There’s no shortage of Great Moments in Comic Book History. There’s the death of Uncle Ben, the death of Gwen Stacy, the death of Dark Phoenix, the death of Superman (for some reason the “great moments” often involve death). But for me, the truly great moments were the quieter ones, the ones that made me really understand a character, introduced me to a new idea, or made me question my assumptions. Published in July 1984, Alpha Flight #12 by John Byrne has such a moment.
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Now if you thought that Alpha Flight #12 was important because it includes the SPOILER ALERT death of Guardian, you might be forgiven.
Parenthetically, Alpha Flight #12 might informally be called “the origin of the Spoiler Alert” as the inadvertent or clumsy revelation of the Guardian’s death prior to the release of the issue led to a long-standing feud between writer/artist John Byrne and then-peon Peter David. Byrne blames David for spoiling the ending; David claims he was trying to prevent word from getting out (here’s David’s version of the story).
In any case, the death of Guardian is not the reason that Alpha Flight #12 is important.
Let me explain. Alpha Flight was always a disappointment for me. It was such a great idea (Canadian-government sponsored fighting team) and a cool collection of characters: a guy with a flying battle suit, a sasquatch (named... "Sasquatch"), a metamorph, twin speedsters, a shaman (named..."Shaman"), and a very short acrobatic guy. Okay, so the team was a bit ridiculous, but they were drawn by the cool John Byrne (at least at the time I thought he was cool). And Marvel hyped that puppy! I was so psyched about picking up issue #1, only to find out it had a joke cover and a storyline involving a convoluted plot by aliens and a second rate Dr. Doom.
I was willing to overlook a lame beginning; but here’s the thing: the comic never got any better. Alpha Flight never operated as a team. In fact, most of the time they were spread out across Canada (which is, admittedly, a pretty big place) having unimpressive solo "adventures" like the (I kid you not) nearly-all-white issue (18 pages of NO artwork) that I paid good money for (60 cents was a lot of scratch for a young Cej). And when the members actually did get together, they bickered with one another instead of beating up on bad guys! The only thing that was holding the book together for me was the relationship between James Hudson (Guardian) and his wife Heather.
And then Byrne killed Guardian!
But like I said, that’s not what elevates Alpha Flight #12 to the Great Moments in Comic History for me.
Let me set the stage: James Hudson has been lured to New York City with the promise of a new and exciting career; and his wife has come to meet him to start their new life. That’s where AF #12 begins.
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As we shortly learn, the job offer is part of an elaborate revenge scheme to destroy James Hudson. We also learn fairly quickly that the woman giving Heather Hudson the run-around is actually a deadly robot (because, why hire a sexy personal assistant when you can build a sexy deadly robot?).
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If you’ve read these pages, you may have missed it. The sexy secretary tries to placate Heather by offering her a little television. And that’s when Heather says the life-changing retort:
Heather Hudson: I’m not interested in watching the blasted television. There hasn’t been anything worth watching since 1966.
Not interested in watching TV? Good lord! I must have spent an easy six hours a day watching television in those days. What other pursuits were there?
What makes AF #12 important is that this was one of the first times that someone I respected told me that television was a waste of time. Sure, sure, parents and teachers had been telling me the same thing for years---but they were required to say it. Alpha Flight had no ulterior motives.
Maybe TV really was a waste of my time.
Admittedly, I didn’t stop watching trashy TV, but I did start to question whether it was worth it. Who says comic books have nothing to offer us?
Of course, this scene also raised the question as to what was on TV in 1966 that was worth watching. Twenty-five years ago the young Cej had no internet access and no easy way of finding out what program(s) Byrne (via Heather) could have been referring to. I decided that he must have meant The Twilight Zone, which I watched religiously.
But now that I do have the internet, I haven’t bothered to find out. I mean, how good could it possibly be?
Great Moments in Comic history, ladies and gentlemen...