Friday, 9 November 2012

ALF #5: "What Fools These Mortals Be..."

(Don't carry on, nurse.)


If pushed, and not that anyone asked, but if I had to name my favourite Alpha Flight character, the only way Puck would fail to win would be if I decided to rank him joint top alongside Sasquatch (who's brilliant, but a bit too obvious of a Beast clone).  So whilst the running joke of him failing to get to the action in Alpha Flight's first issue was genuinely funny, I was disappointed not to see him in action (it's difficult to see what he could have done against a colossal magical earth elemental determined to destroy mankind, but that's exactly why it would have been fun to watch).  Then, we only got a few pages into ALF #2 before he got his guts ripped out and he had to be hospitalised, sitting (lying?) out issues 2 to 4.

In short (no pun intended), a nice slice of Puck-related action is definitely overdue.  And this time round, he's going to provide it, the fact he's basically two pieces of Eugene stapled together be damned.

While everyone else has been skipping around the Arctic Circle making nuisances of themselves, Michael Twoyoungmen has been working on fixing Puck up.  Puck himself has been catching up on his reading and flirting with every nurse within reach. Not that he has much of a reach, you understand, but the nurses seem quite willing to move within range.  Everyone loves a silver-tongued dwarf with a war-wound you could fit a microwave into.

Whilst we're on the subject of those of the feminine persuasion, I should state up front that to no-one's surprise, this is going to be another post about gender politics.  Also to no-one's surprise, Byrne isn't going to do too well out of what I'm going to say.

The basic plot of the first half of the comic is that one of Judd's nurses is acting strangely.  Not the one who keeps giving him sponge baths he doesn't need - that's merely unprofessional, though since Eugene is enjoying it I don't suppose it particularly matters, so long as she's off-duty.  No, we're talking about the one who goes missing in the middle of the night, forcing Puck to drag himself out of bed in exceptional pain and stagger through the hospital, looking for someone who can fill him up with morphine.  He eventually finds the nurse who was supposed to be on the desk, and it looks rather like she's sampling the wares, so to speak.

On its own, this wouldn't be worthy of comment.  It's a bit of a prosaic storyline after four issues of extinction-level threats, but that makes for a welcome change of pace.   And if nothing else, the comic's comparatively low on sledgehammer moral messages; Puck just wants to bust a potential drug ring, not make speeches about how smacking up is bad for you.

So what's my problem?  Well, here's the thing.  Nurse Daly is a woman who's supposed to be looking after Puck, and instead she's ignoring her duties.  Marinna was a woman who was supposed to have Puck's back, and instead she attacked himl.  Aurora is a woman who's supposed to work alongside Alpha Flight, but keeps working against them or even putting them in danger.  The reasons are different each time - the down-to-earth in the form of drug addiction or mental illness, the fantastical in race-memory mind-control - but that's three instances in five issues of a woman dropping a fairly important ball.

A pattern, in short, is emerging.  Hell, this issue opens with Puck and Shaman talking about how they don't really get on with Snowbird.  None of these are objectionable in isolation (indeed Daly might be the least objectionable of all), but all together, it's hard to avoid noticing.  The fact that it variously takes Puck, Northstar and Namor to keep these wayward broads on the straight and narrow just makes things worse.

Outside of this problem, there's actually more than a little to like in here.  I don't think watching Puck go about the business of punching hoodlums could get old; it's like watching Wolverine without claws and with more of a sense of showmanship.  There's also a neat swerve out of comic coincidence when it looks like Puck just happened to stumble onto the crooks the very first night he went looking, only for it to transpire the head doctor (in who Eugene confided) was in on the drug ring all along. And since the "How the band got together" backup strip has returned, the whole thing is nice and breezy (and as always, at least twenty-seven times more bearable than Hidden Years).

I'm just not shaking the unfortunate undercurrents, though.  Mind you, neither can Byrne, as the issue reaches its conclusion, Puck mentions his conviction that Nurse Daly couldn't be in charge.  There must be a top guy, eh?


On to the back-up strip, "Deathwatch", in which we travel back in time fifteen years, where a young surgeon, brash and arrogant, ignores the truth of the mystic arts, sure that his medical skills are all he will ever need.  Seriously, how cool would it be if Shaman's real name was Strangeyoungmen?  The answer is very.

Alas, this prideful man, filled with foolish cupidity, does no better than any other prideful man, filled with foolish cupidity.  He learns from his own doctor that his pregnant wife is seriously ill, and though he works for months to save her, he fails, losing both wife and baby, along with his daughter, who thinks he lied to her by promising to save her mother, and his grandfather, shaman of the tribe, who's died on the same day, in a way some might see as ironic, but I choose to consider selfish.

Oh, and it turns out his daughter and Guardian's wife-to-be were friends as children, which seems kinda pointless, but maybe something will get made of it later.


There's no real suggestion of how much time has passed since Marinna left with Namor at the end of last issue, so we're left trying to figure out how long it would take for Puck to partially recover from being almost disemboweled.  I've no inside knowledge on this score - mostly I deal with diabetes and IVF, though recently I've taken a sidestep into septic appendices - and the nebulous nature of mutant healing prowess would make such info questionable in any case.

I think it's safe to say a month is at least not wildly implausible, though.

The story itself takes place over two nights and two days. It's not clear if it stretches into a third day, but given how far behind schedule this title is, we'll assume it does.


Monday 10th to Wednesday 12th of January, 1983.


X+4Y+289 to X+4Y+291.

Contemporary Events

Nikolai Podgorny, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR until six years earlier, dies aged 79.

Standout Line

"Come on in, sweet thing, and this time let me tell you about the time I went tiger-hunting in Nepal..."

So much cooler than Wolveirne.

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