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MINI-SERIES REVIEWS...

#1 - coverAlpha Flight Special

(1991 - 4 issues, Marvel Comics)

Script: Fabian Nicieza. Art by Michael Bair/Chris Ivy (and others)

The title "Alpha Flight Special" was reused a year or so later for a very good one-shot double-size issue -- but, as such, there are actually two different Alpha Flight Special #1 around!

I'm not quite sure of the impetus behind this "mini-series". It's basically a facsimile reprint of the story published in Alpha Flight #97-100 (even the original letters pages are included!) -- but there's no reference to that in the comics. Stranger still, this wasn't some re-presentation of a "classic", out-of-print story, rather, I think this was released in the same year as the original issues! So had the original issues proved such hot sellers that these were rushed out as kind of second printings? Or had maybe Marvel intended to publish an Alpha Flight mini-series and someone forgot to turn in a script so, at the last minute, they decided to just publish this reprint?

Dunno.

Anyway, the story has the Canadian super heroes, Alpha Flight, settling into their new HQ, dealing with some on-going subplots (one of the characters worries she may have breast cancer, etc.) when they come to the aid of a cosmic being -- Her (a character introduced in other Marvel comics) -- who is being pursued by an inter-galactic armada. Before you can say "continued next issue", downtown Toronto becomes a war zone. Meanwhile, in another galaxy, an alien planet is about to be devoured by the planet-eating Galactus and its inhabitants figure they need some earth superheroes to help them. Oh, and The Avengers guest star. And because this is really just a reprint of the regular comic, there are plot elements that are built on earlier issues, and an unrelated sub-plot, wherein Shaman and some others vanish, that is unresolved.

One can sort of see the intent of this story as it built up to Alpha Flight's extra-long (36 pages) 100th issue -- two planets imperiled by separate threats, an unstoppable armada, Galactus, guest stars galore, all building to a pathos tinged conclusion as an Alphan makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Unfortunately, beyond the concept, the execution is a tad...prosaic. Despite having run a good ten years in its original run, Alpha Flight has often received mixed critical reviews. The problem here is that most of the Alphans never really become people we care about -- or even whose personalities we can identify. This is particularly awkward as the story kind of hinges on a romantic triangle formed by team leader Guardian, another team mate, and Guardian's recently resurrected husband, Vindicator, building to a poignant climax. But you don't really get any sense of the relationships or emotions, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that writer Fabian Nicieza eschews thought balloons that might flesh out the characters. A few of the Alphans are given a few quips to utter, which helps, but not enough. I'd almost accuse him of having little interest in the Alphans...except The Avengers aren't really portrayed any more vividly.

And though The Avengers don't necessarily overshadow the Alphans, I do quibble when characters are being crowded in their own comic by guest stars.

And if the characters are a bit bland, the action is the same -- the armada shows up at the climax of the first issue...and the ensuing fight scene basically spreads over the next couple of issues. It's not really till the final issue that the heroes devise a strategy of any kind. Part of the point of the story is that the characters are supposed to face an overwhelming threat that tests their commitment to their ideals to defend the defenceless -- but since the heroes rarely break a sweat or anything, we don't really feel like they're being pushed to their limits.

There are some okay bits to the story. It's briskly-paced, for one thing so that, despite my criticisms, it wasn't exactly a slog to get through. The imagining of the alien planet was suitably...alien, and there's a clever concept in the notion of a race that had shaped their whole culture around defending against the seeming unlikely eventuality Galactus would choose their world upon which to feed.

Michael Bair's art is quite striking for the most part, though he does have a propensity for pulchritude, which will either be a good thing or bad, depending on your point of view. Though strangely, the final issue proclaims on the cover an assemblage of Alpha Flight artists past and future but inside, there was no credit list I could find. It does look as though more than just Bair is involved and though the artists are all competent, it loses something without his pencils -- and I'm not sure who was involved (certainly nothing looked like the work of Alpha creator John Byrne, for instance).

I had kind of been looking for this in back issue bins for a while, because I was looking for a chance to read a self-contained Alpha Flight story (which its publication as a mini-series led me to assume it would be). Well, it's not wholly self-contained, drawing upon past events, and with one sub-plot left unresolved. But, more to the point, despite being a climactic, 100th issue anniversary epic...I just found it a bit bland and uninvolving.

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