Sunday, February 1, 2015

1985: Alpha's Beta Flight part III: I Sing Of Pink Pearls and Lillies Gilded

By Jef Willemsen (

In the third entry of 
Alpha's Beta Flight a new team is slowly forming. But before the renewed Alpha Flight can launch, we focus on some of the old Alphans and their problems. And oh boy, those will fill an issue or three.

Try to forget her"

Considering Lily only made two additional appearances following her debut in March of 1985, I'd say forgetting her is a done deal. To be frank: Alpha Flight's early 20s didn't have the most memorable of villains, as this entry will prove. No, the true drama came from the team dynamics... for instance the already strained relationship between Shaman and his daughter Elizabeth who he had pretty much tricked into becoming Talisman without telling her she'd be unable to ever take off the coronet of enchantment that powered her. In #20, the truth comes out when Elizabeth decides she isn't cut out for superheroing...

"All I have to do to resign is take off this magical headband..."

Needless to say, she isn't happy about this and to make matters worse Snowbird assures her she's supposed to be the messiah. While she tries to take that in, Heather Hudson is trying to cope with the news as well. Barely a week into her tenure as Alpha's leader and she already has to deal with having a reluctant savior as a new recruit. And to make matters worse, a man about half her size and over twice her age starts flirting with her.

"Sure, see you in a wee bit."

Ow, Heather... talk about an insensitive crack about the man's stature. Moments later, Shaman discusses Puck's feelings for Heather with him and, true to form, gives him terrible advice. While Puck was planning to be a perfect gentleman and not act on them, Shaman tells him to go for it because Heather will soon need emotional support. Sure, but does that necessarily mean a romance, doctor love? 

Soon after this interlude, the story focuses on Alpha's other oddball romantic couple: Aurora and Sasquatch. The two lovers have been somewhat at odds ever since Sasquatch messed with her genetic structure. For one, she altered her costume to reflect her new identity, but as an unwanted after effect she also seemed to be developing a third personality that appeared to be a mix of her two current ones.  

"Everyone needs a change now and then, mon ami"

After passionately frenching the miner who wasn't complaining, an annoyed Sasquatch felt it was high time they had some alone time. That's why he took her for a semi-romantic getaway to Tamarind Island, where his family owned a seemingly abandoned estate he figured Alpha Flight might use as a base. 

"It was built around 1896, by a great-aunt on my mother's side.
She was something of a character by all accounts."

I'll say. Notice that golden hand holding back the right curtain? That's our girl... Lillian van Loont, better known as Gilded Lily, still alive after all these years. How, you ask? Well, #21 told her full origin story. In a nutshell: Lilian was an ordinary woman who became Diablo's apprentice and lover after the evil alchemist saved her from a car crash in the late 19th century. When the local villagers attacked his castle and imprisoned Diablo, she swore to avenge him which she did by seducing his attackers one by one and turning them into living golden statues she had all shipped to her home and alchemy lab on Tamarind Island. And now she was about to do the same to Sasquatch and Aurora.

"Who are you? What have you done with Walter?"

We already covered those questions, Aurora. For someone with superspeed, you sure have trouble keeping up. Anyway, Lily had already changed Langkowski into one of her living statues and was about to dip Aurora in gold as well when Walter managed to free himself by changing to Sasquatch. He easily rescued his girlfriend and then inadvertently revealed the secret of Gilded Lily's eternal youth.


Talk about steampunk alchemic engineering... You can live forever as long as you don't mind turning into a robotic stickfigure. As creepy as this was, things got worse when Sasquatch removed her face plate thereby somehow breaking the spell that held Lily together. She crumbled into dust, along with her dungeon laboratory and all the upstairs furnishings, leaving behind an empty and barren mansion. That'll make Alpha's job a lot easier when they want to redecorate. 

Issue #22 also stars Aurora, this time she's paired up with her estranged brother Northstar. She shows up straight from her adventure against Gilded Lily. Moments after leaving Tamarind Island, she had a mental breakdown when Sasquatch tried to touch her romantically and flew off, eventually ending up at his doorstep, exhausted and frazzled.

" Yes, yes, I must try. But it is so hard..."

Well, it's hardly the first time Northstar heard that line in his bedroom... so he takes it in stride and decides to take her under his wing again. She gladly accepts his support and even accompanies him when he goes to visit Clementine D'Arbanville, an old friend from his days with the circus who wrote him a letter asking for help. Their reunion was... surprising, to say the least.

"Oh Jean-Paul, I'm so glad you came..."

Nope, sorry... I've used up the legally allowed amount of double entendres for one review. Still, given what we'd eventually find out about Northstar's preferences places this passionate kiss in an interesting perspective. Then again, Clementine does have pretty short hair. And speaking of women who know what they want: Clementine asked Northstar's help in dealing with Pink Pearl, a performer who has slowly been working to take control of Clementine's circus by hiring acts loyal to her. Wait, here she is now...

"Now, Pearl told you everything would be just fine.
If only you'd keep your nose out of Pearl's business"

I guess it's obvious how she came up with the stagename 'Pink Pearl', right? At any rate, you'd think a single woman, even one of Pearl's size, would be no match for two superheroes with lightning fast reflexes and the ability to generate light energy. Well, think again. For one, Pearl wasn't alone: her acrobatic associate Bones took on Northstar who soon found himself tied up with a slender, incredibly limber man on top of him (...). And as for Aurora, well... Pearl personally took care of her too.

"Sleep sound, baby."

Hey, I never knew Aurora was Russian or into motorboats. It goes without saying that Pearl's ultimate plans involved more than merely taking over a travelling circus. Pearl had her henchmen tie up the Beaubier twins and Clementine while she moved on to the final phase of her scheme. Once Aurora and the others woke up, Pearl explained the true purpose of her scheme as any classic, heavyweight baddie is wont to do. 

Long story short: Pearl is actually an undercover operative working for a number of unrevealed agencies who want her to bomb a top secret meeting between the prime minister of Canada and the president of the United States.  

"The... parties I represent don't wish to see this happen."

Pearl's people specifically chose Clementine's circus as a cover because they were aware she used to be a member of the Séperatistes, a violent terrorist cell who fought for an independent Quebec... A cell Northstar used to be a part of, as we learn in this issue. Pearl's reasoning is surprisingly simple: the explosive will inevitably be traced back to Clementine, ensuring that the Séperatistes serve as unwitting scapegoats. Luckily, Aurora recovered in time to use her powers to stun Pearl and her associates long enough for Northstar to join the fray. Eventually the twins are able to win the day, even if Pearl was only taken out by a poorly aimed blade thrown by her associate Bones.

All's well that ends well, especially after taking down enemies as swollen as Pearl. However, the little revelation that her brother was connected to or even part of a terrorist group wasn't lost on Aurora.

                        "You have said you no longer wished a place in Alpha Flight, North-Star.
                                                    C'est bien, when I tell them of your past,
                                                       you will no longer be welcome there..."

Talk about ungrateful... We'll see how Aurora's promise to rat out her own brother will play out next time. From issue #23 on, Byrne starts to actively tie up all the various, seemingly unconnected storylines. In a way, his take on Alpha Flight in its second year is very much reminiscent of how Jack Kirby structured the first ongoing Eternals series back in 1976. 

In a truly revolutionary move for the mid 70s, Kirby didn't stick to a single narrative. With seemingly casual disregard, he switched his focus to various groupings of characters, this kept readers guessing just who the true stars of the book were supposed to be while continuing the overall story. To Byrne's credit, he applied a bit more focus than Kirby by having at least one easily distinguishable main story, intersected with various cut scenes like the Talisman/Heather Hudson bit, an update on the paraplegic Roger Bochs and Madison Jeffries and the continuing mystery of Snowbird who had fallen out of grace with her godly ancestors since issue #12. 

"I am a child of the gods
And only they could strike at my very being like this. 
But... WHY?!?"

Next time, we'll get to the reason why Snowbird is in such distress. Turns out she's been unforgivably lax in her duty to fight and kill any of the Great Beasts she encounters. Also, we'll find out if Heather Hudson has been slowly losing her mind because she's been seeing dead people.

"... Oh my gosh..."

Is Alpha's first leader still alive? Find out next time in part IV of Alpha's Beta Flight: Black, White & Mac All Over...


  1. Thanks for continuing these Alpha Flight posts, they're a lot of fun. I quite enjoyed Byrne's second year as, even though he still wasn't playing with the whole team all together, I preferred his little groupings of two or three Alphas more than the single-Alpha issues from year one.
    The next two issues you're covering next time hardly ever get mentioned in Marvel discussions, or even Alpha Flight discussions, but #s23 and 24 are two of my favourite of this series. And the ones after that are pretty cool, too. Looking forward to it!
    david p.

  2. Always thought it was pretty cool to have a character (Northstar) with strong political views. Most super heroes really have none at all, even Captain America is so vaguely defined. It's refreshing. Northstar and Puck were my favorite Alphans.



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