Alpha Flight #1
Marvel Comics – Scott Lobdell (w); Clayton Henry (p); Mark Morales (i)Alpha Flight is one of those titles that, during the periods that it’s not being published, people seem to think they really, really want to see a revival of. I’m fairly certain there was a point in the late ’90s where Marvel resurrected the Canadian super-team and I’m equally certain that it died again pretty quickly. In any event, Alpha Flight is back for another go round and if the first issue is any indication, in about six months it should be joining the already sizeable ranks of the “I Made It Twelve Issues Before I Was Cancelled” Club that Marvel’s started for their books.
I’ll tell you right now that you shouldn’t buy this book. It’s lousy. It’s really, really lousy, as a matter of fact. Hell, I shouldn’t even have to tell you that. It’s got Scott Lobdell’s name on the cover and that by itself should be enough to make you leave it sitting on the shelf. You remember Lobdell, don’t you? He wrote half of all those God-awful X-Men stories that you bought during the ’90s (Fabian Nicieza wrote the other half, for the record). But for the sake of argument (and because otherwise this’d be one short review), I’ll do a quick run-down on why the book sucks.
Last year, DC published a book called Formerly Known as the Justice League. In case you were unaware, it was a mini-series starring the members of the Justice League from the Giffen / DeMatteis / Maguire years, a decidedly B-list cast of characters, to say the least. Only instead of playing it straight, DC opted to do the book as a humorous take on them, poking fun at how mediocre the team was. And it was a pretty big sleeper hit.
So naturally Marvel, being the House of Ideas, decided they needed to just go ahead and copy that idea. Only instead of using a dime store Justice League as their heroes, they’d use an embarrassing Canadian version of the X-Men. And instead of hiring someone who could write worth a damn, they’d get Scott Lobdell.
But my legendary distaste for Lobdell aside, there’s one very serious problem with Alpha Flight: if you’re going to write a humor book, it needs to be, y’know, funny. And that’s something this book is definitely not.
So what happens during the issue?
Simply, Dr. Walter Langkowski, also known as Sasquatch, needs to reform Alpha Flight. Why? I have no idea; the book never bothers to explain that little detail. But with that mission in mind, Langkowski sets about the task of crisscrossing the Canadian landscape, making the pitch for superpowered folks to help him resurrect the country’s first and only team of costumed heroes. The problem is, no one wants to join.
Yukon Jack, a shaman who inexplicably speaks English like he stepped out of a Shakespearean production, and the new Puck, a tough-as-nails female bartender (just like Grace from Outsiders; they don’t call ‘em the House of Ideas for nothing, folks) who dresses like a castoff from Gen13, are simply uninspired by Langkowski’s proposal to help defend “a world that hates and fears them” (I kid you not, he says that not once, but twice). Nemesis, a woman with some sort of magical sword and anger management issues, tries to kill the good doctor when he appeals for her membership. Langkowski can’t bring himself to actually ask for the help of someone who voluntarily calls himself Major Mapleleaf, so it’s up to a comatose old man named Rutherford Princeton (whose name rings no bells for me) to validate Sasquatch’s efforts to reassemble his old team. However, when he succeeds in awakening Princeton from his fifteen year slumber, the superpowered geriatric decides that he needs to make up for lost time and the last Langkowski sees of him, he’s in the company of two strippers.
So, again, the big problem is that it’s simply not funny. It’s poorly written, yes, with clumsy, clichéd dialogue spewing out of every word bubble. And while that may be good for a laugh if you’ve got the discerning eye to recognize it for what it is, that’s not exactly the same thing as humor. Mostly, Lobdell just makes some uninspired attempts at riffing on Canadians, but it mostly amounts to cracks about maple syrup and randomly adding “eh” to the end of sentences. There isn’t much else in the book that can pass for jokes at all, frankly. Major Mapleleaf is played as the archetypical lantern-jawed, white bread hero, but to be honest with you, I couldn’t see a lot of difference between this parody of a superhero and the regular ones from Lobdell’s previous work. As a whole, it’s just a collection of easy, easy jokes, all of them too tired to be funny anymore. To put it another way, it isn’t so much that I think the idea of a goofy superhero book starring Alpha Flight is entirely unworkable as it is that one penned by Scott Lobdell (who long-time Alpha Flight fans have no love for, I’m told) is already staring at an uphill battle.
The biggest problem though has got to be that this can’t possibly be the book Alpha Flight fans were hoping for. So you can pretty much kiss the vast majority of them good-bye by around the third issue, at the latest, I’d say. And since it’s an unfunny humor title, I can’t imagine anyone else sticking around much longer. Which leaves you with what, exactly? Cancellation by the twelfth issue. If Alpha Flight‘s revival lasts any longer than that, it’ll be solely because the die-hards (yes, both of them) are buying it in the hopes that something akin to the book they were looking for will emerge from the painfully awful wreckage of this sequential car wreck.
The last issue of Superman / Batman was, in my opinion, insulting. To have a plotline build for five issues, then inexplicably pull the answer out of your hat by, God help me, making a giant robot hybrid of Superman and Batman was nothing short of laziness. I mean, how do you argue with a resolution that is so entirely nonsensical? It was like Loeb started writing the opening arc of this book, then realized two-thirds of the way through that he had no idea where it was going (hey, just like “Hush”!). But rather than retool the arc to make more sense, he just wrapped it up anyway.
This issue isn’t an insult to the buyer so much as it is just sort of dumb. Loeb always makes a point in every interview I’ve ever read with him to say that he tailors his stories to the artist that’s working with him. And that’s pretty apparent this time around. Pat Lee, of Dreamwave, is famous for his work on the relaunched Transformers books. So, unsurprisingly, this issue has some big robots in it (which makes two issues in a row, mind you), but what is sort of surprising is that it has almost nothing to do with Superman or Batman. This issue is all about Superboy and Robin.
After receiving aid from the new Toyman (a young Japanese boy) in the previous issue, Batman and Superman decide that the world would be better off with him (Toyman) on the side of angels. With that in mind, they propose to offer him a job working as Bruce’s new gadgeteer (after the death of Harold, who filled the role previously, in Loeb’s Hush). However, the World’s Finest feel, perhaps wisely, that the Toyman would respond more favorably to a pitch from someone his own age. To that end, the pair dispatches their sidekicks, Superboy and Robin, to the outskirts of Tokyo. And hilarity ensues. And by that, I mean there’s an accidental fight between the Boys Wonder and Toyman, followed by their uniting against a common foe. Only this time they all wear just suits of armor and wreck a fair-sized portion of Tokyo.
So, like I said, it’s not really a bad issue so much as it’s just dumb. The sight of Pat Lee’s artwork doesn’t send me into a fanboy frenzy, but at the same time, I’m not entirely put off by it either. I can see, to some extent, what people are on about with him, but I’ve never had the fetish for giant robots that some seem to, so a lot of his appeal is lost on me. So the visual side of the issue I have no complaints with. The story, on the other hand, is so wholly formulaic and uninspired that it left me, a die-hard Batman fan, completely cold.
This is to say nothing of the fact that Loeb’s characterization of Batman is a wee bit off (which is odd, considering how competent he was at it when he was actually writing Batman, as well as his mini-series work with Tim Sale). The moment in question is when Superman asks, “Don’t you trust them” (referring to Superboy and Robin), to which Batman replies, “I don’t trust anybody.” Now, maybe I’m nitpicking (again, longtime, pathological Batman fan speaking), but I think the correct answer here is “I don’t trust Superboy.” It’s been well established by a variety of writers (including Loeb, mind you) over a long, long period of time that while it’s true that Batman trusts nearly no one, he does trust the so-called Batfamily (Robin, Oracle, Nightwing, Batgirl, Alfred, etc.). Again, I know it sounds fanboyish, but it just hit me as being entirely wrong, as well as inexplicable, given Loeb’s solid track record on the Bat-titles.
So, at the end of the day, I stick by my assessment of the book as “dumb.” It’s a book clearly catering to fans that aren’t looking for something particularly original, just a nicely drawn team-up book between the world’s most recognizable superheroes. And Loeb seems bound and determined not to offer up anything challenging either, falling back on one of the oldest stories in the book (the accidental fight, followed up combining efforts to combat the real threat). If you do pick the book up, you aren’t likely to feel particularly ripped off as you simply unsatisfied (like when you eat Chinese). On the upside though, if the preview pages published in Wizard a few months back are anything to go by, the next arc (starting with #8, featuring art by Michael Turner) looks to be much more promising.
I always want to like Swamp Thing, but it seems that every time I try and read his (or her, as the case may be) book, it just can’t sustain my interest for that long. Even the Alan Moore stuff, which I liked, didn’t do it for me enough for me to finish off his entire run. I only made it about halfway through.
And now I think that might have been a mistake, because I feel like my lack of Swamp Thing continuity knowledge is really hampering my enjoyment of this book.
To boot, I only made it about halfway through Brian Vaughn’s revamped version of the title (where the titular character was Tefe Holland, the daughter of the original Swamp Thing and Abby Holland). So when you have just enough knowledge of both versions of the characters to recognize them on sight, but not enough to know how their respective stories ended, you’re in kind of a weird place, as a reader.
The problem with the issue, I think, is that Diggle (whose work on Lady Constantine I really enjoyed and whose Losers gets the job done for me most of the time) sort of presumes that everyone reading the title does have a nigh-encyclopedic knowledge of the characters within. I’m more than a little lost as it is and I’m not entirely ignorant of the goings-on of the franchise. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to read this issue as my first introduction to the intricate microcosm that the Swamp Thing titles have created for themselves.
Long story short, the issue centers itself on the idea that the Alec Holland portion of the Swamp Thing has been separated from the elemental body. Hence, Earth’s elemental guardian no longer possesses the necessary conscience of a mortal and is now possibly dangerous. To rectify that, John Constantine resurrects the decayed remains of Alec Holland’s mortal body from the bog outside his former laboratory and uses it as a repository for Holland’s disembodied consciousness. Explaining the situation to the understandably confused Holland, the pair set out together to see about reuniting the Swamp Thing with his soul. Meanwhile, Tefe Holland receives a warning from a faction opposed to The Green (the sort of mystical council of trees that controls all plant life) that the now-amoral Swamp Thing will attempt to destroy her because of the threat she represents. And Abby Holland takes a trip into the Rockies, searching for the resting place of her husband, though what she finds at the end of her journey shocks her, to say the least.
So the problem here is that things are almost moving too fast. It would have probably benefited the book to have been published as an over-sized first issue, similar to what DC did recently with The Monolith (itself similar to Swamp Thing in general), that way Diggle could have spent more time establishing who the characters are and how they’re connected to one another while still getting the plot rolling along right away. As it stands though, there’s little or no origin information about any of the primary players (Swamp Thing’s origin is given a brief synopsis courtesy of two Cajun poachers in the opening pages, but it’s woefully lacking), so there’s little reason for a new reader to care. It seems more likely that they’d feel confused by the fact that they’re apparently expected to recognize a moderately sized cast of characters with almost no introduction.
In the end, the book is hit-and-miss. It’s nice to see Swamp Thing return to its roots as a gothic horror book, complete with all the melodrama that a title of that genre entails. Breccia’s art is very much in the Vertigo house-style, bleak and slightly exaggerated, but with enough the organic feel of Berni Wrightson that made this character famous in the first place. So while the book definitely has its strong points, it’s disappointing to see it apparently isn’t going to be overly friendly to new readers. I don’t envy Diggle the task of penning Swamp Thing, certainly one of the most daunting writing gigs in all of comics, but I can’t shake the feeling that this first issue should have been handled a bit differently. For those in the know, however, I’m sure this issue is quite the homecoming, as Diggle clearly has a firm grasp on the proper tone for the title.