Make mine Byrne
What you probably don’t know about the Forest City is how it’s the hometown of the leader of the Marvel comics superhero team Alpha Flight.
That’s right, James (Vindicator) Hudson hails from London, Ontario.
This bit of trivia is on my mind because last October the company re-released the Alpha Flight comics by John Bryne Omnibus, which collects the team’s early exploits in its own title and others from the 1970s and 1980s.
I’m almost 600 pages into the hefty tome, which clocks in at 1,248 pages long. Being a fan of Byrne, the sometime Canadian artist/writer, obviously I love the thing.
I began following his work earlier in the Me Decade when he penciled titles like Doomsday+1 and Space: 1999.
What can I say? Something about his precise, elongated lines spoke to my younger self. I was part of the generation whose puppy love for superheroes grew into something deeper when Byrne was assigned to such Marvel titles as Iron Fist, Team-Up and, of course, the Uncanny X-Men.
We were Wolverine fans before the Canadian X-Man became an unkillable killing machine. And we were thrilled when Wolvie’s former allies, Alpha Flight, got their own series.
What we didn’t know was Byrne did not have a fun time doing the first 29 issues of Alpha Flight, which appear in this collection along with their appearances in mags like the Incredible Hulk, Machine Man and Two-in-One.
For a while there, the Alphas – Sasquatch in particular – were perpetual Marvel guest stars.
As he has stated in interviews in the years since, Bryne was frustrated with the limits of Canada’s own super-team. All Alpha Flight had been created to do, he famously noted, was to survive a fight with the X-Men. They were flimsy, two-dimensional.
Some fans have pointed to how Bryne would kill off major characters as evidence he had soured on the character. Which didn’t stop the title from selling.
Indeed, his first royalty check for Alpha Flight, at a time when royalties were not standard practice at Marvel, was reportedly the biggest Marvel had issued to that point.
What jumps out at me in the omnibus edition?
*Wolverine had his roots as a mortal character. In one X-Men story collected here, he even gets winded from running a lot. That destructible version of the character is long gone.
*Byrne has spoken of how he always wrote Northstar true to his sexuality, even before Marvel was ready to reveal him as the company’s first queer superhero. It checks out. From the vantage point of being an adult reader, it’s clear Northstar is gay.
*Vindicator, who changed his name to Guardian, was just getting interesting before he died in action.
*I love Byrne’s depiction of Canada as home to ancient evils. He handled both pencils and inks on Alpha Flight, which means each panel lacks the background detail of when Terry Austin was inking his work in X-Men.
*The issues here have a good balance of magic-driven storylines, street-level adventures and out-and-out superheroics. A favourite Byrne villain, the Super Skrull, even makes an appearance.
*Each issue raises as many questions as it answers. Byrne was doing a superb job, given the constraints of monthly comics, of adding layers to each character. Keep in mind he was in the middle of a long run on Fantastic Four at the same time he launched Alpha Flight.
All in all, the Alpha Flight by John Byrne Omnibus is a worthwhile trip down Memory Lane for any comic fan who grew up Marvel.
Dan Brown has covered pop culture for more than 31 years as a journalist and also moderates L.A. Mood’s monthly graphic-novel group.