Alpha Flight (1st series) – (1983-1994) - continued
In fall 1988, the title itself went through a slight format change, which included an increase in paper quality and a corresponding price hike. At this time, Marvel was doing the same thing to other titles that were not high sellers, such as the New Universe line and Strikeforce: Morituri. Aside from the paper quality, there were other variations to make the title feel special. Credits were printed on the inside of the front cover, while the inside of the back cover contained an image of the next issue’s cover. If the purpose of the format & price change was to stave off cancelation, it succeeded, as the series would double its issue numbering before its eventual cancelation. This made it unique among the titles with the same format change.
James Hudnall had not been writing comics for very long before he took over Alpha Flight. He wrote for a few titles for Eclipse but his first real Marvel work was with Strikeforce: Morituri, for which he started writing only a handful of months before. Reportedly, Hudnall had been given an editorial mandate with restoring Alpha Flight to a more “classic” look. However, Hudnall did not shy away from the plot lines handed to him. Rather, his first story was a 4-issue storyline running from #67-70 named “Wrath of the Dreamqueen.” Echoing the title’s tendency toward the macabre, Hudnall had the Dreamqueen find a way into Earth’s dimension and begin a nightmarish rampage through Edmonton, Alberta, manipulating the minds of its citizens into barbaric acts of violence against each other.
During the course of the story, Hudnall used a bit a magical Deus ex Machina to solve a problem. He had the spirit of the late Snowbird change her old body, the one currently used by “Wanda” Langowski, into the form of Walter’s old body and return his Sasquatch form from white fur back to orange. While the purpose of this in-story was to thwart a plan of attack by the Dreamqueen, it had the ultimate effect of solving the Walter/Wanda conundrum. Future writers would seem to forget the subtle fact that Walter/Sasquatch was now in Snowbird’s body, so when she was later resurrected in Wolverine (2nd series) #143 no attempt was made to explain from where her new body originated.
As the threat of the Dreamqueen was mystical in nature, it allowed Hudnall to bring back both Shaman and Talisman (restoring each to their previous codenames in the process). With their help, the Dreamqueen was returned to her home dimension. However, it was in the very next issue that Hudnall introduced his own grand villain, Llan the Sorcerer. The threat of this new villain would run through the entirety of Hudnall’s run, concluding with his final issue in #86.
Along the way, Hudnall continued to reshape the team. While Mantlo had moved Heather and Madison ever closer together, even becoming engaged to be married in #61, Hudnall went to reverse this course. He reintroduced the character of Diamond Lil, a one-time member of the lower-level trainee team Gamma Flight and later a member of the nefarious Omega Flight. Her return and interest in rekindling an old relationship with Madison Jeffries drove a wedge between he and Heather, eventually splitting them up. Likewise, Diamond Lil became an accidental member of Alpha Flight when she found herself swept away with them on an adventure against Llan the Sorcerer. When the team returned, they also learned that the government had moved on in their absence and recreated Gamma Flight, naming them Canada’s premiere super-heroes. Despite their animosity, the two teams teamed-up against super-villains from the United States in #79-80 during the title’s participation in Marvel’s Acts of Vengeance crossover.
Along their adventures, Alpha Flight were also reunited with Northstar (who it turned out was not an Asgardian elf after all) and Aurora, both of whom rejoined. Even Puck was reunited with Alpha Flight, though he faced medical problems and had to be taken to a clinic for treatment. By the conclusion of the Llan the Sorcerer story in #86, which was also the last issue of his tenure as writer, Hudnall had reunited most of the still-living members of Byrne’s Alpha Flight – Vindicator, Aurora, Northstar, Shaman, Sasquatch and Box – along with original Mantlo creations of the Purple Girl (now Persuasion) and Goblyn and her sister Laura Dean.
While he would later go on to be a prolific writer, in the summer of 1990 Fabian Nicieza had only worked on a few Marvel books, the most prominent of which was the New Universe title Psi-Force. When he took over with Alpha Flight #87, Nicieza was clear that he was trying to start something fresh. The cover of the first issue held a caption of “A new direction! A new era!” During the course of these four issues, Alpha Flight once against received government sanction and funding, along with a headquarters in Toronto. Additionally, Alpha Flight’s trainee team of Beta Flight was to be restarted and the previous government-sponsored team of Gamma Flight was to be disbanded (much to the outrage of its members).
Alpha Flight’s status with the Canadian government was not Nicieza’s only major change. In a shocking twist, he had James Hudson, the original Guardian and Heather Hudson’s believed-deceased husband, return from the dead. As an explanation, Nicieza revealed that the bizarre story Omega Flight had used to explain Guardian’s return years before (basically teleportation through time, aliens and cybernetic implants) was actually true. Although returned, “Mac” was not quite his previous self and needed time to adjust to basically being human. In the meantime, Heather dropped the name of Vindicator and was rechristened Guardian. With #91, Mac would reciprocate and return to his old name of Vindicator. Along with Mac’s return, Alpha Flight took on Witchfire (who transferred from the now defunct Gamma Flight), the returned Puck and an original character of Nicieza’s named Windshear. (Circumstances reverted Puck to his dwarf-ish height, but now through genetic means rather than supernatural ones.)
Overall, Nicieza’s tenure on Alpha Flight did not last all that long, running from #87 through #101. During that time, he made attempts to integrate it more formally into the Marvel Universe, with appearances by the Fantastic Four and Avengers. For villains, along with the tried-and-true Master of the World, Alpha Flight also faced a new foe in Headlok in #93-94. From the greater MU, the team came up against such as Doctor Doom in #91 and, during the #97-100 milestone story, none other than Galactus. It was at the end of this story that Nicieza once again wrote out James Hudson, having him sacrifice his life to stop Galactus. Despite this second (third?) death of the original Guardian, future writers could not help but bring him back again and again.
In addition to external foes, Nicieza made sure to include internal conflicts. One such story was when Diamond Lil learned that she had breast cancer, an apparent death sentence for someone with impenetrable skin. Ironically, this led to bonding between her and Heather, who made closer steps to forgiving her former foe. Fortunately for her, Madison Jeffries was able to “tech-up” a machine capable of performing a biopsy, after which it was confirmed that the cyst was benign.
With this final bit of good news in #101, Fabian Nicieza left the title. Around the same time as he had begun writing for Alpha Flight, Nicieza had started the New Warriors series, which was a smash hit. This led to him scripting on New Mutants and the X-Force series that followed, for which he then began to write altogether with the departure of Rob Liefeld. With his increasing workload, Alpha Flight was the one to go.
With the departure of Fabian Nicieza, the book was given to Scott Lobdell. Like Nicieza, this was early in Lobdell’s career. He had started it in the late 1980s writing co-features for Marvel Comics Presents, an anthology series usually containing four 8-page stories. Apart from that, Lobdell had enjoyed a short run on Excalibur, writing a single issue with #31 and then a 6-issue run from #35-41.
As with Hudnall, Lobdell was given an editorial mandate to simplify the book, specifically by trimming back the cast of characters. As such, by the end of his first arc running #102-104, Madison Jeffries and Diamond Lil departed to get married, and both Windshear and Puck began more administrative roles, the former running Department H and the latter becoming a trouble-shooter. However, the team did receive two new characters, the first being the returning Aurora and the second being a new member, the mysterious Weapon Omega, who turned out to be a reformed Wild Child. While the latter’s reformation was due to a series of experimental treatments, he now seemed stable enough to be a valued member of the team. Guardian (Heather), Sasquatch, Northstar, Aurora & Weapon Omega formed the “Core Alpha” team.
Undoubtedly, the single most famous story of Lobdell’s short run on Alpha Flight was #106, published in March 1992. In this single issue, Lobdell attempted to address two issues – homosexuality and AIDS. Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, comics had tread carefully with the subject, as they had with homosexuality. In the story, the team came across an abandoned baby, whom the team later learned was HIV-positive. When the story hit the media, the infant girl gained the sympathy of the country, which in turn earned the outrage of a previously unmentioned Canadian hero named Major Mapleleaf. The Major had recently lost his own son to the AIDS epidemic but, because he was a homosexual man and not a “photogenic little orphan girl,” he had received no press conferences, fund raisers or nightly news updates. When the Major violently confronted Alpha Flight to express his fury, his words were turned around when Northstar announced that he understood all too well… as he was gay. By the end of the story, Major Mapleleaf realized that his rage was misplaced and Northstar went public with his homosexuality, realizing that he had perhaps done more harm than good by not discussing what would normally be no one else’s business.
According to a later interview with Lobdell, the story was not meant to be a big event. Rather, it was his way of explaining Northstar’s constant rudeness to other people. After all, how would anyone feel serving and protecting a populace that would not accept them for who they truly were, forcing them to hide it? Further, the single-issue nature of the story was due to it being an “inventory” story that could be used to fill-in a publication slot in case the book fell behind schedule. When editor Bobbie Chase was dropping Alpha Flight as one of her edited titles, she decided to publish her completed (and paid for) file inventory stories before she did. According to Lobdell, no one at Marvel thought the issue would prove newsworthy but, to their surprise, its publication was picked-up by major news outlets.
The timing of this actually proved unfortunate, as shortly after the issue’s publication it was announced that Lobdell would be leaving the book. This led many to believe that he had been fired for writing what had turned out to be a controversial story. However, according to Lobdell, this was due to the book being taken over by a new editor, who wanted a very different direction for the title. Indeed, the transition was a rough one. Beginning with #107, Lobdell had started a 5-issue storyline called “World Tour ’92,” which was meant to show Alpha Flight traveling the world and having adventures with heroes in other countries. The first two parts of this store were published as intended, however #108 was Lobdell’s last story. The solicited third part in #109 was written by fill-in writer Sven Larsen, who would only write one other issue, #113. Scott Lobdell would depart Alpha Flight for Uncanny X-Men for which he would write for much of the mid-1990s. Before he left, however, Lobdell would contribute one more thing to Alpha Flight – a Canadian flag-themed costume that every member the team would wear through the rest of the of the series’ run.
After Lobdell’s short run and Sven Larsen’s single issue, Simon Furman took over the book with #110. Technically, he started even before that, penning a short, 5-page back-up story in #109, which would introduce several of the concepts that would mark his tenure. Simon had written for Marvel’s Transformers series for nearly half of its run, as well as several issues of the second (and then ongoing) series of What If…?. After fully taking over the series with #110, Furman would be the last ongoing writer of the series and, with the exception of Sven Larsen’s fill-in issue of #113, would write Alpha Flight until its cancelation with #130.
Furman’s first three issues coincided with the Infinity War event and so issues #110-112 were technically crossover issues. Nonetheless, Furman kept that part of the story to a minimum and plowed on with his editorial mandate to (this time around) expand the cast. In the back-up story in #109, Furman had reintroduced some of the members of Beta Flight (Persuasion, Goblyn & Laura Dean and Witchfire). In his first three issues, he also brought back Manikin, Talisman, Box, Windshear, Shaman and Puck. Aside from the threat of the Magus, the main antagonist from Infinity War, Furman also brought back the Master of the World and his own personal Omega Flight. By the end of #112, however, Alpha Flight remained triumphant and reinstated Alpha’s junior trainee team, Beta Flight. In his second story, running #114-117, Furman introduced his own original Alphan, the mercenary Wyre, who would go on to become a member.
In his third story, running from #118-120, Furman introduced a storyline which would be echoed over a decade later with Bendis’ Civil War event. In his story called “The Clampdown,” the Canadian Parliament passed the Super-Powers Act, which would require registration from all individuals with powers. While all of Alpha Flight were united against the bill, the majority decided to remain with the team when the bill became law. They had recently come into conflict with a group of armored government agents called the Hardliners, who lived up to their name. Realizing that disbanding Alpha Flight would result in this group being given Alpha’s authority, most of the Alphans decided to remain.
In #121, Furman wrote a stand-alone story that touched on the death of former members of Gamma Flight, the siblings Auric and Silver, who had died during the “Hero Killers” crossover running through the annuals of the three Spider-Man titles and New Warriors. Most likely unhappy at their death in another title’s annual, Furman took the opportunity to alter their death to becoming something less tragic, with the siblings actually living a second life as a merged cosmic being of pure energy and departing Earth.
Just as the Infinity War crossover had impacted the title, so too did the Infinity Crusade event, which touched on #122-124. In this event, the “good” (and female) side of Adam Warlock had emerged, calling herself the Goddess. As this Goddess’ power mostly impacted those “of faith,” Furman had a unique vehicle to explore the spirituality (or lack thereof) of the Alphans and have some of them act as villains while under the thrall of the Goddess. Even after this, Furman continued to address characterization and in #127 had Shaman and Talisman finally attempt to reconcile, beginning to heal the rift first created by John Byrne between father and daughter over a decade before in Alpha Flight #5.
By this time, however, the writing was on the wall regarding the future of the Alpha Flight title – there was not one. To that end, Furman ended the series with a 3-part story running from #128-130 entitled, with no irony, “No Future.” In this story, Furman pulled out all the stops. Their main antagonist was not one villain but two – both the Master of the World and the Dreamqueen. Aiding them were the Hardliners, Furman’s Omega Flight and, no doubt because it had been nearly two years since he had last been seen, a newly resurrected James Hudson. Now completely under the thrall of the Master of the World, James Hudson took the name of Antiguard. However, the Master’s conditioning proved not strong enough and Hudson joined forces with Alpha Flight, saving the day.
Unfortunately, the teams’ triumph was short-lived. Once back at Department H, they were summoned by their government liaison, General Clarke, who announced that the prime minister had decided, once again, that Alpha Flight and its subsidiaries would no longer be sanctioned by the government. Although this did not technically mean the end of the Alpha Flight as a team, without funding it could definitely not go on as it had. Ironically, this left the team in basically the same place in which Alpha Flight had found itself in the first issues of the series, over a decade before. However, any course of action for Alpha Flight would have to be in “character limbo” until such time as they appeared in another title, or a new series was launched. For now, however, Alpha Flight was canceled.