Saturday, 13 October 2012
ALF #3: "Yesterday Man"
Another Byrne missive then, is it? Actually, I really like the start to this one (as well as the rather striking cover). Rather than continuing directly with either Marrina's encounter with the Master or the team's flight following her beacon, we move sideways to catch up with Snowbird, who's en route to join her companions and help out with the search.
What she finds is the Alpha Flight "sky-craft", crashed and abandoned, with a hole torn through its side. That's more than passing cool, I think.
Snowbird, handily, has some kind of universal playback amongst her powers (I'm sure this has never been mentioned), so she spools up the local threads of causality to see what they're attached to. So, yes, it's another flashback scene - what would a Byrne comic be without one of those? - but at least this is a flashback to events we haven't yet seen, which improves matters immensely.
The resulting time-wimey-slidey-show reveals the vehicle was blasted from the sky by some kind of laser, but that the four occupants - Vindicator (now calling himself Guardian), Sasquatch, and the Beaubier twins all got out unhurt. That latter part of course could have been quickly determined by the nearby footprints, I suppose, but when one has all the fancy powers of the Canadian Gods or whatever, it must be very tempting to use them as often as possible. Her investigation concluded, Snowbird transforms into a polar bear and lopes away, following her team-mates tracks.
Eventually she happens across the entrance to an underground complex, as technologically-advanced as it is comprehensively trashed (Sasquatch's handiwork, she assumes). A sense of evil pervades the place, which is never something you want. I have to confess, I really love these first six and a half pages; the idea of breaking off the team's hunt for Marrina so that Anna can search for them is really quite nice, and the abandoned, wrecked base is a really atmospheric location, especially when you imagine the freezing winds of northern Canada whistling through them. I might have been tempted to string this out a bit, but I suppose with the back-up strip Byrne only has 16 pages to work with, so at this point we shift to Guardian and Sasquatch, who are trying to free Northstar and Aurora, cut off from them by a shifting wall.
On the other side, the twins aren't too happy; it's pitch black, and they have the strangest sense that the wall that sprung up behind them is somehow growing (which is a neat idea). Rather than wait for Hudson and Langkowski to get through (if indeed they can), they crank their illumination powers to their maximum ("driving away every shadow", because Byrne didn't pay the slightest attention in physics class), and head off to find an escape route elsewhere.
Instead they find... only death! Well, that and some cool and cunning traps; heavy ball-tipped poles spring from the walls to bludgeon Northstar into unconsciousness, and Aurora finds herself first trapped and then near-suffocated by a constricting net of extending metal rods. I seem to remember Timothy Zahn employing a similar trap (with the added twist of changing gravity wells) to catch Jedi in (I think) Spectre of the Past, and any day you're pre-empting Zahn has to qualify as a good one. Fortunately for our favourite Quebecois, Guardian and Sasquatch took an alternate route of gratuitous smashing, and arrive in time to save Aurora.
Except she isn't Aurora anymore; the stress has caused her to shift her mind back into her buttoned-up schoolmistress persona. I've said before that I'm less than impressed with making a female superhero so profoundly mentally unstable (at least when the person writing her is as unsubtle as Byrne), and this is hardly helped by the fact that one of the other female members of the team has now turned out to be an untrustworthy would-be killer because some dude in a cape has taken her over. Between all this and Heather's arse, things are getting uncomfortable around here.
Oh, and apparently only Aurora's more stable useful brother can snap her out of being totally wet and rubbish and a girl. Spare me.
Northstar himself is once again trapped, this time by the ball-rods that knocked him out. When he comes to, he hears screams of pain which he identifies as coming from Marrina. The comic tells us this is due to unique acoustics making her audible despite being several miles away, on which I'd call bullshit, but that feels pretty much redundant at this point, especially since "several miles" would take mere seconds for him to cover (just last issue we learned 900 knots an hour would be too slow to escape him).
He must be feeling a bit slow after his concussion, because the Master apparently has plenty of time not just to torment Marrina (apparently her torture is literally the worst ever doled out in human history, which seems unlikely, mainly because she isn't dead), but to explain his back story as well. Not sure how much attention the unbearably tormented Marrina will be paying, but never mind. Flashback time once more!
Forty thousand years earlier, the last great ice sheet covers North America, and on a rather smaller scale, a man is thrown from his subsistence nomad tribe for being an utter dick. Banished by his peers, he resolves to wander across the frigid trackless wastes until he finds death or a decent meal. What he finds instead is a powerful psychological compulsion to change direction, and the remains of various other animals likewise impelled that he can snack on while he walks. Eventually he gets to what he later learns is a crashed alien spaceship, apparently entirely abandoned, which nonetheless captures him, straps him to a table, and proceeds to dissect and reassemble him in every order conceivable, all whilst he screams in agony. Now that is twisted. I love it!
With its vivisections completed, the ship once more reassembles him, and plugs his brain into its systems, presumably so he can run the place while it ticks over waiting for a crew. Eventually, though, he learns the set-up well enough that he's able to not just escape the ship's control, but reverse it. With domination of the ship, he learns, comes complete control over his physicality, and total knowledge of all activity on Earth. Which must be nice. All of which rather raises the question of what the ship was doing stranded here for at least forty thousand years.
The Master has a partial answer: it's somehow tied up with Marrina and her "brood-mate", but that doesn't really get us anywhere. If it's been here for four hundred centuries, why did she only break out of her egg twenty years ago? Apparently it's because this is "the hour of conquest", which doesn't sound like brilliant news. The Master isn't too keen on it either, though only because he doesn't want "to rule a world of fish-things." Still, it looks like that point might be moot, because a pair of superheroes have arrived, determined to stop him: Namor and the Invisible Woman.
Looks like "totally aware of all things on Earth" might have been a bit of an overstatement, huh?
We turn now to our back-up strip, "Purpose." Dr Hudson is in something of a stress, waiting as he is for the authorities to knock down his door and ask some very pointed questions about who used his prototype mechanical suit to burn his notes and steal the suit's helmet controls. Fortunately for him, Heather McNeil arrives with some groceries - because men don't shop when they're depressed, unlike women AMIRITE GIRLS - and a proposal of marriage, because she's just sooo adorably giddy and impulsive. I may be about to stain my keyboard with bile. The script makes sure we know she's only seventeen, presumably to make us buy this ridiculous notion - because teenage girls, eh? - but that really doesn't help. Indeed, as James is explaining that her age makes it more likely he'll be put on a register than put on a ring, you wonder why Byrne didn't heed his own character's objections and drop the whole horrible idea.
Heather promises to have a plan to get James out of hot water, at least, and the two of them head to Ottowa, staying in different rooms. A few days later, they find themselves on Parliament Hill, where the Canadian government agrees to smooth things over with Am-Can, in exchange for Hudson meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau. The Right Honourable gentleman has a project in mind...
This issue notes that Jean-Paul's visit to his sister happened "several months ago in issue 1", but it's not clear whether that time line is supposed to be in-universe or just a reference to publication dates. The latter seems more likely, since the alternative is that the team sat on their hands for a eight weeks between reforming and having their first training session.
With that decided, our considerations can cease, as this story takes place over the course of a few hours.
Wednesday 10th of December, 1982.
We did this date last time, of course, so let's take a look at what was going on whilst James Hudson was becoming Weapon Alpha:
Apollo 11 approaches the Moon, and lands there the following day.
Brian Molko is born in Belgium.
The USSR performs a nuclear test in Semipalitinsk.
"Good. The crash was recent enough for me to use my post-cognitive powers." - Snowbird.
I'd just like to point out for the record that post-cognitive means the ability to see things after they've happened, and thus we all have post-cognitive powers, with the possible exception of goldfish and American political commentators.