• Review - Alpha Flight (Vol.4) #4 - Phil's Take *SPOILERS*

    Issue: Alpha Flight (Vol.4) #4: With Strength, Many
    Writers: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
    Penciller: Dale Eaglesham
    Inker: Andrew Hennessy
    Colorist: Sonia OBack
    Lettering: Simon Bowland
    Cover Art: Phil Jimenez & Frank D'Armata
    Variant Cover: Eaglesham, Hennessy & OBack
    Cover Date: Nov 2011

    Alpha Flight #4, the first issue since confirmation of the series becoming an ongoing, sees the team continue on the run from the forces of the government that's turned against them in the wake of Fear Itself.

    This review isn't necessarily going to be linear.
    I'm not going to describe the issue panel by panel but take more of look at the overlapping themes within it, so may back and forth focusing on characters. It's also rather long. Apologies in advance.
    I won't however spoil the ending till the end.

    The issue is the last to have the Fear Itself banner(and also the last to feature covers by Jimenez and Eaglesham *sniff*) and definitely carries on the theme of the series, without being an integral part to the storyline.
    Pak & Van Lente do this in a way that works on several levels; if you're reading the story at the time of publication then chances are you're aware of the Fear Itself storyline and Alpha Flight's involvement runs parallel alongside the main storyline nicely, giving a story sparked out of fear and also by referencing the larger landscape of the Marvel Universe in a way that's relevant to the team; through everyone(?)'s favourite Canadian, Wolverine.
    On the other hand, if you were reading the storyline in a trade years from now, coming in fresh to the title/team/characters then the storyline also works fine; it's not a case of 'you must have read panels x & y in issues 369 & 512 of titles a & b during crossover c in order to understand any of this issue' as has been the case in previous events.
    There's a nice self contained yet thematically relevant storyline woven through the pages, and in my opinion it works.

    The introduction page for this issue takes the form of a diary entry from Walter Langkowski's memory notes, referencing the events of issue #3, which I thought was a nice touch and something different from the standard recap pages of nowadays. It'll be interesting to see if the creative team come up with any other forms within the series, and if it'll be included within the eventual trades.

    Following on from the events of the previous issue Alpha Flight prepare to leave Canada after it's fascist take-over and betrayal of the team.
    Mac's the one who takes this the hardest and the most personally as for years he's been the poster-boy for the country, wrapped in it's flag and fighting for it's freedom.
    This makes sense; the man has given his all for the country and it's cost him his life (several times), his child and now his wife. I know I'd be disillusioned. I'd be ready to throw in the towel, yet alone my exosuit.
    It's Mac's strength that shines through here, as he continues to fight and is determined to save the country.
    Ever the actions of the superhero from the man that never wanted to be one, and always for the right reasons.

    The 'Aurora' plot from last issue takes a slow-burn here, with the reader again shown that something's not right.
    Of all the characters for Jeanne-Marie to have that conversation with and go unnoticed Marrina makes the most sense; out of all of Alpha Flight, JM has had the least interaction with Marrina. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch for Marrina to not know that Aurora knows about Jean-Paul's sexuality.
    It's a nice little underlying plot that will pay off later in the series.

    By now we've all seen the preview pages featuring Heather getting her child back.
    Pak & Van Lente put Heather on a thin line. A line that many superheroes step across occasionally. There are times in this modern widescreen superhero world when killing is deemed necessary, but to me that goes against everything Heather ever stood for; she's never been one for murder and the times she has been forced to kill have weighed over her heavily, which I think is a very deliberate switch from the writing team cementing the fact that despite her speech at the end of #1 as she betrayed Mac that she's clearly not herself.
    And by the end of the issue we have the hint as to why.

    The story goes on to look at the impact of the government on it's citizens, of Fear Itself on humanity.
    Alice Hu, who was first introduced in #0.1, takes on the role of the everyman in this issue. She's the readers viewpoint as a non-superhero in a superhero world, who rises up and fights for what she believes in. In this case a media reporter personifying freedom of speech.
    Enslaved, she is given hope and a reason to fight by Mac Hudson as he inspires the otherwise beaten innocents, the character hopefully taking a major step on the path to realising his potential and to being the leader he never wanted to be.
    Because throughout it all Mac has inspired; inspired Wolverine to be a better person, inspired Heather to take his place, inspired the team to fight on after his death.
    That's what great leaders do; inspire.
    As Northstar himself puts it "People are always broken, Mac... that's why they need you."
    Van Lente & Pak stated that they wanted to develop Mac's character and to me this is a great example of it.
    Even Marrina shows her humanity here, something that many people were concerned about when seeing her new punkish 'die human scum' persona. She understands what it's like to be enslaved and how the Canadian flag that Mac once proudly wore can inspire people. (We also get to see her scum-calling isn't just limited to humans, which gives the impression that she's merely being rebellious than actually hating humanity.)
    Plus, Northstar's line is very relevantly phrased considering the revelations of the Unity process, which leads us on to...

    Northstar's boyfriend Kyle who also takes on the role of the everyman, but from a very different perspective to Hu.
    After being almost killed by the Unity party, Kyle is 'rebuilt' by... the Unity party.
    Kyle seemingly took on the role of collateral damage in the previous issue but this development to his character, and the eventual conflict with Northstar it will cause, is a very interesting one.
    Whether Kyle feels some kind of gratitude for (apparently) saving his life, almost a Stockholm syndrome towards the Unity party or if they've actually done something to him remains to be seen, but again this will definitely play a big part.
    However, I do have slight reservations.
    The way it's looking so far Kyle is destined to either become enhanced in some way and become part of Alpha Strike, or to play the part of the damsel-in-distress/traitor in order to lure Northstar to his death.
    I really hope it's not brought to either of these extremes as I really like the character of Kyle in Jean-Paul's life and as a normal human being.
    Although I imagine he was brought in solely as a throwaway character for a panel simply for the sake of giving a gay character a boyfriend (I may be completely wrong, and if so I'm more than happy to apologise to Matt Fraction) I found that the relationship made sense(mainly due to the work of Tim Fish in Nation X #2).
    Kyle seemed to soothe Jean-Paul's gruff exterior, to ground him and give him that normality which he's always wanted, in many of the ways that Raymonde Belmonde did.
    And issues #0.1 & 1 seemed to be continuing that; Kyle gave Northstar a reason to fight on, to see the good in people, to see that the world was worth saving and that he didn't have to be alone.
    So for me to see either of the options I outlined above would be a bit of a blow.
    But I'm not a writer by any means, so I await what comes next and hope I'm proved wrong

    However, I am pleased to see development in the interaction between Northstar and Alpha Flight.
    Despite being hotheaded and preferring to do things alone, when he needs help in finding Kyle and fighting the forces he believes has him, he comes to Mac & the team.
    For me, this sums up the character.
    When he needs help he knows the team has his back, and despite his leaving the team they accept and help him.
    For me this is the great Byrne dynamic that a lot of creative teams overlook.
    This is what makes AF a family.

    As the issue progresses, Northstar leads the team to an alien starship where he believes Kyle is being held.
    Yup, an alien spaceship.
    As Walt himself says "I think you already know where this stuff came from."
    As the alien spaceship was seen, a smile came on my face.
    And that line was definitely put in as a precursor-y wink to fans (along with the use of the groundhog armour) and it was definitely appreciated.

    The smile on my face was cemented with the final page.
    Every issue so far has had a final splash page reveal, which I think really works in serialised form akin to a dramatic ending on a television show. I buy my books monthly and as much as I hate waiting a whole month, an ending that leaves me hanging on makes a book even better.
    This one was no different.
    Well, okay, it was as I knew what was coming, but to be fair it made the moment even greater.

    The Master Of The World is back!!!

    Pak & Van Lente had hinted in interviews, on twitter and formspring that AF weren't the only people Hercules had accidentally brought back, and that it wasn't limited to good guys. And here we have proof of that.
    When Chaos War:Alpha Flight was announced I'd hoped that he was going to be the villain within that story.
    However, the actual villains were a lot better suited and The Master works a lot better here.
    Despite Van Lente & Pak stating they hadn't read much after Byrne this fits in with The Master's way of doing things as shown in the Infinity War crossover issues of AF and in the Kang Dynasty issues of Avengers leading to his demise.
    When the world is most vulnerable or at risk he seeks to take control of it in order to save it.
    This connects with Fear Itself perfectly.

    The Unity process that we saw Aurora in at the end of #2; the same one The Master experienced. The same one he tried to put Marrina through.

    This explains how the brain-dead Gary Cody is back.
    This explains how Heather is completely different. Having Heather pitted against her husband is the perfect revenge for her taking away his Antiguard at the end of Volume 1.
    He knows the weak spots of the team and is exploiting them.

    As a 5 issue arc, it all fits together perfectly and for me gets better as a storyline with each issue as you see a little bit more behind the curtain.

    It's not perfect by any means, I'm not gushing for the sake of it here.
    There are a few parts that seem forced; driving to Niagra Falls just to throw the exosuit over, having Shaman later teleport them into Canada rather than just out of it (and yes, I know there's a line that covers it, but the logic doesn't quite work.) and Puck's dialogue is starting to annoy me slightly; yes he's been to hell, yes he's crazy, yes there's stuff we don't know... I get that, it's still just irksome.
    But even that and my fears for Kyle (Plus the fact that as a huge Sasquatch fan we've seen hardly any Sas action!) haven't negated my enjoyment of this issue, and the series so far as a whole.

    So far in this review I haven't mentioned the art.
    In my previous reviews I've hardly touched on it.
    It's not something I'm doing on purpose; it's more of a case of the art is just generally amazing, full of detail and backgrounds.
    It's a harsh thing for me to say, but I'd be mentioning the art more if I had a problem with it, if there were glaring errors and parts that didn't work.
    I hate that.
    I should be praising the artwork for being so good, not hardly mentioning it because of it's lack of faults.

    The final splash page with The Master is a great image.
    He looks a formidable enemy with his team around him, Ranarck looking sinister and the Wendigo holding baby Claire adding a chill to the imagery.
    And speaking of chilling images, Heather's murderous actions is yet another stand out panel.

    The page of the charge at the Am Cam facility is yet another great iconic image of Mac, front and centre in the Canadian flag, Puck smiling as he fights, Shaman & Marrina getting stuck in to the fight and Alice Hu in the Groundhog armour helping to take back the country. I love the imagery, and I'm nowhere near Canadian.

    However it's not just the splash pages and action that Eaglesham excels at; Mac's world-weary features as he explains why he has to throw his suit away show his pain.
    Marrina's look as Walt talks about fear and it's effects on us all is perfect. This is the moment she realises she's been rebelling for the wrong reasons, and at the wrong people. You can see why she does what she does later on. And that's just in one panel of a downwards glance. I don't know how much of that is Pak & Van Lente and how much is Eaglesham himself, or even if I'm just reading into it what I want to, but it's a great page.

    I also really like Shaman's mystical hand gesture. Not sure why something so simple amuses me, but it does.

    I eagerly await issue #5 to see Eaglesham's pencils without inks, which isn't anything against Drew Hennessy in the slightest, but the opening few pages of Dale's first issue of Fantastic Four were among some of the most beautiful comic art I've ever seen and I can't wait to see AF get the same treatment.

    All in all, Alpha Flight #4 comes thoroughly recommended. Which I think you can tell.
    Comments 12 Comments
    1. Flightpath07's Avatar
      Flightpath07 -
      I'm not reading it. Not yet. However, on the home page, it needs spoiler space PLEEZE!
    1. Phil's Avatar
      Phil -
      I'm lost as to what you can see as a spoiler...?
    1. Flightpath07's Avatar
      Flightpath07 -
      Well...it does say they are on the run. I mean...technically...somebody may not kow that, or...
    1. sengsterooney's Avatar
      sengsterooney -
      What a great review! I thought as much about you-know-who's return and it's apt as said returnee has been a long-term thorn in the side of Alpha Flight. A top notch review - thanks for sharing Phil! And kudos to Freg and Dale for reigniting the Alpha Flight flame and bringing us the Flight that fans have loved for a long time.
    1. Phil's Avatar
      Phil -
      FP - Ahh, I see. I figured as it said as much in the #2 solicit that it'd be safe by now, but I shall edit it.

      Seng - Cheers buddy!
    1. Alphan East's Avatar
      Alphan East -
      Great review.
      You nailed everything, including the reaction to the final page. I'm really liking these hooks... they are making me anxious for the next issue as soon as I finish the one I'm reading.
      And as much as I'm enjoying Fred & Greg's writing, it's Dale's artwork that is the best part.
      This is the Alpha Flight I've been waiting for.
    1. Flightpath07's Avatar
      Flightpath07 -
      Sorry for being difficult, Phil. Truth to tell, I am so paranoid about not having the issue spoiled before i get to read it, that i wasn't even reading your review when it popped up on the home page, I just happened to see the words "on the run" out of the corner of my eye and I really do not know what you have writtten there as I am trying very hard not to look.
    1. Phil's Avatar
      Phil -
      Not a problem fella, twas a valid point.
      It wasn't vital to the preview so changing it is easy enough.
    1. Flightpath07's Avatar
      Flightpath07 -
      And that is why we have righteously-decent Administrators!
    1. cmdrkoenig67's Avatar
      cmdrkoenig67 -
      Very nice review, Phil.

    1. Le Messor's Avatar
      Le Messor -
      No, Phil! Don't throw in your exosuit!

      Quote Originally Posted by Phil View Post
      Even Marrina shows her humanity here, something that many people were concerned about when seeing her new punkish 'die human scum' persona.
      Speaking as one of the most concerned, that isn't exactly what I was concerned about. It was more the complete reversal of her character (especially when, in #3, they actually state openly that she's 'consistent'. Um, no.)

      Quote Originally Posted by Phil View Post
      It's a harsh thing for me to say, but I'd be mentioning the art more if I had a problem with it, if there were glaring errors and parts that didn't work.
      As somebody who does a lot of critiquing, I understand that. (Of course, with critiquing the idea is to improve the story before publication - which doesn't work if all I say is 'this is great! this is great!')

      Good review, in-depth and it really gives an impression of the series. Which is what it should do.

      - Le Messor
      "If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?"
    1. bigbloo's Avatar
      bigbloo -
      Good review!


      I liked the issue in general, though I found the Mac storyline a bit rushed. I felt that having him lose faith in Canada in the beginning and then regain his faith at the end of a single issue kind of trivialized the whole thing. To me, it made Mac seem a bit fickle...