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X-Men/Alpha Flight #1 - cover John CassadayX-Men/Alpha Flight (II)

(1998 - two issues, published by Marvel Comics)

Writers: Ben Raab, John Cassaday. Art: John Cassaday.

Billed as a "blast from the past", this tells a story of a meeting between the Uncanny X-Men and the Canadian superteam Alpha Flight, set amidst stories published during the early '80s. The X-Men line-up includes Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler and, of course, Professor X, and Alpha Flight was made up of the founding team of Guardian (formerly Vindicator), Shaman, Aurora, Northstar, Snowbird and Sasquatch, as well as Puck. For older readers it promised to be a lot of fun, particularly as regards the Alphans since there were only a handful of stories written about them before Guardian/Vindicator's untimely demise (he's only recently been resurrected), and most of those stories didn't feature the full team.

The story has agents in the Canadian government (apparently with the best of intentions - ? -) selling the designs for Guardian's supersuit to the neo-Nazi group, Hydra, and their leader, Baron Strucker (who apparently has had run-ins with Professor X). Using the suits, Hydra capture the X-Men, and it's Alpha Flight to the rescue.

The first issue was great, nicely setting up the story, building tension, and exploring the characters of the various X-Men and Guardian (the rest of Alpha Flight hardly appear in #1) as they were at that time. An early scene of Cyclops at the grave of Jean Grey (not yet resurrected) is touchingly effective and there are other bits evoking that time in the X-Men's lives. The suspense/action stuff is also effectively handled. From the opening scene, pulling back to show a room full of supersuit prototypes, to an ominous legion of flying silhouettes over New York, artist Cassaday shows a nice eye for composition (though his people are a little stiff at times).

All of which made the conclusion disappointing. Instead of following through on the character stuff and building on the plot, #2 is basically just a lot of fisticuffs as Alpha Flight attacks the Hydra stronghold and, together with the X-Men, trounce the bad guys. There isn't even anything clever in the fighting. After all, since the suits were designed by Guardian, one might expect he could exploit their weaknesses; but no such "plan" seems to exist. Even questions like why Hydra kidnapped the X-Men to begin with are never satisfactorily answered. Characterization is also weaker, a problem of the Alphans at the time, but also of the writers' understanding of them.

This certainly isn't bad, but it is a let down after the promise of the first issue. The problem is that Raab and Cassaday haven't come up with a "special" story, the way that "The Gift" (the previous 1986 X-Men/Alpha Flight mini-series) was so obviously intended as a big, profound, opus. With two issues, no ads, and totalling 64 pages, this could've been more than this pleasant romp down memory lane.

In a way, unintentionally, this mini-series echoes the very first meeting of the two teams in X-Men #120-121 (and reprinted in Classic X-Men #26-27 and Essential X-Men vol. 2). In that story, the first issue is moody and suspenseful, building the story while nicely detailing the characters, and then the next issue falls apart in a largely plotless, characterless, simple- minded, 17 page fight scene.

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