Pullbox Bookshelf Review: X-Men & Alpha Flight 1 & 2

Before Loki became a household name… unless you’re of Nordic descent, in which case Loki & his homies have always been reasonably well known… and before he was the cheeky quasi-hero as played by the ever charming Tom Hiddleston, Loki was kind of a jerk. Even when he thought he was being a pretty decent guy, his meddling in the affairs of mortals never turned out very well for us.

Or, case in point, for the heroes of the X-Men & Alpha Flight.

In a bid to gain the favor of They Who Sit Above in Shadow, the gods to whom gods pay fealty, Loki has promised to change his wicked ways and to grant a boon to humanity. To that end he’s created a miracle font of fire that will elevate all who step in to their full human potential and gift them with amazing abilities beyond their wildest dreams. For those who area already gifted, as is the case with the X-Men & Alpha Flight, there are no further benefits. Loki’s blessing would simply level the field for everyone. On the surface, it all sounds great. Among the first humans to receive their gifts is a woman able to feed and clothe the masses, a living Cornucopia who can conjure the most basic of needs with a blink. Madeline Summers, wife to X-Men leader Scott/Cyclops can heal any ailment of mind or body- an ability she demonstrates by repairing the damage to Scott’s optic nerves, the very injury that’s forced him to wear a ruby quartz visor to control his optic blasts.

Of course, as is almost always the case, there is a cost for these gifts. That price comes immediately due for Alpha’s own Snowbird, a being of magic whose life force begins to be pulled away as soon as Loki’s boon comes into being. Likewise, Shaman loses control over his medicine bag, his connection to a mystic portal that’s always been his source of power. While we don’t see the worldwide effects of this sudden drawing off of mystical energy, the dots are connected and the question is asked: How would this impact likes of Doctor Strange, Illyana Rasputin, or anyone with magical ability?

The other, more subtle & insidious cost of Loki’s gracious offering, is the ability to dream, to turn new thoughts and ideas into art. While the majority will be elevated by the trickster god’s gift, those already possessing powers and abilities that had previously set them apart from humanity, will once again be distanced by that creative spark. Not being able to partake of the boon, they also don’t have to pay the price. Again, humanity would be divided by their inherent differences.

Without a doubt, the X-Men storylines were elevated by the near-magical talents of Chris Claremont. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the two double-sized issues that made up this arc, but it’s held up pretty well over the years. Claremont’s dialogue does slip into some lengthy diatribes now and again, like a lot of comics of a time when readers weren’t quite trusted to follow along without regular doses of exposition. For all of that, Claremont manages to give personality to the players in his sequential drama, keeping to everyone’s established character. Puck is still the wisecracking rogue, while Rogue plays the southern belle who remains wry of wit and steady in her resolve. Wolverine is still the best there is at what he does. Fans of both teams can rest assured that their favorites have been treated with the respect they’re due, and should give thanks for the legend that is Chris Claremont for making it all happen.

The team up you never knew you needed…

For my money, one of the highlights of these books is Paul Smith’s artwork. I’ve been a fan since falling back into the X-Men during his run in the 80’s & 90’s, and I believe that the team as he drew them holds up as a pretty definitive look. Through posture & facial expression, Smith upheld the personalities these characters had developed over the years- decades for many- and had a serious eye to detail. Consider that much of these issues are spent in some pretty spectacular settings, created as they were through the use of Loki’s gift. Smith’s dynamic pencils set the tone from one panel to the next. Then with the addition of inks by Bob Waicek & colors by Bob Sharen, it all comes together and paves the way for a pretty memorable superhero beat down in the arc’s finale… first as lines are drawn & hero clashes with hero, and then when everyone realizes what would be lost it’s X-Men & Alphans taking on Loki and his marshalled forces.

We’re talking about frost giants here, people!

Without a doubt, the X-Men of this era are my X-Men. The core lineup of Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, & Colossus (and Lockheed the Dragon!) is the one that stands out in my mind as the ultimate mutant team. With fan favorite Canadian super-team Alpha Flight added to the mix, this two-shot story was a crossover to end all crossovers. Or was it? Seems like the Norse god of mischief wasn’t quite through with Marvel’s mutant groups as the hijinks continued in The New Mutants Special Edition #1, with Arthur Adams picking up the pencil where Paul Smith left off.

But that’s going to have to be a different review, folks, because this one is in the can. In closing, I’ll just point out that these incredible books can be found in the wild in print and digital form, both as single issues & collected trade. If you’d like to take a step back to the early days when the X-Men and their affiliated titles ruled the shelves at the LCS, by all means give this story a shot.

And I know that there are some devoted Alphans out there (looking at you, Eric)… come on, show us those hands!

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