This issue…an Alphan dies!
‘If its me you’re talking about pal, guess again!’ exclaims Whitman Knapp as he is sitting down in an operating room of the hospital he works at, while his past and future selves, Highbrow, Proto and Apeman mill around him.
‘Surprised that I know you’re out there? So am I’ states the former member of Beta Flight as he mentions he is not even sure how he knows what he knows - that he is just a creation, a character in a comic book. He declares that even now he knows, he can still hardly believe it. Holding up a copy of Power Pack, Manikin asks whoever he is talking to if it is one of their works too, and boasts that it may as well be, for month after month, neatly packaged stories about the pride and passion of super-powered people always in conflict with evil, always fighting, lying or dying at the whim of a writer simply to satisfy some formulaic conception of style or plot.
Skimming through Power Pack, Manikin declares that that is what he is, what all of Alpha Flight has been all this time, fiction, creations of…’whoever you are’. ‘God?’ suggests Highbrow. ‘Insecure scribbler vicariously living out a life of adventure through Alpha’s adversity!’ mutters Whit before exclaiming that it seems to explain so many things - Alpha’s creation, the horrors they have faced, the ceaseless succession of battles, endless deaths, conflicts and resolutions all to satisfy some unknowable greater meaning….
Manikin looks upwards as he declares that it explains his own creation and reminds whoever he is talking to that he was in the middle of a saga - Scramble the Mixed-up-Man was facing off against Alpha Flight, but Manikin believes that his creator had boxed himself into a corner, as he created Scramble too powerful and Alpha appeared doomed with no prospect of a future. So, the writer took a secondary character who was conveniently placed in the plot, and Scramble inadvertently turn him into a new super hero - Manikin.
Manikin continues with his origin, reminding his own creator of how he was split into four beings, embodying his past, present and future evolutionary selves, Manikin adds that in time, he, Apeman, Proto and Highbrow helped Alpha Flight defeat Scramble-cum-Omega. Manikin tells his creator that the way he understands it, he needed a new hero and so turned him into a freak of nature.
Now wait a minute…
Manikin asks his creator if he denies it, and calls to Highbrow, his future self, who proclaims that he possesses various mental attributes, including the ability to scan and detect the presence of other intelligences. Highbrow manages to locate Manikin’s creator…Bill Mantlo!
Manikin inform Mantlo that they are aware of him, that he is the one who orchestrates their joys and sorrows. Sitting safely at a keyboard deciding whether they live or die. ‘Yeah I’m on to you. Sadist’ declares Whit as he asks what else you can call someone who creates characters, breathes life into them, only to kill them? The power of Snowbird…the pathos of Aurora…the passion of Northstar…the pain of Puck….
Manikin scowls at what Mantlo put them all through for the sake of a “story“, but then he realizes that they were even-handed in Mantlo’s own weird way, because he did try to balance the bad times with the good, such as having him and the Purple Girl fall in love, though of course he broke them up. Manikin reminds Mantlo that he has planned the marriage of Vindicator and Box, and asks Mantlo if he intends on introducing a note of tragedy to that too.
Manikin snaps that it doesn’t matter, as he now realizes the profound truth, as it seems through all the good times, the bad times never really happened. ‘It’s made an interesting story, but that’s all’. Whit mutters that now he has outlived his usefulness in the greater scheme of things, it is his turn to ‘buy the farm’. Whit asks Highbrow if he agrees, to which the future Whit informs the present that he is correct, and uses his teleportation powers to pull from Bill Mantlo’s typewriter, part of the script, which reads:
…And so, Manikin’s pre-evolutionary self, Proto, having died at the hands of Vindicator, who’d come to Manikin seeking his medical expertise in removing her rebellious battle-suit, Manikin’s other past, present and future selves perish, leaving Vindicator responsible for slaying her friend and teammate.!
‘You degenerative creep!’ shouts Whit as he reads the script and tells Mantlo that aside from the way he is planning on destroying him, he is going to cause Vindicator plenty of grief. But Whit realizes that Mantlo planned it this way, his death and Heather’s guilt is all fodder for future stories. Manikin mutters that being creatures of Mantlo’s imagination they should probably take what the writer dishes out and like it. However, Manikin boasts that somehow, because something has made him aware of Mantlo, has caused Mantlo to no longer have power of Manikin.
Whit stands with his hands on his hips and declares that he is free from Mantlo’s control and can decide his own fate - and what he decides is that he doesn’t like the super-hero saga being concocted. ‘I like life!’ he declares, telling Mantlo that he has no intention of letting him sacrifice him for the sake of some insipid story. As Apeman, Highbrow and Proto begin tearing up the medical facility, Manikin declares that he will not agree with his own demise and will take no part in a story that ends with his death. ’In other words, I quit! - Now, lets see you try and tell your story without me!’ snarls Whit, dropping the copy of Power Pack he was reading.
Meanwhile at the McNeil family home, in Calgary, Alberta, Heather McNeil Hudson’s mother, Claire enters her daughter’s bedroom and informs her that she and her father can hear her all the way down the hall. Claire asks Alpha Flight’s former leader what there is to weep about and reminds her that she is to be married to Madison Jeffries, the first man she has been able to love since the death of her first husband, James MacDonald Hudson.
Lying on her bed in her wedding dress, the weeping Heather mutters ‘Oh, Mac’s dead all right’ and that even though Mac’s memory haunts her as if Mac wanted somehow to prevent her from marrying another man - it’s like a bad dream. Claire begins to ask Heather what she means, but Heather rips her wedding dress off and asks her mother if she sees the battle-suit and informs her that is modelled after Mac’s suit, it is a duplicate of the one that killed him. Heather informs Claire that Roger Bochs modified the battle-suit so that she could don it and become leader of Alpha Flight, it made her a hero, Vindicator - ‘and it won’t come off!’ she screams. Heather remarks that she has tried for hours to get it off, but it is melding to her, like some sort of nightmare.
Outside the McNeil home, Jeffries walks down the drive and decides that as Heather is still sleeping he will check the mail, and seeing that the flag is up he looks around for any people near by, and as there are none he uses his transmutative powers to turn the metal letterbox into a robot mail delivery person. ‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!’ declares the mailbox as he hands Jeffries the mail. A man driving a car looks at the odd scene and swerves to miss an oncoming truck, he thinks to himself ‘I thought…I though…nah…’
Turning the letterbox back to normal, Jeffries opens the mail, which is a letter from Kara Kilgrave, the Purple Girl:
Dear Madison and Heather, miss you both so much, especially in light of what’s happened, somehow, in some horrible inexplicable way, my dear departed father, Kilgrave the Purple Man rose from the dead! Goblyn and I fought him off before he could harm mom or me, but…I get this weird feeling like he wasn’t real! He had an army of zombies that disappeared when he was destroyed! Now it all feels like some weird nightmare.
Jeffries thinks that what happened to Kara was weird, yet similar to what happened to himself, with his nightmare triggered by the guilt he had about driving his best friend out of the Box robot and making it his own, which caused him to subconsciously direct the robot to attack him and Heather, but at the same time he feels like he was manipulated. Jeffries feels that it also ties in with the phone call they got from Sasquatch, who had a waking nightmare in the middle of a courtroom, and had to trash the place to defeat the Great Beasts.
Jeffries thinks that weird stuff has been happening to each of them since Alpha split up, and believes that there has to be a reason for it. He declares that they have been in nothing but trouble since they battled the Great Beasts, which led to their off world encounter with the Dreamqueen. Jeffries decides that as Alpha was formerly constituted of, it was not really equipped to deal with magic, though they seem to be facing more and more of it. He remembers that they held their own better when they had Shaman and Talisman with them, but they lost both of them a while ago, when Elizabeth Twoyoungmen lost her powers to her father…back when Alpha Flight was a real team.
Jeffries wonders why he feels so gloomy, especially as he is about to be married - and it was Heather who proposed, and he accepted. Madison tells himself to shake his blues, and the best way he knows how to, is to give a good morning kiss to his lady love - but Heather suddenly flies past Jeffries, crashing through the front door. Claire calls to her distraught daughter, as Jeffries phases into his Box armor and tells Heather’s mother not to worry, as he will bring her back. Jeffries flies off after Heather as Ramsey comforts his wife.
Meanwhile, in the far North, Wanda Langkowski wanders aimlessly through a forest, thinking about how every cent she owned was taken from her by her ex-wife, and all of it legally. Wanda remembers her day in court, and thinks that she can still see her ex-wife’s smile as Wanda Langkowski tried to explain that she was what Walter Langkowski had become after he died and was reborn the female Sasquatch.
A strangely familiar green glow surrounds Sasquatch as she suddenly sees illusions of Veronica, smiling and smirking. Wanda tells Veronica that she knows she got a good laugh out of it, and lunges at her, but Sasquatch’s mighty fists go straight through the illusion of Veronica. Wanda keeps pushing the illusion of Veronica back through trees, rocks and shrubs and shouting that to Veronica it was all just money, fine fancy furniture, fancy cars and summers in the South of France.
Sasquatch declares that to Alpha Flight, her fortune could have been the team’s life blood, it would have brought their independence from the Canadian government. Wanda smashes the illusion of Veronica into the side of a cliff, telling Veronica that her greed doomed more than just one person, but an entire dream. Suddenly, Wanda sees something shiny in the side of the cliff - gold, and a huge load of it too! Wanda thinks that it is more than enough to put Alpha Flight back in business for a century, and screams ‘WAHOO!’
Elsewhere, in Ottawa armored guards and government officials lead a young Chinese man, Dei Guan, through the corridors of a government building, one of the officials reminding him that this is the day that Canada decides whether to detain or deport him. Dei Guan mutters that he has not noticed the difference between Chinese totalitarianism and the Canadian governments idea of hospitality.
Under his breath, a guard whispers to one of his fellows that he hopes Dei Guan is shipped back to China, as with Alpha Flight on the loose, he feels Canada has enough super freaks. The fellow soldier tells the first to bite his tongue, as he is an Alpha supporter. Someone informs everyone that the commissioners are ready to see them, when a large explosion occurs behind them, knocking most to the ground. Two standing guards push Dei Guan behind them to protect him, when both are knocked out.
Dei Guan sees all his escorts stunned or slain and wonders why he was spared, but believes it is safe to assume that he is the object of this sudden assault, however he boasts that his hunters will not arrive to find the helpless Die Guan, but the Jade Dragon! With that, Dei Guan transforms into the Jade Dragon, just as four costumed individuals enter the corridor, one of them calling Jade Dragon ‘comrade’ and declaring that he is exactly who they had come seeking. Another of the mysterious quartet informs Dei Guan that they have come to confront him with the simplest of choices. The third member of the group informs Dei Guan that he must either join them and add his power to that of China Force, ‘or die!’ screams the fourth.
Back at Ontario General Hospital, Vindicator suddenly bursts through a set of windows, smashing them and screaming ‘Manikin!’ moments later, Box flies through and calls to Vindicator. Doctors, nurses, and other people all drop to the ground to avoid being hit. Box calls to Heather and tells her to come to her senses before she hurts someone. Heather actually swears as she asks Whit where he is, adding that she needs his help.
Hiding in a storeroom, Whit can hear the commotion and thinks to himself that if he helps Heather and follows the script, save her from her rogue battle suit, then the louse who is writing this melodrama will have her kill him.
Dr. Knapp, this has gone far enough. I promised on page one that an Alphan would die this issue…and die one shall! If you refuse to comply with the dictates of my tale, then another Alphan may have to perish in your place.
‘Who?’ asks Whit, ‘Vindicator? Box? You wouldn’t!’
Heather turns a corner with Box high on her tail. Heather tells Jeffries to keep away from her, but Jeffries tells Heather that if something is wrong then they should talk, as flying off hundreds of miles away from him like that is setting a bad precedent for their future relationship. Heather stops and tells Jeffries that that is just it, there will not be any relationship - the marriage is off! Box stops and asks Heather why? ‘It cant be my breath - robots don’t have halitosis!’ Jeffries jokes. Heather informs Madison that the marriage is off because she cant get her costume off. ‘That’s a new one’ jokes Jeffries, and reaches down to Heather, suggesting that he try to take her costume off, when suddenly Heather blasts him backwards through a wall - and into Manikin.
You see how easy it was to bring the story to you. Dr Knapp? Now choose - will it be your friends who die…or you?
Vindicator continues to blast at Box, asking him to stay away from her and informing him that she cannot stop the suit from trying to slay him. Madison reminds Heather that it was he and Roger Bochs who rebuilt the battle suit and bets he could shut it down. Madison knows he cannot do it as Box and phases out of his armor in order to use his transmutative powers on the battle suit’s metal-mesh. As Jeffries begins to use his powers on Vindicator’s suit, he notices that the plasma blasts seem to veer wide of him, almost as if Heather was trying to keep the suit from killing him.
Jeffries knows he is vulnerable, but tells Heather to hang in there and that he will peel her out of her rebellious suit, when Heather suddenly screams - and Jeffries realizes that it is the battle suit - and that if he tries to take it off, then it will try and kill her - unless it kills him first Heather tells Madison before trying to get him to fly away - until he is struck by a plasma blast.
The wounded Madison lies beside his grounded Box armor as Heather shouts that no one can help her, except maybe Manikin, who is a doctor. She believes Whit should surely know some way to shut down her battle suit and save her. Heather wonders why Whit doesn’t come, as he must know by now that she is here, ‘MANIKIN!’ screams Heather.
Hiding, Manikin tells Mantlo that he wont go, and that he cannot make him.
I’ve already demonstrated how I can bring the plot to you. Now lets see what else it will take to get you to follow the plot. Another assault on the now helpless Jeffries?
‘Nooooo!’ screams Manikin.
Jeffries phases back into Box as he asks Heather ‘why?’ when she begins firing more plasma at him. Heather replies that something seems to say to her that if she attacks Jeffries, it will draw Manikin out of hiding.
‘Curse you, writer!’ shouts Manikin ‘You win!’ and with that he lets loose Highbrow, Apeman and Proto, adding ‘partially’ and reminds Mantlo that he said his plot said Proto will be destroyed trying to eat Heather’s battle suit off of her, thereby destroying Apeman, Highbrow and himself as Proto’s evolutionary successors. Whit declares that the script has been changed, and explains that Apeman and Highbrow will carry the light, while he and Proto will get the heck out of here.
Editorial prerogative from a character?
Highbrow and Apeman arrive at the battle scene and Highbrow informs Heather that the prime unit has sent them to help her. Vindicator asks Highbrow how his advanced intellect of Apeman’s brute strength can get her out of the battle suit. As plasma bursts everywhere, Apeman tugs at Heather’s battle suit while Heather explains that it is Manikin’s medical skills she needs, not an assist from his evolutionary altar-egos.
Highbrow informs Vindicator that Manikin has a valid reason for not putting in a personal appearance, ’namely, he does not want to die!’ Heather asks if Manikin will then let the battle suit slay both her and the man she loves, ’this is hardly his doing!’ Heather declares that she doesn’t care whose fault it is, she needs help, frying both Highbrow and Apeman, Heather boasts that she will get it - or Manikin will.
Doesn’t sound like the Vindicator you know, does it Doctor? I can make the battle-suit warp her mind, undermine her reason…make her regard a friend…as a foe.
Heather begins to fly away, Box calls after her, realizing that the battle suit has made her nuts he transforms himself into a small tank so that he can easily follow her, and find her before she finds Whit.
That’s called Plot Tension.
‘MANIKIN!’ screams Heather as she knocks doctors, nurses and patients to the floor with her plasma blasts. Manikin hears her and continues to run away, clutching Proto. Box calls to Vindicator, helping people to their feet as follows his out-of-control lover. Madison wonders if this is more of the super natural manipulation Alpha has been experiencing and as he suspected before. He wonders still, how they are to deal with such a foe if his assumption is correct.
‘So there you are!’ declares Vindicator as she corners Manikin in a store room. Upon seeing Heather, Manikin throws Proto to the ceiling.
Your moment of truth, Doctor.
‘You manipulative louse!’ exclaims Whit. The perplexed Heather says ‘Me? All I ask is your help!’ ‘I wasn’t speaking to you, Heather!’ ‘Are you out of your mind Whitman? There’s no one else here!’ Manikin declares that there is - a creep who is engineering the entire situation so that Heather can kill him, and jokes that the writer probably thought it would make a great cover scene. Heather tells Whit that he is not making any sense, and informs him that she is running out of time as she can feel the battle suit sinking its neuro-circuits into her very soul!
Heather tells Manikin that either he gets it off her, or else - and blasts him with a burst of electromagnetic energy. Whit is knocked backwards and wonders what he should do, he cannot fight Heather as she would kill him for sure, but that is not the writer’s plot. Manikin knows that it is Proto that Heather has to slay so that all the rest of him can vanish. However, Manikin begins to wonder whether or not the writer can alter the plot in the middle at will. Whit wonders if he should rely on some editorial oversight forcing Mantlo to follow the story he submitted to his editor.
Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never heard of improvisation.
Heather snaps that she has never had to force a man into undressing her before and warns Whit that this is his last chance. Box comes up behind Heather and cries ‘no’ as she prepares to shoot Whit with a powerful blast of electromagnetic energy - until Proto drops from the ceiling and lands on Heather.
‘Proto! No!’ screams Manikin as he drops to his knees and swears at Mantlo, telling him he has won, that it is the end. ‘Of my nightmare!’ declares Heather as she touches Whit on the shoulder and thanks him and Proto. Heather’s battle suit has been chewed away at by Proto, and Box declares that he cannot believe ‘that little protoplasmic slime’ dissolved the command circuits of the battle suit.
Shortly, Heather has changed and tells Manikin that she owes him both her life and marriage. Box informs Heather that using Guardian and Bochs’ designs he can rebuild her battle suit, without the ghost in the machine. Box takes Heather in his arms and flies off, thanking Whit again and telling him they will see him at the wedding.
Manikin and his other selves watch. Highbrow points out that they are gone, and Whit declares that the four of them are still alive and wonders what happened - he feels like a puppet.
Manikin walks back through the hospital feeling like a dreamer awakening from a nightmare.
Manikin remembers that he has felt this way once before, and if it means what he thinks it might, then the Dreamqu -
Uh-uh, Manikin. No jumping the gun! I’ve planned this too carefully! Manipulated you, each one-by-one, building power! And soon, I shall reap my reward!
Manikin suddenly loses his train of thought and decides that it cannot be important…could it?