Marvel’s Alpha Flight was one of the first comic book series I picked up on a monthly basis, alongside New Mutants, All-Star Squadron, and Fury of Firestorm. Unlike most comics I read in my formative years, series creator John Byrne’s two and a half year run on the Canadian superteam’s title has stood the test of time fairly well. Alpha Flight under Byrne’s direction wasn’t particularly exceptional, but it was the work of a writer/artist at his creative peak given the freedom to tool around in a distinct corner of the Marvel Universe with his own (co-)creations.
The results were, for lack of a better word, eerie — not just for the occasionally bizarre sexual politics expressed in the individual stories. Whether or not Byrne’s depiction of Canada was accurate or not, the characters and locales did convey an atmosphere of exoticism that distinguished them from the Manhattan-centric axis of Marvel’s other superhero properties. This extended to the villains and adversaries the team faced, which ranged from the disturbingly horrific to the disturbingly absurd. (Indeed, many of the stories incorporated rather graphic elements of supernatural or sci-fi horror, which was mindblowing to my tweener self back in the day.)
My interest in the series took a nosedive after Byrne left the book in a gimmicky creative team swap which put Bryne on the The Incredible Hulk while Hulk writer Bill Mantlo took over Alpha Flight. (Byrne soon afterward abandoned his new gig — and Marvel altogether for a time — to oversee the reboot of the Superman franchise at the Distinguished Competition.) Where Byrne’s Alpha Flight was uniquely bizarre, Mantlo wasted no time retooling the concept into a fairly generic team book along the lines of the perennially popular X-Men, complete with toxic levels of melodrama and stilted dialogue.
To prove his X-intentions, Mantlo used the pages of Alpha Flight #41 (December 1986) to introduce Canada’s answer to Kitty Pryde, junior X-Men member and Fandom’s Imaginary Girlfriend Emeritus. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kara Killgrave, The Purple Girl…
The Purple Girl is the daughter of Zebediah Killgrave, a petty supervillain who used his power of mind-controlling body odor to vex both Daredevil and Nobody’s Favorites alum Paladin as the dreaded Purple Man. Upon realizing that America was doomed to self-destruct, Purple the Elder placed his baby daughter in a prototype rocket aimed at a distant land where she could grow up to experience the joys of Lay’s Smoky Bacon potato chips, a functional healthcare system, and easy access to Chilliwack’s discography.
Okay, so I made up that last bit. What really happened was ol’ Zebediah decided to take a break from villainy and start a family, only he miscalculated his wife’s reaction to being mind-controlled into matrimony and motherhood. The traumatized woman (who was traditional enough to keep Zeb’s last name after the messy divorce, go figure) relocated to the Great White North, where she gave birth to apparently healthy (and non-purple) baby daughter, Kara.
The sins of the past run deeper than a hasty move to Ontario, however, and Kara’s genetic legacy manifested during her thirteenth year, granting her her dad’s pigmentation and mind-control powers….
…which she promptly put to use by stealing her mom’s credit cards, running away from home, and attempting to seduce the still-closeted Northstar, Alpha Flight’s resident obnoxious Francophone. (Teenage girls hitting on older men is a proud team tradition, apparently.) Finding herself unable to push that particular rope up a hill, Kara forced Northstar to take her to Alpha Flight’s island headquarters, where she expressed her desire not to follow in her dad’s footsteps by taking mental control of the team and going on a whirlwind shopping tour of Toronto.
Fortunately for Kara, Canadians are a laid back breed. Despite the teen’s shaky grasp of ethics and boundaries, the Alpha Flight crew decided to bring her into the fold as the sole member of the Beta Flight superhero apprenticeship program. (Hey, it seemed like a cool name when Byrne came up with it. Kinda.) Her role with the team closely followed that of all junior associates, in which the stridency of the orders to “stay out of trouble because you’re not experienced enough” is directly proportional to the magnitude of the threat such characters singlehandedly defeat five pages later on. (Think of it as the McCloud Syndrome for teen heroes. “Your methods are deplorable, but nice work, kid!”)
Though part of a team whose member fatality count exceeded that of both Justice League Detroit and the Suicide Squad combined, Kara Killgrave – who lost the mallrat look and Purple Girl moniker for the more Chromium Age appropriate persona of “Persuasion” — managed to remain alive and intact through the title’s long-overdue cancellation in the early 1990′s and is still kicking around in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo appearance form today.
Occasional shakings of the shared junk drawer aside, the fact that remains that the Character Formerly Known as Purple Girl is a derivative and forgotten third-stringer from the post-Byrne run of Alpha Flight. If that isn’t the most impeccable qualification for being honored as Nobody’s Favorite, I don’t know what is.