[UPDATE, 10/14/05: Although this was a fun issue to mock, I have since been set straight by artist Craig Brasfield, who pencilled this issue. Much of what makes this comic suck happened after Craig had turned in his pencils - for instance, he's not responsible for swiping Caliber and dropping him into the comic, it was the editor. Craig left a comment on this post explaining the real story behind Alpha Flight #121, which led me to post this retraction. Craig's response is actually a fascinating glimpse into deadline hell; you can read it in the comments section of this post or here. Anyway, my thanks to Craig for being so gracious about the whole deal. I'm leaving the original post intact, but annotated in brackets. Here we go:]
You know, people never stop me on the street and ask me, "Dave, you always say the nineties were the Dark Ages of Comics. How come?"
I don't physically carry comics around with me, but if I did, I would produce Alpha Flight #121 as just one of many pieces of evidence as to why the nineties almost killed us all. Sweet mother of God, this is one bad comic. All those involved in making this comic should be held as enemy combatants. Indefinitely. In a country that allows torture. [Omigod, I am like, so mean.]
Seriously, it's that bad. Written by Simon "Transformers" Furman with art by "guest penciler" Craig Brasfield and guest inker Frank Turner, and edited by Rob Tokar, Alpha Flight #121 represents to me all that is wrong with comics in the nineties. The cardinal and unforgivable sin is that this is nobody's best work - it's almost unforgivably bad - and they actually wanted people to pay $1.75 for it. Hell, I did. But at least I finally have gotten my money's worth from Alpha Flight #121 - I have a blog that I can use to mock it. What about all the other kids out there who don't have blogs? Who's going to help them heal? Who, damn you?
This particular issue stinks of hackery and desperation. [Ouch. Meany.] Alpha Flight wasn't doing too good, so they tried some changes like X-Men style costumes and guest stars like Spider-Man. They sure pulled out all the stops with the villains in this issue, though. Instead of the usual suck-ass villains our favorite Canadian super-team has to fight, this issue Alpha Flight gets to do battle with a new and even more suck-ass enemy, THIS GUY:
"He's called the Brass Bishop, and I'm telling you, he's the new Magneto. Kids are going to love him!"
Those words were probably never spoken, ever.
The story involves Alpha Flight being sad because two of their teammates Silver and Auric (I know: who?) have died. Fortunately the funeral for these Canadian heroes is in New York, where Spider-Man and the X-Men live, so we get them involved in the plot for no real reason. As we learn, the Brass Bishop has jacked Silver and Auric's corpses and is using them to power a Something-Or-Other Machine which he will sell to the highest bidder at an auction for supervillains. Among the assembled villains are folks like Doctor Octopus, Arcade, and the Alpha Flight villain known as Caliber.
Caliber first appeared during Alpha Flight creator John Byrne's tenure in issue #23, and then again in issue #25. As a youngster I was psyched because although Caliber was shown to be kind of a pushover, he looked really cool. Maybe he would evolve into a major Alpha Flight enemy over time, Young Dave hoped. Alas, it was not to be, and his only other appearance (correct me if I'm wrong) is here, a hundred crappy issues later in issue #121. Writer Simon Furman remembered Caliber! [Let me jump in here: according to Brasfield, Caliber was originally supposed to be Black Tom from the X-Men, but the X-Editors didn't want the stink of Alpha Flight on their character, so they wouldn't let Black Tom be used. They had to change horses midstream and turn Black Tom into Caliber. Like my Gran Gran always used to say: "Don't change horses midstream in the war against the bats."]
Unfortunately, his script demanded that the fill-in artists actually draw Caliber, and that's where we run into trouble. [As Brasfield points out, how hard would it have been for him to draw three panels of Caliber? Further proof that his presence wasn't due to Brasfield.]
Here's a panel from Alpha Flight #121 of Caliber throwing a mechanized hissy fit at Brass Bishop's auction:
[Check this out, this is interesting: You see the big blob in the left hand side of the panel? Brasfield originally drew a picture of the Green Goblin, but - you guessed it - the Spider Editors wouldn't let them use him, so they had to black him out. GG still made it into one panel, though.]
Is he shooting at Brass Bishop in that panel, or just letting his plasma cannon froth a little for dramatic effect? Tough to say. We could ask "guest penciler" Craig Brasfield, only he didn't actually draw Caliber! No, our time-crunched fill-in artist just lifted Byrne's art straight out of Alpha Flight #23.
Here's the original panel:
"Well, that looks darn similar," you might say. "But look here, Campbell! In this original art Caliber is facing the wrong way! And his arm is in a different position! Why you'd have to be some kind of computer wizard to change the art..."
Fine. To illustrate my point I have summoned my vast computer wizardry and done my own little hatchet job on Byrne's art. Voila! I have recreated the panel in question!
Look, I even drew Arcade and The Living Laser in there, because damn it, I don't skimp on backgrounds when I'm stealing other people's work! God, I'd be so pissed if I were John Byrne.
Maybe I'm being too mean. I mean, Caliber would be hard to draw. At least the artist doesn't do it again. Oh, wait... [You are being too mean, you dick.]
I call bullshit and bullshit once again! That's Puck, by the way, valiantly attacking a photocopy of a supervillain. I believe we've already covered Puck in a previous post.
Here's the original Byrne art the [editor] swiped for this panel, courtesy of Alpha Flight #25:
"But wait!" you may say. "Why is the cop in the foreground colored green like that?" I don't know, man. I'm just taking the piss out of one comic book at a time, here. Let me focus.
Anyway, for a cheap laugh and to further mock all involved, I've yet again recreated the panel in question:
Seriously, that's the level of craftsmanship that went into creating Alpha Flight #121. The story is awful, guest-stars are shoe horned into the plot in a transparent ploy to gain new readers, the non-stolen art sucks ass, and the stolen art is even worse. Honestly, I think it shows contempt for the audience. Where was editor Rob Tokas for all of this? Did Marvel have no standards of quality in the year 1993? [Hey, well at least I put it on the editor's shoulders here.]
Alpha Flight #121: further proof that the nineties were truly The Dark Ages.
This comic is so bad, so shamefully bad, that I must give it "The Pain Award."
'Nuff said! [It still gets The Pain Award because it's god-awful, but for entirely different reasons.]