At the time of this issue, Canadia’s premiere super-team, Alpha Flight, has only been together for a short time, and hasn’t really gelled as a unit. When the Great Beast Kolomaq attacks, Snowbird doesn’t even think to call her new teammates for backup, and the battle…  It kinda has to be seen to be believed…  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of Alpha Flight #6 awaits!

AlphaFlight6CoverALPHA FLIGHT #6
Writer: John Byrne
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: John Byrne
Colorist: Andy Yanchus
Letterer: Michael Higgins
Editor: Linda Grant
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 60 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00

Previously in Alpha Flight:  Assembled by Department H, Alpha Flight is the premier super-team of Canada, but their government funding and oversight has officially been cut.  Given that the various members are spread all the way across the country, it’s been somewhat difficult to continue acting as a team in the interim, leaving Alpha Flight scattered and separated, and new recruit Marrina’s blood-crazed disemboweling of teammate Puck hasn’t helped matters.

Also worth noting: 30 years ago this month, all of Marvel’s editors were in San Diego for Comic-Con, leaving their assistant editors in charge of the books for month, leading to a month of coordinated madness such as Wonder Man and an Avengers team appearing on David Letterman and The Thing beating up John Byrne.  But this issue contains one of the most memorable of the AEM stunts, as we’ll see in a moment.  Our story opens on a remote outpost of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, where Corporal Anne McKenzie receives a dressing-down from her new superior officer…

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The unbelievable reason she is referring to is that Anne isn’t just another Mountie, she is actually the offspring of a goddess, and the hero known as Snowbird, and the understanding that she had with the previous superior officer allowed her to fly off at a minute’s notice to save the day with Alpha Flight.  That makes for great situational irony when, immediately after she is locked up in the RCMP brig, a situation arises that requires her superhuman services: A drilling rig breaks through to find not oil, but one of the great beasts of lore…

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Anne’s mystic senses warn her, and she literally busts out of jail, transforming and winging her way to confront the ancient evil, one which doesn’t recognize her at first…

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As the monster Kolomaq unleashes his wintry powers, Snowbird is engulfed in snow, forced to fight her foe blind in whiteout conditions.

Byrne took that literally…

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Snowbird transforms into a polar bear and attacks, but the real star here is how well the transition to storytelling with no images is handled.  The word balloons, sound effects and caption boxes remain (and for those not familiar with the techniques of the late Bronze Age of Comics, those descriptive yellow boxes were the norm), and the page is laid out to guide the reader’s eye through the “fight scene” that we can’t see.  Bear!Snowbird stumbles and falls during the battle, shifting form again, worrying about her odds in this battle, given that it took all of Alpha Flight to take down Tundra, another of the great beasts a few issues earlier…

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In my travels, I’ve read a couple of analyses of this issue that claim that Byrne laying out the issue in this manner constitutes “taking a shortcut”, but it seems much more difficult to use the panel layouts (and borders, in the case of the big punch-out seen on this page) and the captions to do the heavy-lifting on the visual half of the story.  Indeed, having read the first fifty or so issues of Alpha Flight off the stands back in the day, it’s telling that this is one of the few that I remember well.  Kolomaq’s volley of ice daggers drops our hero to the snow-covered ground, once again making her doubt her ability to defeat the creature…

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Snowbird is forced back, pressed up against the face of a cliff, still buffeted by the force of Kolomaq’s powers of polar vortexery, near defeat until the very land itself gives way…

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Once again buried by the surly bonds of Earth, Kolomaq’s threat is neutralized, and Snowbird recommends to the drillers that they seal off the dig with concrete.  (*I* recommend all the concrete they can find…)  The issue closes up with the last chapter of the origin of Shaman, which is a strong story featuring a guest-spot by Doctor Strange himself, but the reader is left with a strange dissonance from the first feature.  Did Byrne just pull off the greatest con since Mort Weisinger convinced everyone that gorilla covers sell better?  Or does this book represent a step forward in the evolution of comic art, presaging the meta-textual works of today?

Can’t it be both?  As one who loves Alpha Flight for both their wondrous moments and their goofy ones, even I have to admit that much of their history is easily forgotten or ignored, but this issue remains memorable even thirty years down the line.  Alpha Flight #6 is one of those comic stories that sticks with me, even with a six-page sequence of entirely white panels, and it still a strong spotlight for Snowbird to earn 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  I may not know art, but I know what I like, and this I like…

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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2 Comments

  1. Luis Dantas
    July 27, 2014 at 7:52 pm — Reply

    Byrne may have commited a Freudian slip. Kolomaq commands Snowbird to “fool” his power as the fight begins.

  2. Adam Murray
    July 28, 2014 at 8:01 am — Reply

    Another Old Favorite! I remember those six pages as well as anything else from Assistant Editor’s Month that doesn’t involve Galactus-Eating-Twinkies. That first year of Alpha Flight was unlike any other team comic I had read. After Puck’s injury, the whole team was separated for months on end. They finally get together again in issue 12 just to have Guardian die and the team fell apart again because of it.
    I like the offbeat nature of this team of individuals and feel nostalgic for the days when they weren’t around each other all the time. I guess that is what happens when you have a team without a home. Avenger’s Mansion, Baxter Building, Hall of Justice, JLA Satellite, Titans’s Tower, Xavier Institute… was Alpha Flight the first team to not rely on “The Real World”-type drama of putting all their heroes under the same roof? I am sure that Matthew can educate us all.

    Adam
    P.S. I know that the choice to start the “Snowblind” sequence with a left sided/even-numbered page makes artistic sense so that it was a dramatic difference when the reader flipped the page. But, that pretty much guaranteed that whatever was on the right sided/odd-number page that preceeded the snowblind sequence would be partially visible on the first page. Your scan shows exactly what I remembered: The reverse image of a big advertisement disrupting the desired impact of the first all-white page. Was there any way to avoid this?

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