Not so very long ago, I did a detailed rundown of a little book called Alpha Flight, a book I followed as a younger man for quite some time. I suppose it was partly because the idea of Canadian superheroes--it was different and somewhat interesting. Hindsight has taught me that it had more to do with me being a brutally stupid child.
Not to plough over old ground here, but most of my growing disenchantment with the team could probably be laid at the feet of one Bill Mantlo, a man who, at the summit of his powers wrote utterly apeshit comics about motorcyclists, one of whom was named "Honcho." You are free to draw your own conclusions from there.
His tenure on Alpha Flight is a nadir of another, kind, beginning badly, flatering early on, crashing in the middle and finally ending in the kind of gut-wrenching disaster usually only seen when Zepplins crash.
Today we examine the point of impact. Alpha Flight #53
I admit I modified the cover a bit to editorialise.
Were it not for the fact that all comics in the mid-1980s looked like utter shit (Flexographic printing had just been introduced and we spent the tail end of the 80's seeing and often feeling it's growing pains, hence the wretched quality of my scans here--all comics looked like that, even when brand new) you could say even the very ink on the pages revolted against what they were depicting. But you can't, so fuck that noise. Let's look at our cast of characters:
BILL MANTLO: Trapped writing a comic he didn't want to write and shuffled off the one he wanted, he'd by now hit upon the idea of systematically killing every single cast member in the book, perhaps in the vain hope that the book will be canceled from underneath him or he'll be replaced and he can go back to writing stuff he gave a shit about.
By the time of this issue, nearly everyone's been killed or shuffled off 3 issues ago, so guess how successful that was.
VINDICATOR: The leader of Canada's fighting-mad superheroes, Heather Hudson was the jailbait girlfriend of the original Vindicator and kinda stora blew him up. Spends an inordinate amount of time macking on Box right in front of everyone, which is probably bad for morale, but given the clumsiness of their technique, more fucking creepy than anything:
"Give good training." "Private workout." I get the feeling she means something else, but I'll be damned if I can work out what.
BEDLAM (The Brain-Blast): Canada, being hard-up for superheroes, decided, "Hey, we'll experiment on a multiple murderer and give him psychic powers that let him do pretty much whatever the plot requires. What's the worst that could happen?" Has some kind of dumbshit master plan to breed a master race out of the survivors of a donnybrook between Alpha Flight and the Derangers which is never made clear, possibly because it's total bollocks. Curiously dresses in gold armour and a blue cape and frankly adorable little blue booties.
JIM LEE: Somehow goes on to have a real career after this and now has more money than God. Nevertheless--seriously, Jim--Gold armour with blue booties? Were you late for lunch that day or something?
BOX: He's a robot named after cardboard, and in a confession more shameful than any I've said before, he used to be my favourite character. Started out brutally homely, became handsome because he's supposed to be sweet on Vindicator, and Jim Lee couldn't draw an ugly person if he woke up in bed with one.
SASQUATCH: Walter Langkowski was once a dude. And orange. Now he's a white furry part-time and a woman (a reanimated dead one!) the rest of the time who dresses very "flashdance-y" at least three years after that was in any way shape or form a good idea. This is actually a plot point in this issue. I hope anyone who ever rubbed one out to him/her is dead now, and in hell.
Also, comics can just go right to hell.
MANIKIN and the PURPLE GIRL (who is, in fact, purple): Just as generic as they sound. Really there to fill out the "minimum occupancy" rule every time Alpha Flight rides an elevator, Manikin can split into 4 people at various levels of evolution, and the Purple Girl (who is purple) can control minds, although it never seems to come in handy whenever it would solve the plot in 2 pages.
WOLVERINE: It was a common practice in the 80s to stick Wolverine into random issues of a book to fool people into buying it. Today, Marvel has Wolverine in 5-13 books every single week. Thank God since the time this book was published comics as a medium have progressed past that kind of cynical manipulative pandering.
THE DERANGERS: To call Freakout, Janus, Goblyn, and Breakdown ciphers is an insult to actual ciphers, numerical or otherwise. At one time slated to carry a book of their own, the Derangers were a team of mental patients, respectively a drug addict, schizo artist, an autistic and a battered wife, who, in their one appearance, are treated with the kind of compassion and respect you would imagine they'd get in a book like Alpha Flight:
That's right--they get brutally murdered in three pages. Except for Goblyn. As none of them have been given any characterisation in the classic sense, the weight of their sacrifice means about as much as a bean fart in an opium den.
Goblyn sticks around and becomes something of a walking plot point for the next year and change, but I don't care since I gave up the book soon after this and I NEVER FUCKING CARED ABOUT STUPID-ASS GOBLYN ANYWAY.
Oh yeah, I should add that the Derangers are in no way to be confused with Wildrider, Dead End, Motormaster, Drag Strip, and Breakdown, that team of mental patients known as the Stunticons who distinguish themselves by a) not dying 5 pages after being introduced and b) being able to combine into the giant robot known as Menasor, which is a kind of awesome that Alpha Flight will never know.
You may have noticed I'm doing an awful lot of stalling about the plot. Probably because there really isn't much of one and what there is is really dumb. Basically, Wolverine shows up at the remains of Alpha's Tamarind Island HQ and finds Box well into the throes of a nervous breakdown. Now, maybe it's because Bedlam decided, not understand the concept of a doorknob, to announce his terrifying blue-bootied presence by blowing a great hole in the place, but probably more because of this:
"Wish I was doing it with you, Vindicator, instead of to you." The erotic subtext is spellbinding. Box is smoove.
The sad thing is, it works, or it would have, had Bedlam not cock-blocked our cardboard robot by attacking and kidnapping everyone by Box who turns himself into a Walkman or something and gibbers like a jackass until Wolverine finds him. Wolverine spends most of this issue, it must be said, looking very embarassed to be in this comic, as well he should.
Bedlam, as it turns out has spirited them to a cozy little pad in the Arctic Circle he made, like, just yesterday, and whilst he's got both teams trussed up like something out of the Overfiend movies, we get the following quick recap of Alpha's and the Derangers' origins, represented here because this is how people wasted an entire fucking page back in the day:
The senses-numbing origins of BOTH teams in confusing postage-stamp-o-vision!
Then Bedlam lays out his plan--The Derangers and Alpha Flight battle it out to the death and whoever's left standing gets to breed Bedlam's "Master Race." Because right after you've committed brutal murder in the course of trail by combat, well of course its "hey everybody--we're all gonna get laid!"
Exactly how one intends to create the Ubermensch combining middle-of-the-road Canadian superheroes with superpowered mental patients is never made clear, and if that means too sane to comprehend insanity, well it's news to me.
So they fight, and since one has not been given much of a reason to give a shit about the stakes in the conflict, it's pretty pointless, full of overdone violence (and blood flying everywhere that thanks to the Flexo printing looks like Tahitian Treat) and people beating on people and it's not even in a steel cage. Vindicator flies around and helpfully expands on the Derangers origins (rather than, y'know, helping or anything) until the following extraordinarily disturbing moment occurs:
Bear in mind, last week I ran an image of a naked woman standing on Satan's nipple. You tell me which one's more wrong.
What he/she says is bad enough, but what's up with that "Make yourself my man" stuff?
This endears us very little to Bedlam as everyone all of a sudden beats on him, but with his uber-stupid mind powers he holds all of them off for most of the rest of the issue, until Vindicator automates her suit (sorta--again, clairty is not our friend) and mercifully ends out pain:
Nice that Bedlam, despite his super-brain, totally failed to see her hand glowing in the previous panel, and totally dismissed that she was pointing it right at his face. And he was going to lead the master race, too, remember? What an ass.
Anyways, after the Derangers have been cut to pieces and Bedlam's been decapitated with extreme prejudice, it's time for a happy ending. Standing amongst the corpses, they decide they'll chill at Bedlam's pad and get all chummy. Y'know, despite the dead bodies. Wolverine says Vindicator's a "good leader-lady," which is is totally off my bullshit scale.
OK, so the good guys won (by writer fiat more than anything) and the bad guys went down (because absurd ultraviolence=kewl) everything's wrapped up neatly, right? But what about Box? Did he ever tap Vindicator's Maple Leaf?
Magic 8-ball says: "Signs point to yes." Because it's not a happy ending unless someone gets laid at the end.
Surely Caddyshack has taught us that for generations, now.