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Alpha Flight: Following The Northstar

By Dyl Martinez

An overview of the new #0.1 preceded by a brief retrospective of the team book that brought us comics’ most famous gay character.

A kiss, a rescue & cohabitation; all in store for Northstar and his established long-term boyfriend in this first issue of a new volume of Alpha Flight. We also see a return of all the other classic Alphas barring the pocket bear Puck; but first a bit of history for those of you not so familiar with the Canadian super team or their book.

Note: Please scroll down to the New Beginnings section if you want to get right to the sections discussing Jean-Paul and Kyle.

The birth of a dream

Mystery, mysticism and lives worthy of any TV soap opera were the raison d’être for Alpha Flight of old. The first incarnation spun off from a Wolverine back-story in Uncanny X-Men #120 from 1979 and was created by the much-admired John Byrne. It lasted 130 issues from 1983 to 1994 and introduced us to a number of staple characters in the lives of a super team managed by a secretive Canadian government department “H” tasked with protecting the country from paranormal and super-powered enemies. We had the upstanding and rigid Guardian, his friendly wife and team engineer Heather who later became Vindicator, the mystical and world-weary Shaman, the shapeshifting demigoddess Snowbird, a fun-loving scientist in Sasquatch, and the flying speedster twins Northstar and Aurora. To this roster from the X-men issues Byrne added, in the first issue proper, the aquatic alien Marrina and the diminutive bearish acrobat Puck.

That first volume is the classic which most Alpha Flight fans hark back to filled with drama and ripping yarns. If you’ve never read those I do recommend them; those of you like me with a penchant for the bizarre served with a slice of boreal mysticism and whiff of S&M may get a kick out of classic villains like the Dreamqueen, run-ins with the X-Men or the various spirits and other maniacs the team face off with. It also includes Northstar’s coming out in Alpha Flight #106.

Apart from the classic team members others worth mentioning might include Madison Jeffries who if you’ve been reading the X-Men recently will know as a member of the X-Club and his ex Diamond Lil who was recently murdered by Dazzler’s sister. As I said; just like Dallas or Dynasty.

Then in 1997 came a second volume that only lasted 20 issues to 1999 and centred mostly on some new characters with only a couple from the original team; it dealt with some shenanigans in the workings of department “H” and possibly got bogged down in intrigue rather than giving the fans an equal measure of action.

Reinvention continued in volume three which only involved Sasquatch from the classic line-up. I actually enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek interpretation but even with guest appearances by all the classic Alphas it failed to get past 12 issues running from 2004 to 2005.

Death of Heroes

The ultimate insult to Alpha Flight fans came in 2006’s New Avengers #16; half of the classic team (Guardian, Vindicator, Shaman, Puck) were killed at the hands of an out-of-control mutant called The Collective. There was a huge outcry from fans which was only made worse when some Marvel writers began to refer to any senseless deaths in comics as ‘doing an Alpha Flight’.

In order to appease fans 2007 came with a 5-part miniseries entitled Omega Flight that included two former Alphas (Sasquatch and Talisman) and a handful of Americans! That short-lived team soon fell apart.

The lives of the remaining living teammates were full of more soap opera fabulousness. Marrina, wife of Namor the Submariner, was driven insane by Norman Osborn (yes, the Green Goblin) during the Dark Reign crossover and her estranged husband was forced to kill her in order to protect the X-Men. Snowbird meanwhile had a fling with Hercules (during her stint in the God Squad – yes really!), Northstar joined the X-Men (for a second time, after being brainwashed and dying) and Aurora had therapy (with a delightful appearance in Dark X-Men: The Beginning after the same brainwashing as her brother).

Then came Chaos War, a major cross-over centring on Hercules that gave Marvel the chance to visit a variety of pantheons and related constructs. Most of our deceased Alphas (Guardian, Vindicator, Shaman, Marrina) joined their living ex teammates in the Chaos War: Alpha Flight one-shot, the upshot of which meant all of them bring brought back to life as a gift from the gods.

Our remaining deceased Alpha, Puck, was last seen in 2011 in a Wolverine storyline helping his old mucker escape from hell, literally; everything points to his impending resurrection in the next few weeks.

Which brings us to the present. Alpha Flight 0.1 represents a jumping on point for new readers of the Canadian super team in the ‘point one’ tradition promoted this last year by Marvel, as well as giving long-term fans a brand new chance to enjoy their heroes in this 8-issue maxi series.

New Beginnings

The story in #0.1 begins with a loss of electricity across the whole of Quebec. We get to see our heroes respond to a summons to deal with the threat at the dam and in doing so we have a lovely series of vignettes into the every day lives of our protagonists. I don’t wish to spoil the storyline so I will avoid too many details, but Pak  & Van Lente have done their research on the characters and their personalities and reactions shine through brilliantly and are spot-on with their classic portrayals from Byrne’s era, augmented by an updated cynicism and edginess which was a joy to read. The art from Ben Oliver et al is crisp and works well with the story giving appropriate hints of nostalgia and realising an obvious affection for the characters.

Our villains of the piece are the armoured terrorist Citadel and a certain young purple lady who Alpha Flight fans will be overjoyed to see again. Interestingly, and intriguingly for the future of the story, there are hints that something is not right in the state of Canada and our felons may not be quite as felonious as it seems…

Of particular interest to this forum is the appearance of Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle.

Introducing Kyle

Kyle was first seen in Uncanny X-Men #508 when Northstar was most recently recruited into the X-Men. Wolverine visits Canada in order to recruit Jean Paul into the team. We get a cameo from Aurora who we find out is running his extreme wintersports organisation called Team Northstar. Jean Paul argues he’s not interested in being the X-Men’s gay mascot and Wolverine admits a gay teammate would be good for the X-Men’s PR, but they’re desperate for a speedster as they were recently defeated by a “twenty year-old kid on a Ducati bike”. We see some friendly teasing between Northstar, his then unnamed companion and Wolverine as they discuss the idea before Northstar acquiesces.

Kyle reappears in Nation X #2 in a story entitled “LDR” which explores Northstar’s difficulty in keeping a work/life balance; not only does he have to keep his personal life on track in the face of challenges to his new base of operations with the X-Men in San Francisco Bay, he also needs to deal with a long distance relationship as Kyle is still living back in Canada. That story was the first time we have Northstar being truly affectionate with anyone in the character’s long history rather than his usual portrayal as an arrogant prima donna. We see Kyle having a good relationship with Northstar’s sister and the culture shock of experiencing first hand the day to day lifestyle of a superhero when he takes a vacation to visit Northstar in the X-Men’s base. We have some scenes in a bedroom (as opposed to bedroom scenes) and lots of hugging. The closing shot of the pair holding hands and Northstar promising to visit Kyle in Canada rather than subjecting him to the madness of the X-Men boded well for their story to continue.

Back to the New Beginning

And thankfully continue it does in Alpha Flight #0.1 with Northstar and Kyle together in their hideaway apartment in Montreal as Northstar responds to a summons for aid. We have a sweet exchange between the pair followed by Kyle being adamant in joining his other half in the fray in order to fulfil his job as PR rep for Northstar & Aurora’s company.

Interestingly we find out that Northstar has refused to rejoin Alpha Flight due to issues with department “H” when he has a meeting with Guardian on the way to the incident; a barb at corporate largesse and a questioning of Alpha Flight’s mandate ties in well with his recent X-Men membership and their disillusionment and distrust of the world at large after mutants have been virtually exterminated.

Inevitably Kyle is embroiled in the incident and Northstar makes a comment to Guardian to take care in vanquishing their foe as Kyle would be caught up in the crossfire. While the remark was of course unnecessary as Guardian would naturally be careful with any civilians being involved, it nevertheless added a bit more realism and gave us a further clue if we needed it that Northstar’s relationship with Kyle is much more than just a fling.

Later as Alpha Flight celebrate their victory Northstar is significantly missing as the team poses for photographs. We find him at the disaster scene looking for Kyle amongst the casualties. Their reunion is wonderfully apt. As a parting note, Northstar’s throwaway line of not caring about politics and forgetting to vote in the election does not harbour a peaceful time for Canada’s superheroes in the issues to come.

I for one can’t wait for issue #1 to find out what’s going on and how this affects Northstar, how we get Puck back on board, why Marrina has become oddly xenophobic and, reading the teasers for this storyline, who the traitor is in their midst…..

Alpha Flight #0.1 is out now and Alpha Flight #1 is released on 15th June 2011.

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