Tuesday, May 24, 2016

'X-Men: Alpha Flight' trade paperback review

Thanks for reading Cary's Comics Craze. As you may know, I'm in the middle of an "X Marks the Spot" series which features reviews and features about the X-Men.

But did you know Logan/Wolverine isn't the only Canadian superhero — in this case, superheroes — to be featured in classic X-MEN comics? In fact, Marvel Comics gave the Alpha Flight team — which premiered in April 1979 in X-MEN No. 120 — its first ongoing series in 1983, five years before Wolverine got his own.

Artist-writer John Byrne redid Dave Cockrum's cover for UNCANNY X-MEN
No. 109 for his own telling of the same story in his ALPHA FLIGHT series.
Without further ado, here's a review I wrote on the original CCC website about the hardcover version of the X-MEN: ALPHA FLIGHT trade, covering the multiple times the two superhero teams have crossed paths — which got ugly at times …

June 5, 2014 — Just like The Beatles’ contribution to pop music and of course, what Stan “The Man” Lee has done for the comic-book industry, you can’t say enough about writer Chris Claremont’s contributions to the X-Men mythos.

While he didn’t create the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight (that credit goes to classic Claremont collaborator John Byrne), Claremont has written several of the most well-known Alpha Flight stories from their appearances in UNCANNY X-MEN.

I love when Marvel Comics releases theme-based trades. Here I’ve offered my thoughts on a collection of Alpha Flight/X-Men stories (which I bought when I went a little crazy buying a whole mess of hardback trade paperbacks a while ago):

UNCANNY X-MEN Nos. 109, 120, 121, 139 and 140: Honestly, these issues are as much about Wolverine and James Hudson (aka Weapon Alpha, then Vindicator and finally, Guardian) as they are about the X-Men and Alpha Flight, who spend most of these stories at each other’s throats.

Here’s where we learn more about Wolverine’s time before being an X-Man and that his time with Hudson and the Canadian government ended on bad terms. Claremont also reveals more of Logan’s caring and dedicated side — aspects of the character I haven’t seen under any other writer.

Hudson comes off as a laser-focused hothead in his first two appearances, only to find out later it’s likely bravado he uses to mask his own insecurities about doing a job he doesn’t want — being a superhero.

By issue 139, Byrne has given Wolverine a new costume (and Claremont’s dialogue from Logan alludes to the fact it’s his way of mourning the death of Jean Grey).

Also, Storm gives Kitty Pryde the field name of Sprite — after we see Pryde, in one of her first issues as an X-Man, quickly turns down Professor Charles Xavier’s suggestion of “Ariel.”  We see what a great team Logan and Nightcrawler are.

More importantly, Claremont delves deeper into Wolverine’s past — and what makes him tick — through a free-for-all rematch with Wendigo, whom he first fought (with the Hulk) during his first appearance.

Over the course of just six pages, Claremont shows why he’s the best writer to truly get Wolverine’s personality. Logan saves a mother and her infant child from Wendigo, spares her feelings as they flee since her older son is “in catatonic shock,” violently takes on Wendigo again and most impressively, talks Snowbird out of her rage-induced wolverine incarnation.

In short, Claremont’s Wolverine is as complex, intriguing and likable as any version I’ve read or seen (and that counts actor Hugh Jackman’s iconic performances!).

These are masterful, must-read issues. Grade: A 

X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT limited series Nos. 1-2 (1998): Advertised as “a blast from the past,” Hudson is dealing with the fall-out of Department H refusing to fund Alpha Flight while Scott Summers, ever the brooder, tries to move on after Grey’s death. Also, we learn Baron Strucker is using Hudson’s technology to commandeer robots that interrupt Colossus and Pryde’s first date.

These issues are mostly all-out action and co-writer/artist John Cassady is up to the task. The most fun is when Vindicator leads his team to rescue the X-Men — and an all-out brawl with Hydra agents ensues.

Strucker’s motives seem more than a bit Machiavellian, but Cassady makes his story pay off when Logan and Hudson part on heartfelt terms. Story: B-; Art B+ 

X-MEN & ALPHA FLIGHT limited series Nos. 1-2 (1985): The great news is Claremont is the writer and is reteamed with his UNCANNY X-MEN creative team: Artist Paul Smith, inker Bob Wiacek and letterer Tom Orzechowski.

That means this limited series isn’t just visually stunning; the pages look like they stepped right out of UNCANNY X-MEN.

Loki has created a supposed heaven-on-earth situation by giving super-powers to everyone. But let’s face it — this limited series is simply an excuse for Claremont to create more super-powered characters for Marvel.

Historically, it’s significant because Summers/Cyclops is meeting his daughter from an alternative future, Rachel — who was conceived by Summers and Jean Grey.

By this time, Summers is married to Madelyne Pryor, the woman he dated after Grey’s death. Can anybody say “awww-kward“?!? Story: C+; Art: B 

MARVEL AGE No. 32: This three-page “Mutant Report” is a preview of the aforementioned limited series.

Ken Hart deftly explains why it didn’t come out in the spring of 1985, as it was intended, and where Claremont’s story fits in chronologically within the Alpha Flight and X-Men canon.

Sadly, this well-written piece is more intriguing than the limited series, but luckily it’s at the end of this trade, so you’re left with a good taste in your mouth.

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