Alpha Flight Returns! X-Factor Wins!

A new week of comics have came along! This also includes the premiere of the new maxiseries, Alpha Flight, and some superb storytelling in Peter David’s X-Factor. Although I don’t particularly feel the need to review Avengers #14 entirely, all I will say is I’m going to be dropping the series after the Fear Itself arc. I’m tired of the same “Block Pages” in each story. I’m also tired of hearing the same voices for each character. Although Romita Jr’s art was superb in this issue – and the idea behind the story is great – I’ve grown tired of Bendis’ execution.

But we’ll see how things go.

As for another turn of events, you may remember my first review of FF #1 back in March, but I’ve decided to pick the series up again (in lieu of The Avengers). That, and Black Bolt is apparently returning for issue #6. I love the Inhumans and have always followed them on their journeys. I was especially involved in the War and Realm of Kings stories, so I’m very excited to see how Black Bolt’s return will play a role in those current plots.

For now:

X-Factor

X-Factor #221
Peter David (writer), Dennis Calero (pencils, inks), Brian Reber (colours), Cory Petit (letters), David Yardin (cover). $2.99

Feral’s back from the dead but still dead! If that isn’t enough to intrigue you into the story, then I don’t know what will.

Continuing from last months cliffhanger, both Shatterstar and Wolfsbane are on the run from Feral – who is being used by a being of immense power – to anchor demons amongst other paranormal creatures to kill Wolfsbane. If that isn’t enough, Layla has gone banana’s at the base and is putting symbols as wards on the doors and windows. I think she knows stuff.

For such a short issue, David tackles what he needs to: Rahne’s and Feral’s past, Shatterstar’s humour, Rictor’s concerns of Shatterstar’s whereabouts and Layla being Layla. It all flows naturally and never feels pushed at all. That is what makes X-Factor such a joy to read. No dialogue feels forced to move the plot along and the reader can just accept what is happening as just another day.

Dennis Calero’s art is definitely a noticeable change from Emanuela Lupacchino’s bright, splashy pages and “well-endowed” characters. But much like Lupacchino’s work, Calero does brilliant facial features. We can tell what each character is feeling even if words were not on the page. Calero’s art, tied in with Reber’s noticeably dramatic dark colours, give this book the mood it needs given the gravity of the situation within its pages. Because of the duo, the final panel of the book could not be scarier to loyal X-Factor readers.

This issue is the beginning to where all-things in X-Factor shall come crashing down. It’s going to be one exciting ride.

Grade: 7/10

Personal note: I rarely write reviews about X-Factor because it feels like I’d be writing about family. Uncanny X-Men and X-Men Legacy have great “family” moments which makes their readers feel invested with the characters. This is noticed when the X-Men mention an issue or event that readers have read in the past. With X-Factor, it’s inherent fluidity is what makes me feel invested. If you’re into that, I highly recommend you pick up all of X-Factor’s back-issues starting with #1 (in 2006). If not, go ahead and pick up #200 – which is an excellent starting point. (And so you know, X-Factors numbering goes #1-50, then #200-onwards)

I had to write a review for this issue because it was just too darn-exciting for me not to.

X-Factor

Alpha Flight #1
Fred Van Lente & Greg Pak (writers), Dale Eaglesham (pencils), Andrew Hennessy (inks), Sonia Oback (colours), Simon Bowland(letters), Phil Jimenez & Frank D’Armata (cover). $3.99

Taking place after the events after both Alpha Flight #0.1 and Fear Itself, Alpha Flight is officially back with their own maxiseries! (It’s a word, right?)

Attuma, or “Nerkkod – Breaker of the Oceans” is chosen for a hammer as seen in the Fear Itself story, and is terrorizing Vancouver, Canada. (Coincidently, Boston just did the same thing.) Fortunately, the reborn Canadian superheroes are able to put a hold on Nerkkod’s plans of complete devastation. All except Northstar, who is unsure of himself and is content with his boyfriend Kyle in Montreal. To make matters worse, in the #0.1 issue, Gary Cody and his Unity Party just won Parliament and is now running the country. He abolishes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and declares the Emergency Act to control the chaos Fear Itself is creating in the country. And there’s still more! Actually, there are still three major problems in the story which I could go on about. But where’s the fun if I told you?

The great thing is that Fear Itself definitely plays a strong hand in Alpha Flight. There are so many problems happening in the story that even I felt overwhelmed – and that’s exactly what Van Lente and Pak want you to feel. The world is turned upside-down and us readers are right in the middle of it. Alpha Flight does their best to deal with that is at hand, but it is only bound to get worse.

And holy sh–! Eaglesham’s work is impeccable. Page-after-page is sheer emotion and brilliant layouts. You can look into the backgrounds and be wowed by how much detail goes into his art. Great facial features really shine in this issue. Most particularly with Shaman versus Nerkkod, Kyle having a freak out over the phone, and Aurora’s attitude throughout the book. He also reworked Marrina’s costume to really spruce up her attitude. With Hennessy’s and Oback’s great contrasts (especially on Snowbird’s transformations), we’re left with a gorgeous book. Although, yes, Eaglesham had some stiffness in certain panels, the pros entirely outweigh the cons here.

My biggest beef isn’t even really a problem. It is the first few pages where the characters get stereotypically introduced in comic book fashion where by saving civilians they have their names called out to them. It’s corny, but it still works.

There is so much crammed into this book and tons left to solve by the end, that I’m surprised we’re only getting eight issues of it. Hopefully our Canadian heroes can handle it. But from the looks of their creative team, they’re in good hands.

Grade: 8.5/10

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

Classic Comic Fridays: Alpha Flight #1

It’s that time again for another look-back at a Classic Comic. The first Friday of every month, I will take a classic comic from my personal collection and review it. I also have to apologize for no reviews this week as I just felt like I needed a Wednesday off from writing (as I believe I am entitled to).

Anyway, with the events of Marvel’s Chaos War closing last week, a particular team was inexplicably left alive while the rest of the old dead-heroes remained, well, dead. That team is Canadian-born Alpha Flight, who were killed off by Omega in New Avengers #16 (2006).

First appearing officially in X-Men #120 (1979), Alpha Flight had been back-and-forth on the X-Men’s good-side. The first suggestion of a Canadian mutant team was back in X-Men #109 (1978), where Vindicator fought the X-Men to reclaim Wolverine. It was also the first time Wolverine was called “Weapon X” (for you trivia-enthusiasts out there). But despite their problems, Alpha Flight have been an integral part of Marvel’s Canadian fan-base, always supporting and promoting the team at Cons throughout the country.

So let’s take a look at their first big solo run – right out of the pages of X-Men!

Alpha Flight

Alpha Flight #1 (August, 1983)
John Byrne (writer, penciler, inker, cover). Andy Yanchus (colours), Joe Rosen (letterer). $1.00 ($1.25 Cdn)

Opening where Uncanny X-Men $140 left off – three years prior (who said comic book continuities had to be spot-on?), Alpha Flight is disbanded as Prime Minister Trudeau tells James Hudson, aka Vindicator, that government funding is no longer available for the team. Vindicator reflects on his time with the X-Men, as well as his Alpha Flight members, Snowbird, Shaman, and Sasquatch. He also sheds concern for the Gamma and Beta Flight members who have not even had their chance at becoming agents for the government.

Going home, he ponders his life without a job. He realizes that he will only have his soon-to-be wife’s salary to live on and wonders what will happen to them. He even asks himself how Captain America deals with such issues. Coming home, he breaks the news to Heather McNeil – his fiancée. Distraught, Vindicator vents to Heather on why the government would give up such a crucial team.

We get our first cut away to a stranger out in the middle of nowhere – chanting to the earth and drawing out a strange figure in the snow. . .

The book then cuts towards Jean-Paul (Northstar) and Jeanne-Marie (Aurora) Beaubier in Quebec. JP meets with JM at the all-girls school she is working at, to convince her that even with Alpha Flight gone, JM should still do good with her powers. After much convincing, she eventually turns around – but not without deep conversation between the two twins.

After receiving a phone call from friend Gary Cody – alerting him of a major problem – Vindicator sets off and tells Heather to contact the rest of Alpha Flight via their cybernetic implants.

Going into James’ office to contact the team, Heather stumbles upon two other member profiles to contact – both were in Beta Flight and were ready to be promoted into Alpha Flight until the disbanding. Those lucky members are Marrina and Puck.

Here is where the reader is introduced to each Alpha Flight member as the “roll call” presents itself.

The two non-Alpha Flight members, get the call. Marrina gets summoned as her apparent boyfriend gives her the message that she is needed. Puck is found working as a bouncer in a restaurant in Toronto. He receives the call and gathers himself to meet up with Heather at her home to see what she needs.

Snowbird, receives the call and heads to the rendezvous point, where a large monster named Tundra – made out of the earth – tramples itself along.

Alpha Flight Chaos War

Vindicator and Shaman quickly arrive to try and stop Tundra. Shaman attempts a few spells to no effect. He needs the creature to be weakened first. Suddenly, Sasquatch appears and jumps from a helicopter and lands on the monsters back – tearing the earth from it. He is beaten off it while Northstar and Aurora make their appearance. With their powers, they spin around the monster, dazing it, while Marrina makes her appearance, followed by her trail of water. With that, Shaman takes the water and blasts the monster making it unable to sustain itself and leaving it defeated.

Back at the home of James and Heather, Alpha Flight discuss keeping the team together despite the lack of government approval. They find that they are needed and will form together. Suddenly, there’s a knock on the door. James opens it to see Puck standing there wondering whether or not he’ll be able to join despite being late. After a quick ruse from Sasquatch, the two get into a friendly fist-fight and thus concluding the first story of Alpha Flight.

Coming right out of the pages of X-Men, albeit late, Alpha Flight #1 does not disappoint in any way. John Byrne sets up each character with deep plot points that each person begs to have their persona fleshed out. For example, during the first “roll call,” Sasquatch is out doing reconnaissance. For what, who knows? Also, what are Beta and Gamma Flight? Where does the government stand on Alpha Flight continuing without their approval? It’s little tidbits like this which drive the story with so much strength.

One thing specifically that got to me while re-reading this tale was how much characterization – natural, human characterization was placed into all of the individuals. Vindicator worries about bills. Marrina has a love life just waiting to be explored. The twins, outside of their rivalry, have so much more to offer.

Given that Byrne practically designed this entire book on his lonesome, he deserves quadrillions of credit which he already has by me.

My only major quarrel was with Puck’s patrons in Toronto. Although Puck flawlessly uses the Canadian lingo “eh?” – all of the restaurant patrons forcibly say it – making it very unnatural.

All aside, Alpha Flight would go on to be a strong series – running for just over a decade until issue #130 in 1994, followed by a twenty-issue reboot from 1997 to 1999, and a twelve-issue one from 2004 to 2005. Given their unexpected reemergence from the Chaos War, I can only assume another one is on its way.

Grade: 8/10