When Alpha Flight #1 debuted in 1983, it was one of the most anticipated new titles of all time. The first giant-sized issue sold over 500,000 copies. John Byrne’s interest in the characters and the series waned, leading to a drop off in the plots during the second half of his run. His artwork maintained its brilliance though, and shines in the oversized format of Marvel’s omnibus line. He experimented with various inking tools and line weights during this time period. His run on the title finished with Bob Wiacek and Keith Williams providing inks.
Knowing that John Byrne himself didn’t like this work does make it a bit less enjoyable, but this volume provides a great deal more fun than anything coming out of the House of Ideas recently. Only Aaron’s two Thor books equal Byrne’s run on Alpha Flight.
This is a huge omnibus at 1248 pages and 6.9 pounds. Collecting Uncanny X-men 109, 120-121, Incredible Hulk Annual 8, Uncanny X-men 139-140, Machine Man 18, Marvel Two-in-One 83-84, Incredible Hulk 272, Alpha Flight 1-29, Marvel Team-up Annual 7, X-men/Alpha Flight 1-2 (1985), X-men/Alpha Flight 1-2 (1998) & Incredible Hulk 313.
Kudos to Marvel for including all the appearances of Alpha Flight prior to receiving their own title. Though they aren’t up to the artistic quality of Byrne’s work, these issues still provide fast pace and helped fuel fan’s desire for the stand alone title.
I understand Marvel’s desire to publish a single volume as the completed John Byrne work on Alpha Flight. To publish two volumes, we would have to end the first one around Alpha Flight 12 or 13. The strongest work would appear in the first volume. Demand to purchase the second one might be much lower. To me, a 630 page two volume set would’ve been preferable, but the quality of Marvel’s Omnibus program is, as usual, top notch.
A Note on Printing
Daredevil Omnibus Volume 1 and Alpha Flight Omnibus are both printed by Hung Hing Off-Set Printing in Hong Kong, not Donnelly Asia Printing. I just received Uncanny X-men Masterworks Volume 10 and it’s still printed by Donnelly. Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu was also printed by Hung Hing Off-set, possibly the first project Marvel gave to them. Master of Kung Fu Volume 1 was through Donnelly, but Volume 2 was through Hung Hing. The last three Hung Hing projects are larger volumes and they appear to be high quality but not to the level of Donnelly. Master of Kung Fu Volumes are smaller and appear to be similar in quality to me.
Two subtle differences that stood out for me with Hung Hing are the endpapers feel heavier (like construction paper). This might seem like a good idea, but the binding is unusually tight on this end paper and caused creasing on the lightweight paper used to reproduce the comic pages.
On the positive side, all the volumes done by Hung Hing that I have all are slightly lower gloss than what Marvel has been using. This cuts down on reflections from indoor lighting when reading in a dark room or at night (which is 90% of my reading).
Besides these differences, the quality seems equal to Donnelly to me. The painted cover and wrapping are high quality and really make Byrne’s artwork pop with new digital coloring by Matt Milla.
John Cassaday did the art on the last series. Mike Mignola did the art for Hulk 313 & Alpha Flight 29. Hulk annual and 272 had art by Sal Buscema. The first crossover series had art by Paul Smith. The Team-up Annual had art by Paul Neary. Two-in-One’s art is by Ron Wilson and Machine Man’s art is Ditko. While not quite to Byrne’s level, the art throughout is very good.
Don’t Underestimate the Colorists
I always considered Glynnis Wein and Petra Goldberg to be two of the better colorists of the Bronze Age. Andy Yanchus did incredible coloring in his run on Alpha Flight (1-28). He also had a long run on New Warriors (2-17), but the coloring was fairly average on that series. Possibly he responded to the artwork, for his least impressive work on Alpha was issue 16 where Byrne’s pencils were very rough in many places, requiring Bob Wiacek to finish the art.
In the Colossus panels, Andy Yanchus provides more depth in the steel bands and provides the white color of his eyes and mouth.
In the following panels, Moira is dunking Sean’s head under water. Glynnis Wein provides more depth in the grass, with a band of dark green. Yanchus provides white and blue in the water splash and a darker blue complementing the inked ripples in the lake.
John Byrne’s Artistic Impact
John Byrne seems to still be a divisive creator in comics. Some fans still remain loyal to him while others scrutinize his stories and artwork.
When I was a younger collector, Byrne’s art and stories struck me profoundly. Through the lens of time, the artwork is still amazing. His strongest art, such as shown in the X-men issues, are some of the most beautiful, powerful, dynamic and emotional work ever done in the medium.
John Byrne the Writer
Byrne as the writer wasn’t always up to the level as Byrne the artist. On Alpha Flight, his writing was usually up to the task, especially early on. His ability to breathe new life into older creations was always unmatched.
Whereas his art was best at portraying the monstrous and the weird as well as characters of millions of faces and body shapes, , his writing flourished when contrasting the supernatural or cosmic with the mundane, the powerful with the helpless. In Alpha Flight, we embarked on the supernatural out of the gate, facing the menace of Tundra. Each character approached the battle differently. Byrne would often use the characters to demonstrate fear and doubt, shock and awe in the face of the ominous or cosmic.
Several of these issues could’ve found a home in pre-Marvel’s Atomic Monster age. All the Great Beasts as well as the Super-Skrull issues wrapped mystery and monstrosity with the scientific.
For his career, his biggest shortcoming was creating new villains. Alpha Flight’s rogue’s gallery featured several new creations: The Great Beasts, The Master, Deadly Earnest, Omega Flight, Gilded Lily, Caliber, and Pink Pearl. The only reused villain was Super Skrull in two of the best stories in this run.
The Great Beasts
The Great Beasts could have been his greatest villainous creations. They started off strong with Tundra in #1 and Kolomaq in #6, but declined with each subsequent showing. Ranaq, Tanaraq, Kariooq, and Somon were successively weaker. I was hopeful that Wendigo’s curse originated from a Great Beast, but Byrne decided to go in another direction with that one.
The Master of the World
The self-proclaimed “Master of the World” could’ve been Alpha Flight’s Doctor Doom, but in his second showing, fell quite short. Even the tie-in to Marrina and Namor were decent at first. If Marrina had been a more prominent character, the Master could’ve been a great recurring foil to her. The fact that Byrne abandoned her character helped weaken the Master as a foe (as well as his silly name, which was just as bad truncated to “the Master” or his real name of Eshu).
Omega Flight was Alpha’s answer to the Masters of Evil or the Frightful Four, though the characters themselves seemed fairly inadequate to really be a threat to Alpha Flight, instead relying more on chicanery, which I guess was the case for most renditions of the Masters of Evil as well.
Jerome Jaxon put together the initial team after they were abandoned by Canada’s Dept H and James Hudson’s new team. Headed by the beautiful but deadly robotic Delphine Courtney, the team also had the robotic bruiser Box, and the mutants Diamond Lil, Flashback, Smart Alec and the derivative Wild Child. Over the years, every one of these members is killed besides Flashback.
This is a large collection, even by Marvel’s omnibus standards. The binding does bend out more than other 1200 page collections that I have, such as War of the Kings, but the binding seems sturdy enough.
The pages are thin, which makes the book more manageable. A couple of times, the pages caught on my hand or sleeve as I was turning them, but did not tear or crease.
Included in the omnibus are a ton of extras (37 pages): Marvel Age 2 cover by Byrne and four-page article. Marvel Age 31 excerpt interview with Byrne, Marvel Age 32 cover by Smith and three-page article, Marvel Super-Heroes Portfolio by Steve Fastner and Rich Larson (X-men vs Alpha Flight), Amazing Heroes 22 cover by Byrne, Bullpen Bulletins Byrne draws the Marvel Universe, Comic Buyers Guide 500 cover by Byrne (B&W), beautiful 1984 poster by Byrne, Assistant Editor’s month notice from Alpha Flight 6, Subscription ad by Byrne, Marvel Fanfare 23 by Ken Steacy (Guardian), World’s Finest Comic Book Artists 1993 by Byrne(B&W), Amazing Heroes 76 by Mignola and Byrne, Hulk/Alpha Flight house ad by Mignola and Byrne, 1990 Alpha Flight covers by Byrne (81-82), Handbook entries for the team (three plus pages), quarter sized art by Byrne (cover for 1, page 23 from 3, Pink Pearl sketch, splash and page 14 from 22, splash from 25, cover for 27), Classic X-Men covers of the issues in this omnibus with fantastic Art Adams artwork, X-men/Alpha Flight wraparound cover by Dave Cockrum, Asgardian Wars cover by Art Adams, and quarter size recolored covers for the TPBs including back covers.