Monday, January 26, 2015

1984: Alpha's Beta Flight part I: Picking Up The Pieces

By Jef Willemsen (

John Byrne survived his first year on Alpha Flight and the same could be said for almost the entire team. After killing off Alpha's leader Guardian, what would Byrne do for an encore? Well, a lot... Most of it unexpected, as we'll find out in Alpha's Beta Flight. 

"Okay sucker, the only way to get to the lady is through ME!"

Ah, Byrne... always a true, if not slightly cynical visionary. It would be years before Marvel would shamelessly plaster their most popular characters on the covers of low selling books to boost sales.
In the Summer of 1984, seeing Wolverine certainly didn't scare away any X-fans who could afford another 60 cent. The thirteenth issue opens with the funeral of James MacDonald Hudson. A somber, 11 page silent sequence that quickly turns into a horror story when Guardian's flaming corpse bursts up from the grave to chase his wife. Luckily, Wolverine happened to attend the services and is ever ready to come to Heather's aid. She's as good as saved, after all he's the best there is at what he does and...

Well, that could have gone beter.

Of course, this is all a dream. Or rather a nightmare, one Heather Hudson's been having for about a month now following the tragic events in New York. She's been staying with Puck and Shaman who try their best to help Heather pick up the pieces of her life. And there's plenty of pieces to pick up.

Y'see, not only was she a widow at 29, she was also without work or a home, having quit her job to join James in New York where Roxxon had offered him a position. Of course, that job was nothing but a ruse, all the Hudsons encountered in the Big Apple were Jerome Jaxon and Omega Flight. Speaking of which, we also learn what happened to the villains following their defeat. Most of them went to jail, the robotic Delphine Courtney disappeared and as for their alleged leader Smart Alec...

                          "I'm still uneasy about the way you chose to deal with Smart Alec."

Yup, Shaman is keeping the miniaturized, mindless body of his enemy inside the pouch that drove the man insane to begin with... Because he feels that is the most efficient method of caring for him. While it's certainly true that this way he can be fed with a few breadcrumbs a day while the waste he produces is negligible... Michael Twoyoungmen is also a medical doctor, he took the Hippocratic Oath... Y'know, the "first do no harm" thing.

Deciding that shrinking down comatose patients and carrying them around in your purse is preferable over getting them to a hospital for proper medical care is one of many signs that Shaman really is a terrible doctor. Just ask his daughter Elizabeth who still can't forgive him for promising to cure her mother, only to have her die...But we'll get to her in a bit.

Puck and Shaman later accompany Heather to meet with Alpha's old government liaison Gary Cody who is stunned to hear of Guardian's death... but is also quick to point out he really can't do anything to help her. Even though Heather had hoped Mac's time with the government might provide some sort of financial cushioning, perhaps even a pension... She's completely on her own. 

In many ways, Alpha Flight I#13 reads like a reboot. Guardian is dead, long live Guardian... Now what? Fans who were concerned about the team's survival without their leader got their first hint of what was to come when the trio of Shaman, Puck and Heather took the floor in #13. They would prove to be the nucleus of the new Alpha Flight, even if Heather herself tried her darndest to convince us otherwise in the closing pages of the thirteenth issue.

                            "Without Mac, there is no Alpha Flight. His dream died with him
                                                 Heather MacNeil Hudson isn't beaten yet"

Words to live by, though as the next issue proves... Steadfast dedication to heroic principles isn't without its own risks. Alpha Flight I#14 opens with Heather and Puck visiting Ontario Place, a 1971 theme park built on three artificial islands in Ontario Bay that also houses the Cinesphere, the world's first IMAX movie theater (Wikipedia really is your best friend). During lunch, they are alarmed by the panicked shrieks of a nearby mother who claims "something" grabbed her baby, stroller and all, and dragged it into the bay waters. Heather wastes no time and dives in after the infant... But down in the deep, she encountered more than she bargained for.

                                             "Her legs. They've been ripped to shreds."

Back in issue 2, Puck was the one who got injured when Marrina, the aquatic alien Alphan, tore his guts out... and now Heather suffers a similar fate. After getting her the necessary medical assistance, Eugene Judd calls in the one person he knows who can help him deal with an underwater threat. 

                                    "Judd! I... did not expect it to be you after what happened..."

Marrina had been spending time in Atlantis with Namor the Sub-Mariner following their fight against the Master. A passionate romance had blossomed between them and only affairs of state prevented him from accompanying Marrina when she decided to respond to Puck's emergency signal. Arriving in the closing pages of #14, it wasn't until #15 that Puck watched Marrina head into the deep end of Lake Ontario... and then, before too long...

                                                                "Oh, no... Not again!"

While looking for whatever injured Heather, not to mention the kidnapped baby and the 16 other people who had mysteriously vanished near Lake Ontario in recent weeks Marrina had suddenly reverted to the bestial state of mind she was in back in issue #2 when she gutted Puck like the trout she just swam next to. This time, the ultra agile Alphan was prepared for Marrina's merciless attacks, dodging her for a good while before this happened.

          "Stand back, ruffian! You risk much to seek to harm the chosen of Namor the First! 
                                                              IMPERIOUS REX!!"
Namor soon realized the error of his ways when he witnessed his blushing bride's brutal behavior first hand. However, in the final pages of #15, both heroes and Marrina were incapacitated by the Master of the World, Alpha's returning main nemesis who would prove to be intimately involved with the murderous mystery of Lake Ontario. 

In issue #16, we join the Master of the World inside his fish shaped sub-marine parked on the bottom of Lake Ontario where he explains the plot to the trapped Puck and Namor. The Master thanks his impressive powers and technology to the Plodex, an ancient race of alien colonizers Marrina is a part of. The Master seeks to have Marrina meet another of her kind, the carnivorous monster threatening Lake Ontario though the reason why more than eludes me. The Plodex would conquer Earth, so why would one called the Master of the aforementioned world help bring about the subjugation of mankind?

Eventually, Puck manages to save the day by using an old yoga technique to fake his death, leading the Master to open his cell to check on him. Puck then rips the villain's helmet off his head and uses it to help Namor break free out of his cage. In the end, Namor is essential in bringing down the Master, his craft ánd the two Plodex lovebirds who the Master had already introduced to one another. The Sub-Mariner saves Puck and, on the shore of Lake Ontario, bids him adieu... mourning his lost love Marrina who might not be so lost after all.

                                                  "Alright Marrina, you can come out now"

If only she had come out, then the threat of Plodex progeny could have been averted from the word go... Not to mention that "Plodex Progeny" sounds like an awesome k.d. Lang song.

Marrina, crying salty tears, eventually heads back into the drink and out of Alpha Flight for good... determined to live a solitary existence, more than a little unaware she might already be with child (though that's a storyline left untouched until Walter Simonson took over Avengers after Roger Stern left in the late 80s). So, that's Puck, Marrina, Shaman and Heather... what of the other Alphans Sasquatch, Northstar, Aurora and Snowbird?

Well, issues 13 through 16 saw precious little of Sasquatch and the others only appeared in one page scenes that hinted at possible future storylines. So it's only fitting part I of Alpha's Beta Flight finishes up with a brief roundup... Starting with the severly schizophrenic Aurora desperately fighting a losing battle to preserve her sanity.

                                                                          "LET ME OUT!"

It's very easy and not entirely fair to compare John Byrne with his erstwhile collaborative partner Chris Claremont. Though, in all fairness, the similarities between the two creators and their characters are remarkable. Take Aurora's schizophrenia for instance, that's more than a little reminiscent of the X-Man Rogue who struggled to keep control of her own mind after she accidentally absorbed Carol Danvers' psyche. Not to mention that both teams had wheelchair bound geniuses, gifted with technical skills that allow them to overcome any obstacle.

                                                                             "You Botches?"

Roger Bochs was last seen when Delphine Courtney cont(r)acted him to join Omega Flight. His invention, the semi-organic robot Box was seized by Jaxon who used it to beat Guardian to a bloody pulp. It was that beating which caused Hudson's power pack to overload and that led Roger to feel at least partially responsible for his death. Incidentally, that's why he reached out to Madison Jeffries, another former Flight recruit capable of controlling metal. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

How's our emotionally aloof semi-goddess doing. No, not Storm...

"Anne McKenzie was but a figment of one man's imagination. I am

Ah yeah, after almost dying because she'd left her sacred birthgrounds, the demi-goddess was forced to rethink her image. She always imagined herself a deity first, but this near death experience put things in perspective. Perhaps she was more human after all... And she decided to start exploring what it meant to be a woman with her colleague Doug. A fine choice, as we'll see before too long. But keep in mind... though she looks adult, it was only about six years ago that Shaman helped "Anne" be born.

And speaking of children Shaman was instrumental in bringing into the world... meet Elizabeth Twoyoungmen, his teenage daughter who we last saw in Shaman's origin story where she was furious when he failed to cure her cancer stricken mother despite his promises. The woman died, which forced Elizabeth away from her dear old dad... and straight into adventures like this.


Intriguingly enough, Elizabeth is able to identify both a person's race and gender just from looking at their half dug up skull. Quite a handy skill to have and as for that vengeful apparition, we'll cover that next time. Let's finish the way we started: the widow MacNeil Hudson and her friend Logan... the real one, though Heather decides to check just to make sure. 

                                "It's me Heather. Shaman told me about your nightmares."

So much for doctor/patient confidentiality. Michael Twoyoungmen really is a ter-ri-ble doctor. But never mind that, Logan's really here now. Maybe there was some truth to those in house ads Marvel was running at the time...

Probably not, but hey... even a broken clock is right twice a day. Speaking of which, time to wrap this up. Next time in Alpha's Beta Flight, the answer to who'll be leading the team... Oh, and not only will Shaman still be a horrible doctor... he'll be an even worse father to boot!


  1. This one came out very early in my comic book collecting....this storyline helped me (and also perplexed me) in my search for knowledge concerning the Marvel Universe.
    AF #13 and #17 also were among the first "new" comics I bought that were "hot" due to the Wolverine appearances, therefore they'd be worth a lot of $$ someday....
    well, that never happened, today I bet you could get the entire run of Alpha Flight for less than 10 bucks, ha-ha!


  2. I had some pretty nasty things to say about John Byrne in the comments of the first post you made about Alpha Flight. But after reading these reviews I think I changed my tune. He was able to flesh out the characters he created however he wanted, and you can tell he had fun and enjoyed doing so (Even though he can't say enough about how he took on this project under protest).

    This is why I think nothing can touch books like Claremont's X-Men or Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead and Invincible - When a creator has free reign with characters or can develop them over a long period of time they end up becoming really compelling and go to areas most comics can't. That's why it bugs me when a new creative team takes over a book after every arc, because they don't have the opportunity to mould the characters and take them in new directions - They usually do their story, then the next team erases that to put their mark on the characters. Then the next team comes on, etc.

  3. Telling race and gender from a skull is a real thing done by forensics all the time.

  4. You're right of course, Matt :-) That's what 15+ years of CSI on TV has proven... But even trained specialists need a lab to confirm their findings, I was mocking the fact that Byrne had an art history student do it within seconds.

  5. Well clearly Elizabeth was the Bones of her time.



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