Alpha Flight


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Alpha Flight

(pop culture)

"One side, super heroes … This is a job only we can handle!” So says the team of Canadian heroes on the front cover of Alpha Flight #1 (August 1983). A spin-off from the ultra-popular X-Men series, where the characters had first appeared, the members of Alpha Flight were the creation of writer/artist John Byrne. They were also the first non-American superteam to garner their own title at Marvel Comics.

The first member of Alpha Flight to appear was Weapon Alpha in X-Men #109 (February 1978). In that story, a man named James MacDonald Hudson, garbed in a costume based on the Canadian flag, attempts to retrieve Wolverine (whom he calls “Weapon X”) and return him to Canada. Defeated, Hudson returns in X-Men #120-#121 (April-May 1979) with a team of heroes called Alpha Flight, and they face off against the X-Men. This time, Hudson calls himself “Vindicator,” and he is accompanied by Sasquatch, Snowbird, Aurora, Northstar, and Shaman. The X-Men learn that, prior to joining them, Wolverine had been involved with Alpha Flight in Canada. The mutant heroes would later meet their Canadian counterparts again to stop the mystical beast Wendigo in X-Men #139-#140 (November–December 1980).

It would be another few years until the full story of Alpha Flight began to unspool in their own series. There, it was revealed that Hudson was a brilliant engineer who had developed a superpowered, armored suit and helmet that allowed him to channel Earth’s magnetic field to fly and project force fields and concussive blasts. Stealing the suit from his employers, who wanted to use the suit for evil, Hudson sought refuge with the Canadian government. The Canadian Ministry of Defense soon put Hudson in charge of Department H, a top-secret project. Inspired by the formation of the Fantastic Four, Hudson began to assemble superpowered individuals to protect the Great White North. After his first recruit—Wolverine—left Canada, Hudson decided to lead the team as Vindicator, though he later chose the name Guardian.

Hudson’s wife, Heather McNeil Hudson, had been his research assistant prior to their marriage, and she assisted him with Alpha Flight duties. When Hudson was apparently killed, she took on the battle-suit and powers of Guardian, renaming herself Vindicator. She remained the team leader on-and-off throughout its many adventures, until the resurrection of James Hudson.

Northstar and Aurora were orphaned twin brother and sister Jean-Paul and Jeanne-Marie Beaubier. Raised separately, they were unaware of the fact that they were superpowered mutants until they were teenagers. Jeanne-Marie had a difficult childhood and developed a split personality, with one side of her very uninhibited and the other side deeply religious. Jean-Paul had fared better, becoming an Olympic skiing champion (perhaps through the use of his mutant powers), but he too held a secret: He was homosexual. The Beaubiers were reunited by Hudson as members of Alpha Flight, where they discovered that their similar powers—flight and superspeed—were accented when they touched hands, allowing them to create brilliant bursts of light.

Sasquatch was Walter Langkowski, an exfootball player who became a doctor specializing in gamma radiation transformations, such as that experienced by Bruce Banner which turned him into the Hulk. Bombarding himself with radiation from his own experiments, Langkowski became able to transform himself at will to a ten-feet-tall, orange-furred creature who had super strength and stamina.

Snowbird was Narya, a demigod born to the Eskimo goddess Nelvanna. Raised on Earth by Shaman, Narya had the ability to transform into any white-colored animal from the arctic north of Canada. Narya eventually assumed the identity of Anne McKenzie, who worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a records officer. Shaman was Michael Twoyoungmen, a Native American who had rejected the magical ways of his lineage to become a medical doctor. After the death of his wife and grandfather—and an estrangement from his daughter—Twoyoungmen began to study the mystical arts of the Saracee (neé Sarcee) Indian tribe. He eventually became a powerful magician.

Hudson’s Department H did not only support Alpha Flight, but subsidiary groups as well; training in the lower ranks were other newer heroes as part of Beta Flight, and completely new recruits as Gamma Flight. Two Beta members graduated to Alpha Flight in the first issue of the comic. Puck was Eugene Milton Judd, a gymnastic strongman and ex-soldier-of-fortune who had been cursed with both long life and the shrinking of his body to dwarf-size. Marrina was Marrina Smallwood, a yellow-skinned, amphibious girl who could breathe underwater and swim at great speeds.

Over the years, the Alpha Flight team—headquartered in British Columbia—went through an astonishing amount of permutations. Beta and Gamma members joined, including the robotic Box, Shaman’s magical daughter Talisman, insane mutant Wild Child/Wildheart, hard-skinned Diamond Lil, armored blaster Windshear, mind-controllers Purple Girl and Murmur, brothers Radius and Flex who could control force fields and metals, and many others. Characters were killed (Guardian, Marrina, Snowbird, Sasquatch, Box), were resurrected (Guardian, Marrina, Snowbird, Sasquatch), went insane and were cured (Aurora, Wild Child), lost their children (Snowbird), experienced debilitating sicknesses (Northstar, Diamond Lil), were cloned (Guardian), and even changed sexes (Sasquatch)! Additionally, the Canadian government disbanded and reinstated Alpha Flight several times, and Department H itself became corrupted. Villains they fought included the Master of the World, Omega Flight, Wendigo, Ranaq the Great Devourer, the Dream Queen, Gilded Lily, and others.

As a comic book series, Alpha Flight was at its best under creator Byrne, but he left the series with issue #28 (November 1985), telling readers in a text piece, “I’ve finally told all the Alpha Flight stories I have to tell.” A succession of writers and artists have guided the book through the years, with the most famous being newcomer Jim Lee, who made his Marvel art debut on Alpha Flight #51 (November 1987). Alpha Flight was canceled in March 1994 with issue #130, but it was revived again for a second series in August 1997, by writer Steve Seagle. This incarnation didn’t last quite as long, and was canceled with issue #20 (March 1999), a victim of Marvel’s bankruptcy cutbacks as much as the book’s own depressed sales.

Although the series is best remembered for featuring Marvel’s first gay superhero, Northstar, and for being Canadian, Alpha Flight has continued to appear in today’s Marvel universe. A trio of two-pack Alpha Flight action figures were released in 1999 by Toy Biz, and the characters made their first animated appearance in a second-season episode of Fox’s animated X-Men series in November 1993. In 2002, Northstar joined the cast of Uncanny X-Men with issue #414 (December 2002), while Aurora and Wild Child became cast members of Weapon X with issue #1 (November 2002). Given Alpha Flight’s popularity among fans, it was no surprise when the announcement came that Canada’s premiere superhero team would once again push aside other heroes to regain its own ongoing series in 2004.This series ended after twelve issues, but Alpha Flight returned in the 2007 miniseries Omega Flight, in the one-shot Chaos War: Alpha Flight #1 (2011), and in a new 2011 Alpha Flight limited series. —AM