Sunday, September 21, 2014

X-Men: Alpha Flight

 One of the great constants of my life as a comic-book reader has been that, no matter how many times I read them, I never get sick of the Claremont/Byrne X-MEN issues. Maybe it's nostalgia, maybe it takes me back to a better, simpler time in my life, or maybe they're just that good....I've read their run dozens of times, and I continue to reread it whenever there's an upgrade in format or an interesting-looking collection issued. This was one such interesting-looking collection....

 Gathering up UNCANNY X-MEN #'s 109, 120-121, and 139-140, X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT #'s 1-2, and X-MEN AND ALPHA FLIGHT #'s 1-2, this gorgeous Marvel Premiere Classic hardcover basically gives you the entire history of the X-Men/Alpha Flight rivalry in one handy tome.

 The book starts off with the five Claremont/Byrne UNCANNY X-MEN issues, and they're as good as ever. We have their first meeting with Vindicator, as he's dispatched to the states to collect the M.I.A. Wolverine, the introduction of Alpha Flight as they take on The X-Men on Canadian soil, and their first team-up, as members of the two disparate teams unite to track down the hideous, flesh-eating monster Wendigo. Byrne's art is still as perfect to me now as it was when I first read these issues at the tender ages of seven, eight, and nine. Claremont was still wordy, but he hadn't gotten to the point where he was unreadable to me (That came around the time of the John Romita, Jr. era, when the books became so self-absorbed and insular that I couldn't take them anymore.), and his characters still pop with their distinctive personalities and character traits. This was back in the day when comics actually had sub-plots and supporting characters, and not every issue had to feature a cosmos-shaking threat to all of existence. Good, solid art and storytelling was enough for us back then.

 I was surprised by the inclusion of X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT, a book from the hated '90's, but those fears were soon assuaged, as I realized that writer Ben Raab and artist John Cassaday had actually crafted a thoughtful, action-packed story that fit in perfectly, continuity-wise, where it was placed in this collection. Raab does a beautiful job of bringing the two teams together and handling all of the individual voices, and Cassaday, who must have been brand-new at this point in his career, really shines, especially in his portrayal of the degraded Baron Strucker. Now I feel bad that I don't own more of Raab's work......

 The book is rounded out by the two-issue X-MEN AND ALPHA FLIGHT mini-series by Chris Claremont and Paul Smith. This segment doesn't hold up nearly as well as I had hoped, mainly because it came out during the era I described above, when Claremont started to grate me with his purple prose and mutant-angst monologues.The story itself was a revelation to me when I first read it, since you generally didn't see different "Brands" cross over very often in those days.The mini-series format was still young and prestigious, and it usually wasn't wasted on anything that wasn't top-notch, and seeing the "Mutant Brand" facing off against Loki, who rarely strayed far from the pages of THE MIGHTY THOR, was new and exciting. This was great stuff, back in the day, but it didn't hold up very well, at least in my opinion.

 There's also a related MARVEL AGE cover and story relating to the Claremont/Smith crossover that's included as a bonus, as well as Dave Cockrum's cover for the 1998 collected edition of the same. Fans of THE X-MEN and/or fans of ALPHA FLIGHT have probably already read most, if not all, of the contents of this collection, but the MARVEL PREMIERE CLASSIC hardcover line is so beautiful, especially the limited-edition direct-market versions, that a double-dip shouldn't be out of the question. Fun stuff.