And now for the unusual story of Alpha Flight -- one of John Byrne's most enduring creations, much to his chagrin. Just read his FAQ on the subject first- it's utterly fascinating stuff
See, Alpha Flight was of course created during John Byrne's run as the artist & co-plotter of the X-Men book, back when it was gaining MAJOR steam and was generally known as the best book around, Chris Claremont being the notable other half of the equation. And Byrne's own story is that the Alphans were literally created for no other reason that to "survive a fight with the X-Men", opposing them in a story about Canada finally trying to get Wolverine back on the squad, after abandoning them in "Giant-Size X-Men #1", completing a minor plot thread there. So the Alphans Pearl Harbored the X-Men, did some damage, but the X-Men fought back, and ultimately they came to an agreement. And that was kinda supposed to be it for them, aside from some minor appearances later.
Byrne himself admits most of the team was created for little purpose other than to match the X-Men's powers. Mac, Snowbird & Shaman were his "fan creations" (ie. heroes he'd cooked up as a younger fan -- something I'm sure a LOT of pros do but don't often admit to it), while Shaman, Sasquatch, Northstar & Aurora were basically there to run up against individual X-Men power-wise and stalemate them (Shaman creates a huge storm, for instance). Most of them represented various aspects of Canada and it's mythos (Byrne himself is Canadian -- he actually went to art school with one of my drawing teachers): Mac and his wife were from Onatrio (Canada's most populous province and the wannabe centre of it's universe), Shaman was a Native from Calgary, Sasquatch was a CFL player from British Columbia, the twins were Francophones from Quebec, and Snowbird had links to the mythology of the Inuits in the Northern territories. Now, in what has become somewhat of a notorious comment by him, the man has stated that the team was pretty bland, lacked personality, and that he really didn't like him all that much. Yet he insists that fans wrote in constantly, badgering him & Marvel for an "Alpha Flight" series. Now, Byrne is kind of a egomaniac blowhard, but he really doesn't have much of a reason to lie and say that his characters sucked if he didn't ACTUALLY BELIEVE they sucked, so I'm gonna believe him.
But apparently the fans demanded it, and so a new team book was formed, springing off from the X-Men. Byrne states that he figured if SOMEone was gonna do it, it may as well be him. So he added a few more members to the team (Puck & Marrina early on), ones that had personalities he could properly mold instead of the "bland" ones he'd initially created (one wonders why the man didn't just re-do or fix up the old personas), and a pretty big roster was formed. Alpha Flight became this total tool of the government, and had a Gruenwald-like touch in that they were the "A" team of Canada, with other, lesser trainee teams beneath them (Beta & Omega Flight). This spread out a huge supporting cast, including both Boxes, Diamond Lil, Goblyn & Laura Dean, Purple Girl, Windshear and many other trainee characters with silly powers.
Oh, and Byrne offed James "Mac" Hudson one year in (#12), effectively killing the most famous and symbolic member of the team. This was pretty shocking stuff for the time, but (again) Byrne admits that Mac didn't have a whole hell of a lot of characterisation to him, and that Heather was much more interesting. He says that he NEVER wanted Heather to put on a costume herself and lead the team, as that was "cliche", but sure as hell that managed to happen the second he was off the book (28 issues in).
Personally, I've not read much of it. I have a couple issues I got as a kid in some Grab-Bag of random comics (remember those? Stores used to sell a bunch of 'em, and you could never tell what you were gonna get. I got a She-Hulk issue with "Doctor Bong" and some creepy-ass Strikeforce Morituri issue as well), but they were really bizarre stuff with an odd group of trainees fighting the Dream Queen (who turned out to be a direct blatant rip-off from some other comic). They had some really early Jim Lee art in them as well (looking quite different from the eventual style he'd master- the women all look different, for one). I read a bit of the first collected trade, but found it to be... pretty standard comic book stuff. Quite mediocre to be honest, and you can see Byrne struggle with making the cast interesting. His art is much worse than his X-Men or Fantastic Four stuff as well, because he's inking his own stuff (let that be a lesson to anyone who underestimates the value of a good inker). After Byrne left with issue 28, Bill Mantlo took over, and displaced almost the entire team while bringing in new Beta Flight members to focus on. Eventually, even he left, letting a bunch of guys I've never heard of take over.
And honestly, despite me being a Canadian... I've never felt an attachment to these guys. Neither did any other kid I knew -- they were just that team of guys that was crappier than the X-Men or the Avengers, and were just kinda around. Nobody on the playground seemed to give a crap about Alpha Flight, no matter where they came from (historically, Americans have ALWAYS liked the Alphans more than Canadians have). The book maintained some level of fanbase, but REALLY noticeably limped it's way into the 1990s with horrible outfits and worse art, managed to kill or resurrect a fat chunk of the roster (thus making fans not care anymore), before FINALLY being cancelled with #130 in 1994.
And this is where things get weird. See, a lot of books got cancelled in the Great Comic Book Crash, and it was mostly the kind of mediocre "this is what we pass off on new creators to get them used to writing books" type of junk that was EVERYWHERE in the early '90s (Darkhawk, Sleepwalker, The Darkhold Redeemers, The Night Stalkers, etc.). But for some reason, Alpha Flight stuck with a few people. And so we got a handful of reboots of the series. The first (in 1997, three years after the cancellation of the first) was a mostly-forgotten run written by a guy named Steven Seagle with REALLY '90s art that had Heather leading the team... AGAIN... after Mac died... AGAIN. It also featured a new team of trainees, made up of some of the more one-note, generic characters I've seen in comics, with Murmur, Radius & Flex, plus a goofy-ass looking Manbot, and Sasquatch-as-an-animalistic-beast, who turned out to be an ACTUAL Sasquatch and not Walter Langkowski. Oh yeah, and then there was a clone of Mac (who by this point had possibly the most convoluted backstory of a character in the HISTORY of comic books -- which is SAYING SOMETHING) who was on the team as well.
This book had a couple fans, but mostly people crapped on it, as the new guys "weren't Alpha Flight", as Wolverine would later say when they buried the book after it's cancellation, and we never saw them again. It lasted a paltry 20 issues (though it was the Dark Age). THEN came the Scott Lobdell version of the team.
And most of you should know my feelings on Lobdell by now, but let me just reiterate: He sucked. He sucked at writing SO BAD during the '90s and early 2000s that it wasn't even funny. This guy got handed Marvel's flagship book by this point in "The Uncanny X-Men" and managed to run it into the ground with asinine stories, stupid Acolytes filling up the pages, and enough redundant stuff that he nearly killed off the huge fanbase the X-Men had. And his bizarre idea of "funny" comics... I mean, I like comedy, sure, but when you're writing a super-hero book, this kind of dumb "BWAH-HAH-HAH, this guy is a SUPER-HERO and yet he's an OLD MAN!" humor is the kind of thing that a mentally retarded fifth-grader comes up with, not the kind of thing you put together in something that people are supposed to spend actual money on. Yes, this Alpha Flight team was AWFUL -- With BOTH Guardian & Vindicator gone, it was up to Sasquatch to be the team "icon" now (a position he actually holds to this day, after being a supporting guy for decades), and he led a team of wild & whacky stupid characters who were more befitting of a one-panel gag (where they would have been FINE) than a full comic book series (this is sorta like building a movie out of "It's Pat"- they could've worked as small skits or one-panel jokes, but nobody wants to read about the man who pretends he has powers, when in fact it's his HORSE than has powers). The book was rapidly cancelled in less than a year.
Then the worst-possible thing for Alpha Flight fans happened... a new guy came in post-M-Day, packing all the mutant powers that'd been lost when 95% or whatever of the mutant population lost 'em, and Alpha Flight stood in his way. One panel later, they were all lying on the ground. Yes... he "Alpha Flighted" them. An OFF-PANEL DEATH for a big chunk of the team, with only Sasquatch and Snowbird being revealed to have survived. And they were mourned... kinda. See, I heard a COUPLE rumblings, but mostly the fans didn't give a crap, since so few people really cared about Alpha Flight in the first place. I mean, these were purely C-level characters at-best -- the types of guys you could see someone having a "Doom Patrol" fascination with (ie. "Vocal fanbase much smaller than actual fanbase"), but the very fact that they could be offed like the New Warriors were (and that was just two named characters and a couple newbie scrubs) said a lot. A mini-series came about that featured a new team (with Sasquatch plus a few American super-heroes who resisted the Super-Human Registration Act), but fans mostly crapped on it.
Of course, Marvel's mediocre event "The Chaos War" brought the team back, and now there's a NEW creative team on it, insisting that they're gonna prove John Byrne wrong and reform the "awesomness" that was Alpha Flight. So I fully expect another book cancellation within the year, but that's the cynic in me.
So despite the fact that I consider the book and most of the characters on it mediocre filler and a "starting point" book for creative teams looking to prove themselves (the aforementioned Mr. Lee seemed to do okay with that, not to mention Fabian Nicieza), I'm doing some builds of them for 3e! I did 'em all for 2e, but it completes my builds of Foreigners, and many of them are very unique and interesting power-wise (a guy who summons duplicates through time, another who summons three distinct Minions, and a guy who can control all machinery). Plus, it allows me to reiterate many complaints I have about the team, and criticize things in general! After all, super-heroes can have jobbers, too. All in all, they're actually a pretty fun group to talk about and build.
The Roster looks like:
1) Guardian (Team Leader, Inventor, Stock Hero Guy)
2) Vindicator (Heather Hudson- originally a Civilian Ally, eventually an ascended hero and Team Leader)
3) Shaman (Mystical Native Guy)
4) Snowbird (Animal Shapeshifter, Inuit Demigoddess)
5 & 6) Northstar & Aurora (Arrogant Frenchman and Demure Split-Personality Twin Sister, Super-Speed Fliers)
7) Sasquatch (Powerhouse, Scientist)
8) Puck (Dwarf Martial Artist)
9) Marrina (Merwoman)
10) Diamond Lil (Diamond Skin)
11) Talisman II (Native Mage)
12) Box I (Bochs)
13) Box II (Jeffries)
14) Purple Girl
15) Windshear (Wind-Powered Suit)
16) Wild Child (Wolverine Rip-Off)
Gamma/Beta Flight Guys:
17) Smart Alec (Smart Guy)
18 & 19) Auric & Silver
20) Goblyn & Laura Dean (Switching Sisters)
22) Earthmover (Wannabe New member that vanished)
23) Manikin (Summons Creatures)
25) Nemesis (Sword Chick)
Failed Reboot Team:
26) Radius (Force Field)
27) Flex (Body Weaponry)
28) Murmur (Mind Control)
29) Sasquatch II (Monster)
30) Manbot (Manbot)
31) Ghost Girl (Phasing Girl)
Crappy Lobdell Team:
32) Centennial (Old Man Flying Brick)
33) Puck II (Puck's Daughter)
34) Yukon Jack (Caveman Warrior)
35) Major Mapleleaf (Guy Riding Horse)
There's also "The Flight", a retcon written by Lobdell (again), to show what the team was like in it's first mission:
36) Wolverine (was supposed to be the leader)
37) St. Elmo (wannabe God with Light Powers)
38) Groundhog (Digging Suit)
Plus a sometime ally who never fully joined the team:
38) Wyre (techno-wire control)