Wednesday, January 28, 2015

John Byrne's Alpha Flight Article

Clipped from John Byrne's Site 

Question:  How does JB feel about his work on ALPHA FLIGHT?
John Byrne: Alpha Flight (the team) were never really meant to be anything more than a bunch of superheroes who could survive a fight with the X-Men. They had no real depth, and I resisted suggestions that they get their own book for a couple of years. Then, finally, realizing Marvel would probably get someone else to do it, if I didn't, I relented and agreed. (Sidebar: ALPHA FLIGHT #1 was the biggest selling comic of its day -- 500,000 copies!!)

Question: What's the story behind Alpha Flight's creation?
John Byrne:  Several members of what became Alpha Flight date back to my fan days. Guardian is chief among them, being created when I was in my early 20s as the figurehead of a whole line of "Canadian comics" I was hoping to produce. Snowbird, in very different form, was born around the same time. Shaman, originally called Chinook (he had only weather-controlling powers) came next. (There was also a character called Phoenix. No chance he would ever have made it into Alpha Flight!) When I was assigned the gig of penciling UNCANNY X-MEN, Chris Claremont mentioned that Dave Cockrum had an idea that the Canadian government probably would not be too thrilled to see their multi-million dollar investment -- Wolverine -- head south as had so many other Canadian resources. Surely, he suggested, Ottawa would send somebody, perhaps even a team, to get him back. This sounded like a great idea, to me, and, of course, I had just the characters to do it. We decided to start with just one, tho, the leader of the group. Since Marvel at that time was publishing GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY the Powers that Were nixed the name Guardian, and since my backup, the Canadian Shield, was equally problematic in the Marvel Universe, he was without a name for a while. Chris took to calling him "Major Mapleleaf", and Roger Stern said we'd better come up with a name before that one stuck. Chris then tacked on "Vindicator", which absolutely did not work for me. What does Canada need to "vindicate"? I began pushing for the restoration of Guardian, and eventually pushed that thru. Before that happened, tho, we had our "sequel" to do, with that group of Canadians coming down to reclaim Wolverine. I dropped in the renamed (and power enhanced) Shaman and a redesigned Snowbird, and came up with Northstar and Aurora (super speed to counter Nightcrawler's teleportation), and Sasquatch (to balance Colossus) and off we went. In the process I came up with real names and some backstory for each. But in my mind, Alpha Flight existed only as a team assembled to fight the X-Men. When Marvel asked for an Alpha series, I resisted for a long time. I just didn't see much that could be done with them. (7/16/2008)

John Byrne:  Beta and Gamma teams appeared as single panel shots each in the first issue of ALPHA FLIGHT. I had no idea who those people were! As the series progressed, and I wanted to bring in more characters, I went back to those two panels and started thinking about who they were. (11/04/2005)

Question: Why did Mac's codename change from Weapon Alpha to Vindicator to Guardian? 
John Byrne:  As to Guardian -- Guardian! "Weapon Alpha" means nothing, and Canada has nothing to "vindicate". (Chris named him after a cool airplane, without thinking about the real meaning of the word.) Guardian is what the character was called when he was a fan creation (mine!). Canadian National Anthem, after all -- We stand on guard for thee... (11/04/2005)  

John Byrne: He's named after a hockey puck. (5/30/2006) 

John Byrne: I got paid my normal rate. Shooter said the blank pages were "an artistic decision". (2/17/2006)

Question: Why did JB kill Guardian?
John Byrne: It was a couple of issues into the run on ALPHA that I decided Jim Hudson was for the high jump, and that Heather would become team leader. I did NOT want her to get powers, or put on the suit. That was such a cliché, I thought.   

John Byrne: When I created Alpha Flight they were basically half a dozen characters who could survive a prolonged battle with the X-Men. They had very little depth -- tho I am a compulsive creator of backstory, so I knew something about their histories even then -- and were not really created with any thought toward them eventually getting their own title.
Unfortunately (?) they proved enormously popular, and so Marvel began pushing me to do an ALPHA FLIGHT book. Eventually I relented, and agreed to do the series -- which meant I had one problem instantly: I had to find ways to make those characters more three dimensional. One of the things that popped immediately into my head was to make one of them Gay. I had recently read an article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN on what was then (the early 80s) fairly radical new thinking on just what processes caused a person to be homosexual, and the evidence was pointing increasingly to it being genetic and not environmental factors. So, I thought, it seemed like it was time for a Gay superhero, and since I was being "forced" to make ALPHA FLIGHT a real series, I might as well make one of them Gay. From there, it was a process of elimination. I didn't want the homosexual character to be one of the girls, since that was something people tended to associate (rightly or wrongly) with Claremont books. Mac Hudson and Heather were happily married and I did not want to mess with that. Michael was widowed with a daughter, and that way lay what I considered too much of a cliche, if he turned out to be Gay. Besides, as a Native Canadian he was already the resident "minority". The new guy, Puck, had his own set of problems. Sasquatach would be just too damn scary!! So I settled on Jean-Paul, and the moment I did I realized it was already there. Somewhere in the back of my mind I must have been considering making him Gay before I "decided" to so so. Of course, the temper of the times, the Powers That Were and, naturally, the Comics Code would not let me come right out and state that Jean-Paul was homosexual, but I managed to "get the word out" even with those barriers. (8/24/2004)

Question: Did JB give Bill Mantlo any guides or suggestions for his ALPHA FLIGHT run?
John Byrne:  I gave Bill no tips nor insights on ALPHA -- because he said he didn't want any! He told me he had got himself a complete set of the series, and sat down and literally torn them apart, pasting pages and panels into a notebook so he would have a handy reference for each of the characters and subplots I'd developed. Of course, he then went on to do the "origin" of Puck, with the whole "demon inside" thing being based, apparently, on the single reference Puck had made to being in constant pain, something which Bill failed to grasp was an effect of the condition -- achondroplasty, called by name in the same issue that referenced the pain -- which caused Puck's dwarfism. (This was a manifestation of something I used to call "Claremont-itis", before it came to infect almost everybody -- that manner of backstorying characters in such a way that absolutely no one, nowhere, is ever "normal".) (1/31/2005)

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