Alpha Flight (1st series) #47

Issue Date: 
June 1987
Story Title: 
You Can’t Tell the Forest from the Trees

Bill Mantlo (Writer), Craig Brasfield, Mike Mignola, Steve Purcell (Pencilers), Whilce Portacio, Terry Austin (Inker), Bob Sharen (Colorist), Jim Novak (Letterer), Joanne Spaldo (Assistant Editor), Carl Potts (Editor), Jim Shooter (Editor-in-Chief)

Brief Description: 

Vindicator returns home to Haysboro after her estranged parents contact her to help investigate some strange occurrences. Heather is somewhat reluctant as she has not seen her parents for many years since she and Mac eloped. Heather discovers that local children are being taken over by creatures from pods that fell from outer space, and her father is the next victim. Heather devises a plan which successfully frees everyone from the plant creatures without seriously harming them and with all the plant creatures destroyed, she makes up with her parents. However unbeknownst to everyone, one pod remains hidden at the back of the McNeils’ garden.

Full Summary: 

From outer space fall several seeds…falling towards the Victory Stadium in Haysboro, where the Haysboro Hawks are locked in a ninth-inning tie with the Calgary Chinooks, for the division title in the All-Canada Junior League Players of 1987. On the field, someone whacks the ball towards Tommy Mayhew, who all summer has dreamed of making the critical catch for the season. This afternoon, that dream is about to become a reality.

As Tommy holds out his baseball glove ready for the catch, he sees two balls heading for him, but, in his confusion, thinking it must be the sun in his eyes, he concentrates to make the catch – he does – and everyone applauds him. Someone on the opposition team points out that Tommy missed the ball … but if it is not the ball in Tommy’s glove, then what? Tommy opens the glove, which makes a hissing sound as he does. His coach calls to him, asking what it is he is looking at. Another kid points out there must be something in his glove.

The glove opens, and round object in it begins to sprout vines. Tommy cries out, but no one can hear him and his parents, spectator and fellow players are too far away to see the vines extend and crawl over him until they begin to cover him. The coach swears at Tommy as the boy turns and walks away from the field, mumbling that if he were him he would slink home, too . A kid points out that Tommy isn't heading home, but going towards the woods. For the thing that has taken possession of Tommy Mayhew, the forest bordering the stadium is perhaps the nearest Earthly analogue to what it would regard as home.

Haysboro was also home to a young woman named Heather McNeil Hudson … but that was a long time ago. Now she is one of Canada’s premiere super heroes, Vindicator, and it has been a long time since she has been home. Heather remembers that other people in the town called Claire and Ramsey McNeil, and their children “the Brood”. She recalls that they were happy times…until she met Mac.


Claire McNeil holds her daughter back as Ramsey McNeil forces James MacDonald out of the McNeil home, telling him that he will not have him exposing his daughter to whatever dirty and dangerous work he is involved in for the government. Heather cries out, telling her dad that she loves Mac. So stifled by her parents overprotectiveness, Heather eloped with Mac one summer night.

However somehow Heather’s parents tracked her down and found her and Mac with one of Mac’s “dirty, dangerous government protégés”. Ramsey burst into the apartment, telling Mac that he has come to take Heather home – which causes Logan to jump up in front of Ramsey and unsheathing his claws he says ‘Only if she wants to go, old man’.

The McNeils leave the apartment quickly, Mac informs Ramsey that he can explain about Logan, but Ramsey snaps back that he cannot, for he is a animal, not a man. ‘Those claws!’ sobs Claire as Heather tries to console her mother. Mac tells Heather not to apologize, for it is not her fault that her parents are too narrowminded to appreciate that the work they’re involved in is for the greater good.

‘Whose good, Hudson?’ asks Ramsey, wondering what Heather is supposed to do with all the medals when Mac and ‘your “Department H” freaks’ go off and get themselves killed. ‘Hard words,’ comments Logan, to which Mac replies that they may have been true words, for they are in a pretty lousy line of work.

The McNeils returned to Calgary and cut off al ties with Heather, however her father’s words were prophetic, for Department H did splinter, Logan joined the X-Men – and Mac, as Guardian died not long after forging Canada’s first super hero team … Alpha Flight.


Heather tells herself that Alpha Flight is her team now, with whom she was trying to find some sort of psychiatric care for the deranged Roger Bochs, when a call was relayed to their Tamarind Island HQ from their government liaison, Gary Cody that her parents were asking her to come home. Heather agreed, but with mixed feelings, for she feels that Mansion Alpha is her true home now and Alpha Flight is her family. She knows Bochs needs help, but realizes that Jeffries and Puck are as capable of treating him as she is, and after all these years of having purposely hardening her heart against them for casting her out, right now, Heather finds that more than anything else in the world, she wants to see her mother.

On cue, Claire McNeil walks out to the yard where Heather has just landed. Heather opens her arms, telling her mother she is answering the call. Claire tells Heather that they always knew Mac’s line of work was dangerous, then they heard that he had been injured, perhaps even killed. She declares that they were frightened for him, and she begins to cry at seeing Heather wearing the costume.

Heather asks her mother if that was the reason she asked her home – to rehash the same old fears and defiantly informs her mother that she is wearing Mac’s costume, the one he died in, but that he was called Guardian and she is called Vindicator – for she has much to avenge. Pulling some other clothes out of a bag, Heather reveals that the battle-suit feels more natural to her than any other sort of clothes before asking her mother if she understands that when she chose Mac, she chose his life – for better or worse.

Heather’s father, Ramsey McNeil, walks into the yard and tells his daughter that they couldn’t understand, for they thought danger was best left to the authorities. Claire informs her daughter that they did not want to see her or Mac hurt, and to Heather’s surprise, her father admits that the irony of it all is that now there is a danger in Haysboro which the authorities cannot handle, so they show her that they are hypocrites by calling on her.

Heather begins to ask about the danger, and her mother tells her it is horrible. Claire hugs her daughter as Heather declares she will take care of it, and Ramsey tells her that they will explain as much as they know inside the house.

Looking around the living room, Heather notes that everything is so familiar, yet so different too. Ramsey declares that the McNeils put down their roots in Haysboro because they thought nothing would ever change – but he was wrong. He informs Heather that after all of their children had grown up, he and Claire retired, and then out of boredom – or possibly fear of being alone he admits – he agreed to become coach for the Haysboro Hawks baseball team, which is why he contacted her, for in the past two weeks, several of his players as well as other kids from around the town … have disappeared! ‘And you thought Alpha Flight could help?’ asks Heather.

Later, Heather flies towards the baseball stadium, telling herself that if it were anyone other than her father she would not do it, for searching for missing children is the responsibility of the local police or the RCMP, and that calling in Alpha Flight is like ‘hiring King Kong to exterminate termites!’ Heather doesn’t see any of the children at the grounds, but sees her father pull up in his car at their rendezvous point.

Heather realizes it is a good thing she left the rest of Alpha Flight on Tamarind Island and came alone, for she would be furious with her father – if he wasn’t so frightened. Heather asks her father if the kids have just vanished and no one has done anything about them. Ramsey is about to call his daughter Heather, but changes it to Vindicator as he informs her the police and RCMP have searched the town thoroughly. “Whoops,’ Heather tells herself.

Ramsey informs Heather that so far not a trace has been found and now parents are frantic. He asks her why else he would have taken the ultimate step of contacting her after all these years. ‘Open mind, insert foot’ Heather thinks to herself. Ramsey tells Heather that he sympathizes with the parents, for he knows what it is like to lose a child. Realizing he is referring to her, Heather tells her father that she is here to help.

Ramsey tells Heather that he now understands about this “greater good” Mac spoke of. Heather wishes she understood it, for she hasn’t felt the same about Mac since Lady Deathstrike hinted that he was responsible for transforming Logan into Wolverine without his consent. Ramsey tells Heather that he almost wishes they did not contact her, he would rather she were far away, because having found her, he would hate to lose her again.

Heather is about to say something, when she sees something on the side of the road. Ramsey stops the car, and getting out to investigate they discover a kid’s bicycle. Ramsey points out that if the headlamp had not been on they probably wouldn't have noticed it. Heather realizes that it could not have been abandoned too long ago, or else the battery would have run down, which means whoever was riding it, was out alone at night.

Ramsey informs his daughter that Haysboro imposed a curfew when the disappearances began, ‘but you know kids…’ Opening a book that had come out of the bicycle’s basket, Ramsey sees that it belongs to Simone Chenen and that her brother Eric is one of the kids he coaches. He wonders how her parents could have let her out, but Heather reminds her father of what he said only moments ago… “Kids!”

Taking to the air, Heather asks her father to stay where he is while she scouts around. Ramsey agrees, when he seems some sort of seedpods all over the road. He realizes that some of them must have cracked open when he drove over them and picking one up he wonders what kinds of tree they become, when out of the pod vines sprout and take over Ramsey. Strange thoughts run like sap through what remains of Ramsey’s mind. “Join us. Join us. Join us”. And standing on the edge of the woods, are several more plant creatures, whom Ramsey joins.

In the forest, Heather scouts around and tells herself that her father was justified in summoning her, for the local authorities had their turn but couldn’t find anything. She thinks that for the future, she should establish some sort of “danger threshold” below which Alpha cannot be called upon to deal with. Noticing some holes in part of the forest, Heather realizes that maybe this exceeds that threshold after all, for kids aren’t the only ones missing! She suspects from the clearing that somebody has uprooted an entire grove of trees and carried them away.

Thinking it weird, she flies back to tell her father – but when she reaches the car she sees that the lights are on and the motor is still running, but her father is gone! Suddenly, from one of the pods, a vine touches her and she sees the seed pods strewn all over the road, some of them cracked under the weight of the car. Heather doesn’t know what kind of tree they fell off, but noticing one sizzled vine, she realizes that they cannot stand her electromagnetic forcefield, so uses a plasma blast on them, which causes them to open, and for the plant – or whatever it is – inside to wither and die.

Heather stands in amongst the mess and realizes that her powers destroyed those vines already out of their shells, but also opened up the shells of the others, releasing them. She sees that it took almost all of her battle-suits power to incinerate them and wonders what would have happened if she did not stop them. She wonders if they would have done to her what they must have already don’t to the missing kids…and her father!

Back at the McNeil home, Simone Chenen’s mother declares that she told Simone not to leave her Girl Scout meeting until she came to get her. Claire tries to comfort Mrs. Chenen and suggests that she tells the officers everything. One of the officers tells Claire that he understand what they have is another missing kid before his fellow officer asks where Ramsey is. Claire cautiously replies that Ramsey had to go out.

Suddenly, Claire hears Ramsey calls to her, and Mrs. Chenen hears her daughter. The two women go out into the backyard, where they are greeted by several plant creatures. The officers come to protect the woman and shoot the creatures with their guns. One of the officers wonders what good bullets are against a walking forest, and they soon find out – that they are no good.

Vindicator flies towards the creatures and keeps them at bay with a electromagnetic blast. Claire almost calls her daughters’ name, but quickly announces that it is Vindicator, and the policemen wonder what the leader of Alpha Flight is doing here. Heather recalls that she asked herself the same question when she first arrived back, for the disappearance of children was too common place to get Alpha Flight involved, but she now realizes that it is hazardous to overlook the seemingly ordinary.

She wonders how she can determine when to dispatch Alpha Flight into danger, just another thing she has to burden as team leader, and something to deal with after she has cleaned up the walking forest. “The Superhuman daren’t hurt us! Try and she dooms those within us!” remark the walking trees. The police officers declare that they recognize the voice, for even though it is distorted, it belongs to Ramsey McNeil!

Heather sees her mothers reaction to this revelation and thinks to herself that the trees have planted their seeds throughout Haysboro possessing her father and the children, and like any species struggling to survive, they will go on reproducing until they are stopped. Heather realizes the creatures must feel their numbers are sufficient enough to try and directly overwhelm the townspeople, and knows that she alone must stop them. But she also understands that by destroying the creatures it means destroying family and cannot do it.

‘But I have to…for Mac’s “Greater Good”’ she thinks to herself, and even though she realizes she may earn Haysboro's unending hatred, at least she will stop the spread of these trees across Canada and the rest of the world. ‘I can take that into comfort…cant I?’ Heather unleashes her power on the creatures, the police officers have no other solution and the creatures begin to burn from the electromagnetic blasts.

Heather listens to the creatures as they cry out that they burn and notes that they no longer speak with the voices of those they took over, as if they sense their deception of holding the families hostage can no longer shield them from her assault. She wonders what kind of creatures they are and realizes they cannot be from Earth, guessing that they fell to Earth as seeds, encased in pods hardened against the rigors of space. She wonders if atmospheric friction – like her force bursts shattered the first pod, which setting down roots in some human soil grew and put forth a new seed, a viscous cycle!

Heather wonders why they have to have human hosts and why they had to force her to slay the children in slaying them. The creatures cry out as their alien bark blackens and burns and mingled with the acrid odor of wood, ablaze wafts the sour scent of singed flesh… or as the bark gives way, the children are revealed underneath.

Heather never dreamed they would still be alive inside the trees and never dreamed that she would actually be able to save them. She lands on the ground, realizing that the trees only encased the children in hard bark, much as the pods encased the children. Instead, assuming there was no hope for the children, she unleashed the full force of her battle-suit, thus incinerating those she didn’t think she could save.

One child has fully emerged from the plant, she falls into a small pond and Heather stands over her, wondering if it is a child, or if the soul of the tree has been internalized into it as part of some new deception, daring her to kill a fellow human. The child calls to her mother, and Heather decides that it must be a real child, and she then realizes why the trees needed human hosts, for their environment must be radically different from Earth’s. Every world must harbor’s its own diseases and pollutants, and the humans of Earth have had millions of years to acclimatize themselves, so by planting themselves in indigenous life forms the trees sought to parasitically acquire their immunities.

Heather decides that she may have a chance to stop the trees’ spread and save the children and unleashes more electromagnetic power on them. Mrs. Chenen declares that they have to stop Vindicator for she is killing their babies, but Claire informs her that it is for the greater good. Although it would appear that nothing – alien or human could survive Vindicator’s assault, Heather has no intention of harming the possessed children. She sees the bark burn away and expose the alien organisms to Earth’s environment, which means the trees are dying.

However Heather realizes that the children will also die as they are consumed by the fires her force bursts have set, unless she makes use of her mothers pond, and with an electromagnetic pulse she knocks the water over the blazing fire, extinguishing the flames and revealing her father and the missing children, safe. Ramsey tells Vindicator that they are all safe, thanks to her. As she flies over to them, this time it is Heather who nearly makes the mistake of addressing Ramsey as her father, but quickly calls him Mr. McNeil, relieved at his survival.

The police officers examine everyone and announce that the burns are mostly first-degree, but otherwise okay. Heather and Claire hug Ramsey as he tells them he feels so soiled and violated, for the trees were feeding on them, sinking their roots into his arteries. Ramsey informs Heather that she saved them just in time, as the creatures were slowly taking over their minds, and much longer and they would have been reduced to nothing but food supplies.

Tommy Mayhew walks up to Vindicator and asks her if they will be back, and motioning to the sky, Heather informs him that she thinks they cam from “out there” and that whether space harbors more of their kind and whether destiny will guide the pods to Earth again, all she can say is…the little boy says it for her: ‘Look to the stars’. Heather agrees, and informs everyone that after they clean up all the pods, she thinks Haysboro and all of Earth will be safe.

But half-buried and unnoticed in the McNeil backyard an unearthly capsule goes unnoticed, waiting only for time, weather, or the blades of a lawn mower to penetrate its hard outer shell, and set the terror free!

Characters Involved: 

Vindicator II (member of Alpha Flight)

Claire & Ramsey McNeil (Heather’s parents)

Tommy Mayhew and other baseball players

Mrs. Chenen

Simone Chenen and other abductees

Police Officers

Alien Tree Creatures

In Flashback

Heather McNeil

Claire & Ramsey McNeil

McNeil kids (in photo)

James Hudson / Guardian

Logan / Wolverine

Story Notes: 

Heather’s early years can also be seen in the back story of Alpha Flight (first series) #2-3 and the Alpha Flight Flashback.

Heather’s comment that her mother and father had nine offspring is only in part true, for she has one sister, Becky and six unnamed brothers. To get the ninth sibling she could have possibly been referring to her foster sister, Elizabeth Twoyoungmen, otherwise it is most likely a Mantlo mistake.

All throughout the issue, the McNeils are referred to as the “MacNeils”.

The hints at Wolverine’s past were revealed in Alpha Flight (first series) #33-34.

Despite Heather returning to her parents’ home later in the first series of Alpha Flight (mid 60’s issues), the pod is never discovered, or mentioned again, which means it is either still there, or entirely forgotten about.

Issue Information: 
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