Alpha Flight: Not Just Canadian Cannon Fodder.

12 09 2014
"Alpha Flight" #24

“Alpha Flight” #24

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!

NS13

Northstar impaled by Marvel’s resident meathead, Wolverine.

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 UltimateAge 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.

Alpha Flight is slaughtered by Michael Pointer following the events of "M-Day".

Alpha Flight is slaughtered by Michael Pointer following the events of “M-Day”.

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.

Namor is forced to dispatch his mutated wife, Marrina.

Namor is forced to dispatch his wife, Marrina.

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.

Diamond Lil dies at the hands of Lois London during the "Necrosha" event.

Diamond Lil dies at the hands of Lois London during the “Necrosha” event.

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.

Talisman impaled by a Wendigo cursed Wolverine.

Talisman is impaled by a Wendigo cursed Wolverine.

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.





Answers in a World of Blue.

15 08 2014

imageJust days before her death, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) stepped inside the Twin Peaks watering hole, The Roadhouse. Immediately, viewers of Fire Walk With Me were swept up in the ethereal vocals of the bar’s staple singer, Julee Cruise, as she sang about questions in a world of blue.

Questions.

In relation to Twin Peaks, questions can be compared to the mythological hydra. For every answer that viewers were given, two more questions grew in its place. The continuous barrage of questions, mysteries, and secrets that swirled amongst the colorful (and oftentimes odd) cast of characters was what kept viewers tuned in each week.

And then, along came Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the prequel film that chronicled the murder investigation of Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley) and the events leading up to Laura Palmer’s demise. Originally compiling over five hours of footage, David Lynch was faced with the task of trimming it down to roughly two hours and fifteen minutes. The celluloid that ended up on the editing room floor not only included further exploration of newly established characters like Teresa Banks, Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak), and Philip Jeffries (David Bowie), it also featured the only scenes with Twin Peaks alumni Josie Packard (Joan Chen), Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie), and others.

Questions.

When would the studio and Mr. Lynch share these highly coveted scenes with fans?

Little did we know, it would be over twenty years before this question would be answered. This year’s Blu-ray release, on July 29th, of Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery  included not only the entire series and the Fire Walk With Me prequel, it also delivered over 90 minutes of deleted scenes from the film.

Click here to visit Geeks OUT for the full article.





Credence: A Family at the End of the World.

17 07 2014

20140624060626-Screen_Shot_2014-06-24_at_12_42_58On July 13th, an IndieGogo was launched to assist in the funding of Credence, “the first sci-fi to challenge LGBT portrayal in film”. As of today, five days later, the project has amassed 133% of its goal… with donations still being accepted through August 12th. To say this was an incredible feat would be an understatement.

Click here to visit Geeks OUT for the full article.





Batwoman: Happily Never After.

15 07 2014

September 2013: The longtime Batwoman creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman part ways with the title due to “editorial decisions [that] came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting.” Fans of the book and those familiar with the ensuing drama are more than aware that these “editorial decisions” mainly surrounded the now-scrapped plans to have Kate Kane marry her longtime partner, Maggie Sawyer.

Sorry, Kate. It's a life of misery and solitude for you.

Sorry, Kate. It’s a life of misery and solitude for you.

As the backlash and outcry began to spiral into a public relations nightmare for DC, Dan DiDio took the opportunity, during a panel at the Baltimore Comic-Con, to address the situation.

“Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives,” he said. “They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests.” He then went on to point out members of the Bat family specifically. “People in the Bat family, their personal lives basically suck. Dick Grayson, rest in peace—oops shouldn’t have said that,—Bruce Wayne, Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon and Kathy Kane. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand.”

In addition to not knowing the current Batwoman’s name (Kathy?), DiDio essentially issued a blanket statement that forbade the cowled heroes from indulging in anything that might bring them happiness. Their personal lives were doomed to forever reflect the depressing and crumbling facade of the city they have sworn to protect.

Since then, everything has been going according to plan. Current scribe, Marc Andreyko, is in the midst of squaring Batwoman off against the vampiric Nocturna and Maggie is battling her ex-husband for custody of their child. The relationship between Kate and Mags? Shaky, at best.

Barbara Gordon's nemesis, The Ventrilquist, is the stuff of nightmares.

Barbara Gordon’s nemesis, The Ventriloquist, is the stuff of nightmares.

Gail Simone has certainly had her hands full bringing forth the “doom and gloom” edict in the pages of Batgirl. Not only has the titular character faced the likes of demented villains like Ragdoll and the Ventriloquist, she’s also had to deal with the return of the Joker and her mother’s disfigurement at the hands of the madman. To top things off, a wealthy socialite, who moonlights as a morally ambiguous villainess, seems hellbent on destroying Gotham in order to prevent its further corruption.

July 2014: Roughly ten months have passed since DiDio spoke at the Baltimore convention and Batgirl is about to receive a drastic shift in tone. With Simone leaving the title and Cameron Stewart set to take the helm, Barbara Gordon will be relocating to the hipsterish Gotham borough of Burnside in order to tackle grad school.

In a recent interview with MTV, Stewart said, with regards to Barbara, “Just prior to the start of our story she’s pushed to the breaking point and decides that she’s had it with misery and darkness and wants a change. She wants the opportunity to have some fun and live the life of a young, single girl in the city, so she packs up and moves to Burnside.” Artist, Babs Tarr, added, “I am excited to bring some flirt, fun, and fashion to the title!”

"TOTES gonna go fight some crime, but first..." (you know the rest)

“TOTES gonna go fight some crime, but first…” (you know the rest)

Hold the presses! What happened to the destitute and lonely lives that the caped crusaders were being forced to endure for the sake of the mission? It couldn’t have just been a feeble attempt at damage control following fan rage over what appeared to be a blatant slap in the face to the LGBT community and a character that they’ve come to care about! That’s just unspeakable and would never happen in this day and age. </end sarcasm>

Does this mean that fans can expect a light at the end of a very dark tunnel to shine on Kate and Maggie? If solicits for future issues of Batwoman are to be believed, it might not be advisable to hold ones breath.

While it’s true that this doesn’t necessarily prove that there was any underlying homophobia with relation to the 86ed wedding of Kate and Maggie, it also doesn’t help add credence to DiDio’s insistence that there wasn’t.

At the same Baltimore convention, he emphasized the company’s support for their gay characters, “Name one other publisher out there who stands behind their gay characters the way we do.” Mr. DiDio, let’s get you introduced to Marvel Comics. Have the two of you met? Marjorie Liu’s Astonishing X-Men #51 might be a great place to start getting acquainted.





Cloning Around: To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings.

31 05 2014

Orphan-Black-S02E06-promo-image-2Welcome to “Cloning Around”, your weekly recap source for BBC America’s (Space sci-fi/drama, Orphan Black. If your search for “swan man” has taken over all of your spare time, jog your memory with regards to the previous episode.

Click here to visit Geeks OUT for the full article.





Cloning Around: Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est.

24 05 2014

10353495_661165637252298_1606376168299289132_oWelcome to “Cloning Around”, your weekly recap source for BBC America’s (Space sci-fi/drama, Orphan Black. If you’ve been on the run from religious cult members and missed the last episode, get yourself caught up.

Click here to visit Geeks OUT for the full article.





Days of Future Past: Mystique Without a Destiny.

23 05 2014

imageFor as long as they have been in print, the plight of Marvel’s mutants has stood as a metaphor for oppressed minorities dealing with prejudice, bigotry, and hatred. The Civil Rights Movement, the Stonewall riots, the current fight for LGBT rights. Parallels to these real-life events can be found sprinkled throughout the 50+ years of X-Men history.

The X-Men, themselves, are not without their own LGBT representation. A minority within a minority, if you will. Jean-Paul Beaubier (Northstar), Xi’an Coy Manh (Karma), Victor Borkowski (Anole), Roxy Washington (Bling!), Shatterstar, Cessily Kincaid (Mercury), and David Alleyne (Prodigy) are just a few.

Perhaps the most notable bisexual character on Marvel’s LGBT roster, Raven Darkholme (Mystique) made her debut within the pages of Ms. Marvel in the 1970s. From there, she would eventually go on to lead an incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and become one of the X-Men’s most infamous adversaries. Ever morally ambiguous, the shapeshifter would also rear an adopted daughter (the future X-Man, Rogue) with her lover, the blind precognitive, Irene Adler (Destiny).

Created by Chris Claremont in 1981 and first appearing in Uncanny X-Men #141, Destiny was intended, from the beginning, to be an intimate companion for Mystique. At that time, however, probibitions against gay/lesbian depictions in comic books were in place by the Comics Code Authority and the villains’ relationship had to be presented in a very subtle manner, often labeled only as “friends”. The original plans to have Nightcrawler be a biological child to both women (with Mystique shapeshifting into a man for the conception) had to be scrapped.

tumblr_lo2r5zFj1K1qj1ajtIt wasn’t until long after Irene’s death on Muir Island, at the hands of Legion, that the true nature of her relationship with Mystique was fleshed out and fully awknowledged. At Northstar’s wedding, Rogue would even make it a point to wonder if her childhood would’ve been different had her mothers been allowed to marry.

To date, Mystique has appeared in five of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men films, portrayed by both Rebecca Romijn and Jennifer Lawrence. While her questionable allegiances and motives are fairly true to her comic book counterpart, her sexuality has barely been touched upon (it was implied that she and Magneto had been schtupping).

X-Men: Days of Future Past is Bryan Singer’s return to mutant cinematic universe. Loosely based on the two-part Uncanny X-Men story of the same name, the basic premise sees Wolverine time-traveling back to the 1970s to prevent the birth of the Sentinel program by stopping the assassination of Bolivar Trask at the hands of Mystique. A glaring difference between the two depictions is that, while Mystique works alone in her attempts to murder Trask in the film, her entire Brotherhood, including Destiny, aims for the target (Sen. Robert Kelly) in the original storyline. In fact, Irene is the last member of the team to make an attempt on the Senator’s life.

While this may not seem like an enormous deal to most viewers, some fans could be left questioning whether or not Fox just fumbled a perfect opportunity to include LGBT representation into the X-Men cinematic universe.

Mystique scatters Destiny's ashes at sea. Destiny still gets the last word.

Mystique scatters Destiny’s ashes at sea. Destiny still gets the last word.

With the size of the cast already busting at the seams, it was quite clear that adding an entire Brotherhood of Evil Mutants was highly improbable from the start. Focusing on Mystique as an antagonist is not necessarily a bad idea. It helps establish a distinct development that was necessary to show how the character evolved, following the events of First Class, to become the woman we remember from X2.

With that in mind, including Irene Adler could still have easily worked in a different capacity and, with the amount of time that passed between First Class and Days of Future Past, the organic development of a relationship between Raven and Irene is not beyond the realm of plausibility. Not only would this have humanized the character of Mystique and allowed the audience to view her as more than just a mutant terrorist, it would have also added an extra layer to the motives behind her contentious actions throughout the series.

In essence, Days of Future Past, is a film about the “butterfly effect”. The slightest interactions by Wolverine and co. with the past can drastically and continuously alter the events of the future. The character of Destiny would have been an interesting liaison, of sorts, to the changes befalling the future timeline, randomly updating the characters as to their actions’ repercussions on the time stream.

1678700-brotherhood_of_evil_mutants_02Fox and the X-Men film franchise are not alone when it comes to lacking in LGBT representation. Despite a handful of gay/lesbian characters in its ranks, the Avengers have yet to really venture into that territory within their cinematic universe. Lesbian H.A.M.M.E.R./S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Victoria Hand, who was featured during Brian Michael Bendis’ tenure on Dark Avengers, appeared briefly in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series before being killed off after four episodes. Little development of the character was done before her subsequent demise and viewers would have no knowledge of her sexuality if they were unfamiliar with her comic book appearances.

With the number of LGBT comic book characters increasing, it seems, by the year, one can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the respective cinematic universes begin to follow suit. Including gay/lesbian diversity in these films is not a recipe for box office disaster and the throngs of queer fans at any number of comic book conventions can attest to that.

 








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