ALPHA FLIGHT CLASSIC VOL. 3 (Marvel, 2012; Softcover)
Collects Alpha Flight Nos. 20-29 and Incredible Hulk No. 313 (cover dates March- December, 1985)
Writers: John Byrne and Bill Mantlo (Incredible Hulk No. 313 and Alpha Flight No. 29)
Artists: John Byrne (Penciler Nos. 20-28, Inker 20, 27, 28), Keith Williams (Inker, 20, 23, 25, 27, 28), Bob Wiaceck (Inker, 21-26), Mike Mignola (Penciler, Incredible Hulk No. 313 and Alpha Flight No. 29), and Gerry Talaoc (Inker, Incredible Hulk No. 313 and Alpha Flight No. 29)
These are some of my favorite comic books from my youth. I bought every issue off of the stands within their original publication month on the spinner racks at 7-11. John Byrne has said that he never really cared for these characters, that they were two-dimensional, and other things along those lines. While the creator may not have felt that these characters meant much, they meant the world to this 11-turning-12 year old kid in 1984-1985. Issue 20 was on the stands in December of 1984, and I picked up Issue 21 at the only Direct Market shop in town, The Book Bin, on Christmas Eve, 1984, a few weeks ahead of the newsstand release.
Issues 20 and 21 are brilliant, with Sasquatch and Aurora stumbling upon Gilded Lily in Langowski (Sasquatch)'s long abandoned family home. The cover for issue 21 was deceptive, as Diablo appeared only in the flashback portion when Gilded Lily told her origin. That scene in issue 21 with Aurora tied up while wearing a bikini made my then 11-year old self feel...funny. I liked it but wasn't exactly sure why. Let's just say that ol' Aurora became this prepubescent kid's favorite on the team back then.
Fortunately there was a lot of other interesting storylines going on that held my interest in other, less raging hormone levels. Issue 23 was another winner, with the fate of Snowbird and Sasquatch coming to a head. I remember walking up to 7-11 with my sister on a brisk, sunny March Sunday morning and buying that one. I read it three or four times that day alone. I could not believe what happened in that issue. I was devastated. That is one of the biggest drawbacks to the Internet: the joy of discovery. In these Little House on the Prairie-esque pre-Internet days, the term spoilers did not exist. In fact, barring missing an issue, nothing was ever spoiled for me back then. It is a luxury that modern day fandom can never regain, for better or for worse.
Issue 23 was the first issue featuring the then-new flexograph printing process, which used water based ink instead of the traditional oil based ink. It also employed plastic/rubber plates instead of metal ones. The results were underwhelming to me as a kid. The colors looked overly bright and garish, the blends were horrid, with blacks just sitting there, and the printing was even less consistent than the old four color printing process. I remember this being touted as a printing breakthrough on the old Bullpen Bulletins page. The paper was a brighter white and smelled different, and everything just felt cheap to me. It was bad enough that comics had recently been jacked up 5 cents in price, but now we had inferior printing processes too? It was enough to give my 11-going-on-12-years-old OCD self the blues.
|Yes, the lighting is bad in all of these pictures.|
Issue 24 was a double-sized extravaganza which found the team on a quest to recapture the soul of Sasquatch (Walter Langowski). Lots of cool battles with The Great Beasts in that issue. The return of Guardian in issue 25 made me happy, and the return of Omega Flight in issues 26 and 27 and that reveal was another jarring experience for me as a reader. I looked so forward to each and every issue, and I would devour them as soon as I got them, doing re-reading marathons every month.
It was around issue 27 when Byrne's artwork made a transition from his more polished style to a slightly looser, rawer one. This would continue until his artwork devolved into a scratchy mess in the late '90s. Fortunately he has seen a remarkable return to form over the past decade and is producing some great stuff over at IDW (Cold War, Next Men, etc.)
The pages from Secret Wars II No. 4 are included as a bonus bridging material in between issues 27 and 28. Their inclusion is necessary because they show how the Beyonder rescued Talisman from Shaman's medicine bag. While it was recapped in issue 28, it is a nice bonus and a shining example of how Marvel's Collected Editions Department is way better at what they do than DC's Collected Editions Department.
Issue 28 was also, unbeknownst to me until reading the final page, John Byrne's final issue. I was horrified. How could Byrne do this to me? How could he leave my beloved Alpha Flight? It was announced that The Incredible Hulk creative team of writer Bill Mantlo and artists Mike Mignola (pencils) and Gerry Talaoc (inker) would be swapping titles with Byrne. Byrne went to their title, and they went over to Byrne's. Also clever was how the swap occurred during a crossover. Not only was issue 28 a Secret Wars II crossover, but a Hulk one as well! So Mantlo wrapped up his years-long Crossroads saga with the Hulk coming back to Earth. I ran out and bought Incredible Hulk No. 313 to sample this new creative team. I enjoyed how they showed what was going on from the Hulk's viewpoint before he came back to our dimension. Very cleverly orchestrated, bringing three titles in sync like that while switching creative teams.
|Artwork by Mike Mignola and Gerry Talaoc.|
These days Alpha Flight and Hulk would both be given new number 1s. Back then, numbering was sacred. I miss that. Another interesting thing is how Mantlo hit the ground running on Alpha Flight. He obviously studied the entire series and came aboard full of references to past storylines and a pretty good understanding of the characters to boot. Bill Mantlo was the victim of a hit and run accident while he was on rollerblades and is living in deplorable conditions in an assisted living home. I hope that the royalties he gets from these reprints in collected editions like this help him out.
Mike Mignola was pretty much a nobody at this time. I knew of him from the Rocket Raccoon mini-series (yes, I was one of five people who actually bought it at the time). Gerry Talaoc was, unbeknownst to me at the time, a veteran DC artist. Issue 29 was completely different in tone and feel but was still really good. I stuck with the title until issue 70 or so. I really hope that this line of trade paperbacks continues, as Mignola is a big name these days with Hellboy, and later issues feature artwork by some new guy that never amounted to anything: Jim Lee.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- Alpha Flight should have been given the Marvel Masterworks treatment; deluxe hardcovers, sewn binding, the whole bit.
Linework and Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5. I did side by side comparisons with my originals, and things are as spot on as can be.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. This book uses the same beautiful dull matte finish coated stock paper that the softcover Masterworks use. I love it.
Binding rating: 4 out of 5. Glued binding.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 5 out of 5. Marvel's typical high quality lamination makes me a happy OCD camper.