GREAT WHITE NORTHSTARS: ALPHA FLIGHT
With Fred Van Lente, Dale Eaglesham, and Chris Claremont
I made my moderating debut with this panel. And I felt it went rather well. Thanks to Kevin Boyd of Fan Expo for the opportunity.
Here are some highlights from the panel:
- Vindicator was originally labeled Major Mapleleaf, but that name had already been taken
- Claremont: “John [Byrne] was very interested in creating characters and conflict that originated from the Great White North. Alpha Flight really came about from Giant Sized X-Men where Professor X convinces Logan into to take a walk, which some might consider desertion, from the Canadian Armed Forces.
- Claremont: “Barry Windsor Smith walked in one day with 60 pages of original art for Wolverine’s origin and Marvel Comics, being one never to turn down 60 pages of original art from one of the best artists in the modern history of the business, jumped into it with both feet. I was more interested in the time at being totally solipsistic and jumping on Barry with both feet. Writers always have this problem with artists when they turn out to have brains when you lease expect it. The idea was to create a sense of mystery about who Logan was and broaden the base of the X-Men oeuvre to establish the characters and conflicts as international as possible.”
- When asked if he had any interest in writing Alpha Flight in 1983, Claremont said: “A writer can have a lot of interests. But these were John’s primary creations, he came up with the concepts, so there was never a question. If he wanted a collaborator on it, I would have been happy to do it. But this was his ballpark from the get go. ”
- When asked about the possibility of Wolverine returning to Alpha Flight after Guardian’s death in Alpha Flight #12 (1984), Claremont: “No. It’s not like John killed off Guardian and then had to figure out what was going on. That only happens with Phoenix. Byrne knew full well when he did the dirty deed that he was going to set up Heather Hudson to take his place as it was logical and unexpected. But that doesn’t prevent Marvel from teasing the Living Daylights from as many readers and retailers as they could at the time.”
- Lente: “One of the things that John Byrne did that was so brilliant was that he broke up the team in the first issue. And they all went on their separate adventures and you had a couple of issues about Northstar and Aurora, a few issues about Puck and Shaman and the whole gang, and with this new series, we were going to bring them all back together as that super-hero team.
- On writing Alpha Flight compared to Herc, Lente said: “It’s definitely been a challenge. I definitely have an admiration from people like Chris who do team books on a regular basis as I’m used to writing a book with a singular character and it seems we have 17 different storylines going simultaneous as we have each character trying to make their own mark and trying to integrate them as a whole. It is a huge challenge, I’m not going to lie to you, but it’s a fun challenge. It helps that I have a co-writer. Greg and I each have our own pet characters.
- What makes the Alpha Flight team unique? Lente said: “Well, they are Canadian. What’s neat is that you have a Captain America/Iron Man character in Guardian/Vindicator, the twins who are Quebequois and mutants, you have a Hulk-type in Sasquatch, you have the mystic stuff and mythology with Shaman and Snowbird, and they are all incredible diverse in the modern sense in that you have a high female membership, you got the first major gay character at Marvel, you have first nation characters, and you have an alien. You have a hug amount of diversity going on there and that to me is what makes them super cool.
- I really like the idea of pitting Alpha Flight against the government as they are Canada’s team and now Canada is against them. Lente said: “That was the hook that sold Marvel on the series, that you have this team of Captain Americas and their country totally turns against them. Now they’re outlaws and their being forced to do more and more outlaw things and that’s a fun place for these characters to be. And you’ll be seeing them become almost guerilla fighters and a fun way to do metaphors for loyalty to country and people. Even though it’s set in Canada, people from around the world can relate to these issues.”
- What does the H in Department H stand for? Lente: “I always thought it was Hudson? I always thought that was the official explanation.”
- Can you tell us a bit more about the inverted Canadian flag? Eaglesham: “I don’t think I developed that symbol enough. It was intended to be a tag that you would put on a building as an insult, as a statement of what the freedom fighters thought of the government and how they’ve turned Canada upside down.”
- On Alpha Flight’s return from the dead, Lente: “Yeah, it’s really complicated. We try not to reference it in the series so we don’t confuse the heck out of everybody.”
- On the collaborative process with Byrne, Claremont said: “There were no scripts. For the writer to break down the storytelling was essentially like a scriptwriter telling a director what angles to shoot from. It may work, but from Stan Lee’s point of view, you were wasting a resource and it might be far more adventurous and more dynamic for the writer to trust the artist and see what they could come up with. And then the writer would fill in the dialog to balance out any glitches in terms of what was visually established or to present those aspects of character and interaction that were not readily or immediately graspable from the picture, you could go into subtext and get deeper into dialog. And from that perspective, back in that day it was revolutionary, as the key was me sitting down with John and figuring how we get through these 17 pages, where do we begin? What’s the image that starts it off? How do we fit the pieces together?”
- A fan asked Claremont what he thought distinguished a Canadian superhero from an American superhero, to which Claremont replied “Eh?”.
- Gary Cody’s speech in Alpha Flight #1 was lifted almost word-for-word from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau during the October Crisis in 1970.
- Lente: “At one point they weren’t going to give us Puck. And suddenly we got Puck and that’s why suddenly appears in issue #2, but that’s cool. The way he was reintroduced, it was sort of a lucky accident.”