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Thread: Alpha Retrospective on Comic-X

  1. #1
    Alpha Flight
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    Default Alpha Retrospective on Comic-X

    By Raul Grau (a.k.a. jcknite), RJacknite@aol.com

    Twenty-Five Years of Alpha Flight - Unoriginally Original

    Some years back, Marvel Comics debuted a new team title, initially consisting of all previously seen characters. Within its first few years, the team had seen such varied personalities as a scientist whose exposure to gamma radiation transformed him into a hulking goliath, an ordinary human wearing a battlesuit of his own design, a cocky speedster, and a young woman with great mystical potential. These national heroes suffered from recurring membership shifts and were sometimes at odds with their own government, yet they always found a way to come out on top, though not against the sometimes cruel comic book market. Obviously, I am talking about that great series Alpha Flight... the Avengers were never canceled.

    Though the title premiered in 1983, Marvel had been featuring the members for a few years... if you stretch the meaning of the word 'featuring' a bit. They were supporting players, part of the slowly filling background of Wolverine, already the most famous Canadian hero, but then just a junior member on the X-Men himself. As supporting characters to a supporting character, it was a minor miracle that the Flight developed enough of a fanbase to warrant their own ongoing series. Now the challenge obviously became how to keep that interested audience interested.

    For those who do not recall the early 1980s, it was a time of boundless optimism and national pride. Reagan had led America into its first period of true tranquility in decades... precisely like the nation described in his reelection campaign ads. True, a failed assassination attempt on the executive branch nearly took the life of the president less than a year into his term. And, perhaps rampant unemployment, a burgeoning and ignored health crisis, and widespread poverty striking the agricultural sector may have appeared to be a dark underbelly beneath a nicely stylized exterior. However, when Bruce Springsteen was proud to be 'Born in the USA', Reagan 'wisely' attempted to appropriate his message, and who could ever disagree with both the Boss and the president?

    A true child of the era, Alpha Flight put forth the polished veneer of a traditional superheroic team, with its headquarters, advanced technology, flashy costumes, and national pride... a different nation, but still proud. Underneath the dramatic covers, though, there was another Alpha Flight - a team consisting of a corporate technology thief, an absentee father, a former catholic schoolgirl with multiple personality disorder who attempted suicide, only to be beaten and starved before... well, you get the idea. These heroes were dissociated from their government and members were kidnapped, tortured, and nearly sexually assaulted, all before the published issues numbered in the double digits. Art continued to imitate life, with the first year anniversary issue featuring a surprisingly successful assassination attempt, leaving the team without its leader.

    From that point on, Alpha Flight walked a fine line between darkly original and deftly adapted. In the late 1980s, the preteen hero was staging a comeback, with Power Pack and The New Teen Titans serving as critically acclaimed examples of why parental supervision is completely unnecessary. Alpha Flight, whose last 'rookie' member was the septuagenarian slugger known as Puck, finally put aside its ageism, and now allowed small children to risk their lives for the good of their country. The prepubescent Pathway was just one of this new generation of Alphans who could freely travel to alien worlds and mystical dimensions, but was still a few years shy of legally taking her road test.

    Children were not the only oppressed minority to finally come into their Canadian heroic own. While it had been danced around for many years, Northstar finally had his 'coming out' in issue #106, spurred on by the general public's ignorance over the mounting AIDS crisis. Jean-Paul became the first Marvel hero to tell his tale proudly, fictionally joining the growing ranks of real-life actors and musicians who had beat the fairy speedster to the punch (No, I'm serious... he really was a literal fairy for a while).



    With the record-breaking sales of some early 90s titles and the crystallization of the 'Image way', comic books were making major strides... backwards, at least as far as character development and anatomical artwork was concerned. 'Realistic' and 'enigmatic' became buzzwords for characters who were without physical proportions or clear backstories. Alpha Flight introduced its own generation of 'real' heroes, including the perpetually masked nihilistic Nemesis, the newly demonic Witchfire, and the heavily armed Wyre (with real, working shoulder wires). However, Alpha Flight soon fell victim to another prevalent trend of the era... flagging sales. The book was canceled with the 130th issue, and the team returned to their supporting character roots.

    If you happen to understand that donning an aluminum foil hat is the only sure way to keep the CIA from stealing your thoughts, then 1997 must have been a very validating year for you. X-Files was in its fourth, critically acclaimed season, with NBC taking up the conspiratorial reins with Dark Skies and the Pretender. The subtly titled Conspiracy Theory transformed an action hero into a paranoid cabby, and Wag the Dog made us wonder if the 1969 moon landing was an in-joke between Washington insiders. And, most importantly, Alpha Flight finally returned to the stands with its second volume... if you believe me, that is.

    Department H, long a jabbing needle in the side of the team, was finally stabbing them in the back... and the front... and the head maybe, too. Luckily, H possessed the technology to make the Alphans forget all about it afterwards. Kidnapping and brainwashing heroes, making secret deals with villains, even ruining a marriage was all business as usual for the most overtly covert bureaucracy in Canada. However, the second Alpha Flight series proved to be so covert that no one read it, sadly ending in 1999. For those who believe in coincidences, ratings for the X-Files had dropped by then to the point where even Agent Mulder must have been bored with this whole truth fad. After all, the truth is out...side of any marketable demographic today.

    Two years later, the doomsayers were proven right, and America suffered one of its greatest tragedies. In the wake of 9/11, the nation turned almost exclusively to comedies, with marathon showings of anything remotely resembling humor, just as the phrase 'comfort food' was re-entering the lexicon. Oh, realistic violence still exists, even excels... as long as the setting is far enough from our current reality. If you want to see bloodshed at the theaters, be prepared for either Hobbits, pirates, or the soon-to-be resurrected.

    With escapism the new order of the day, it came as no surprise that the newest edition of the Flight has taken a heavily humorous route. After two issues, it is evident that fight scenes are going to be minimized, with the focus squarely placed on absurd, zany characters and self-referential captions. Major Mapleleaf alone is worth his weight in puns. The most bizarre thing about this third generation is that it is selling well, poised to outsell titles that aren't ahead of the curve enough to have included thought balloons.

    So why has Alpha Flight historically been so closely tied to societal trends? Low sales are the most obvious explanation. Truly bucking trends is only feasible if you are not sitting on the perpetual brink of cancellation, and taking refuge in the already popular seems a sure bet. Unfortunately, that line of thinking has not precisely worked out well for the Alphans. Perhaps this new incarnation is ready to be the exception that proves the rule.

    Last month marked the 25th anniversary of Alpha Flight. It is nothing short of remarkable that the concept of a ragtag group of Canadian heroes has endured. Yes, the title has at times been forced to embrace pop trends in a failed attempt to garner new readers. Yes, the society these Canadian heroes adapt to is usually American... not the nation of their setting, but truly the nation of their genesis. However, how incredible is it that a non-powered leader, a Native American mystic, and an unruly dwarf have been united far longer than many of their fans have been alive? From Reagan-Bush to Bush-Cheney, and hopefully for another 25 years... when Mary Cheney makes her inevitable run for higher office.




    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------



    Raul Grau has had more failed careers than Vindicator has had battlesuits. For some strange reason, he truly believes that Alpha Flight's second series would have been a huge hit had someone been visionary enough to bring back Manikin.

    The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and are not reflective of ComiX-Fan or its other staff in general.

    My Turn At ComiX-Fan is a revolving column that gives ComiX-Fan readers a chance to speak up and be heard. Each month the editorial team selects one column from our submissions to be the featured My Turn At ComiX-Fan column. Click here for the official rules, then e-mail your submissions to Jim Lemoine at jimlemoine@comixfan.cjb.net.


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  2. #2
    Administrator Department H
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    Thanks for posting this, but there is actually already a running thread on this article at http://forum.alphaflight.net/viewtopic.php?t=228

    I'll lock this this thread to avoid confusion.

    Ben

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