Monday, August 15, 2011

What's the Deal with Alpha Flight.

I don't get Alpha Flight.

I mean, I get it, but I don't understand the crazy amounts of love the concept gets from fans. It seems that since I started reading comics, Alpha Flight has perpetually been on a short list of fan faves when it comes to guest stars, wanted titles, and/or action figures. As a fan always eager to jump on a bandwagon, I was primed to love this series.

Spoilers: I didn't love it.

I'm honestly baffled by the reception these Great White Avengers received when they hit the scene. There are some books that I don't read, or just don't like, that I can see the value in like Pre-PAD Hulk, Dr. Strange, and even Thor. While those books don't resonate with me, I can still see the inherent appeal of them as characters. Alpha Flight meanwhile is just boring, directionless, and generally forgettable.

That's not a new revelation, I realize. Good friends of mine have told me that anything not John Byrne Alpha Flight ought to be avoided, but that the stuff from the man himself is great; some of his best stuff even. I now question those peoples' tastes, because if Alpha Flight was Byrne's best stuff he wouldn't be regarded as the legend he so rightly is. They were however right about one thing, after Byrne left that book tumbled downhill in a hurry.

As I alluded to during my secret origin posts, I came into a huge collection of comics a few years ago. I was so overwhelmed by the sheer amount, that I still haven't read all books in my collection (first world problems, amirite?). So, when down times approach, either due to lack of work or lack of current titles, I'll dig through to find those runs that I haven't had a chance to read yet. The largest run I had yet to read was roughly 50 issues of Alpha Flight spanning from issue #2 and running through issue #119; a nice cross section of what the Canadian Non-Avengers have to offer.

What struck me the most in the first few issues I read was the lack of the team in this team book. It seemed that the majority of the issues were devoted to gathering and/or reassembling the team that apparently was only together for the first issue (which I didn't read). Seriously, the team effectively disbands in the second issue (which I did read) after a training mishap, resulting in a series of single hero adventures for the months proceeding. For a second there I thought I was reading a poor man's version of Solo Avengers it was so bad.

It wouldn't be so bad, but the letters at the time - Special Note, you should always read the letters at the back of old books, they're such a great source of history. Reading about why it should be Invisible Girl, not woman; why Elektra shouldn't have been killed; or the occasional 'before they were stars' letter is always awesome. But I digress - make the book out to be the best thing ever. Now I realize that they're going to slightly stack the deck in the letter pages, but still this was weird. Fans were writing in, complimenting a book that seemed foreign to me. They were fans of a team that wasn't assembled more than a single issue before disbanding. Methinks they might have been blinded by Byrne love to see the book for what it really was: Medicore at best.

After Byrne left, the tradition of having a team that was never assembled continued for what seemed like years. I'll admit that my collection was a bit spotty, but it seemed that whenever a threat was imminent to Canada, Alpha Flight was always disbanded and on bad terms with each other. Then, of course, things got even worse when the early 90s hit and the book was forced to become grim and gritty to compete. The less said about those times the better, I think.

Not to leave things on a downnote, there was one very cool thing about Alpha Flight: The Guardian costume.

Talk about iconic. That suit's a walking work of art, something that deserves to be standing next to Captain America and Spider-Man as a damn near perfect Marvel Hero costume. Hell, I even like the revamp they did later in the run when they made everyone wear a knockoff version of that look. It's that striking, that it works even when it doesn't.

At the end of the day, aside from a scant few bright issues (Snowbird's fight in the snow, for one), Alpha Flight is bafflingly mediocre. From what I can tell, they're just a different flavor of Avengers, much like The Champions or The Defenders, but not as interesting and somehow more beloved. Can anyone shed a little light on this for me? What did I miss that sets them apart from those other teams that get no where near the love than that Canadian super-team? Am I just underestimating the allure of the magically midgetted? Or fat paraplegics in robot suits?

What is it? I have to know!

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, you're right. I was hoping Alpha Flight would take off but it never did. I was in my 20's and I lasted about 29 issues then I couldn't stomach it any more. I was caught up in them for 2 reasons...John Byrne and the X-Men stories.