Happy Canada Day! Or is it FUNday?

This week is FUNday’s 8th weekly post and possibly one of the longest, since I decided to transcribe large portions of text from this week’s issue. How is typing out all those words so much fun? No, that’s not fun, that’s work! Right, uh, except no one pays me for this, therefore it’s fun!

Marvel Age #31
Oct 1985

Marvel Age was a monthly series featuring previews of upcoming comics, news articles about various subjects, advertisements, humorous pieces, and the occasional interview with creators and Marvel staff. Long removed from the Internet age, it was a great way (sometimes the ONLY way) to get news about what was going on in the world of Marvel Comics. This issue has a few Alpha Flight images, two interviews and cartoon Puck on the back.

In Marvel Age #29, Jim Salicrup included a Top Ten list for Marvel Sales on the inside front cover, where Alpha Flight ranked #6. Unfortunately, that data was aggregated over a few months, likely so he could put Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars at number one. In this issue, the list is just the top ten best-selling Direct Sales titles for April 1985.  Individual issues are listed, not titles:

  1. Secret Wars II #2
  2. X-Men #196
  3. New Mutants #30
  4. Alpha Flight #25
  5. Web of Spider-Man #5
  6. Elfquest #1
  7. Fantastic Four #281
  8. Amazing Spider-Man #267
  9. Iron Man #197
  10. Thor #358

Alpha Flight moves up in the ranks to #4! For the record, in Marvel Age #30, Alpha Flight #24 was in the #5 position of the Top Ten titles sold only through Direct Sales outlets (not including newsstand nor subscription figures). So in 3 months, Alpha Flight moved from #6 to #5 to #4!

This issue was concurrent with Alpha Flight #27 and solicited issue #28 in the section, “Marvel Coming Attractions” with text set inside its own yellow highlighted block:

ALPHA FLIGHT #28 – The Beyonder! Alpha Flight! Omega Flight! And all of them are against the Hulk! You’ll never believe how this saga ends! You’ll never believe how this saga begins! But whatever you do, you’ll never forgive yourself if you miss “Cross-Over” written and drawn by John Byrne with an inking assist by Keith Williams. 65¢.

On the bottom of the page, a panel taken from Alpha Flight #28 is shown with Mister Jeffries’ hand in the foreground and the caption, “ALPHA FLIGHT meets THE INCREDIBLE HULK – the hard way!” Notice how the figure on the screen is colored green in the solicit but neutrally colored in the actual comic. Not as if it weren’t known who the figure was supposed to be, especially after the interviews below, but the neutral color sustains a bit more suspense for both the reader and the characters in the story for the ending of Alpha Flight #28. There’s just a completely different reaction to a green figure (oh, that’s the Hulk) than the neutral one (gee I wonder, who or what is that?), and I’m glad the actual version was published that way. Both panels are shown below for your viewing pleasure.

Marvel Age #31 version: Oh, that's the Hulk

Alpha Flight #28 version : Gee I wonder, who or what is that?

Two interviews regarding the Alpha Flight/Hulk creative team switch follow, a 3-page John Byrne piece by Dwight Jon Zimmerman and a 1-page Bill Mantlo piece by Kurt Busiek. Here is the portion of the John Byrne interview pertaining to Alpha Flight:

     How did the HULK/ALPHA FLIGHT cross-over come about?
     It started with me realizing that I was fast approaching the end of my Alpha Flight stories. You see, I had a specific number of stories in mind when I started ALPHA FLIGHT. As it turned out, a couple of those stories, when they were produced, generated other tales, so I actually remained with ALPHA FLIGHT longer than I anticipated. Even so, I realized a couple of months back that I was reaching that cut-off point for me, after which I’d have no more Alpha Flight stories to tell. So I started asking myself what I wanted to do after ALPHA FLIGHT? At one time, I would have said THOR. But THOR is in really good hands with Walt Simonson right now.
     Then I remembered the Hulk. I was lying on my bed staring at the ceiling and wondering what I would do with the Hulk. And it was as if someone had knocked over a domino in my head. Suddenly I had about fourteen issues worth of stories formulated. I soon started hounding HULK editor Carl Potts, asking him if Bill Mantlo was tired of writing the Hulk yet. Bill, of course, wasn’t. But Carl jokingly suggested that I call up Bill and ask him if he wanted to trade THE INCREDIBLE HULK for ALPHA FLIGHT. That’s what I did. After Bill got over the surprise, he called me back and told me that both he and Mike Mignola, the Hulk’s penciler, would love to swap.
     As the plans started to firm up, we decided to make everything a literal cross-over of characters, creative and editorial teams.
     Is the cross-over going to be double-sized?
     No, it will appear in two regular-sized issues. One of THE INCREDIBLE HULK and one of ALPHA FLIGHT. We will show two sides of the same story that month. Basically it’s a fishing story where the Alpha Flight crew is fishing around in an alien dimension trying to find a new body for Langkowski and they hook something. What they hook is the Hulk. So in THE INCREDIBLE HULK #313, we get his side of the story about his being hooked, and in ALPHA FLIGHT #28, we get Alpha Flight’s side of things as they do the hooking.
     It must have taken some pretty close plot coordination.
     Pretty close, yes. It was lucky, really, because we happened to hit a time for both Bill and myself when we were able to slip this scenario into our continuities. Unconsciously, our storylines were actually all in position, so we didn’t have to spend hours burning the midnight oil to try and fit everything together. It was one of those Marvel serendipity things where once it was conceived, it fell right into place.
     With ALPHA FLIGHT, what are the major plot threads that you’ll be finishing?
     Actually, I’ll be doing less wrapping up than I will be dangling story threads that Bill wants me to dangle. I’ve pretty much tied up everything I wanted to do. Bill told me a few things that he would like to have happen that he wanted to pick up on. So I started to add those elements in. Anything that has a Bill Mantlo plot twist in the ALPHA FLIGHT stories I’ve done also has a Bill Mantlo plot credit.
     Could you give us any examples?
     Bill wants to concentrate more on Shaman than Talisman. So we concocted a way of taking care of Shaman and Talisman at the same time. Bill also wanted me to bring Snowbird back. I had originally intended to leave her out for a while, so I changed plans there.
     What will happen to Talisman?
     What happens to Talisman will be tied into the SECRET WARS II continuity. My last issue of ALPHA FLIGHT is also the SECRET WARS II cross-over. I will say this, Talisman won’t be killed. There has been enough death in Alpha Flight during my tenure. I’ll let Bill handle any new killing.

On the following page, the Alpha Flight title block and four title box floating heads appear: Heather, Aurora, Talisman and Box (who was occupied by Walter in the concurrent issue #27 and part of the solicited issue #28 until Roger Bochs jumped in and Walter jumped out into the fishing line, so it’s not clear which Box’s head that is). Ironically, the floating heads were drawn by John Byrne on the Bill Mantlo page. Byrne’s floating heads would continue to appear in the title box through Alpha Flight #31.

Here is the full Bill Mantlo interview:

     One of the biggest surprises of the year is that Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola, the creative team on THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and John Byrne, writer / artist of ALPHA FLIGHT, are switching assignments. Starting with HULK #313 and ALPHA FLIGHT #28, John will be bringing you the adventures of Marvel’s anti-social green goliath and Bill and Mike will be chronicling the exploits of Canada’s greatest heroes. We collared Bill Mantlo in the offices one Monday afternoon shortly after we heard the news, to find out what’s in store for the northern stars.
     I know it’s a little soon for you to have worked out all your plans, Bill, but can you tell us anything about what’s coming up in ALPHA FLIGHT?

     We have a lot of ideas. We’re not sure exactly how soon eadh [sic] idea is going to be put into the process. Essentially, my feeling about ALPHA FLIGHT is that John did a spectacular job. That’s straight from the shoulder – I think it’s some of the finest writing I’ve read in a long time. But I think you had to read it consecutively. You had to sit down as I did, and read ALPHA FLIGHT #1-20, in order to get a grasp on the organic maturation of his characters. It was extremely difficult to follow what he was doing on ALPHA FLIGHT from issue to issue, because he never really concentrated on the team. He concentrated on individual members and their problems. And after awhile, even I, who read it religiously, lost track completely of who was in the book and who was a member of ALPHA FLIGHT, and what the team was.
     Our first job is going to be to pull the team together, to give them a reason for existence, a location, a headquarters. Probably they will be funded by the government. Whether that is a generous gesture on the part of the government, or whether there is some subterfuge involved in forming this team again, is something that we’re going to develop.
     Once they’re held together as a team, they will act as a team. If one of them has a problem, that problem will involve the whole team, instead of specific individual adventures as you’ve seen in the first two years of ALPHA FLIGHT. The whole team will go solve Snowbird’s problem, or find out what Snowbird’s problem is. The whole team will go on a Puck adventure, instead of Puck going off and leaving the team at home.
     Some characters will remain, some charcters [sic] will go. I think John has already dealt with Sasquatch – he will not be returning. Northstar will probably meet his demise, as something from his past surfaces. Snowbird is going to think that she’s dying, but that’s actually a prelude to some major changes in her life and character. A major villain, tentatively called Pestilence at this point, is going to be introduced. I don’t think the book has had a major villain except for the Master. We’re not sure what to do bout Marrina. We’ve got a lot for plans for Box, the robotic member of Beta Flight. He’s going to be reintroduced.
     I want to deal with Beta and Gamma Flight, and Omega Flight, find out who these people are, and . . . Where is the government raising these people with bizarre powers, and what is it raising them for, and what does it mean that now they’re re-funding Alpha Flight? Is it because they’re using Alpha Flight as a control group, or do they want to study Alpha Flight and find the secret to their powers and create new super heroes, or what? We don’t know. That’s all stuff we want to find out.
     They will become more closely linked to the Marvel Universe, in that there will be a few cross-overs. There’s already an ALPHA FLIGHT / X-MEN project in the works that Chris Claremont and John Byrne did. We will pick up on elements of that, and may have them meet other Marvel heroes, although not too many.
     There’ll be an international sense. The book has been predominantly located in Canada so far, with one or two trips to the United States. But Canada is closer to, say, the Soviet Union or Greenland or Europe than we are, in many ways. You go right over the top of Canada to shoot an ICBM from the United States to the Soviet Union. We’ll probably do stories that deal with that notion of pan-globalism, and how Canada’s tied up with the international scene.
     So there’s a lot of ideas – we just haven’t put them into specific stories yet. Guardian will be back, in some form. Not the Guardian you know and love, but . . .
     That’ll be a big development certainly.
     I think that’s where we’re going. In fact, we’re here today to discuss the nuts and bolts of what happens now, to discuss the cross-over where John and Mike and I will actually switch titles, our first issue of ALPHA FLIGHT will hit. Apparently the book is doing remarkably well, and has a loyal following. I’d like to win back people who bought a team book, and then saw it devolve into indivdual [sic] stories, and I’d like to win new readers who might not like super hero books, but are going to find that this is a different kind of super-team book. It’s not THE AVENGERS or THE FANTASTIC FOUR or THE X-MEN. It’s a completely different slant towards telling super hero stories.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for, the FUN part of today’s FUNday post! The calendar! The back pages of many Marvel Age issues featured a comical calendar with staff birthdays, one-liner jokes and parodies of various Marvel characters. The back cover of this issue had a calendar for July 1985 featuring cartoon Puck on the 1st, celebrating Canada Day, which is, uh, the day Canada signed the Magna Carta and Quebec became independent from France in 1492, or something like that, whatever. I really should have waited until it were July 1 to post this, but I’m pretty sure that in modern times, Canada Day got moved to some other date after the Queen conquered the Duke of Calgary in the Battle of Halifax in 1776, so it doesn’t matter. Credits for the calendar are w-Jim Salicrup, a-Ron Zalme and c-Andy Yanchus.


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6 Responses to “Happy Canada Day! Or is it FUNday?”

  1. Chris Says:

    Northstar was supposed to meet an early demise by someone from his past??

    I don’t think Mantlo would have had Deadly Ernest kill Northstar in the third issue of his run. Maybe Northstar was originally going to be killed off by Scourge aka Giles McHeath (the bad guy in Marvel Fanfare 28) I’m glad Mantlo or his editor changed his mind about killing him.

  2. rplass Says:

    Ah, you got one word wrong. It says “something”, not “someone”. What was that “something”… was it that “koff koff” sickness that was supposed to be an opportunistic infection from AIDS or was it his fake Elven heritage or his previous association with Cell Combattre? He did leave the team during Mantlo’s run by going off into Alfheim (Elf land) in issue #50, but did not meet his demise. The Marvel Fanfare story, which was a Mantlo issue, is the best guess, I think, but most likely, Mantlo had decided that Northstar would be leaving the team and really didn’t know exactly how he would pull it off at the time of the interview.

  3. Allan Says:

    “There has been enough death in Alpha Flight during my tenure. I’ll let Bill handle any new killing.” – JB

    Well…I think at this point we can all safely say two things. First, we look back on JB’s AF run and fondly remember it because it had so FEW deaths, compared to what befell AF from that moment right up until now. Second, Bill killed characters quite well; those he did not kill literally, he just sucked all the life and realism out of them, and left them a smoking husk that resembled nothing fans of AF had ever seen before.

    Interesting article, thanks for taking all that time to type it out!

  4. Dana Says:

    I’ll never understand Bill Mantlo’s Alpha Flight run…He wrote such great stories in other books (Rom, Micronauts, etc…).

    He treated the Alpha Flight characters with such disrespect, killed some off and dumped others…Eventually bringing in his own creations (Manikin, Purple Girl, Box IV, etc…). They were okay characters, but they came nowhere near the coolness of the originals.

  5. Chris Says:

    Rom 17 was the first Marvel comic I bought on my own. I absolutely loved Mantlo’s work on Rom and devoured every issue. It was Rom 56 that formally introduced to Alpha Flight. Why Bill’s work on Alpha Flight became worse as the years progressed, I know not.

  6. rplass Says:

    Yeah, I’m quite pro-Mantlo, too. I will point out his continuity errors when it’s relevant to what I’m trying to say, and I will criticize some of the stranger things he did with AF, but overall I’m on his side. I knew it wouldn’t be possible to post this excerpt from Marvel Age without generating some feelings about Mantlo either way. Say what you want about the guy, but as bad as you feel Mantlo ever got, he was still 10,01,01,01,1001,01010 times better than the absolute evil that is Brian Michael Bendis, who I hate and who is a big stupid idiot and he sucks.

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