Thursday, February 5, 2015

1985: Alpha's Beta Flight part IV: Black, White & Mac All Over...

By Jef Willemsen (

In the fourth entry of 
Alpha's Beta Flight, John Byrne's nearing the proverbial down home stretch with Canada's finest. But before he bows out, there's the two year anniversary to celebrate and it promises to be one hell of a good time... literally!

"But he's DEAD... Isn't he?"

Spoiler alert: that will be the most frequently asked question in this chapter. But, as always, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Ever the gifted storyteller, not to mention a smooth marketing type, John Byrne figured that with Alpha Flight's two year anniversary coming up it was high time to work towards a climax of sorts. At last, several of the mysteries he introduced would lead to a pay off... Starting with just what the heck was wrong with Snowbird in recent months. The demi-goddess had apparently fallen out of favor with her ancestors... And in the opening pages of #23, the arctic deities finally tell her why they're so cross with her.

"Look... and tell me if you have not failed us...
Tell me you have fought the beasts wherever they might appear..."

Say, that *does* look an awful lot like her teammate Sasquatch, doesn't it? But surely, you'd expect a demi-goddess with enhanced, mystical senses to be able to tell the difference between a fellow Alphan and one of the mystical beasts she was bred to destroy. Yeah, guess only Shirley expected that. Now aware of her mistake, Snowbird begged Hodiak and Nelvanna for forgiveness and set off to correct this particular oversight. Meanwhile... a considerable number of Alpha Flight members had conveniently assembled to deal with the threat of Caliber.


Yeah, guess it really is Alpha Flight. It's a testament to the (accidental) artistry of John Byrne that the readers get an all too subtle realization that Alpha has come a long way in its relatively short existence. From government backed team with two sub-divisions to a bouncy dwarf, a reluctant art history student turned mystical talisman, a schizophrenic with a big, blue scarf that screams *choke me, choke me* and a somewhat sadistic looking Sasquatch. Still, they are able to take down Caliber, who did manage to get a few decent shots in... Shots that really hurt Sasquatch who seemingly had trouble dealing with his wounds.

And then Snowbird showed up, quickly shifting to her snow owl form to attack Sasquatch. Now, Aurora might be mentally unbalanced but she was still able to tell when a teammate was acting out of character. So, she intervened...

"Get your claws out of my man !!"

Little over a decade after this issue hit the stands, Jerry Springer would make a fortune hosting talkshows with similar titles. For now, things escalated far beyond that show's usual shouting matches and hitting with folding chair. In fact, way before Jerry or anyone else's final thought... Sasquatch showed his true colors...

"I shall grant thee the boon of a quick and merciful death!"

See Aurora, I told you that scarf would lead to trouble. 

So, what's been going on? Well... remember Walter Langkowski turned into Sasquatch when he tried to recreate the gamma bomb incident that led to the creation of the Hulk? Turns out "Sasquatch" had been a lie all along. Langkowski's gamma experiment caused a tiny tear between Earth and the Great Beasts' prison realm. The beast Tanaraq seized this opportunity to merge with Langkowski, allowing Walter to change into his giant, orange shape.

However, with every subsequent transformation Tanaraq slowly gained more control of their dual form. The inevitable take over was actually sped up whenever Langkowski lost his temper or experienced severe pain... For instance when Caliber pelted his pelt a couple of times. That attack proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, finally allowing Tanaraq to take over completely. This forced Snowbird to rely on extreme measures... Shapeshifting into a white sasquatch, she finished her teammate by ripping his heart out...

"It... is done!"

No, not by a longshot actually, no matter what Snowbird tries to tell the grieving Aurora. Luckily for her, Puck can spot a fib a mile away...

"To save Langkowski, it would mean crossing the dimensional barriers,
entering into those planes where evil holds eternal mastery...
The kingdom of the Beasts!"

Oh boy, road trip!

In many ways, #24 is similar to Alpha Flight I#12. Once again, the team must gather to go abroad and save one of their own in a double sized anniversary issue... But while #12 ended with an Alphan dying, #24 starts with the corpse already on the floor (and turned to stone for easy transport, incidentally).

Using her handy, nebulously defined powers, Talisman summoned every Alphan ever to come to "the eye of the world", a barren piece of rock that houses a portal to otherworldly realms. In time, Heather Hudson, Shaman and even the reluctant Northstar showed up. However, Jean Paul was ready to leave as soon as he realized it wasn't his sister who had called for him. Luckily, Talisman wasn't the only one with nebulously defined abilities...

 "It is always dangerous to shape the minds of humans against their will.
I am sworn never to do so myself"

Sage advice from a man who only four issues earlier blatantly lied to turn his only child into a mystical messiah against her will. Oh Shaman, you truly are the worst.

Still, his abilities were needed to get the team where they needed to go. While their leader Heather Hudson stayed on Earth to look after the slowly crumbling form of Walter Langkowski, Shaman produced a totem staff from his medicine pouch to open the eye of the world. And with that, he takes Alpha across several dimensional planes. After two pages of Kirbyeque alien realms, always a convenient way to fill 48 pages, the team arrived at their destination...

"Behold my friends! The realm of the Beasts!!"

A lot has been said about the way John Byrne's drawing style evolved from the late 70s to the mid 80s. He's been accused of cutting corners, adopting a far less detailed style, even leaving out backgrounds altogether... But man, can he still pull out the stops when he wants to. The realm of the Beasts looks astonishing, perhaps even more visually impressive than the City of the Sun God he drew back in Uncanny X-Men I#116. The lack of color also adds to the effect, clearly showing just how intricate this piece of work is. But enough sightseeing, we're here to find Walter Langkowski's soul... 

"You are most welcome here. 
As meat is welcome in the house of a starving man!"

Meet Somon the Artificer, leader of the Great Beasts. Alpha is in for the fight of their lives when Somon summons (get it?) the other beasts: Tundra, Kariooq the Corruptor and Kolomaq the fire beast all have a(nother) go at trying to kill the heroes. The key to their defeat lies with Somon, whose power keeps the Beasts from remembering they actually hate each other more than the outsiders. As soon as Snowbird took out Somon in her bearform, the Beasts tore into one another allowing Alpha time to continue to look for Langkowski. After some doing and a brief sojourn into the Well of Sorrows, they retrieved his soul and headed for the exit.

Meanwhile in the real world, Heather's been busy too. Not only was she joined by Box who was late to arrive in response to Talisman's summons... She was also busy keeping what remained of Walter's body from blowing in the wind.

"But... where is his body?!"

You're looking at it, Snowbird... Alpha took too long in the realm of the Beasts and now Walter's physical form had deteriorated way past the point of even Shaman's Sarcee skills. And what's worse: without a body to house it in, Walter's soul would soon be lost as well. Luckily, you can always rely on Michael Twoyoungmen's ability to improvise. If you don't have a body handy, will a Box do?

"It is done!"

Yup, in a ludicrous "only in comics!" Silver Age style turn of events you could barely get away with by the mid 80s, Byrne decides to have Walter's soul inhabit the semi-living metal of the robot created by Roger Bochs. Never mind the psychological effect of suddenly finding you're a disembodied spirit, stuck inside a robot, not to mention that Aurora can now add objectophilia to her list of disorders... Shaman is pleased as punch.

"We have prevailed!
Alpha Flight is whole once more!

Whole, Shaman? I guess that's true, if you gloss over the fact Guardian is still dead even though his wife swears she saw him on the street a few weeks ago. But hey, you diagnosed that as little more than a bout of grief induced hysteria. So, onwards to #25, which opens with the semi-official court martial of Northstar. Back in #22, we learned Jean Paul Beaubier used to belong to the Séperatistes, a terrorist group fighting for an independent Qúebec. After finding this out, his shocked sister Aurora announced she'd reveal this to their teammates.

Naturally, Northstar stood up for himself in his usual, charming way...

"Talisman just called in, that creep Caliber has busted jail
and he's right in the middle of a big battle downtown... with Guardian!!!"

And so he was. Talisman watches in awe as Guardian took on Caliber, who mysteriously had managed to not only escape prison but also reclaim his battle armor. In the end, she was able to defeat him by channeling some magic and literally wishing the armor away. Moments later, the rest of the team arrived...

"And I thought that kind of thing only happened in comic books!"

Said the former orange haired demon beast encased in a talking tin can. Yes, ol' Mac is back and he even proves he's the real deal by kissing Heather who passes out as a result. Guess that's one way of testing for DNA. Once she came to, Guardian finally explained what had happened to him. And if you felt the Sasquatch/Box transfer story was 1950s Superman comics weird... Hold on to your hat. 

A little used feature of the Guardian suit allows the wearer to teleport. In the final pages of Alpha Flight I#12, with his damaged suit's power pack about to explode, Mac saw Heather enter the room. Not wanting his wife to get hurt in the explosion, he channeled all available energy into the suit's teleportation mechanism. As a result, he vanished through a miniature rift in the space/time continuum. 

Still with us? Good.

When Guardian reappeared, he couldn't breathe the air and in the few seconds of consciousness left to him, he realized why: he was on Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons. You'd think that'd be the end of James McDonald Hudson but no, he was found by the Quwrlln, an advanced alien race who lived in the ice seas underneath Ganymede's surface. They took Mac in and nursed him back to health.

"There were tears... or the equivalent... on both sides
when I announced my return to Earth."

Tears under water? Won't those be hard to spot? The Quwrlln used their transoptic scanners to take a look at Earth in order to figure out a way to get Guardian back there... and that's when the other shoe dropped. Upon viewing his homeplanet, Mac realized he had also traveled back in time... ten thousand years in fact. Needless to say, he couldn't possibly return now. So that's why the Quwrlln offered to put him in suspended animation for the next hundred centuries while they worked on a means to transport him home.

Mac agreed and awoke refreshed after a millennia long nap to find the Quwrlln civilization had bombed itself back to their version of the stone age. However, they did leave him a rocket ship which, amazingly, still worked after all that time and, even more amazingly, he instantly knew how to pilot without any training whatsoever. The trip back lasted 28 months, so he took another suspended animation snooze and then he was home...

"I appreciate irony as much as the next man..."

After breaking into a nearby cabin to get some clothes, Mac didn't bother to call the government or even his wife. No, he bummed his way to Vancouver where he happened to run into Heather anyway. He quickly ran off, figuring that with all that had happened she might be better off believing he was still dead. After empathically assuring her husband what an idiot he was for even thinking that, Heather received yet another surprise... As great and wonderful as the Quwrlln were, they had no prior experience with human physiology. That's why when they tried to fix up Hudson, they made a few understandable mistakes...

"They had no way of knowing what was me...
and what was my armor."

And speaking of metal men and their problems; Walter Langkowski was still trying to get used to his own robotic body. And he wasn't alone in this discomfort. Aurora prefers her men with buns of steel, but this is ridiculous...

"You love me for my mind too, don't you?
Don't you?!"

An honest question deserves an honest answer and that's what Walter gets from his flighty girlfriend. He doesn't take it too well, finally acknowledging he is having trouble coping with all he's been through recently. Luckily, Roger Bochs has a solution...

"She needs a man with a real, human form.
And I think I know how we can get you one."

And that's all the set up required for the fifth and final part of Alpha's Beta Flight: Byrne 'n Body Switcheroo... Plus the Beyonder too!"  

1 comment:

  1. Always thought it sucked to lose Sasquatch. Loves that big orange furry anthropoid!



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