Alpha Flight: They Come from the Land Up Above

Jun-11-08

Alpha Flight is one of the many Marvel properties that has had many different series, some of which were quite popular for awhile, but which have never been able to maintain that popularity for the long term. Personally, I’m a huge fan of many of the iterations of Alpha Flight, and I’ve been disappointed time and again when the series was cancelled. Why is it so difficult for this series to maintain a long shelf life? Perhaps a better question would be, why does this series exist in the first place?

It’s always a good idea, when creating a series, to have a reason why that series exists. What’s the central point of the series, and what makes it different than the gazillion other comic book super-hero series on the market today? The simple answer for Alpha Flight is that they’re Canadian. Well, this is all well and good, but it may not be enough. The Canadian culture, while certainly somewhat different than American culture, may not be different enough to merit interest, or at least, it may not have been portrayed as different enough. Most writers of Alpha Flight seem to feel that using Indian culture, Sasquatch legends and a hint of mysticism is enough to signify Canadian culture and to capture the interest of the reader, but obviously, that’s not worked out so well in the long run.

In the beginning, Alpha Flight was written and drawn by John Byrne. Byrne had originally introduced the characters in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men with Chris Claremont, where Alpha Flight had seized the identity of “Those Canadian guys who let Wolverine get away.” For their first few appearances, this identity was sufficient. However, over time, the individual members of Alpha Flight began to develop strong personalities and Byrne had a strong base to work with when he began writing them in their own series. Still, Byrne wasn’t satisfied to simply write and draw a book containing a team full of strong characters. Byrne decided to break the traditional mold of the super-hero team series, and for the first year, we rarely saw the team as a team; most stories focused on individual adventures of the various team members, since Byrne broke the team up in the first issue. He finally reunited them in the twelfth issue, only to kill off the group leader (and remember, this was before deaths and resurrections of comic characters had become so common place). In other words, Byrne gave the book a very different feel and tone from any other super-hero team book on the stands at the time. His next year on the book continued to be bold and new, as he continued to break with established team book parameters and chart new waters.

Sadly, Byrne’s tenure came to an end, and after him, no other writer seems to have been able to capture a feel that made Alpha Flight stand out in the crowd. There have been decent stories told since then, but they are simply typical super-hero team stories told well, with nothing to differentiate them from other stories told about other super-teams. Indeed, in many of those stories, you could have dropped the Avengers, the X-Men or any other super-team into the roles of Alpha Flight and there would have been little appreciable difference. So, the question remains: is telling good super-hero stories sufficient in this day and age to sell a book? How does one make Alpha Flight stand out from the hordes of other super-teams on the stands? What makes Alpha Flight unique?

Didn’t give me much to work with there, eh? Hoser!

Ah…Canadians…my favorite group of nondescript white folks, from the land better known as “America’s Hat.” Here’s what I remember about Alpha Flight: they appeared in an X-Men comic (which I thought was pretty cool like “Hey, a bunch of new characters I’ve never seen before!” or “Wow, Canadians!”), they got their own series, and then they faded into obscurity. All of this would be the typical reaction from someone who wasn’t really a fan of the group, except for the fact that I have a HUGE run of their original title! Why can’t I remember any of the storylines from Alpha Flight? And why did I even bother to buy the first issue of the awful 2004 “revamp” that was more parody than power-packed?

Let me give a rundown of the team members as I remember them: Sasquatch (legendary wilderness creature later replaced by a guy in a robot suit named Box), Shaman (stereotypical Native American healer later replaced by his daughter Talisman), Vindicator (tough guy in a Canadian flag suit later replaced by his wife and the less confrontational name Guardian), Puck (a midget named after sporting goods), Snowbird (another stereotypical mystical type who could shapeshift), Northstar and Aurora (Quebecois twins with super-speed and light powers who originally had to hold hands to use their abilities) and Marrina (an alien fish chick). That’s quite the lineup, eh? Where’s the lumberjack who can shoot magical maple syrup out his nose? Or a Mountie with a flying horse? Or a goalie with a mystical hockey stick? Or Wolverine?

Even though my writing hero Bill Mantlo had an odd run on the book, I seriously can’t remember anything that happened. I recall some other “Flights” including Beta, Gamma and an Omega…a fight with Marrina’s people…and something to do with Canada’s version of Weapon X (Department H?). I refuse to rely on Wikipedia to cheat on this one, obviously!

I recently read an interview with one of the highers-up at Marvel and they said they were waiting for a good Alpha Flight pitch that was about more than just the fact that they’re Canadian. But the more I think about it, and with the current goings-on in the Marvel Universe with the Superhero Registration Act and all that, it would make sense for Canada to have its own equivalent superhero team for protection as much as standing in the world. I have no idea what the current status is on any of the original characters, though I assume many of them are dead. And I have no epiphanies on how or why Alpha Flight would be brought back, but for some reason I would like to try. Where do we start?

I agree that it only makes sense for Canada to have their own super-team. Let’s be honest; what country in the Marvel Universe wouldn’t want a super-team to try and offset the super-hero monopoly that America seems to enjoy? Considering how Canada has been shown in the past to get America’s super-hero castoffs whenever something big is going down in America (they got the villains during “Acts of Vengeance” and the heroes during “Civil War”). Surely they would want a team to help defend their interests, and there are actually a good amount of powerful superhumans from Canada to fill such a team. There was a limited series called Omega Flight that spun out of Civil War, but that didn’t really work for me. It had a Canadian super-team (and why would they use the name of a team of villains?) but it wasn’t all Canadians, and poor Omega Flight had to have US Agent foisted on them, which no one should have to endure.

While there is potential for a team that has some Americans on it, and the frustration and tension that could exist between the Canadians and the Americans on the team, I think that a good Alpha Flight book needs to feature a team of Canadians. I think that Canadian super-heroes are important, not because every super-hero needs to have their powers be connected to Canada in some way, but because the reader needs to get the Canadian viewpoint from these characters. The characters can’t feel Canadian because they can shapeshift into bigfoot, or because they speak French and English, or even because they’re from an Indian tribe native to Canada; they have to feel Canadian because of their actions, their choices and their backgrounds.

So, who do we include in this team? Unfortunately, many of Alpha Flight’s main characters have been scattered to the four winds, and during the Civil War mess, all of the big names in Alpha Flight were killed in a throw away scene during a storyline in New Avengers. This is always frustrating, as characters that are killed quickly and without drama, simply to make a new villain look powerful, are wasted characters. Of course, thanks to Marvel’s policy of killing and resurrecting characters like crazy, I believe almost all of Alpha Flight’s main cast have already died and come back, so I’m not going to worry too much about who’s dead and who’s not. With that being said, who can we use?

Before we delve too much into the cast of characters, let’s take a moment to consider the purpose of this book. We’ve already said that we’d like something a little more than “They’re all Canadians” as a hook upon which to hang this series. I think the series needs a Canadian outlook and viewpoint, but I do believe we need a little more. In 1999 (I think that’s the year), when Steven Seagle took a crack at the title as a writer, he used the hook that the Canadian government was manipulating the team. Blah, blah, blah. I think we’ve all seen enough government conspiracy stories (and I actually enjoyed much of his short-lived take on the series), but at least he had a hook. What are some possible hooks we could give a new Alpha Flight series? Why don’t we brainstorm this and kick it around a little?

I’ll start with a few ideas and see what you have. We could do the idea that they’re simply trying to stop what they see as American problems causing ripples of problems in Canada. I’m not sure that’s enough though, and do Americans want to read a title about people that are upset about America? I’m guessing no. We could do something mystical, since they’ve always had members that run towards mysticism, like Shaman, Talisman and even Snowbird (and even Puck, since his powers came from housing a demon inside him). We could focus on a possible rivalry with the X-Men. Yes, the two teams are friendly now, but they haven’t always been, and now the X-Men stole both Wolverine and Northstar. Hmm. Other ideas? Don’t feel you have to throw out a lot. Throw out a couple and then I’ll do the same.

The first thing that comes to mind for me is a coalition effort. I’m thinking of current events in our real world and how Canada and the United Kingdom are always the first to offer assistance to us. What if we have some sort of grave super-powered scenario (possibly post-Secret Invasion) that requires the help of friendly nations? Much like our conflict in Iraq drew the help of Canadian troops, this set-up would bring in a Canadian team of superheroes to assist in clean-up or protection or investigation or what have you. This is a quick way to introduce the team without having to give them an immediate origin. It sets up the fact that the group is, indeed, Canadian and is associated with their government. That’s idea number one.

Idea number two is my standard environmental disaster remedy. I don’t know how to organically bring together an eskimo, a hockey player, a giant beaver and a flannel-wearing pothead, but threatening their collective way of life seems like a good start. There’s a lot of open wilderness in upper Canada. That means a lot of nefarious things could be going on up there…illegal government experiments, tampering with genetics, covert militias bent on world domination, an enclave of rabies-infected zombie badgers. Perhaps one of our American heroes stumbles upon some sort of curious activity and is sent up there to investigate. The Canadian government provides Alpha Flight as an escort.

Or, thought number three, perhaps Alpha Flight IS the nefarious goings-on in the wilderness. Touching upon a bit of the Weapon X program, maybe the members of Alpha Flight are being held against their will in some sort of super-powered genetic experiment. I initially really enjoyed Wildstorm’s relaunch of Gen13 and this idea follows along that same path. Alpha Flight could have been developed as villains, but turned the tide on their captors and are now on the lam in the Great North hiding from the authorities while trying to escape their pursuers at the same time. Some way to tie it into US activities and other Marvel heroes would be helpful in making more sense of this approach (and appealing to your typical Marvel reader).

There are some good ideas here and there’s also some basis for them. In Steven Seagle’s Alpha Flight storyline, as I mentioned, the Canadian government was manipulating the team to their own ends, while still allowing the team the illusion of free will. Unfortunately, allowing them the illusion of free will became a problem, as the team members were eventually able to make use of the small amount of slack that illusion caused on the ropes of their captivity and escaped their control. So, the Canadian government may have learned from this (or, at the very least, a small portion of the government may have learned from this) and so they have decided to relaunch Alpha Flight and this time to maintain total control. In fact, I think making this a splinter group of the Canadian government (or perhaps, a splinter group of their military) may be the best way to go. We can then use this concept to create two Alpha Flight teams, one on the inside and one on the outside, and we can make them original and recurring characters.

On the inside, we’d have a team of mostly unknowns, with one established character. Let’s say the inside team consists of four characters. We wouldn’t want it to be many more than that and I don’t think this splinter group would want more than that either, since they want to make sure they have the power to control the superhumans they have. Basically, this group is experimenting on these four, trying to determine how best to duplicate their powers to create a superpowered army. I’d say our established character is Sasquatch. Originally, Langowski got his powers by basically recreating the experiment that turned Banner into the Hulk. It was later explained that in actuality, the experiment ripped a hole between dimensions, and a Great Beast came and took over his body, but even if that origin is widely known (which I doubt) is the average military general going to believe it? Doubtful. They’re going to believe that Langowski undertook a controlled experiment, was successful, and became one of the strongest superhumans in the world. They’re going to want a piece of that, so they swoop in, capture Sasquatch, and start the experiments.

Our other three characters in the inside group would be new ones I think. I don’t have specific ideas for them right now, and honestly, specifics aren’t important, especially since you could come up with another take or a better idea, but here is what I would NOT do; I would not make their powers Canadian. I would simply give them superpowers, without trying to tie those powers into their national identity. After all, most American superhumans don’t have powers based on life, liberty and apple pie; why should Canadian superhumans have powers based on moose, maple syrup and hockey? What I would do is make their backgrounds Canadian, and create personalities that are influenced by having grown up in that country, rather than America. Anyway, we would have some time to devote to these characters, as we’d do at least the first arc dealing with them being stuck in this facility.

However, that wouldn’t be all of the first arc. We’d also be dealing with the outside group. This group would be established heroes, with perhaps one new one stuck on the team, if we really wanted it. I’d say we start with Shaman. His mystical senses have picked up a great “disturbance in the Force.” The military has been testing the powers of their captured Alphans in the wilderness somewhere in Canada, and Shaman has been picking up on that. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he knows it’s bad. He summons a few members of the old team; let’s say Heather Hudson in her Vindicator armor and Puck. They decide to go searching, and they’re joined by Aurora, who’s upset that her on-again-off-again man Sasquatch seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. They make their way towards the site of the secret prison, which they find, and then they have to figure out how to get in the prison.

That’s the first arc, as I see it. Each issue is telling two stories; one of the group on the inside and one of the group on the outside. You could tell them completely separately (almost like a flip book), you could tell them as mirrors (with one story being on each side of the page, or one running on the top and the other on the bottom), you could simply intercut them; it doesn’t matter. You’re telling two stories. Finally, at the end of the first arc, you have the escape. Either the inside team makes a move, and the outside team picks up on it and supports them or vice versa. As the inside team escapes, they run into the outside team and with Sasquatch to act as an intermediary, the two teams become one.

You could then begin to move forward with other plots. This team is on the run from the people who had captured Sasquatch and his new allies, so some of the plots will be trying to determine who that is, gain information on them that could expose their nefarious activities, and shut them down once and for all. That could certainly be an overriding scenario for a number of issues, although it wouldn’t always have to be your A plot. So, are you with me so far? Or are we back to the drawing board?

Let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment here, just for kicks. I agree with your assessment that we should steer clear of giving the heroes Canadian-based powers (though something to do with irradiated maple syrup could be a funny in-joke). The reality of that pigeonholing becomes apparent pretty quickly and severely cripples any sort of character building in the long run. However, I’m kind of stumped by your assertion that we should “create personalities that are influenced by having grown up in that country.” What does that mean exactly? Is there something inherently Canadian that would influence a hero’s outlook? Would they be making constant references to universal health care and limited cable channels?

I can sort of follow your premise of the inside team and the outside team, with neither of them being an official “team” until the one group is rescued by the other and they decide to combine their forces to thwart a common enemy. That’s fine. And I agree that Sasquatch is a good catalyst for the captive group, with the rest of the group consisting of new characters. I was doing some research into members of the former Beta, Gamma and Omega Flights to see if we could possibly use any of them, but most of them have turned out to be either completely useless or mutants who are now depowered (which is mostly the same thing). My biggest problems come from your idea to use the well-known former members of Alpha Flight as the outside group. Here’s the thing: most of them are dead. And I know that doesn’t mean much in the comic book world, but coupled with the fact that a lot of them were rather stereotypical, it seems like a great reason not to use them. Just a quick internet search turns up the corpses of: Vindicator (Heather Hudson), Box, Shaman, Marrina (at least in a weird coma), Northstar (under odd circumstances…or not?), Puck (both of them) and the original Guardian (of course). From what I can tell, the only members still alive are Snowbird (brought back from the dead at least once), Aurora (and possibly Northstar) and Talisman. Snowbird is part of something called the “God Squad” with Hercules and a bunch of other folks I’ve never heard of. Aurora and Northstar are hanging out with the X-Men post-Messiah Complex. Talisman was last seen in the latest Omega Flight series and, as far as I know, is still in Canada.

With all of that established, I think your idea could still work with Talisman in place of Shaman. It’s been said that, when properly trained, Talisman’s power would eventually rival Dr. Strange, so I could see her being in tune with her environment and sensing these “disturbances.” Plus, she was brought into the latest incarnation of Omega Flight due to the capture of Sasquatch, so we’ve got that common thread to work with too. As for the rest of the team, we have a few options. We can use current related characters such as Earthmover (Shaman’s former protege, trained in combat and hunting by Wolverine, should have some tie to Talisman because of her father), Cascade, Feedback, Purple Girl, Yukon Jack, Ghost Girl or Diamond Lil. We can bring in outside characters who have connections to Canada or Alpha Flight, such as Le Peregrine, Woodgod, Forge or maybe even some of the members of the Russian team Winter Guard. Or we can just make up our own…though the sense of urgency might be harder to build with brand new folks. The final thought on teammates is maybe bringing in an American that Talisman would turn to for help, someone she would have worked with in the past that could be used as the reader’s eyes in the team and establish the necessary “big picture” for the rest of the Marvel Universe.

I also like the idea of having the Canadian military involved…maybe an offshoot of Department H, perhaps the special ops soldiers, Epsilon Black, have set up the experiment? I like the thought of these imposing figures having complete control over the facility. I don’t think these need to be two separate stories being told at the same time. I see it as more of a gradual coming together. We could start off by showing the captive team in some sort of training exercise (a la the Danger Room) and something that happens during that exercise lets off a lot of energy which is felt by Talisman. The story builds from there, with a few cuts back to the captive group to fill in the blanks but most of the action coming from Talisman gathering her team and they can discover the complete plot along with the reader.

I still feel like we need to flesh this out more though. How about you?

Sorry that I’ve been MIA for a few days. I spent the weekend and change up on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. I know Nick Fury is one bad mofo and everything but he’s also kind of a drama queen. I mean, here’s a helpful hint the next time you talk to him. Do NOT mention that you didn’t wait through the credits of the Iron Man movie to see his deleted scene. Yeesh. Dude, chill out. I’ll catch it on the DVD.

Do we need to work on the Alpha Flight idea more? Yes, indeedy we do. I realized that most of the original team was dead, and even mentioned said deaths in my previous posting, as I said that the manner of their deaths was unacceptable (I shan’t repeat it….anyone can scroll up and find it). However, if you’d prefer to keep the dead in the ground, that’s fine, although you’ll never be a true Marvel Zombie unless you get used to killing off and bringing characters back to life pretty darn quick. Still, your suggested characters work fine.

However, your idea of keeping most of the attention on Talisman and her team, while interesting, I think could be self-defeating. By looking in at the captured heroes once, and then not really spending anytime with them again, we not only miss the opportunity to get to know our newer characters, we also lose the possibility of really empathizing with their situation. I contend that we could see enough of the characters on the inside, but not show all of their plight, and still allow Talisman to uncover much of the mystery on the outside that the reader is not aware of yet. Then, as Talisman uncovers pieces of the mystery, we could show even more of the inside.

Perhaps, like Iron Man, this is one where we’re just not quite going to be in sync. No?

No, no, no…I don’t think we’re that far off. It’s just that, from a storytelling standpoint, I think it’s kind of disjointed to try to tell two stories at the same time or to try to keep cutting back and forth between the two. I think we should probably start with the inside group and tell a bit (maybe an entire issue or two) about what is going on there, introduce the characters and flesh them out some, then find a catalyst to swing the narrative to Talisman and her group and advance that part of the storyline for another issue or two until the plots can converge. That way, the readers think we’re headed one way with the group only to have everything turn around with the introduction of the second group. Deception!

That being said, we still need to determine who these groups are. The reason I don’t really want to mess with the dead characters is that explaining how they’ve returned takes too much attention away from the story you’re trying to tell. Once the team is established and the first arc is finished, then we can go back and examine the dead characters and determine how or if they should return. You said that my suggested characters work fine, but you never state which ones you think should be in the group(s)! If we threw in everyone I mentioned, we’d have half of Canada in costumes. So, who do you think would make the strongest team out of the suggested characters? Or who would you like to create from scratch? Let’s brainstorm those a bit. I like the Earthmover character and think he’d be fun to write. Purple Girl, Ghost Girl, Cascade and Woodgod are pretty interesting (though one of the “Girls” would need a name change). The inside group would most likely be new faces, but what powers would their captors be interested in recreating? What’s the intended combination of the inside group’s make-up?

And then we need to determine just what is going on with the captive group. Who is holding them? Why? What are the objectives? And how does Talisman find out about everything? Lots to do here still…

Damn! Operation: Cut and Run has been derailed. Ok then, let’s do this thing!

I understand what you’re saying about not wanting to dilute the story by telling two stories at once. I’m not sure that following one group for a couple of issues and then switching to a completely different group for a few more is the way to go, as it could make the series feel somewhat schizophrenic. At the same time, it rather fits in with the tradition of Alpha Flight as a comic, since Byrne basically did the same thing in the series first run. So, ok. Good storytelling, works for Alpha Flight. Let’s roll with that.

As for characters, I have no idea how some of these characters are connected to Canada. Woodgod? Really? I thought he hung out in the American Southwest (isn’t there where he encountered the Hulk?). He’s got an interesting look, I suppose, but I’ve never read anything with him in it that inspired me to use the character (although, to be fair, I’ve only read maybe two issues that he even appeared in). I do like the Purple Girl, who had changed her name to Persuasion the last time I saw her. So, Talisman is a definite, and I like the Purple Girl. Who else? I think that Diamond Lil can be very interesting. She’s been a villain, and has been portrayed more than once as being a little more selfish and ruthless than your average hero. I think that could bring a very interesting dynamic to the group. I’ve also long been a fan of Manikin, and he’s worked with all of these characters, so they have a bit of history together. That’s four, and I’m not sure if I’d add anymore characters at this time. If we have four on the inside as well, that will give us a total of eight characters when the two teams merge, and that should be more than enough for us to focus on.

One of the other interesting things about this team also is that we aren’t talking about a lot of raw power here. Talisman has the potential for a lot of raw power, but she hasn’t learned how to use it yet. Diamond Lil is almost impossible to hurt, but offensively, she doesn’t have much going on. Persuasion can control someone, which is nice, but not overpowering, and Manikin can unleash three other beings from inside himself, but none of them are overwhelmingly powerful. Put it all together, and it’s a group that’s actually going to have to think their way through situations, and won’t be able to simply barrel through things. More importantly, if we tip the newbies in the inside group toward the higher level of the power scale, we have a nice situation of pitting power versus experience. It could make for an interesting team dynamic, especially if some of the older Alpha Flight members begin to feel threatened by the power level of the newer members.

Now, what about the inside group? What sort of powers are we looking at? Well, Sasquatch’s powers would be the most obvious, but they already have him. While it might make sense that they’re simply trying to recreate his powers, it wouldn’t be that interesting in the long run to have four Sasquatches. So, we have to figure that they’re trying to figure out powers that would work well with his. They could just be trying to duplicate the powers of some of the original members of Alpha Flight, since their powers worked well together. Certainly, it would make sense to create a version of the Guardian suit and have someone wear it. It’s a powerful combat unit, with some really nice powers that complement Sasquatch. I’d go with that, perhaps getting a member of the Canadian military in the suit, assuming that an offshoot of that same military is behind the whole thing. The captors might also want a shapeshifter, as a way to duplicate the powers of Snowbird. Or, instead of a shapeshifter, perhaps they can get the powers of the Canadian wildlife without shifting shape (since Snowbird always tended to get a little wacky as the animals took over her mind). That being said, perhaps someone with power more like Animal Man, someone who could tap into the strength of nearby creatures and use them as his own. That’s always been a neat power. Finally, there’s the only other logical power to duplicate (if we’re using the original Alpha Flight as our base) and that’s the super-speed of Northstar and Aurora. Perhaps our nascent hero has the same speed, and they’ve also given him more advanced light manipulating abilities, creating something like a cross between Northstar and Dazzler?

Ok, let’s take a moment to absorb the teams before we go on. I just know you’re going to have comments…

HA! You know me all too well! Yes, I have comments about the team roster, so let’s start there.

First of all, the last thing I can find about Woodgod says that he has been imprisoned by Department H for DNA experimentation…that definitely lends itself to what we’ve come up with. He’s ridiculously strong, has enhanced reflexes and stamina, and a strong resistance to toxins. And really, he’s a blank slate when it comes to characterization. He’s genetically engineered and prematurely aged, leaving him with the mind of a child and no real life experience to rely upon. I think he could be a fun character in the vein of Machine Man in the Nextwave series. I’m not permanently attached to him (even though he was created by my favorite writer EVER: Bill Mantlo). If you don’t like him, that’s fine. FINE, I say!

Earthmover was my attempt to inject a bit of the past Alpha Flight into the mix, with his heavy Shaman influence (and butting heads with Shaman’s daughter). Plus, he has the whole “hunter” vibe learned from Wolverine. And a cool mohawk. That withstanding, his powers run fairly parallel to Talisman’s. Coupled with the potential tension (which could be a good thing or not), it may not make sense to put him on a team with her.

Next up, I proposed Ghost Girl because she has a unique power that I think would be fun to write, a combination of Kitty Pryde and Doorman (from the Great Lakes Avengers). She and Persuasion are friends already, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for Talisman to contact one or the other and have both of them show up. In fact, Talisman contacted Persuasion previously during a story arc to help rescue Northstar from Asgard. And, as an aside, Persuasion was also created by Bill Mantlo!

I absolutely HATE Manikin. The idea of a character that can morph himself into other incarnations of himself is pretty ridiculous, especially considering that those other manifestations consist of an extra-strong caveman, an acidic blob and a nerdy punk who can see really well. Can you say outdated? I knew you could. Besides, the one interesting aspect of his power, the fact that he could manifest all three of these personas at the same time, has been stripped away. He can now only turn into one of them at a time. Boring.

Although, there is a connection between Persuasion and Manikin. I guess they dated briefly. But I don’t care. As far as I know, they broke up on bad terms and now hate each other. That works for me.

Diamond Lil is interesting for the reasons that you stated…previously a villain, kind of a jerk. Plus, there’s a bit of a mystery between Diamond Lil and Ghost Girl (whose first name is Lilli). Ghost Girl came from the Hull House orphanage, but I think they may have been building to the fact that Ghost Girl is Diamond Lil’s daughter (with Madison Jeffries). That could be interesting.

If we punt Manikin and insert Ghost Girl, we have an interesting dynamic…an all-female team investigating the disappearance of Sasquatch. Could be a storytelling niche for us to explore.

On to the inside team. Trying to replicate old Alpha Flight powers? That seems kind of pointless. I mean, I can almost understand the government wanting to recreate these abilities for their own version of a Super Soldier formula, but from a writing standpoint does it really make sense to create new characters who are essentially just the old ones in new bodies? I’d rather try to come up with some unique abilities that may have been gleaned from the DNA of various captives over the years. I would assume the Department H scientists (or whoever we have that split off from them) would be more creative in their research. That whole “Level 13” thing from the second Alpha Flight run is pretty ominous…Epsilon Flight, Epsilon Black and Kenyon, the Silencer armor (derived from the Guardian suit), Dr. Huxley…and seems to be on the cutting edge of espionage and possibly even revolution.

Sasquatch is a definite. If we go with the entirely estrogen-based outside team, then we have magic powers, mind control, phasing and invulnerability. To round things out, I think we need someone who can fly and someone who can manipulate a form of energy. The animal idea is cool and plays well with some sort of Canadian folklore aspect…taking the proportional abilities and senses of a beaver, polar bear, coyote, snowshoe rabbit, porcupine, et cetera.

Here’s the thing though. I think 8 team members is too many. I don’t know why, I just do. Seven seems like a stronger number to me. I think it would be interesting if the inside team was all-male, for obvious reasons. Also, I do more or less agree with your idea that we need someone with military training in a super suit. There’s already a new Guardian out there, so that would be rather redundant. However, what do you think about this idea: we make one of their captors into a sympathetic character who actually ends up aiding in their escape? We could take one of these unique Epsilon Black Silencer suits and use it for the good guys! Also, I think it would be rather poignant if, during the escape, we kill off two of our characters. Following the math, that would mean that the four women rescue the four men, they’re then joined by the suit dude and then two characters are wiped out…for a grand total of seven new Alpha Flight members! Hooray! And, considering that the power suit could give the ability to fly and project energy, I think I know which two characters are going to take a dirt nap. Hehe.

What do you think about that team creation scenario?

You know, I have always liked Manikin. Besides the romance he had with Persuasion, I also liked his powers, which I thought were different. However, he can be problematic, and he’s been handled oddly in the past. For example, when he was first introduced into the title (and was dating Persuasion) he was a cute, happy, inexperienced kid who seemed to be about 18. I stopped reading the book for awhile, and when next I saw him, about 50 issues later, he was a humorless, angry, by-the-books ass, who seemed to be about 35. Considering that Franklin Richards has been in kindergarden since we first landed on the moon, this change in Manikin’s age confused me. Anyway, you make a convincing case for his removal, and since Jim Lee probably won’t be drawing him this time, I’ll sacrifice him. Besides, an all female team is too interesting to give up.

So, we have our outside team. As for the inside team, I understand what you’re saying about duplicating the powers of the original team, but the reason I went that route is because those were proven powers that Sasquatch was used to dealing with. I think that, were a military mind in charge of this project, the logic behind that statement would be too compelling for them to ignore. However, again, I understand why this wouldn’t work from a writing standpoint so we’ll go your way. That means we have Sasquatch, a military guy who comes to their aid, a guy who can replicate the powers of animals, and a speedster. I’m counting four and four, which means eight. During the escape then, the speedster can be killed (either heroically or not), hopefully with at least one of the characters feeling that the death was their fault, or the fault of someone else on the team, so we can have some guilt and some anger over this death right off the bat.

So, we now have our team of seven (it has to be seven? Henry Peter Gyrich would have loved you). Seven actually is a good number for a team, so I’m ok with that. So, we now have our seven. What do we do with them?

Did you just spend three paragraphs agreeing with me and then throw it back on me like a game of Hot Potato? What is this, comic book Mad Libs?

Let me back up a second and ask you a question. Were you intending for Sasquatch to be experimented on with his cooperation or against his will? The reason I ask is because you seem to imply in your last response that his captors would be trying to replicate the former Alpha Flight members’ powers so that Sasquatch could fight alongside these new creations. Is that what you were going for? That would be an entirely different dynamic, one that would imply that Sasquatch wanted to be in Alpha Flight regardless of the consequences…like he had some ulterior motives. That would paint a different picture for me where Sasquatch would view his “rescue” as a setback to his ultimate goal and perhaps this inside group would only be pretending to go along with Talisman’s group until they could find the opportunity to take over the team.

Of course, if that wasn’t what you were implying, then please completely ignore the previous paragraph.

So…what now? Well, that’s a good question. What would be the goal of a new Alpha Flight team? They don’t work for the government (yet). They’re on the run from a quasi-military faction that was seeking to exploit them for their DNA or use them to create a super paramilitary group in order to take over Canada. I mean, let’s face it, the last time I checked, Canada’s military was comprised of six reindeer, a dude wearing long underwear, and an empty keg of Labatt’s. It wouldn’t be too difficult to dominate that impressive brigade.

Would Alpha Flight set themselves up as a secret sort of Justice League, stationed in a high-tech cabin on a remote island in the Hudson Bay, who swoops in to the rescue of their homeland in times of crisis? I can’t imagine these seven characters helping to stop bank robbers or foiling the plans of terrorists trying to hold the crowd hostage at the Calgary Stampede. They must have some higher purpose, without veering off into the bizarre “Great Beasts” stuff again.

I’d like to see them standing side-by-side with the Avengers and MI:13 and Winter Guard and Big Hero 6 and whatever the state-sponsored heroes are in other countries. In fact, by sanctioning this new Alpha Flight and having them show up in an official capacity at various hotspots around the world, we’d have a simple way to focus on some of Marvel Earth’s other national teams and get Alpha Flight involved in some international (or even intergalactic) projects. The catalyst for this governmental backing could come from the simple act of taking down the group that was holding them and exposing their plans to the Canadian citizenry. Once they became heroes to the people, the government would almost be forced to accept them (which could lead to a subplot involving the reluctance of the government to get into the superhero business again).

So, you caught onto the shenanigans with the earlier post? Well, the truth can now be told; that Johnathan was actually being controlled by Kang and Mantis. Luckily, a group of my friends were able to go into the past and pluck a younger me out of the timestream, and the older, Kang-controlled me has now been defeated. I am also about ten years younger, and this is a good thing. I’ve been trying to reverse the aging dilemma, and it was this or have my head stuck in a jar of fluids so I could live to the 24th century. This way will do just fine.

Let me see what you and the Kang-Controlled John were doing. Hmmm. Good stuff. You know, I’m not sure if Kang-Controlled John (who we can refer to as KCJ from now on; us youngsters from ten years ago love us some abbreviations) intended for Sasquatch to be working with the new Alpha Flight for his own agenda, but that does create some really great possibilities, doesn’t it? I’d hate to see Sasquatch turned into a bad guy (especially as there’s nothing in his past or his personality that suggests he would do that), but it would make for an interesting angle in the series. The easier route would be to say that Sasquatch was captured by this offshoot of the government and decided to cooperate simply because he was “playing along”; trying to determine what was happening and staying close to the situation in case it got out of hand. That’s a perfectly good explanation. But what if there were some other forces in motion here? The easiest way to give Sasquatch an ulterior motive would be to resurrect the whole Great Beasts thing and say they were (are) controlling him. However, it’s been done before, and like you, I think keeping the Great Beasts out of this series is a good idea. So, why else could Sasquatch have been working with this offshoot of the government? Maybe he’s a Skrull? Nah, nobody would believe that.

There’s always the tried and true method of having Sasquatch be insane, probably due to watching his oldest friends and allies die at the hands of a pathetic new villain. However, that’s also been done to death, and again, Sasquatch has been through hell, literally. I don’t think there’s much that’s going to push him over the edge. Perhaps Sasquatch has been convinced that there is some sort of threat coming that Canada needs to defend against? Perhaps Sasquatch just feels that Canada needs an Alpha Flight? Possible, but then he’d be fine with the new one once he’s rescued, and that eliminates the possibility of him working against the team later on. We could go with the following story: Sasquatch watches his friends die horribly, without even putting up much of a fight, and then sees an unknown superhuman lay waste to part of Canada and walk away as if nothing happened. Sasquatch realizes, at that time, that Canada has been lucky in the past; they’ve rarely had an official Alpha Flight team, since the team has been on and off since the early 80’s, and the country needs a team to protect it. However, the original Alpha Flight team weren’t able to stop this guy, and Sasquatch believes its because none of them were really ever trained for this kind of thing. Guardian and Vindicator were office workers, Shaman was a medical doctor, Northstar was a skier, and Aurora was a teacher….heck, it’s amazing that they didn’t get wiped out three times a week. Sasquatch, seeing what America just went through with Civil War, begins to think that perhaps those crazy Americans got it right, and super-heroes undergoing official government training is the best way to create a strong team to protect his country.

So, Sasquatch talks to some friends in the Canadian military, and together they come up with the idea of a new Alpha Flight. Why start with a new one and try to recreate some powers, instead of using existing heroes like Talisman? Well, Sasquatch feels that most of the heroes like Talisman and Persuasion suffer from the same problem as Guardian and Vindicator….they were never trained, and moreover, because they have a little experience as heroes, they’re going to hesitate to be trained. They think they’re already good enough to be heroes, but that’s the same thing Shaman got, and now he’s ash. Sasquatch feels that they wouldn’t fit in with the new, military type team he envisions, so he goes with new people (perhaps they’re all military, not just the one in the suit. Or perhaps not. This does also explain why they’re trying to duplicate the powers of the original team; Sasquatch feels comfortable with those powers, and he helped set the agenda. Perhaps he’s also hoping that the new heroes will provide something of a legacy for his fallen friends.). What Sasquatch doesn’t know is that his main partner in this endeavor (we can use General Clarke from the second series, as a placeholder) wants to go farther than Sasquatch, and create superbeings he can use to dominate the nation. Now, once the program is up and running, Sasquatch is down in the trenches with the new heroes, because he knows he needs the same military training that they’re getting, if they’re going to become an effective fighting team. That enables Clarke to start doing some illegal and dangerous things which will eventually draw Talisman’s attention, and explains why Sasquatch may not know about them. He’s either in the dark, because he’s having his big furry butt trained off, or he sees some of the lesser abuses, and he brushes them off. Yes, what Clarke is doing may be a little much for Sasquatch, but then he sees the burning, broken body of his friend Mac, and he shakes away his doubts.

Talisman and her team come busting in to rescue this team, and shut down the operation. Now, no one (including the reader) knows that this was something Sasquatch helped to create. He had given instructions with General Clarke that he wanted to be treated just like everyone else, so that he could meld with the new heroes, and they wouldn’t look at him differently. Clarke escapes, and Sasquatch is knocked unconscious early in the battle. When he wakes up, he’s miles from the compound, with a bunch of people who have declared themselves the new Alpha Flight. The new heroes are happy, because life was no fun in the compound during training, and they don’t see it as being for the greater good, as Sasquatch did. So what does Sasquatch do now? He’s not a stupid man. He sits and listens, and realizes that Talisman and her team of heroes destroyed the complex, so he can’t take his new recruits and go back to training. He also knows they might not agree with or accept his theories on the nature of the superteam for the 21st century. But he doesn’t want to allow them to continue without some guidance, and he thinks his new heroes have a lot of potential, so he decides to stay with the team and not tell them what really happened.

Clarke, meanwhile, will probably think that Sasquatch has betrayed him. For a while, he’ll dog the team, trying to bring Sasquatch down. During this time, the team sets up a secret headquarters. You’re correct that I don’t see them taking down bank robbers, but I do believe Sasquatch would want them out there as much as possible, certainly fighting anything that menaced the country. He’d also be trying to train the team, and how would that go over, especially with those who have separate jobs and lives and don’t want to take the time to run combat scenarios three times a day? Eventually (unknown to the reader), Sasquatch would find Clarke and meet with him face to face and explain what happened. What do the two of them decide to do? Perhaps Sasquatch would convince Clarke to keep hounding the team, and to keep attacking, seeing this as an ongoing training exercise that would keep the team on their toes. “What if someone gets hurt?”, Clarke asks. Sasquatch decides that’s an acceptable risk. “Better a broken leg than a broken body,” he replied. “Perhaps, when they realize how dangerous this business can be, they’ll get out before they get seriously injured or killed.”

So, what do you think of that direction? It doesn’t make Sasquatch a villain, which is too trite, but simply someone with a different viewpoint on how heroics should be. He might work against the team somewhat, but mostly he’d just be trying to mold it into what he feels it needs to be to survive. This entire plot would play out as a subplot for the first few years of the title, while we deal with other things in the foreground. Then it could all come to a head in the third year, and we could use it as a way to completely reinvent the group if we wanted to, and head off in other directions.

Me confused. Me not understand “10 Years Younger John” and his weird Sasquatch talk. JASON SMASH!

No, really, I think there are a few good things in there, but it does throw off a bit of what we had planned out earlier. I’m not sure I understand what the impetus would be for Talisman and her friends to get involved. And, even though you mention it briefly, we seem to have given up completely on a nefarious reason for Sasquatch to be captured…which also makes it more difficult to get Talisman involved. You also kind of lost me with Sasquatch waking up miles away from the compound and not really knowing what happened during the battle. That eliminates any sort of “new hero gets killed and others feel bad” aspect of the fight.

That said, I think there’s a way to blur some of those discrepancies a bit. Let’s just call it one big misunderstanding. Sasquatch is approached by…well, since General Clarke is presumed dead in a nuclear reactor incineration mishap…someone and asked to take part in rebuilding the Alpha Flight program. This makes sense to him since he’s been involved in every incarnation of the Flight and has served as the leader and recruiter for the group on more than one occasion. He doesn’t read anything into the request because he’s thinking along the lines of proper training and true government backing (like you’ve mentioned).

The way I see it, his contact could be either Dr. Horatio Huxley (who is clearly a bad person and had been involved in the Weapon X program and a bunch of nasty stuff with Diamond Lil, though he was last seen trying to get hired by SHIELD) or it could be Holland Gentry (the guy who succeeded Clarke in Department H and seems to have regained some trust, but that could just be a facade).

Either way, the contact obviously has bigger ideas for Sasquatch’s team. They want to take over the government because of the past troubles with Department H or because they think they know better than the people running things now or they’re just stupid and insane. Regardless, something bad is going on behind the scenes that Sasquatch is completely unaware of. He goes along with what seems to be a great plan to him. He’s introduced to some genetically enhanced teammates and is encouraged to help train them. Hell, maybe he’s even involved in choosing who gets what powers. Maybe he’s brought in on the ground floor of things just to gain his trust even further.

However, the program starts escalating quicker than Sasquatch is comfortable with. Things start to happen…the group is sent on questionable missions…lines seem to have been crossed. Sasquatch is too proud or too blind by his values to realize that what he wanted and what is actually going on are two different things. His team is sent to “rescue” some sort of weapon from the military. During the conflict, Talisman and her team show up to protect this weapon. Sasquatch learns that he’s been led astray and his team is actually there to steal the item. In the heat of the battle, one of Sasquatch’s teammates is killed and Sasquatch blames himself. Does Sasquatch go along with things or try to steer his team in the right direction and assist Talisman’s group?

I don’t know where we go from there. I’m sort of stuck with your idea that Sasquatch would be trying to play both sides against the middle here. Maybe I’ve gone too far in my idea. It just doesn’t make sense to me that Talisman would show up for no reason to take down Sasquatch’s “partner.” Or that his partner would be willing to let him go after the work they put in. Or that Sasquatch would meet with him later and strike some sort of deal to have him continue chasing the team…especially because I can’t imagine the new Alpha Flight working out in the open to protect Canada while also trying to hide from these anonymous pursuers. Too many coincidences and stretches of logic.

I do like the internal struggle of Sasquatch trying to put together a well-trained team while also trying to balance the needs of Talisman’s group. He sees more than one way to get to the same conclusion, but feels guilty for misleading the others. There are some great beats that we’re missing in here though…how do Sasquatch’s teammates feel about being part of this new team versus what they were planning on doing originally, the interesting drama brought forth by the all-female team rescuing them, and the feelings of guilt and fear associated with a teammate being killed right out the gate. I’m not really sure if we’re over-complicating things or over-simplifying them. Can you sift through any of these concerns?

All right, we seem to be on the same page (or at least the same chapter) with Sasquatch and his involvement with the government sanctioned team. Let’s say he’s working with Dr. Huxley….perhaps SHIELD turned Huxley down for a job, and this is his back-up plan. If he’s going to be stuck working for the Canadian military, he’s going to turn that military into one that fits his views of the world!. My idea had been that Talisman gets involved, not because of Sasquatch at all, but because she gets wind that the government is involved in creating superhumans, perhaps because Huxley had kidnapped some people to use as test subjects when he was first trying to give people super-powers. Sadly, those people died horrible deaths that Sasquatch doesn’t know anything about (Huxley knows that Sasquatch is too moral to have a lot of details on the program). So, Talisman finds out about one of the kidnappings (perhaps it’s someone in her circle of influence…a friend, a former classmate, a co-worker or whatever) and starts to look into that. She finds out about this government conspiracy, sees Huxley’s name connected to it, and immediately assumes that evil is afoot, since Huxley has a history (a bad one) with Alpha Flight. She starts gathering her team to stop this one.

From there we can move to the scene you describe where both teams end up dueling over a weapon. Talisman’s team is all gung ho to protect it, Sasquatch’s team is all gung ho to take it, and Sasquatch can’t quite pick a side. Because of his hesitation, someone is killed. Alternatively, he does pick a side and someone is killed, and he feels that, had he picked the other side, the death would not have occurred. Alternatively, he picks a side, and feels that the death was caused by someone on the other side (I like the idea that he stays with his group, and then one of his people dies, by an accident on the side of Talisman’s group). I’m going with the last choice, as we now have someone on Talisman’s side feeling guilty that she caused the death of someone, plus we have Sasquatch, now convinced that his feelings about a team of non-military trained superheroes was right all along; they get people killed.

Of course, what I’ve just done is completely changed the entire premise of the series again, because at this point, why would Sasquatch and his team of allies start working with Talisman. My suggestion at this time is that they DON’T start working with Talisman. Sasquatch is understandably upset that one of his people died, and he holds Talisman responsible. She’s here, where she shouldn’t be, meddling in affairs that don’t concern her. She can try to tell Sasquatch what she knows of Huxley’s nefarious dealings, but is Sasquatch really going to listen to her now? Talisman decides she needs to leave, and she teleports her team away, while Sasquatch and his group head back to their base with their fallen comrade.

I’m sure you’re ready to shoot me now, since I’m continuing the thread, and I’ve changed our original idea again, but hey, what can I say? This is brainstorming. I think this premise is more interesting than what we had before, and I also think that it gives us a lot of room to work. We’ve basically got two Alpha Flight teams. Talisman has her small group, and she’s unsure of what to do. Is Sasquatch right, and she shouldn’t be involved? One of her group did cause someone’s death. However, she knows Huxley is up to no good, and she knows he needs to be brought down. She also has a teammate who is dealing with causing someone’s death, and that has to create a tension within the team. There’s a lot to work with here, and I see Talisman’s group as basically being devoted to stopping Huxley and closing down Sasquatch’s group. Another interesting idea would be if it’s actually one of the women on Talisman’s team who has the friend/lover/relative who was captured by Huxley originally, and this woman came to Talisman (as one of the few experienced Alpha Flight members not dead and available) and asked her to help her stop Huxley. That means that Talisman can be even more conflicted in her role as leader of this group, while one of the women is very gung ho in taking down Sasquatch and his allies; perhaps the other ladies in the group fall somewhere between these two in their feelings, and that has to create some great group dynamics. So, this group is focused on stopping Huxley, but they may have some side adventures, if something gets in their way.

Meanwhile, we have Sasquatch. He’s angry and more convinced that he’s right than ever before. However, he’s also not stupid. When he gets back to base, he’d undoubtedly start investigating Huxley himself, and we could do plotlines along those lines. However, Talisman’s group would now include someone wanted for murder, so Sasquatch’s group would be tasked with taking them down. The other members of Sasquatch’s group don’t have the history with Talisman’s crew, and they’re likely to be quite angry over the death of their comrade at the hands of what they would consider an unauthorized and completely bogus Alpha Flight. So, you have Sasquatch trying to stop Talisman because he believes she’s wrong, but also trying to do it civilly because she’s an old friend, and having to keep his soldiers in line because they’re angry and out for blood. Add to that the fact that Sasquatch doesn’t trust Huxley, and is trying to find out what’s going on within his own program, and you have, again, a team with the potential for a lot of interesting character interactions.

This is a comic that deals in shades of grey. Talisman is right; Huxley is going outside the law, and he should be brought down. Sasquatch is right; Talisman’s group is barely trained, and their inexperience killed someone. I’d almost like to say that it could be Civil War done right; here we have two people, neither one evil, neither one completely on the right side, who are making choices that seem correct to them at the time, but seem to keep moving them further away from any common ground with an old friend. It’s almost a tragedy, and as we discussed with my last proposal, we can eventually bring this to a head, and at that time, completely change the paradigm of the series. Perhaps Sasquatch and his team finally capture Talisman and her friends. Do they then stand trial? Will that mean that Huxley’s nefarious deeds would be exposed? What would Huxley do to keep his secrets hidden? Does Talisman and her team finally take down Sasquatch and his? If so, what then? Can they convince Sasquatch that Talisman was right about Huxley? Will he join her and become an outlaw too?

I think there is a lot of potential here for storylines and there are so many things I haven’t mentioned yet. Sasquatch’s team would have to go out on official missions; what happens if they end up at an encounter that also includes Talisman’s team (for example, if the safety of the country is at stake and both teams feel duty bound to try and stop the threat)? How do the citizens of the country feel about having two Alpha Flight teams who apparently don’t get along? Would one team be hailed as heroes, and the other as villains? Would one team try and win the hearts and minds of the citizens, or would they consider public opinion unimportant? I just think we’ve left ourselves with a lot of good stories here.

What a great idea! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I quit this dumb blog! Worthless! Pointless! No, wait, I actually like this direction a lot. Awesome! Insightful! I love it! This is the best blog ever! We should win an award or something! How pathetic. Or perfect. I’m not sure anymore.

That last paragraph was my sarcastic summation of where this post has taken us. The longest discussion we’ve had so far has looped back on itself at least twice now. On the one hand, I find this process fascinating from a creator standpoint as I imagine that this is how the professionals hammer things out with each other, like our own private summit meeting. On the other hand, wow, I’d really like to start talking about something else now. No wonder the folks at Marvel can never seem to get a worthwhile pitch on this project.

Honestly, I think this is a great direction. It has a lot of tension built in, perfect dramatic pieces, and a quasi-political angle that takes a serious look at superheroics and their consequences. You’re right in the sideways comparison to Civil War, but with even more twists and turns. We have two teams that, at times, have the same goals and yet are going about reaching them in dramatically different ways. One team is backed by the government but is corrupt at its core, even though the members on the frontline feel that they are acting in good faith. The other team is semi-passive in its process, but resolute in its ultimate ambition. And the leaders of each group have their own inner dichotomy to deal with. Sasquatch wants to have a strong team but doesn’t want to hurt his friends. Talisman wants to do what’s right but doesn’t want to discourage her former teammate. Each, in their own way, is a reluctant leader because of the layers of emotion and history wrapped around them.

And there is the additional strata of perspective. You’ve mentioned the public versus government angle. My feeling is that the public would back Talisman’s group because they know her face and they know her to have been on the good guys’ team in the past. There’s a certain built-in cache they’d have by being an all-female group too. Plus, if they’re in the public eye doing good deeds, they garner that extra goodwill that comes with it. The government team, on the other hand, has to battle the past transgressions of the Department H program coupled with the fact that most citizens are initially wary of anything the government tries to proclaim as “in their best interest.” In a way, Sasquatch’s group could be hamstrung by popular sentiment…the media ganging up on them and always taking the female group’s side, plus the added smack in the face of naming them “Alpha Flight” and giving Sasquatch’s team some sort of demeaning moniker. I like it. Layers are good. Intrigue! Depth! Emotion!

Now let’s move on to something less…uh…Canadian. I feel dirty.

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