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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

X-amining X-Men #120

"Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!"
April 1979

In a Nutshell
The first appearance of Alpha Flight

Author/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzhechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Roger Stern
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
The Prime Minister of Canada and Vindicator (nee Weapon Alpha) watch footage of the X-Men battling the Mandroids in Japan. The Prime Minister insists that Vindicator capture Wolverine, and Vindicator calls on his teammates in Alpha Flight to help him. In Japan, the X-Men say goodbye to Sunfire and board a private plan with Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. On their way back to New York the plane encounters a storm that seems to have an intelligence behind it, guiding them to Canada, where they're forced to land. On the runway, they are confronted by Vindicator, who demands Wolverine's surrender. Thankfully, Alpha Flight strongman Sasquatch's over-eagerness destroys the plane, giving the X-Men an avenue of escape under a cover provided by Storm.


The X-Men split up, agreeing to rendezvous later at the Calgary Tower. Nightcrawler teleports into the city, but is hit with a blinding flash and knocked unconscious by Alpha Flight members Northstar and Aurora. Meanwhile, Banshee, Storm and Colleen stop at the mall to help disguise Storm. Vindicator tracks them there, and Banshee instinctively tries to use his power, but his injured throat causes him to collapse in pain. Storm fights off Vindicator, and she, Banshee and Colleen meet up with Cyclops, Colossus and Misty. As Wolverine makes his way through the city, he is attacked and taken captive by Sasquatch. With Nightcrawler and Wolverine presumed captured, Cyclops vows that though the X-Men didn't start this fight, they intend to finish it!     

Firsts and Other Notables
The Canadian super team Alpha Flight makes it first appearance, including members Northstar, Shaman, Snowbird, Sasquatch and Aurora, though they appear mainly in their civilian identities or in the shadows, their full reveal held for next issue.


Weapon Alpha, who attempted to retrieve Wolverine for Canada in issue #109, returns as Alpha Flight's leader. He has been renamed by Claremont "Vindicator" (a name which Canadian John Byrne never liked, famously remarking, "what does Canada have to vindicate?").

Wolverine tells Mariko his name is Logan, making her the first character in the book to learn his real name (none of the other X-Men were around when the leprechaun referred to him as such in issue #103).


The Statement of Ownership in this issue declares the average number of issues sold in the preceding twelve months to be 115, 260, with the single issue nearest to the filing date selling  104,915 copies.

A Work in Progress
The X-Men are flying home aboard a plane provided by Jeryn Hogarth, Iron Fist's lawyer and Misty Knight and Colleen Wing's boss. Later, Cyclops says Colleen and Misty are attempting to contact him to get the X-Men some legal help.

Another craft in which the X-Men are traveling is destroyed, as Sasquatch inadvertently tosses their airplane.


Nightcrawler is discovering the limits of his jumps, as he was able to go seven miles in three jumps.


Banshee notes he shouldn't be smoking, and considers calling it quits as a superhero.


Storm points that's she never feels cold (thanks to her power).


That 70s Comic
Though not identified as such in the comic, the Prime Minister of Canada to whom Vindicator reports resembles Pierre Trudeau, who was the actual Prime Minister at the time this issue was first published (yes, I had to look that up. I'm American, and thus largely ignorant of Canadian politics).


Dave Cockrum, Bonnie Wilford and Terry Austin appear as the X-Men leave the airport (check out what Terry Austin is reading - click to embiggen).


Wolverine rocks his "flannel shirt, fleece-lined jacket, cowboy hat" look for the first time.


Banshee is smoking inside the mall, which would probably stick out as anachronistic to younger readers reading this issue for the first time today.

Artistic Achievements
Are any of our Canadian readers from Calgary? Did native Canadian John Byrne do a good job of rendering the city (note: it's snowing because of the storm which grounded the X-Men's plane, not because Americans think it snows perpetually in Canada. Even though we do)?


Byrne does a nice job of depicting Banshee's anguish when he instinctively tries to use his sonic scream against Vindicator (also, Banshee uses the word "spaleen", which is pretty awesome...).


Young Love
Scott and Colleen grow closer during the flight from Japan.


Wolverine finds himself falling for Mariko.


John Byrne on the creation of Alpha Flight
"Several members of what became Alpha Flight date back to my fan days. Guardian is chief among them, being created when I was in my early 20s as the figurehead of a whole line of "Canadian comics" I was hoping to produce. Snowbird, in very different form, was born around the same time. Shaman, originally called Chinook (he had only weather-controlling powers) came next.

...When I was assigned the gig of penciling UNCANNY X-MEN, Chris Claremont mentioned that Dave Cockrum had an idea that the Canadian government probably would not be too thrilled to see their multi-million dollar investment -- Wolverine -- head south as had so many other Canadian resources. Surely, he suggested, Ottawa would send somebody, perhaps even a team, to get him back. This sounded like a great idea, to me, and, of course, I had just the characters to do it. We decided to start with just one, tho[sic], the leader of the group. Since Marvel at that time was publishing GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY the Powers that Were nixed the name Guardian, and since my backup, the Canadian Shield, was equally problematic in the Marvel Universe, he was without a name for a while. Chris took to calling him "Major Mapleleaf", and Roger Stern said we'd better come up with a name before that one stuck. Chris then tacked on "Vindicator", which absolutely did not work for me. What does Canada need to "vindicate"? I began pushing for the restoration of Guardian, and eventually pushed that thru [sic].

Before that happened, tho[sic], we had our "sequel" to do, with that group of Canadians coming down to reclaim Wolverine. I dropped in the renamed (and power enhanced) Shaman and a redesigned Snowbird, and came up with Northstar and Aurora (super speed to counter Nightcrawler's teleportation), and Sasquatch (to balance Colossus) and off we went. In the process I came up with real names and some backstory for each."

Byrne, John."What's the story behind Alpha Flight's creation?" Byrne Robotics. 8/2/2011 http://www.byrnerobotics.com/FAQ/listing.asp?ID=2&T1=Questions+about+Comic+Book+Projects#119

Teebore's Take
With this issue, John Byrne debuts one of the lasting contributions to the Marvel Universe to come out of the Claremont/Byrne run in the form of Alpha Flight, Canada's preeminent superhero team (though Claremont is credited as author and co-plotter of this issue, Alpha Flight is considered the creation Byrne, and he retains sole credit as their creator). Alpha Flight will go on to headline its own book for over a decade and retain a presence within the Marvel Universe to this day, though the team will always maintain a connection with the book which created it (such as future superstar X-Men artist Jim Lee, who will break into the industry on Alpha Flight, or Alpha Flight members Northstar and Madison Jeffries, who are currently members of the X-Men).

The issue itself is surprisingly suspenseful, considering the X-Men's foes are, for all intents and purposes, fellow superheroes and not maniacal villains out to destroy them. Throughout the issue the X-Men are on the defensive, running from shadowy figures, the full extent of their foes' powers unknown to them. After the inoffensive but rather standard Japan story, its nice to see Claremont and Byrne firing on all cylinders again.

Next Time
It's the X-Men vs. Alpha Flight in Canadian comic book conflict!

10 comments:

  1. Hey, you visited Byrne Robotics! Congratulations on surviving.

    It never really registered to me that this was the first time Wolverine wore his trademark civilian ensemble, so thanks for pointing that out. I also love that shot of him smiling at Mariko, in a totally normal, friendly way. I feel like it's the first time we ever saw that, too.

    I've always liked this 2-parter -- I'm big on "superhero misunderstanding" fights (though this isn't technically a misunderstanding), and this is one of the best.

    And I love the image of the rarely seen super-pissed Cyclops that closes out this issue. I don't often get a sense of real emotion from comics, but the first time I saw that panel, the art and dialogue, plus the style of lettering and the word balloon, really made me think I could feel Cyclops's seething rage.

    (If that makes any sense...)

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  2. @Matt: Hey, you visited Byrne Robotics! Congratulations on surviving.

    Ha! Thanks. I had poked around there years ago and remembered he had quite a bit of stuff up about Alpha Flight, so I went back for this post (pulled some quotes I'll use in future posts).

    I also love that shot of him smiling at Mariko, in a totally normal, friendly way. I feel like it's the first time we ever saw that, too.

    You know, you're probably right. I think that is the first time we've ever seen Wolverine genuinely happy, and not just smiling a nasty, "I love to fight" kind of smile.

    really made me think I could feel Cyclops's seething rage.

    (If that makes any sense...)


    It does. I know exactly what you mean. One of the things I love about this two-parter is how it's 100% a fight the X-Men didn't want and their palpable anger and frustration at having been sucked into it.

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  3. Great stuff: man that art is good. The circulation stats help to remind us that X-Men was still highly unregarded both within and without Marvel - it's easy to forget this considering how classic this run is and now that the team is really hitting its stride.
    I mean, 100,000 readership in that era was peanuts, right?
    Plus, I was recently reading an interview with Terry Austin regarding this time period when he says he walked into the office of Jim Shooter who said: "Congrats Terry, you've won a Shazam award, although it must be for your Batman work because no-one gives two hoots about X-Men."
    I'm paraphrasing, but that's the essence of it. What we understand now as "THE X-MEN!" juggernaut didn't happen til later in the 80s when sales & the notion of the franchise really skyrocketed.
    Pete

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  4. This doesn't relate to this issue, but it is related to the content of the blog: Jim Shooter just posted a pretty funny anecdote about Stan Lee's first encounter with the All-New, All-Different X-Men. I've seen Byrne tell bits of this story before, but I'd never read the whole thing till now.

    Stan’s Advice RE: the Name Game

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  5. @Pete: The circulation stats help to remind us that X-Men was still highly unregarded both within and without Marvel - it's easy to forget this considering how classic this run is and now that the team is really hitting its stride.
    I mean, 100,000 readership in that era was peanuts, right?


    That was peanuts, as I understand it. At the time, X-Men had more in common with the 12-20K/month "cult favorite" titles of today than it did the actual X-Men of today.

    I'm paraphrasing, but that's the essence of it. What we understand now as "THE X-MEN!" juggernaut didn't happen til later in the 80s when sales & the notion of the franchise really skyrocketed.

    That is a great story. And yeah, the X-Men as an uber-successful franchise doesn't really come about for a few years yet (I've seen quotes from Byrne all over the place about how sales on the book went up after he left, for as much as his work on the title is acclaimed).

    That said, I have little doubt that the X-Men wouldn't have become the sales juggernaut they did without the Claremont/Byrne run to pave the way.

    @Matt: Awesome story! What I love the most is Stan admonishing Roy for making Banshee a man, when it was Stan who told Roy kids wouldn't buy a female villain and to make Banshee a guy in the first place!

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  6. "What I love the most is Stan admonishing Roy for making Banshee a man, when it was Stan who told Roy kids wouldn't buy a female villain and to make Banshee a guy in the first place!"

    Yup, that's pretty much classic Stan Lee. Someone mentioned it in the comments on Shooter's post, too.

    Also unrelated to the issue at hand, but possibly of interest: I am currently reading, for the first time ever, Chris Claremont's Ms. Marvel from the 70's. In issue #6, the villain is Grotesk, the monster who killed Changeling/Xavier in the Silver Age stories Claremont supposedly never read!

    That seems like a very obscure character to be brought back by someone with no familiarity with the issues he first appeared in. Possibly another hole in the story that Claremont had never read anything before Adams (and Steranko)?

    The Ms. Marvel issue is cover dated June, 1977, placing its release in the same month as X-Men #105, before Byrne arrived. And Byrne has always maintained that before his arrival, and for some time afterwards, Claremont had never read the Silver Age stories.

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  7. @Matt: I am currently reading, for the first time ever, Chris Claremont's Ms. Marvel from the 70's. In issue #6, the villain is Grotesk, the monster who killed Changeling/Xavier in the Silver Age stories Claremont supposedly never read!

    Crazy! I knew Grotesk popped up in Ms. Marvel, but having never read those issues, I didn't know he popped up in one of the Claremont-penned issues (though, now that I think about it, it's not surprising, as he wrote most of her original series).

    At any rate, Byrne's "Claremont never read anything before Adams/Steranko" claim seems to be holding less and less water...

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  8. ok, i'm FINALLY catching up on my blog reading from vacation 2 weeks ago, so sorry for the absence (right when stuff was getting good, too!)

    I've always liked Alpha Flight- mostly because of their combination of being badass and douchebags at the same time. Also, i always REALLY appreciate that Northstar was one of the very few openly gay superheroes in the Marvel universe (glad to hear he's a current xman- i am way out of touch with current events).

    Like Matt said, i too appreciate a good superhero misunderstanding fight.

    One thing that struck me as wrong- when Wolverine's talking to Mariko in Japanese, but they have it translated into english- why did they leave the 'chan' in there? I hate that crap- either you're translating or not

    Love that Terry is reading a paper that's telling him to ink this issue.

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  9. @Anne: mostly because of their combination of being badass and douchebags at the same time.

    Ha! That's a pretty good summation of Alpha Flight.

    Also, i always REALLY appreciate that Northstar was one of the very few openly gay superheroes in the Marvel universe (glad to hear he's a current xman- i am way out of touch with current events).

    To be fair, it'll be many years before he becomes openly gay, though Byrne maintains it's something he intended for the character almost from the beginning (he's said that his first thought about Northstar was just "how can he counter an X-Man", but then his second thought, when trying to flesh out the characters for their own series, was "he's gay").

    Also, I should be clear that Northstar is an X-Man in as much as most anyone is these days: he hangs around Utopia (like the X-Mansion, but an artificial island made out of Asteroid M off the coast of San Francisco) and appears in the background of comics, occasionally popping up to do something significant.

    One thing that struck me as wrong- when Wolverine's talking to Mariko in Japanese, but they have it translated into english- why did they leave the 'chan' in there? I hate that crap- either you're translating or not

    Yeah, get used to that. Claremont loves to pepper in random foreign words or phrases into dialogue, even when that dialogue is supposed to be translated into English.

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  10. I loved Alpha Flight. I enjoyed the weird mystical vibe mixed in with the aw-shucks inferiority complex. That, and Talisman was exactly the right age for a 2D crush; the Canadian Kitty Pryde.

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