Pak & Van Lente Head North for “Alpha Flight”

Wed, May 18th, 2011 at 8:58am PDT

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

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"Alpha Flight" .1 is on sale Wednesday; #1 hits June 8

Heroic jurisdictions are a tricky thing in the Marvel Universe. Heroes like Spider-Man and Daredevil patrol different sections of New York and sometimes their individual cases and enemies overlap. Large groups like the Avengers concentrate on bigger territories like America and occasionally the entire world. They can't be everywhere, but they can rely on other groups like Luke Cage's New Avengers, Steve Rogers' Secret Avengers, the X-Men, and the FF to cover any areas they can't reach quickly.

There is one Marvel group, though, with a very specific jurisdiction and no one else to call on to help them defend it. The group is Alpha Flight and they are the premier and only super hero team of Canada. In 1983 they received their own ongoing series which lasted 130 issues. Two other series followed that chronicled the team’s continuing efforts to protect Canada. In 2006’s “New Avengers” #16, Alpha Flight’s defense of Canada came to end when most of the team perished in a battle with an immensely powerful being known as the Collective. Recently, though, the borders between the afterlife and the world of the living weakened because of an event dubbed the “Chaos War,” and the dead members of Alpha Flight suddenly found themselves back among the living.

So now the dead Alphans have reunited with their living comrades and the original incarnation of the team is back and ready to defend Canada. Their reunion will be bittersweet, though, as Canada moves from a democracy to a fascist authoritarian state thanks to the events of the current Marvel event storyline “Fear Itself.” So to protect the people of Canada, Alpha Flight must go to war against the government and some members of their own team. The conflict begins on May 18th with a special “Alpha Flight” Point-One issue by writers Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak and artist Ben Oliver, and then heats up in June with the launch of an eight-issue “Alpha Flight” miniseries by Pak, Van Lente, and artist Dale Eaglesham. CBR News spoke with Pak and Van Lente about their plans for the series.

Pak and Van Lente are both long time Alpha Flight fans and the duo have been laying the ground work for the original team’s return for a while now. They wrote the “Chaos War” event and in the final issue of the series, when the borders between Earth and the afterlife reformed, the dead members of Alpha Flight found themselves still standing side by side with their living comrades.

“We kind of had this plan for quite some time. We were planning for it before we actually got approval for it, but it all worked out,” Greg Pak joked. “And Fred is definitely the Alpha Flight uber fan, but I also have my mylar bagged ‘Alpha Flight’ #1 in my long box from back in the day. I always got a big kick out of the characters, but it wasn't until fairly recently when I started working with Fred on Hercules stuff that I really got into them because we used Snowbird back in ‘Sacred Invasion,’ our ‘Secret Invasion’ tie-in arc of ‘Incredible Hercules.’ That's where I had my first chance to play with that character. Then the more we started talking about this, the more we delved into the characters and their dynamics. It's just a ton of fun.”

Fred Van Lente added, “I do confess to being an old school Alpha Flight fan and not being terribly familiar with the reboots and attempts to revive the series outside of [Michael Avon] Oeming and [Scot] Kollins' 2007 series 'Omega Flight.' I think what makes our series different from those books is that we are using the original team from ‘Alpha Flight” #1 and because we have the original team, we have the chance to go back and recapture that magic. We can take new and interesting looks at these characters.”

EXCLUSIVE art from "Alpha Flight" #2

For their series, Pak and Van Lente have the original Alpha Flight members of Guardian, Sasquatch, Northstar, Aurora, Shaman, Marrina, and Guardian’s wife Heather, who took the identity of Vindicator and filled his spot on the team after he died. “One of the interesting things for us is the diversity of the team. Not just in racial, gender, and sexual orientation ways, but it's very rare that you have a super hero team created whole cloth in which you have a goddess, a magic user, two mutants, a character that's basically a Hulk, a man in glowing battle suit, a brawler, and a merwoman. It's like this little Justice League that's popped out of nowhere. It's not a bunch of characters pulled in from other books.”

Original Alpha Flight member Puck wasn’t returned to the land of the living during “Chaos War.” That doesn’t mean Pak and Van Lente have forgotten about him though. The diminutive member of Alpha Flight will still play a role in the series even though he’s currently trapped in Hell. “It's hard to imagine Alpha Flight without Puck. We certainly want to have him on the team as much as any fan does,” Pak stated. “We'll just have to wait and see how that all works out. I highly recommend though buying every issue of this series if you're a Puck fan.”

It’s Alpha Flight’s unique status as Canada’s official super team that sets the events of Pak and Van Lente’s series in motion. “What gave ‘Alpha Flight’ its own unique spin was that it was a whole team of Captain Americas. This is a team that represents and defends an entire nation. So you're able to run with those themes of the patriotic super hero, but you've got a whole team to do it with. They're an incredibly diverse team, which allows you to interpret what it means to be a defender of a nation in many different ways. It really presents you the opportunity to tell stories that you can't tell with any other super team,” Pak explained. “The particular story that we're working on is this idea of, what happens to Canada's super hero team when the country becomes fascist? Whose side will the team take? That story line really depended on us having this classic group of characters. So the fact that we were able to use the outcome of 'Chaos War' the way we did was really fortunate.

“The story we're telling really relied on getting our hands on that original team. I think the original team had a massive impact and if you're going to take the premise of something and turn it on its ear, like how we're taking this team of patriots and having their country call them a team of traitors, that really depends on having the classic team up front,” Pak continued. “Because if you took a bunch of third or fourth tier Alpha Flight characters and turned them on their head it doesn't quite have that same impact. When you take those classic characters and have this happen to them in real time, current Marvel continuity then the stakes are where they need to be. Then the story can have the impact it needs to have.”

For their introductory point one issue, Pak and Van Lente kick things off by reestablishing the personal and professional lives of the individual members of Alpha Flight. “Guardian and Vindicator have a real serious issue that they're dealing with that happened while they were 'dead.' Aurora is much stronger than we've ever seen her before. She's been in therapy and she's pretty sure she's got her psychological problems under control, but that might just precipitate an even bigger fall. Northstar has taken a break from super heroics to spend time with his boyfriend. He's not interested in Alpha Flight right now but they might be hard to ignore. Snowbird has resumed her human identity. Shaman is back practicing medicine on the reservation and Marrina has become a college student,” Van Lente explained. “So we follow each one and even though they are professional super heroes and their country's main super heroes they also have their own lives. I think this adds depth. It's kind of like being a volunteer fireman. You don't necessarily have super villain attacks in Calgary every day. They are summoned as needed, but then go off and do their own things. So when things begin, Sasquatch is the only one I'd say that is pretty happy go lucky. He's one of those guys who just loves being a super hero.”

EXCLUSIVE art from "Alpha Flight" #2

Pak added, “Each one of these characters have their own issues and conflicts but, I think there is a way in which we'll all thrill to the awesomeness of what it means for this team to be back together again and doing what they do best. I think that is part of the fun of this thing. They are a phenomenal super hero team. We're really going to be able to enjoy the chance to see them unleashed. Then of course the other shoe is going to drop.”

That other shoe drops in June as the “Alpha Flight” miniseries begins and the title characters’ country takes a dark turn to the extreme right thanks to the events of “Fear Itself.” “Fear is a great motivator in politics. We don't want to spoil how everything comes about, but let's just say the events of 'Fear Itself' lend themselves to those who can benefit from that kind of terror,” Pak said. “Smart politicians know how to use the mass events that are going on in their nation for better or worse. Here we're going to see somebody absolutely using them for worse.”

“Like a lot of events in our lives, the situation kind of creeps up on you and it suddenly becomes the dominant situation while nobody's really paying much attention to it. It's sort of like you wake up one morning and realize what's going on when maybe you should have realized a few months ago or few days ago, but most of us are too busy living our lives to really notice things like that,” Van Lente stated. “So we're certainly trying to do this in a very interesting, real, and respectful way. It's believable. It's not Doombots goose-stepping through the streets of Canada.”

For Pak and Van Lente, the idea of creating a believable situation in which Canada is transformed from democracy to fascist police state was part of the appeal of writing “Alpha Flight.” “The chance to play out a scenario in which Canada goes fascist was too juicy to walk away from,” Pak laughed. “When you look at a big list of countries that might go fascist in the next 20 years, Canada probably isn't going to be ranked very highly on that list. So if we can tell a story where you can believe that Canada would go down this route then we've succeeded in telling a pretty scary story.”

Van Lente added, “I think that we're telling a very exciting super hero thriller that also has the subtext of a political allegory underneath it. You can do that with Alpha Flight of course because these are literally the government's super heroes. They were organized by the government. They're funded by the government. Their headquarters are in a government facility. That makes them somewhat unique in the Marvel Universe. I don't believe the Avengers are directly affiliated with the U.S. government. I think it's more that they work in concert with them.”

When the Canadian government takes its dark turn the members of Alpha Flight will be left with a tough choice: rebel against their country and be labeled traitors, or continue to do their patriotic duty and defend their nation against otherworldly threats, specifically their rebellious team mates. It’s a choice that will divide the team.

“Not every member of Alpha Flight will side with the team. Some of them may side with the government and each Alphan has certain things that are going on in their own life that the government directly affects and can improve in some sense. There are some things that the government can offer them that may cause their loyalty to be questioned,” Van Lente explained. “It's not simply an ‘us versus them’-style storyline. These changes in regimes don't just happen because you wake up one morning and suddenly a bunch of guys with guns are on your lawn telling you what to do. These situations always speak to the circumstances going on at the time both nationally and with each individual person. Our characters reflect that.”

Page from "Alpha Flight" #1

The Alphans that rebel against their country won’t have an easy time of things. They’ll be hunted by the military, law enforcement, and a horde of familiar super powered antagonists.

“Almost all of the super powered people in this story will be recognizable to Alpha Flight fans. Although sometimes you may have seen them as heroes, sometimes you may have seen them as villains, and sometimes you may have seen them as disinterested parties. So we're staying pretty close to the Alpha Flight cannon, but we're going beyond the Byrne run. You'll be seeing stuff from Bill Mantlo's run, and from the 'Omega Flight' stuff that came out during the 'Initiative' era. We're spreading across Alpha Flight history,” Van Lente said. “We keep hearing cries from the small contingent of Purple Girl fans out there. I just want you to know, we hear you.”

Pak and Van Lente’s “Alpha Flight” may be mining the team’s history for characters, but The writers have taken care to make sure the series is completely new reader friendly. “We are doing a total in continuity reboot. That doesn't mean that the previous incarnations didn't happen,” Van Lente explained, “it just means that they won't be constantly referenced on every other panel, and people who don't know anything about Alpha Flight or only love classic Alpha Flight will be able to pick up this book fresh and hit the ground running.”

“Alpha Flight” takes place entirely in the team’s home country of Canada. That doesn’t mean the series will be isolated and cut off from the other characters and events of the Marvel Universe, though. “The events of ‘Fear Itself’ will be referenced,” Pak said. “This does play out within the larger Marvel Universe. You may see some surprising faces during the course of the series. So keep your eyes open.”

One Marvel Universe character that won’t be playing a part in “Alpha Flight” is Wolverine. “I feel like his history with the team got played into the ground in the original series. So unfortunately you'll only be able to read about Wolverine in the 28 other books he appears in,” Van Lente joked.

For “Alpha Flight,” Pak and Van Lente needed to tell an accessible story that explores the history of a team of fan favorite characters, and they needed to make sure the story mattered in the larger scheme of the Marvel Universe. That’s not an easy feat to pull off. Working together helped, though, building on a rapport the duo first established collaborating on “Incredible Hercules” back in 2008.

“I enjoy this co-writing dynamic between me and Greg quite a lot. I think what's fun about it with ‘Alpha Flight’ specifically is you have so many different personalities. We redrafted some stuff I'd say conservatively speaking about a billion times before we figured out how we were approaching the characters, how they were different and how they had evolved since their original appearances. We didn't simply set them back to zero,” Van Lente said. “Aurora still has been through all the stuff she's been through, especially in that story in 'Dark X-Men.' You have Kyle who is Northstar's boyfriend from 'Nation X.' He's a major character in our ‘Alpha Flight’ book. So it took us awhile to actually figure out how we wanted to do the dynamic, but I think universally we really hit upon interpretations of these characters that we love and we think readers will love also.”

Pages from "Alpha Flight" #1

Pak added, “When you write stories with a partner you get and respect it makes it a lot easier to take those plunges. This happened to us all the time on ‘Incredible Hercules.’ One of us would throw something out that we haven't fully formed and the other one is like, 'That's genius!' It may have been something we were ready throw away and suddenly it becomes a solution to a problem that we were facing. So in terms of the writing process, it's a lot of fun. And as Fred said, because this is a book with so many different voices and so many different characters it really helps to have two heads playing with it. Because as perfectly matched as Fred and I seem to be we each have our own diverse set of interests and backgrounds.”

Pak and Van Lente are also enjoying the collaborative experience with artists Ben Oliver and Dale Eaglesham. “I worked with Ben on the 'Hulk' one-shot featuring Banner and Skaar that was part of 'Dark Reign: The List.' Ben is amazing. So I was really happy when we heard he was on board,” Pak stated. “ And I worked with Dale on the recent 'Incredible Hulks' arc where they went to the Savage Land. He was a dream to work with there. He's so much fun and so enthusiastic so I was thrilled when he came on board 'Alpha Flight.' I think his look is perfect for the book. The original Byrne characters and the original Byrne designs really benefited from those really clean lines. Dale has a new take on that kind of feel, while bringing his own special vibe to everything. Plus the fact that Dale is also Canadian is frankly a lot of fun and also incredibly useful.”

Van Lente added, “Dale and his wife are our co-ministers of Canadian affairs on this book. They're checking every script over and making sure we’re not doing anything that seems too American in terms of the unique culture and the history of Canada. Greg and I are very conscious of the fact that we are foreigners writing about another country. So we want to do our homework and make sure everything sounds and feels authentic.”

Pak and Van Lente’s “Alpha Flight” miniseries will come to a close with the release of issue #8, but if fans respond to the series the duo would be more than happy to do another miniseries or an all new “Alpha Flight” ongoing series. “If every person in Canada orders a book then we'll be good to go. We'll keep writing until the end of time because that's 30 million books sold right there! So it's up to you, Canada! You can make this the highest selling comic book ever,” Pak joked. “We joke a lot about the Canada thing, but frankly there are Alpha Flight fans all around the world. We're hearing from them and we're hoping that folks will do that big thing. Call your local comic shop and ask them to preorder it for you. That's how books thrive and are sustained. When the comic book stores know that you want a book then they up their numbers and the book has a shot of really having legs. So please contact your local comic store and ask them to order you a copy.”

Van Lente added, “If you want more. We will make more.”

TAGS:  marvel, alpha flight, greg pak, fred van lente, dale eaglesham, ben oliver, fear itself, point one

 
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