Posted by Don MacPherson on May 19th, 2011
Alpha Flight #0.1
Writers: Greg Pak & Fred van Lente
Pencils: Ben Oliver
Inks: Dan Green
Colors: Frank Martin
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artist: Phil Jimenez
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US
One might think it was solely my Canadian citizenship that drove me to purchase this introductory issue of a new Alpha Flight series, but one would be wrong. I’ve enjoyed the work of writers Greg Pak and Fred van Lente in the past, and I’m always interested in what they have in mind with new projects. While I enjoyed their work on this project more than the first two issues of Herc, it still pales in comparison with their previous efforts on Incredible Hulk and Incredible Hercules. Don’t get me wrong… this comic book features some diverting, super-hero genre action, but it also feels rather generic and inconsequential.
It’s election day in Canada, and it’s an historic event, as a new, supposedly centrist party known as the Unity Party, is in strong contention to form the government. Voting proves to be tricky in one part of the country, though, as two superhumans cause some glitches in Montreal. An armored terrorist named Citadel is on a rampage that threatens a key power plant, and elsewhere another super-powered individual uses the distraction to achieve her own ends. Department H calls upon Canada’s champions, Alpha Flight, to save the day, but they soon find themselves in conflict with an old ally.
The writers offer up an accessible introduction to the main characters for newer readers (not something one finds in one of these “Point One” comics from Marvel, even though that’s supposed to be the point), and overall, there’s a lighter tone at play in this action-oriented story that’s entertaining. I’m pleased to see that Northstar’s sexuality isn’t shied away from or merely hinted at, but at the same time, he’s not defined solely by that unique quality among these heroes. I also appreciated the nod to an obscure bit of Alpha Flight history in the form of the antagonist’s appearance in this issue. One needn’t be up on her history, as Pak and van Lente provide just enough background for newer readers (or forgetful ones such as me) to understand what she does and her relationship with her opponents. Furthermore, the giant-monster manifestation of her mind-control powers was an absolutely, ridiculous blast.
Where Pak and van Lente hit the mark with this introductory issue is in the dialogue and how it reflects the connections among these characters. That these characters know each other — and know each other extremely well — really comes through, and one needn’t even be aware of all their history to appreciate the dynamics. I was particularly struck by Marrina’s attitude and volatility. Instead of the more monstrous, uncontrolled rage that served as her main conflict way back in the original series, we instead meet a young, angry woman who resents the fact that she doesn’t belong… anywhere. Of all of the characters, I found I was most interested in her story and where it’s headed from this point.
I found the inclusion of political elements in this issue (and as a key plot point in the series as it moves forward) to be interesting, but other than allegations about a new political party, the political process is glossed over in the script. The writers are both American, and it shows in this book. There’s really little about this story that wouldn’t be told in exactly the same way in an American setting. There’s no sense in the dialogue of any kind of cultural or political differences. There’s really no point in this being a comic about Canadian super-heroes if there isn’t going to be a sense that it’s taking place in Canada. I’m not suggesting that Marvel needs pummel its readers with Canadian references, but if the same story can be told by replacing Alpha Flight with the Avengers, what’s the point?
The accessible script boasts a playful tone, but the art doesn’t reflect that lighter side. Oliver’s more realistic approach to the figures and the action brings too much of a dark intensity to the story. There are also moments in the action that don’t flow that well visually; if it weren’t for cues in the dialogue, I would’ve been a bit lost. Still, there’s something about Oliver’s style that I like. It just doesn’t seem like a good fit for the tone in this first issue. Of course, given the direction in which the writers plan to take the book (which I won’t spoil here, but it’s hinted at strongly in this script), a darker style might be called for as the series progresses.
I find Marvel’s choice of cover art to be interesting. Phil Jimenez is working for DC Comics these days, so it’s likely that this is some stock art that’s been sitting around in a drawer for some time. Further reinforcing that notion is the fact that Aurora’s costume on the cover isn’t the version she wears in the story itself (she’s featured in her original black-and-white costume in this new story, of the same design as her brother Northstar’s togs).
This property was at its most popular when it first turned up in Uncanny X-Men and when it spun off into its own title for the first time, written and illustrated by John Byrne. It’s understandable that the creators behind this latest relaunch would want to capture the same sort of energy and dynamic that made Alpha Flight a success more than two decades ago. The problem is that restoring these characters to their prime, the writers spotlight one of the inherent problems with corporate super-hero comics: nothing changes, and thereby, nothing really matters. One of the things that stood out early on in Byrne’s run was his and Marvel’s willingness to make some real changes. Remember when Guardian, the most iconic in appearance of the entire team, was killed? It made it seem as though the stories mattered, that with these lower-tier Marvel heroes, creators needn’t worry about the status quo. Now the status quo reigns supreme. 6/10
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