a KC Column by KC Carlson
In February 2017 (and it’s expensive, so start saving your money now), the Alpha Flight by John Byrne Omnibus is due out from Marvel. Clocking in at 1,248 oversize pages, it compiles all of the earliest adventures of Alpha Flight, whether or not they are actually by John Byrne (although the vast majority of the book is by Byrne).
The contents include the earliest Alpha Flight guest appearances by Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Terry Austin from Uncanny X-Men, the entire Byrne run of Alpha Flight #1-29 (although Byrne actually bowed out in AF #28, so that #29 might be a Marvel solicitation typo), all of the stand-alone X-Men/Alpha Flight miniseries crossovers, as well as several early one-or-two-shot appearances of Alpha Flight characters in such titles as Machine Man (1978) #18, Marvel Two-in-One (1974) #83-84, Incredible Hulk (1968) #272, 313, and Annual #8, and the main story from Marvel Team-Up Annual #7. The unpublished subtitle to the volume could be “The Complete Early Alpha Flight: Volume One”.
Famously, Alpha Flight first appeared in X-Men #120 (cover-dated April 1979), part of the now-heralded run of that title by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin.
Confusingly, the indicia title of the book is indeed X-Men, but the cover logo says Uncanny X-Men, which the series would officially become beginning with issue #140 (cover-dated December 1980). Retroactively, that entire run of work by Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Byrne (and beyond) would become known as the Uncanny X-Men era (despite what it officially said in the indicia). At the time, this was done to differentiate it from the earlier 1960s era of the X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, and many, many other writers and artists (who did a handful of issues and then moved on).
ENOUGH HISTORY, BACK TO ALPHA FLIGHT
Just to be clear, despite their earliest adventures in Uncanny X-Men being written by Chris Claremont, the official Marvel “created by” credit for the Alpha Flight group is ascribed solely to John Byrne. Notably, the initial line-up was pan-Canadian. The leader, Guardian (originally called Weapon Alpha, then Vindicator), was James MacDonald Hudson, a scientist from London, Ontario. His wife Heather ultimately becomes very important to the series (something I cannot really discuss here). The twins Northstar (Jean-Paul Beaubier) and Aurora (Jeanne-Marie Beaubier) are from Montreal and are both mutants. Sasquatch (Walter Langowski) was a scientist from British Columbia with a complicated (and evolving) origin story. Shaman (Michael Twoyoungman) is a First Nations medicine man from Calgary, and he is both a doctor and sorcerer. Snowbird (Narya) is an Inuit demi-goddess from Yellowknife who can transform into animals (but only animals from Canada).
Later members included the extraterrestrial, amphibious Marrinia, destined to become one of the Sub-Mariner’s brides. (That’s before she’s brutally murdered by him as a mercy killing, after she is altered by Norman Osborn during the Dark Reign event.) The other most prominent later member (although first introduced in Alpha Flight #1) is Eugene Judd aka Puck, a very popular character. He was originally thought to be a dwarf with no powers other than great fighting and acrobatic skills. All of these characters have incredibly complex and ultimately convoluted pasts — most of them added on after Byrne’s run.
As with many of the lesser Marvel titles from this earlier era, there were many different series (or volumes, depending on your choice of vernacular) of the Alpha Flight title (I count at least four) over the decades by many various creative teams (notably some better than others — guys like Jim Lee and Mike Mignola can be found lurking about). Not all of the creators knew quite what to do with them. Most of these characters were killed and resurrected (or in one instance, sex-changed) over and over again, until it seemed like a series that no longer had any real reason to exist. Except for Canadian Pride — which it had in spades in the earliest incarnations — as documented specifically in this particular Omnibus.
Ultimately, Alpha Flight was fatally diluted by so many poor showings in the later years that even the occasional good storylines couldn’t seem to gain any sort of traction, sales, or fan following — and most died horrible premature cancellations (while on the other hand, some of those cancellations were probably mercy killings).
However, past aside, this early Alpha Flight work, primarily by John Byrne, is the best of all worlds (and series) and easily deserves the Omnibus treatment. Forget everything you may know about what happened to these characters later under different creators. The original cast members (well… maybe not Marrinia) were great, classic Marvel characters and deserve to be re-evaluated in this new collection of the best stories of their series. I don’t get excited about Marvel Omnibi all that often anymore, but this Alpha Flight by John Byrne Omnibus volume is different — very well-curated and deserving of a point-of-pride spot on your (hopefully very sturdy) bookcase.
KC CARLSON also recommends the Daredevil Omnibus Volume 1 being offered this month. Collecting Daredevil #1-41 (and a handful of one-shot stories from elsewhere) from Marvel’s glory days of the 1960s, it features work by Stan Lee, Wally Wood, Gene Colan, and Bill Everett, with a little bit of John Romita Sr., Joe Orlando, Bob Powell, Jack Kirby, and Dennis O’Neil work thrown in as well. It’s more of a light-hearted adventure series, not much like the crime fiction inspired DD storylines from the last few decades (starting with Frank Miller). But, you know, if you loved Mark Waid’s work on the series over the last few years, you should know that the contents of this Omnibus were hugely inspiring to Mark (as well as artists Paolo Rivera and Chris Samnee) during his run on the title. 1,088 pages of original Comics Without Fear!
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. Swingin’ Mike Murdock sends his regards…
Classic covers from the Grand Comics Database.