at the end? Awesome. At this point, I'm already disappointed Alpha Flight is only an 8-issue mini-series. But how did the issue manage the depiction of Canada? That's what we're interested in.

The action takes place in four locations and all of them are fairly depicted. First is Attuma's attack on Vancouver where we can't really see the city under all that water, but the journalist in the piece works for Channel 4, a very real station broadcasting out of B.C. I'm not surprised Guardian calls her "miss" (he probably doesn't get the channel in Ottawa, and oh yeah, he's been dead for a few years), and a little more so that Vindicator (I hate that name, how about we agree to my calling her Heather?) DOES know her by name. Maybe Sasquatch is always going on about her or something. And I do find it sweet and silly that Vancouver is described as being on the Pacific Coast and Newfoundland on the Atlantic Coast, because, well, that's obvious to me. From summers spent in Texas when I was a teenager, I got the impression kids were taught Canadian geography at some point (it's easy, only 10 provinces!) I'm not offended by it, but now I want to see New York specifically labeled as being on the Atlantic Coast.

The Newfoundland location is Cape Race, where Guardian teleports Attuma, and while the cliff is probably a bit higher than normal in the comic, I think Eaglesham (finally a Canadian on this project!) got it right. Montreal shows up again as Northstar's residence, and Alpha Flight later returns to its HQ in Ottawa. Taking its cue from Torchwood, it seems the team is housed right in the middle of politician/tourist country.
That's the fun of the Marvel Universe. I can visit superhero haunts if I really want to.

The previous issue ended with the fictional Unity Party winning the Canadian election, presumably through some form of mind control. Here we find out they've formed a Coalition Government. This makes perfect sense. Even with supervillain shenanigans (that's still unproven), it's doubtful a newcomer to the political scene would win a majority government. So Gary Cody, the new Prime Minister, has had to ally himself with other parties to GET a majority and actually pass some legislation. And if mind control DOES have something to do with it, it would be easy to create such alliances. Problems do crop up later, however, when Cody invokes the Emergencies Act in the wake of Feat Itself (riots, Americans rushing our borders, etc.). This is akin to declaring martial law, but Cody takes it way too far here:
In point of fact, the Emergencies Act specifically state that any temporary laws made under the Act are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I don't know enough legalese to gauge if the measures he mentions are legal under the Act (arrest without warrant, detain without charges), but that part looks about right, or at least works within the context of a comic book story. A minor point - Cody says his "administration has decided, with the full support of Parliament..." which really sounds like an American formulation. The President has an administration that gets support from Congress. But I've seen the words used in Canada too, and I've more than once condemned Harper for trying to govern "American-style" (i.e. as a "President" rather than as a member of Parliament, of which he's been rather contemptuous).

This issue also makes the point that Alpha Flight are prohibited from electioneering, but that Cody nevertheless tried to get Guardian on his posters.

As you know, I've particularly sensitive to the use of French in American comics. While I still long for the day Quebec characters actually sound like they have the proper accent and vernacular, the French here is again impeccable. There's a lot more of it than in #0.1, as Aurora and Northstar often revert to their native tongue. Misters Pak and Van Lente? That sound you hear is my applause. Now if the twins moved away from "International French" and closer to some kind of patois, I'd be doing somersaults. "Sapristi", while not unheard of in French Canada, still smacks of the other side of the pond, for example. There's also an off-putting inference that the rest of Alpha Flight don't speak or understand French (not clear, but I got that impression from Northstar addressing his sister in French about private matters, and switching to English when she refuses to go for a private chat). As Federal employees AND national heroes, I would have expected them to all be bilingual. If they were real, I'd positively DEMAND it. Francophones want to be rescued in their language of choice, it's just how we are.

I should also mention Premier Cody's television address. The card prefacing his speech is in both official languages yes, but Canadian tradition (as tedious as even French Canadians find it) is to speak in both languages, alternating between the two over the course of the speech. There's a simple justification for the flub: Parts of the speech ARE in French but superimposed with simultaneous (albeit hesitant) translation. Bilingual Canadians all find this annoying and keep switching to the the channel of the appropriate language just so we don't have to hear the droning translation.

What aboot the stuff that doesn't fit those categories, hoser?
First, I don't know anyone who uses the word "hoser", mr. subtitle.

There are a number of Canadian touches in the book. My favorite is Snowbird turning into an arctic dinosaur.
Remember, Snowbird can only change into animals native to above the permafrost line, but I don't think I've ever seen her morph into a long extinct animal that might lived on that territory back before the continents shifted. It's the kind of cool awesomeness I expect from this writing team.

A CBC poll is mentioned. The CBC is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada's state owned television and radio. They do put out polls. One of these says 53% of Canadians believe Northstar hates Canada for... We don't hear what. In the original series, he had ties to the Quebec Liberation Front, so his crankiness at the rest of Canada is not surprising. He's probably still a Sovereignist (not to use the other S word).

Guardian chastises Marrina for her warcry ("Die, Earth scum!"), saying Canadians have a reputation for politeness to uphold, which is quite the cliché. As part of superhero banter, it's really not disturbing. I accept the national reputation, but I think perhaps we're more polite to visitors than we are to each other. If anything, it shows Guardian has a sense of humor about his Canadian heritage, and that he's at least reflected on it, wearing, as he does, the national symbol.

Finally, Marrina hopes Fear Itself won't cancel a Mother, Mother concert she's got tickets for. Mother, Mother is a Canadian indie band out of British Columbia. Though the concert could be anywhere, the recent hammer wielder attack was in their home province, which might have put the kibosh on the show. We'll likely never find out since Marrina will probably have to fight a bunch of Box robots anyway.

So in conclusion, a VAST improvement over the .1 issue. By concentrating on the characters and their dynamic, you might think the writers avoided talking out of turn about Canada and the rest of its citizens, but as you can see, there's a lot of Canada in there. Though I wasn't convinced the whole Unity Party thread was a great way to go, it does paint Canadians as inherently political, and we are. I'm not saying everyone thinks about politics (the usual demographics put their hands over their ears and go la la la I can't hear you at the mere mention of politics), but everyone's got an opinion on Quebec, bilingualism, and our relationship to our neighbor to the South. In Canada, politics go through a linguistic filter (in French Canada, the U.S.' influence is more often than not spoken of in terms of it being a huge English-speaking juggernaut), and the often polarizing language issues in this country mean we are pretty much born political. I'll let you know how issue 2 stacks up, but I do invite fellow Canadians to submit their opinions. Like I've said before, one lone Canadian does not a complete Canadian perspective make.


Michael Hoskin said...

So far as bilingualism goes, I'm pretty sure Walter speaks French. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Guardian doesn't since his background is corporate, not civil service.

Siskoid said...

It probably depends on the province too. But I would HOPE that superheroes of Alpha Flight's stature (and scope, they're meant to patrol French-speaking regions too) would make an effort and learn a second language.

Just as I'd expect Captain America to speak and understand Spanish.

Michael Hoskin said...

Bear in mind, Alpha Flight were barely out of training when Trudeau shut them down; they didn't resume working as government employees until the end of Mulroney's term, then shut down again a couple of years into Chretien. Vindicator & Sasquatch aside, this is the first time in about 15 years (our time) any of them have spent as federal employees.

They are in an unusual position, of course - they provide national defense but have to be spokespeople for the nation too. I'd assume that if any of them don't know French, it would be at the top of the government's "ASAP" list.

I do kinda wish they were going up against Harper, though; Alpha Flight has a proud tradition to uphold of being victimized by real world PMs!

Siskoid said...

yes, my expectation of their bilingualism isn't so much tied to their status as federal employees as to their iconic, representational quality.

The Unity Party is close enough to Harper's Alliance-in-disguise Conservatives for me to imagine he's hiding behind Cody's beard ;).

bigbloo said...

Great review! I've been a fan of AF since Byrne, but since I'm not Canadian, I'm always interested in how "real" they are.

I learned over at Dale Eaglesham's site that Pak and Van Lente are getting a Quebecois hand with the French on the book, courtesy of Eaglesham's wife.

They have an forum called the Agora and you can post questions for the creators.

Siskoid said...

Well, you can tell they went for outside help. Eaglesham will turn out to be their MVP.


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