August 1985. It was, undoubtedly, a sweltering and humid afternoon in the suburbs of western New York state. A routine walk to the local convenience market would set into motion the next thirty-four years of… well, we’ll call it a hobby because the word “obsession” has such negative connotations.
Perhaps, the most common question posed to a lifelong reader of comic books is “What was your first comic book that you ever bought?”. Most fans can tell you, with the most detailed of details, every circumstance surrounding that initial purchase.
My comic book roots can be traced back to that summer day in 1985. While perusing the wire rack in that tiny market, my eyes fell upon issue #24 of Alpha Flight. Being as young as I was, I obviously had no idea who these intriguing superheroes were or what their history was up to this point. However, the big draw for me, at that moment, was the fabulous blonde woman in the swirling cloak and white tiara… a.k.a. the Inuit demi-goddess, Snowbird.
Growing up so close to the border of New York state/Ontario and having CBC as a staple television channel in our household, it was incredibly easy to relate to the Canadian setting for most of Alpha Flight‘s adventures in that initial 130-issue (plus two annuals) run. Team members would come and go and the battles against eccentric super villains (see: Dreamqueen, Gilded Lily, and Pink Pearl) were plentiful.
Issue #106 should particularly resonate with queer readers as the first official confirmation of a LGBT superhero existing in mainstream comic books. The mutant speedster, Northstar, would eventually go on to marry his partner, Kyle Jinadu, in the pages of Marjorie Liu’s Astonishing X-Men #51.
Years passed that would see several failed attempts to revive the series. Most of the cast and supporting characters were thrown into “limbo” where they would remain until they were required as punching bags or in order to add a gratuitous body count to a particular story arc. Behold, the all-new, all-different Alpha Flight… Canadian cannon fodder!
Northstar was the first notable casualty of this new status-quo for Alpha Flight. 2003 would see Wolverine brainwashed by HYDRA and, being even less mentally competent than at other times, impaled Northstar while aiming for Kitty Pryde (side note: around the same time, Marvel also killed off the character in the universes inhabited by characters of the Ultimate, Age of Apocalypse, and X-Men: The End realities). After being resurrected by the Hand, Northstar and his sister, Aurora, were used by the Children of the Vault to attack the X-Men.
On the heels of Brian Michael Bendis’ 2005 House of M event, Alpha Flight played the role of “sacrificial lamb” in order to increase shock value in New Avengers #16. Alaskan postal worker, Michael Pointer (after becoming a living vessel for all displaced mutant energies following the “decimation”), went on a rampage throughout the North American continent, wiping out active Alpha Flight members, Vindicator, Guardian, Shaman, Puck, Major Mapleleaf, and Zuzha Yu.
When Marvel branded their titles with the Dark Reign moniker from 2008-2009, former Flight member, Marrina Smallwood, met her official demise (the character was apparently killed back in 1989 after her alien DNA reacted to her pregnancy by morphing her into a leviathan). Once again resembling a grotesque sea monster, the wife of Namor was sent by Norman Osborne to attack Utopia in an attempt to exact revenge against the Atlantean king. With assistance from the X-Men, the creature is defeated, killed, and then hurled through the windows of Osborne’s office at Avengers Tower.
2009’s Necrosha, penned by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, revealed that longtime member of the Flight program, Diamond Lil, was one of the residents of the mutant sanctuary, Utopia. A handful of panels after this “introduction”, she was frivolously murdered by Dazzler’s sister, Lois London. The story of her arrival on the island haven and subsequent reconciliation with her estranged husband, Madison Jeffries, wasn’t chronicled until her funeral story within the pages of the anthology miniseries, Nation X, in February 2010.
Despite occasional jokes at their expense from editors and creators during convention panels, Alpha Flight seemed to briefly gain some traction in regards to respect during the 2010-2011 Chaos War crossover. Along with Marrina, three of the members killed by Michael Pointer (Vindicator, Guardian, and Shaman) were all resurrected to join their surviving teammates in battle against the Great Beasts. This would lead to the announcement of a new ongoing series spinning out of the upcoming Fear Itself storyline.
The excitement for fans of the series was short-lived. Almost immediately after the relaunched series began, Marvel solicitations revealed that the new ongoing title had been bumped down to nothing more than another limited series. The team would have a mere eight issues to shine before being tossed back into obscurity.
Had it not been for Northstar’s aforementioned wedding and the occasional appearances by the character in various X-books (along with co-Flight member, Madison Jeffries), there would have been very little exposure of the team until very recently.
Following the initial arc of Amazing X-Men, Kyle and Yost (previously responsible for offing Lillian Crawley in Necrosha), took over the title in 2014 with a story titled, World War Wendigo. The (still ongoing) story centers on an outbreak of the Wendigo curse across Canadian soil with Alpha Flight and the X-Men working in tandem to subdue it. Within the first two issues of the run, Vindicator is savagely mauled by Canadian residents who’ve been infected by the curse and Talisman is brutally impaled by Logan after he succumbs to the plague.
It’s not explicitly apparent as to why Alpha Flight became the superhero team to bear such a huge target for both brutality on-panel and snide comments from creators whenever the inevitable “Relaunch?” question is asked at a convention or in an interview. Their quests and adventures are no-more outrageous and no-less fantastic than the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy. Perhaps, if Marvel gave these Canadian powerhouses the respect and editorial push they deserve, readers would follow suit and Alpha Flight would fly high once again.