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coverOmega Flight: Alpha to Omega 2007 (SC TPB) 144 pages

Written by Michael Avon Oeming. Illustrated by Scott Kolins.
Colours: Brian Reber. Letters: Cory Petit. Editor: Andy Schmidt, John Barber.

Reprinting: Omega Flight #1-5, and the USAgent short story from Civil Wars: Choosing Sides (2006-2007)

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: Feb. 2015

Published by Marvel Comics

The fact that there have been various iterations of Marvel's Canadian super team, Alpha Flight, is less an indication of success (like the ever multiplying X-Men titles) and more because it's struggling to find that winning formula. Which brings us to the differently-named -- Omega Flight.

Actually the name Omega Flight dates back to the first incarnation of Alpha Flight, and was a team of villains who fought Alpha -- some of whom later reformed and joined the main team. It may even have had one or two other applications before coming to label what was essentially another re-boot of Alpha Flight. Once again, it's a story that maintains roots to the old team with a couple of established members -- here Talisman and Sasquatch (though the latter in a less central role) joined by characters not associated with Alpha Flight. However, they aren't new characters, but previously established heroes currently lacking a monthly home.

This was set in the immediate aftermath of Marvel's cross-title saga called Civil War in which the American government brought in laws requiring all super-beings to register with the authorities (a decision that spilt the super hero community along ideological lines). Apparently a consequence of that is various super-villains have fled north across the border into Canada. But Canada, currently without a flagship super hero team since most of Alpha Flight was killed off during a previous cross-title epic (don't worry -- they got better I think), needs super powered defenders. And since they blame the U.S. for the crisis, they turn to the U.S. for help, and are obliged by being sent some second string American heroes to fill out the new team.

So, in addition to the Canadian Talisman and Sasquatch, Omega Flight is comprised of the USAgent -- a kind of Captain America wannabe with a surly, obnoxious personality (no, I'm not being critical -- that's how the others regard him), and Arachne, another Spider-Man knock-off (she was even briefly known as Spider-Woman II), Beta Ray Bill, a goat-faced alien super-being modelled after Thor (and used to be a Thor supporting character) as well as the mutant Michael Pointer who is given Guardian/Vindicator's old super suit -- a fact that creates a lot of tension because, while under the control of another power, he was the one who killed off Alpha Flight (which, lest we forget, included Talisman's dad, Shaman).

Yeah -- so the thinking at Marvel was to reboot their Canadian super team by making it comprised mainly of American second rate versions of other heroes. You think they're trying to tell us something? We'll get back to that.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this story lies with what it wants to be. According to one thing I read, this had originally been intended as an on-going series, but then was downgraded to a finite mini-series (a similar thing happened to a later Alpha Flight revival). Now that could be seen as simply a response to unknowable editorial forces, or poor sales -- it can also be seen as an indication even the Marvel brass didn't have much faith in it once the pages started coming in. But the reason that's relevant is this storyline -- Alpha to Omega -- feels like an origin story, a getting-the-pieces-on-the-board story, the sort of story that isn't meant to be much on its own but is the necessary foundation stone for a continuing series. But it's a series that never happened.

So the basic action-adventure plot is, well, pretty basic. Second-string Marvel villains, The Wrecking Crew, blow into Canada, smashing and grabbing as they go -- but then they are influenced by a mysterious power that leads to them opening a gateway to a netherealm, unleashing a hoard of demons on downtown Toronto at the behest of Tanaraq, one of The Great Beasts (a menace from the old Alpha Flight comics). Tanaraq's goal? To destroy the world. So, um, yeah -- not a lot of motivational nuance to look for, from either The Wrecking Crew or Tanaraq, nor a lot of story threads for five issues. And I'm no expert on The Wrecking Crew -- but were they always this insanely violent and sadistic? At one point they kidnap and torture Sasquatch simply for the sake of kidnapping and torturing him (though maybe we're to infer Tanaraq's influence), even as at other times they are still just supposed to be goofy villains.

The action-adventure plot is essentially just a diversionary thrill when the real point is introducing the heroes and establishing the premise and team dynamics. Which, as I say, is problematic when nothing more was heard from this particular grouping. I'm not saying this couldn't have gelled into an interesting group, but there's not enough here to really say one way or the other. Arachne is kind of bland. USAgent is kind of obnoxious (setting up a regular character who is supposed to be comically obnoxious strikes me as kind of tedious -- though I guess it proved popular with Guy Gardner during a run of the JLA). Neither Sasquatch nor Beta Ray Bill really have enough to do, character-wise, to make an impression. Talisman is okay -- but that may just be because, as a familiar face, she has a home court advantage. Though her basic role is to grumble and say she doesn't want to be there, and to resent the new Guardian. And Michael Pointer has some mild potential as a guilt-ridden hero -- though that's basically the definition of his character here.

It isn't that it's badly written by Oeming. The dialogue's okay, and he does try to work in some character arcs (mostly involving Michael Pointer). But as I say, the characters just never really become that interesting, or establish much reason why we should care (one wonders if the line-up was his choice, or these characters were handed to him by the editor). The thin plot itself not giving them much chance to shine. It reminds me a bit of the premiere issue of the original Alpha Flight -- gathering the team, then a big climactic battle with a Great Beast. Except that issue was about 34 pages and this is over a hundred, originally serialized over five months.

Another problem I had with it is the art. And I say that as someone who has liked Scott Kolins art well enough on other projects. But he seems to be deliberately going for a rough, muddy line work (when previously, if anything, his problem was his art was too clean and sterile) without pulling it off. It just looks rough and muddy, with the actual figures and faces not especially well rendered. Blame also must go to the colourist who relies heavily on browns and other dark hues, again making it all just seem muddy and aesthetically unattractive. Maybe because the story was dealing with the supernatural and demonic hordes they wanted suitably dark visuals, but it's just not appealing.

Now let's get to the elephant in the room.

Marvel's Canadian super team peopled mainly by Americans, including the USAgent who dresses in the American flag! I mean -- really? Although there is an interesting point when someone objects to an American wearing the maple leaf-themed Guardian suit and someone else counters that Guardian doesn't have to be Canadian -- he just has to protect Canada, which could be seen as an interesting paean to immigration (after all, Canada has one of the highest immigrant populations in the world!) But still, it seems odd -- I suspect not just to Canadians, but even American (and other) readers who liked the idea of a "Canadian" super team in the Marvel Universe.

Particularly because what's the message? That Canada can't look after itself? That it needs American heroes (as I say: some even dressed in American flags) to flood over the borders to protect it? Granted, at one point Talisman grumbles about American "Manifest Destiny" but it's largely brushed aside (Oeming, an American, perhaps not realizing how seriously non-Americans take that concern about American imperialism).

Even the whole Civil War run-off of American villains pouring into Canada raises interesting issues. I sort of get the impression that (some) comics readers and pundits saw the Civil War story as, inherently, liberal -- in that the readers were supposed to see it as a bad thing (the pro-registration side being likened to Bush-era Republicans with their Homeland Security and War on Terror) and the good guys the liberal Democrats fighting for freedom and innocence-until-proven-guilty. (Though equally, right wingers could say the opposite: conservative's would defend individual freedoms, and liberals would support ceding privacy to the State). But here's the thing: didn't the pro-registration side win in Marvel lore? Didn't Iron Man -- the main proponent of registration -- emerge from the story arc with no less than two self-titled comics in which he starred? So are we really 100% sure Marvel's brass intended it as a criticism of registration and, by inference, George W. Bush?

And then we get to this story in which the worst thing that could be said about registration is that it works too well! The whole premise is that evil villains are fleeing the U.S. because of it! It's hard to imagine too many readers interpreting that as a negative. The only criticism the Canadian characters have of America is that Canada is forced to deal with American villains -- not any suggestion registration itself is wrong (indeed, they repeatedly say Canada already had registration). Given the Civil War saga was supposed to be an example of thoughtful, provocative super hero comics, that could've been extended here. Perhaps they could've explored the idea of innocent (super powered) Americans seeking sanctuary in Canada (mirroring runaway slaves and Vietnam War draft dodgers from earlier eras).

Instead, it's just used as an excuse for a lot of one note villains and big fight scenes on Canadian soil -- fair enough (though why criminals whose identities are already a part of the public record suddenly decide mandatory registration means they need to flee the U.S. escapes me).

Anyway, that political/philosophical digression aside, Omega Flight is just kind of middling to begin with, but is doubly hurt by the simple fact that it feels like an origin for a series that never happened. But is that a fault of the editors pulling the plug too soon (or the audience not sticking with it) or is that the problem with taking five issues to tell such a simple tale?

This version of the team got another try-out in a story arc collected as Weapon Omega (reviewed below) and then the next return to Alpha territory returned to the team's seminal roots with Alpha Flight: The Complete Series by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente.

This review is based on the original comics.

Cover price: $ __.

coverWeapon Omega 2008 (SC TPB) 112 pages

Written by Rich Koslowski. Illustrated by Andrea Di Vito, Marco Checchetto.
Colours: Laura Villari. Letters: Dave Sharpe.

Reprinting: The 8-page Weapon Omega chapters from Marvel Comics Presents (vol. 2) #1-12 (2007-2008)

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: Aug. 2015

Published by Marvel Comics

Marvel attempted to re-invent its "Canadian" super team (after killing most of 'em off!) with the series Omega Flight (reviewed above), which was comprised mostly of second string American heroes that have been sent up to Canada to help protect Canada from the influx of super beings fleeing the U.S. after the Super Hero Registration Act (all part of Marvel lore and, though intended to have some sort of allegorical implication, I'm not sure was ever properly pulled off!)

Anyway, that revival was downgraded to a mini-series, but clearly Marvel brass still had faith in the concept. So the team was dragged out again to be one of the features in the revival of the old anthology comic, Marvel Comics Presents. Although titled Weapon Omega (after a particular character) other members of the team are featured as well.

The title character, Weapon Omega -- a.k.a. Michael Pointer -- wears Guardian/Vindicator's old suit, and is a mutant with some ability to absorb other mutants' powers. He's guilt-ridden because he was previously possessed by an evil entity and killed hundreds (including the original Alpha Flight!) -- all as part of some previous cross-title crossover. So his time as part of this team is his attempt at redemption.

What he doesn't know is sinister forces within Department H are secretly feeding him on the power of captured and imprisoned mutants. Meanwhile teammates USAgent and Arachne are suspicious about what's going on.

Part of the problem with this story line is that it wants to go for a kind of dark, sinister, X-Files-like conspiracy vibe (which has been used before in Alpha Flight runs -- notably the 1998 series) -- but undercuts that by letting the reader in on what's going on early. Suspense works best if the reader is as much in the dark as the heroes. Admittedly we're vague on some specifics, and there is a question about which character is ultimately pulling the strings. But in general, there's nothing we're really waiting to learn.

And the other problem is that writer Koslowski is so focused on the telling of the story, the scenes, the machinations, he forgets to really give us any central protagonist. Michael's more a victim than a protagonist. The USAgent is more proactive, but even his prominence waxes and wanes throughout. My point isn't even about whether we have a "hero" -- but simply interesting characters, period. The characters in charge at Department H are more plot-devices than people.

I think this was Koslowski's first Marvel -- and possibly mainstream super hero -- scripts and in some ways this comes across as fledgling work by a newer talent. I understand what I think he's going for, but he fails to anchor it with a character, or to really set up an intriguing mystery (one which would justify coming back month after month when it was originally serialized). He does have a nice ear for dialogue and unselfconsciously conveying "voice" and personalities -- though even then he's prone to some rather dense verbiage, with big word balloons crammed with a lot of dialogue. Again, I put some of this down to a new talent, rather than a lack of talent.

The art is solid enough, switching half way through between Di Vito and Checchetto. Their styles are similar enough that the switch isn't jarring, and though neither are especially splashy, they deliver straightforward, relatively realist figures. Checchetto has a slightly grittier, more atmospheric style.

I had mentioned in my review of Omega Flight that (from my perspective as a Canadian) it was a bit curious that Marvel would kill off the Canadian Alpha, then replace it with a team comprised mostly of American characters. This takes that even further, because of the two remaining Canadians in Omega Flight -- Sasquatch has only a small part while Talisman is nowhere around! One could also quibble about the overall sinister tone Marvel has given to Department H (and therefore Canada) over the years.

Anyway, for fans of the earlier Omega Flight: Alpha to Omega, this is at least a chance to visit with some semblance of the team once more (I'm pretty sure it's pretty much been dropped since, with Alpha Flight subsequently reconstituted). But it's not really that strong a tale on its own, nor does it do much to highlight any latent potential in the this team.

This review is based on the original comics.

Cover price: $ __.

coverX-Men / Alpha Flight 2011 (HC) 280 pages

Written by Chris Claremont, with Ben Raab, John Cassaday. Pencils by John Byrne, Paul Smith, John Cassaday. Inks by Terry Austin, Bob Wiacek, others.
Colours/letters: various.

Reprinting: Uncanny X-Men #109, 120-121, 139-140 (1979-1982), X-Men/Alpha Flight #1-2 (1986), X-Men/Alpha Flight #1-2 (1998)

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Marvel Comics

Alpha Flight, Marvel Comics resident Canadian super team, has enjoyed modest success over the years. Their original self-titled series running an impressive 130 issues -- even as it perhaps rarely made any critic's "must buy" list. They've been revived periodically, usually undergoing major changes in personnel and even tone, and continue to pop up in the Marvel U.

All this for a team who, as some observed, were initially created to just go a couple of rounds with the X-Men for a story. Because of that, the team's association with the X-Men remains strong -- leading to this collection that brings together most of the significant X-Men/Alpha Flight stories (at least published by the time of this collection's release -- a later story was collected as Amazing X-Men: World War Wendigo).

So the collection starts at the beginning, with Uncanny X-Men #109, and the introduction of Weapon Alpha -- who will later be known as Vindicator or, um, Guardian or, um, Vindicator again. Then it moves to a couple of later guest appearances (one as adversaries, one as allies) then two separate, stand alone mini-series officially titled as X-Men/Alpha Flight.

As a collection -- it's a pretty decent run. The art throughout is of good quality, with John Byrne (and inker Terry Austin) handling all the X-Men issues with, I would argue, Byrne in his peak period (particularly with Austin as inker). Especially X-Men #139-140 -- ironic since this was just about at the end of his X-Men run and so you'd expect, if anything, for it to be him winding down. Admittedly it's always debateable to define an artist's "best" years when the artist has a long career and his style, inevitably, evolves.

The other two artists on display are both well-regarded in their own right -- and with some interesting associations with the X-Men. Paul Smith, drawing the first mini-series, had actually been the regular X-Men artist for a few years, so here he's actually returning to the characters (in his case, delivering even better art here than in the monthly) while John Cassady, drawing the second mini-series, at that point, I think, had no connection with either team -- but would later become a significant X-Men artist when he teamed with writer Joss Whedon for their critically acclaimed Astonishing X-Men run. Though in his case I would argue Cassaday's best work still lies ahead of him (though it's still perfectly nice art).

Claremont writes all the stories save the second mini-series, which is written by Cassaday and co-scriper Ben Raab.

The first two stories, plus the 1998 mini-series, are fairly simple, straight forward super hero fight stories -- though enjoyable enough on that level. The 120-121 story starts out exceptionally moody, nicely building a sense of danger and paranoia as a mysterious blizzard forces the X-Men to land in Canada, with Alpha Flight depicted enigmatically in shadow. (Okay, confession time: it was literally I think only the second X-Men comic I ever bought!) Unfortunately the second half (as is so often the case) never really lives up to the promise, being more just a standard "two team's fight" story, but still agreeable. While the 1998 mini-series (which I review in more detail here) likewise stars out better than it resolves and is a bit bland, never becoming more than a generic, thinly plotted action story -- if a deliberately nostalgic romp (as it's a retro tale set back in stories from the early 1980s).

The strongest tales are the atmospheric story from 139-140 -- which doesn't even focus on the full teams but involve Wolverine and Nightcrawler teaming with Vindicator, Shaman and Snowbird to hunt the cannibalistic Wendigo in the woods of Canada (and tying back into Wolverine's very first appearance in the Incredible Hulk) -- and the first mini-series, which was clearly meant to be a "special" epic as it was serialized over two 48 page issues (no ads). It has been reprinted a number of times -- both by itself, then included in X-Men: The Asgard Wars. In it the two teams unite in the far north and are faced with a mystery and an ethical dilemma as they discover a mystical power that has the potential to end all want and suffering on earth -- for a price (I review it more thoroughly in my X-Men section). One could make the argument that, in writing and art, it stands as one of Alpha Flight's all-time best adventures (probably THE best).

One of the intriguing things about such a collection is to watch as the characters and ideas evolve.

In #109, although it features a solo James Hudson, Weapon Alpha, he already makes a cryptic reference to "Alpha Flight" -- though the team wouldn't appear for another year. And Hudson's basically a bad guy -- sent by the Canadian government to retrieve the wayward Canadian ex-secret agent, Wolverine. Hudson is cocky and belligerent (though the story ends with Wolverine suggesting they used to be friends) and there's no indication in the dialogue that Hudson designed the super suit he wears.

By #120 we're seeing a slightly different James Hudson (now called Vindicator) -- more thoughtful, self-doubting, less adversarial to Wolverine. And he's clearly more than just the guy wearing the suit, because he remarks how he had intended Wolverine to be team leader (indicating Hudson is high up the command chain). The rest of Alpha Flight aren't especially fleshed out in terms of their personalities or backgrounds. Though, again, an interesting bit of foreshadowing: Hudson makes a passing reference to his wife, Heather -- though she won't actually be depicted until X-Men #139!

With a couple of memorable tales, and no particularly bad tales, and good art throughout, this collection of vintage X-Men/Alpha Flight stories is an appealing collection for fans of either team.

Cover price: $ __ USA.

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