Thursday, 18 July 2013

ALF #17: "...Dreams Die Hard"

(One step forward, two steps back.)


At last we come to our final glass of 1984 vintage Byrne.  What's more, it tastes surprisingly good. 

Perhaps this is because Byrne has set himself a specific task here; work the upcoming new, Guardian-less era of Alpha Flight into its formation in-universe, and to the first appearances of Wolverine and Guardian themselves within the X-books.

That's a really nice idea, and if it shifts the book away from developing a story towards solving a continuity puzzle, well, that's the sort of exercise I appreciate.

We begin in November of 1980, on the first day James Hudson shows his wife his costume.  It may well have been ready earlier, but that doesn't matter.  Alpha Flight begins with Heather and Mac together, discussing the future.  In a little over three years, he will be dead, but today he's got other problems.  Wolverine just quit to join up with a wheelchair-bound bald guy (brilliantly described as a "big-wig"; I thought it was funny, anyway) from the US.  When first we saw this, it was nothing but a quick nod to Wolverine's character. Seen from the Hudsons' perspective; it's a devastating betrayal.  After finding Wolverine and taking him in, and after years of supporting him as he acclimated to society once more, he storms off and leaves the country because... well, why, exactly?

This idea that Guardian and Heather are responsible for Logan being who he is is a great one.  It ties them into the wider story, it enriches Wolverines back-story (back in the days when it could be enriched, rather than simply made more complicated), and it gives the entirety of Department H and Alpha Flight's appearances to data a cyclical quality.  Wolverine quit the day Alpha Flight as we know it began, and returns to apologise for that action the day it is born anew.

It even makes sense of how different James Hudson's character seemed in his comic compared to his appearances in Uncanny X-Men, where he was pretty much a dick.  Seen in the light of his fury over his friend abandoning him - without so much as a thank you for helping him regain his sanity, or a promise not to start carving people up if they annoy him - Mac's obsessive need to recover Logan makes much more sense.  This is exactly the sort of thing these "fill in the blanks" stories should be doing; offering us old events from new perspectives, so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  This is not an easy trick to pull off, and Byrne goes even further by working in the relevant pages of UXM #109, which Bryne himself drew, and trying to make sure his dialogue and Claremont's don't clash.

Really, it's an achievement worthy of respect, and the most fun I've had reading Alpha Flight since the wonderfully cheeky "Snowblind".  And as I say, it feeds into where the title is going next.  Where Heather has seen her husband's death as a reason to disband the team she helped create, both Wolverine and Puck insist the real conclusion to be drawn here is that it's time she led the team herself.  She has no powers, but neither did James.  There's no earthly reason that Heather can't follow on in her husband's footsteps, and having a comic I've previously criticised for its gender politics explicitly point this out has to be considered significant progress.

So, nice work all around, really.  Kudos.  Very tasty.  But what's this lurking at the bottom of the glass?  Why, it's an epilogue which utterly ruins everything.  We learn in the final three pages that Walter Langkowski has built a machine to "help" his lover Aurora.  Aurora thinks the device will remove her link with her estranged brother, allowing her to access her maximum power levels without having to be in physical contact with Northstar.

What the machine actually does is turn mutants into humans. They retain (most of) their powers, but the X-gene.

Which is just disgusting.  In later years, the X-books will get a lot of mileage over the question of whether a mutant who desires to become a baseline human should have that right, but this is something different.  This is a man deciding what's best for his girlfriend would be if he changes who she is. 

It's perhaps tempting to link this into the recurring theme in this book of men having to rescue women from themselves, but - subheading notwithstanding - let's not go down that route just yet.  For all I know Byrne is setting Sasquatch up for a big fall here.  He may come to regret his hubris.  For now, let's pin the blame on the character rather than the author.

Because Sasquatch has really fucked up here.  He's justifying his meddling on the idea that Aurora will be more or less unaffected by the procedure (she'll "still have a version of her powers"), but of course, that isn't the point.  The point is that our identity and our genetics cannot always be separated. As much as racism is a hideous thing, it would be an appalling idea to start subjecting, say, black people to a procedure that makes the observer think they look white, without even telling them.  Self-identity is the absolute bedrock of who we are, and for all but the most centred (or narcissistic) or individuals, the reflection of that identity we gain from others is of critical importance.

Walter's thoughts on the matter betray his horrible attitude: "...I care about Aurora, and that gives me the right to try and protect her".  Duuuude, no.  You don't get the right to do things to people because of how much you love them.  Down that path lie the monsters.

Like I say: for now, this is a character problem, not an author problem.  I'll have to see how this story thread develops before I can say more.  Really, though, this is an ugly, ugly start.  Can't I read just one Alpha Flight issue without wanting to take a shower?


The majority of this story takes place in one day, presumably very early morning on the day after Marrina's squamous brother was declared missing presumed exploded.  The Aurora subplot is listed as "not quite meanwhile", so I'll place it a day after, mainly just to have a new date to find contemporary events for.


Saturday 14th to Sunday 15th April, 1984.


X+6Y+44 to X+6Y+45.

Contemporary Events

Welsh comedian Tommy Cooper dies on-stage following a massive heart attack.

Standout Line

"Canada's not just the kind of country that breeds world-conquering types." - James Hudson.

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