Alpha Flight #1 (1983)

Alpha Flight #1 (August, 1983)
Writer/Artist – John Byrne
Letters – Joe Rosen
Colors – Andy Yanchus
Edits – Denny O’Neil
Chief – Jim Shooter
Cover Price: $1.00

A lot of folks I’ve talked to have a special connection to Alpha Flight.  I… do not.  It’s not like I dislike it… I just don’t really understand the reverence a lotta folks have for it.  Granted, I was like three-years old when this hit… and I didn’t really give the property a chance until I had silly amounts of “discretionary income” in my late-teens, but by then, Alpha Flight was in its second volume… which is pretty much a completely different animal than what we have here.

It’s been probably a quarter-century since I last cracked this issue open.  All I really remember about it, is… that I dug it.  Let’s see if that feeling remains today!

We open with Vindicator stood in the Department H compound just before the lights get shut off for good.  The Canadian government has decided to shut down Alpha Flight.  He’s lost in his thoughts, recalling a recent run-in with the X-Men in Quebec… and how, just one week later, the Prime Minister visited with him personally to disband his team.  The thinks about the three levels of “Flights” the Department is working with, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma… which, if nothing else, gives us a nice visual introduction to some of these characters.

Mac’s thoughts are interrupted by Gary Cody of Department H, also who isn’t happy with this turn of events.  Mac jams out and heads home to Ontario… visions of unemployment dancing in his head.

Meanwhile, in the greater, whiter, norther… a fella, who we’ll eventually learn is named Richard Easton prepares for an odd ritual.  He begins to draw the outline of… something, in the snow with his foot.

Turns out, he’s got designs on summoning this massive figure from the Earth.  Once his outline is complete… he sits down, and places a ceremonial-looking crown upon his dome.

We shift scenes to the Sarcee Reserve in Calgary, where Dr. Michael Twoyoungmen (which was always one of the coolest and most interesting civvie-names to me) feels a disturbance emanating from a box he keeps above his medicine rack.  Turns out, it’s the skull of his grandfather… all adorned in jewels.

Elsewhere again… this time to La Valle, Quebec… Madame DuPont’s School for Girls.  It’s here we check in with Mamselle Jeanne-Marie Beaubier.  She’s teachin’ the tots, and is being swarmed by her adoring students.  They find out that “he” will be here soon… and become very excited.  The “he” is Jeanne-Marie’s twin brother, Jean-Paul… the Olympic champion!  He shows up shortly after, and is just as swarmed as his large-foreheaded sis.  They head back to her place to talk.

Once settled, they chat the dissolution of Alpha Flight a bit… with Jean-Paul noticing that his twin is acting a little strange.  It’s almost as though she’s at the school in order to “hide out” from something.  He comments on her matronly and nebbish look… saying this doesn’t feel like “her”.  He removes her glasses and shakes out her hair before setting her before a mirror to look at herself.  She says that this entire thing is “perverse”… and, I’m not sure I disagree.  Overcome, Jeanne-Marie faints dead away.

Next stop, Ottawa… and the home of Mac and Heather Hudson.  Mac flies in the window, and they chat about Alpha Flight being shut down.  Afterwards, Heather goes to make dinner… but is interrupted by a call from ol’ Gary Cody… asking them to flip to the CBC on the TV.  They do just that, and learn that somethin’ strange is going on with the Northern Lights.  I wonder if it might have anything to do with that weirdo in the nup north?

Mac’s on the case… but Heather’s not so sure it’s the wisest idea to go it alone.  She asks if she should call the rest of the Alphas… to which, Mac says no.  He leaves… and, well… she summons the Alphas anyway.  She even calls upon a couple of Betas for good measure!

Speakin’ of whom… how ’bout we meet one?  We head to a seedy… er, colorful bar in Toronto, where some nogoodniks are up to… well, no good.  A waitress tells ’em to “take off, eh?”, but… they don’t.  And so, she’s gotta call in the “big guns”.

It’s Puck!  And he proceeds to beat the bejeezus out of the drunks.  As he’s doing so, however, his little Department H skull-implant begins to ping… alerting him to the fact that he’s just gotten “the call”.  Our li’l man rushes out the joint… and cartwheels down the street.

Next… Newfoundland, where we meet… eeeee… Marrina.  This one always freaked me out a bit.  She’s stood at a rock formation overlooking some crashing waves, when she is joined by a fella named Dan Smallwood (that’s not a name most dudes would want)… who informs her that her brooch just started pinging.  It’s the call of the Alphas… and, before we know it… she’s in the drink.

Our tour of Canada continues, as we head to northern British Columbia, where Walter Langkowski is “indulging in a favorite pastime”… which is evidently, walking through the deep woods?  Hey, no judgment… we all have our vices.  He gets “the call”… and Sasquatches up.

Further north… and we meet up with an Arctic Owl, which is actually Snowbird.  She happens upon the site of the ritual, and sees the Northern Lights swirling ever so ominously over the outline of that great figure.  As the ground begins to shake and a being begins to emerge…

… she knows exactly what (or who) she’s about to have to deal with.  It’s Tundra!

We pop back in on Marrina for a minute… she’s swimmin’ like a devil… and emerges from the drink amid a great water spout.  More on that later.

Elsewhere, Aurora and Northstar are also responding to the call… and the former’s behavior is still quite suspect.  Aurora refers to her superhero and civilian identities almost as though they’re completely different people.  This worries Northstar… and he wonders if his sister has perhaps gone mad.

Back outside Toronto, Puck tries to board a plane at the Mansfield Airbase.  He’s told to “take off, eh?”, and so he beats up the security guard before stomping off.

Back in the nup north, Snowbird confronts Tundra… and is drowned in mosquitoes for her trouble.

Luckily, it’s right about now that Vindicator shows up to distract the great beast.  He manages to free Snowbird from the plague of blood-suckers before himself feeling the wrath of Tundra… in the form of a torrent of rock.

Next, Shaman appears… and very nearly gets stomped on.

Mac proceeds to attack Tundra with electromagnetic blasts… but, get this… is stopped by Snowbird!  Ya see, Tundra is “one with the land”, and so… if these EM blasts destroy him… they also may destroy Canada itself!  Just then, Sasquatch emerges from a hovering helicopter.  He lands on Tundra’s back, and begins tearing the Earth-beast apart bit by bit, chunk by chunk.

Tundra eventually notices… and purges Sasquatch from his being.  Northstar and Aurora fly in next, and zip around Tundra’s head over and over again, rendering the thing… I don’t wanna say “dizzy”, but at the very least preoccupied.  This gives Shaman the opportunity to toss some “mystic powders” into the air… which summon a rainstorm.  Finally, it looks as though the former-Alphas are making a dent…

… but, they’re going to need a whole lot more water to get the job done.  Remember Marrina’s water spout from before?  Yeah, I’d forgotten about it too!  But, thankfully… it’s right here that she arrives.  Shaman’s powders control the torrent… and focus its full fury on Tundra… rendering it back to the Earth in no time.

As the dust settles, we see the skull of that weirdo summoner, still wearing that ceremonial crown-thingie.

Our epilogue takes us back to the Hudson home in Ontario… where all of the former-Alphas decide that, maybe they ought to stick together with or without the support of Department H or the Canadian government.

As Mac ponders whether or not they should keep the name “Alpha Flight”, his thought process is interrupted by a knock at the door.  It’s Puck!  Langkowski thinks the tiny man would make a great mascot for the team… and hilarity (plus a bunch of broken furniture) ensues.

Well, I was expecting to enjoy this little revisit… but, I wasn’t prepared to enjoy it quite as much as I did!  This really was excellent… and a whole lot of fun.

We talked about a week ago about John Byrne crafting the “perfect jumping-on point”… and, here’s just another case of that.  Though, perhaps not entirely the same… I mean… it is a #1 issue, after all.  Whatever the case, Byrne uses the space given to introduce his “main cast” in both personality and power-set, while also giving us a glimpse into what’s to come.

The page early on, with Mac thinking about the three “Flights” was really cool to me… and, is one of those pages I loved to pore over.  Especially after “discovering” this property so late in the game.  It’s a very seminal scene, in that we get to “meet” a handful of characters who will become prominent players in the book.

I liked being able to “visit” with the characters during their stint of retirement.  I love that sort of dynamic where we meet up with folks after their respective “jobs” are done.  There’s that nebulous feeling of “what’s next?”, and I feel like Byrne handled that really well here.  Especially the scenes with the Hudsons and the Beaubiers.

Heather and Mac’s two-pages of domestic bliss was neat… and I really enjoyed their interactions.  We can see how much they care for one another… I actually wish we had gotten another page or two of that.

Having Heather sneak off to their secret Alpha-Closet or whatever to secretly (and against Mac’s wishes) summon the rest of the Alphas (and a couple Betas) to join Mac in battle was a really neat way to facilitate the non-team coming back together.  It didn’t feel too forced, and was more just a wife worrying about her husband… who was heading into a confrontation with lord-knows-what.

Jean-Paul and Jeanne-Marie’s scenes were also pretty great, and provided a good deal of interesting foreshadowing as to what’s to come for them.  Aurora’s acting weird… and, it’s (relatively) subtle.  She’s at a pivot point in life, and it sort of stands to reason that you might change a bit as a person in situations like that.  Northstar, however, is picking up on some of these peculiarities… and giving we readers the hint to maybe pay attention.

The battle with Tundra was very fun… and beautifully drawn.  I appreciated the creativity in getting all of our heroes to “show their stuff” insofar as using their powers.  We also get some good old fashioned “powers in tandem”, with Marrina and Shaman being able to ultimately return the beast to the Earth.  Really good stuff… and the stakes were just high enough.

The art here, I mean… it’s peak Byrne.  Really great throughout… with the caveat that… there were some biiiiiiiig foreheads in this book.  I thought for a minute Aurora looked more like The Leader’s twin sister than Northstar’s!  Oof.  Other than that, however… excellent stuff!

If you’ve never tried Alpha Flight before… I’d suggest you do.  If it’s been a long time (like it has been for me), again… I’d suggest you give it a proper revisit, you might be in for a sweet surprise!

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0 thoughts on “Alpha Flight #1 (1983)

  • John Byrne's Alpha Flight is a great run. The fact that he had a hand in creating each and every one of the characters in X-Men gives him an intimate familiarity with them that another writer couldn't have.
    I remember seeing somewhere that Marvel editorial wanted to spin Alpha Flight off from X-Men into their own book, and offered it to Byrne. He said he didn't want to do an AF book but if they were going to do it with or without him he would rather it be with him.

  • The early Alpha Flight stuff is really good. Byrne spotlights each of the team separately in the first few issues, which means we don't get to see many big set pieces with the whole team involved early in the run, but we do get time to understand and get to know the characters.

  • Charlton Hero

    Alpha Flight is a "Good Looking" book. No one will argue that Byrne is at his peak here!!

    Now…the bad. As a Canadian alot of the characters are very cringy and folks outside of the country may overlook this. Puck? Shaman? Nope.

    The cross country province hop was Canada pandering at its worst.

    I mean it's not the worst thing but it the series loses its steam fast.

    Now on to the good. Great article as usual Chris!!

    You know what they say in Canada right?

    "Nobody give a …"
    Well you know the rest..lol.

    Great job bro!


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