Armagideon Time

December is upon us, so it’s time to flip the Nobody’s Favorites script for the next few weeks and take a gander at some undersung characters and comics for which I have a particular fondness.

First up is Snowbird

…Alpha Flight’s shape-changing demigoddess of the Arctic wilderness.

John Byrne’s run on Alpha Flight was — alongside New Mutants and All-Star Squadron — one of the first titles I purchased and read on a monthly basis. Ostensibly an X-Men spin-off, Alpha Flight was an odd duck among Marvel’s stable of offerings at the time, featuring a Canadian superteam which operated in an environment outside the traditionally Manhattan-centric axis inhabited by most of its shared universe cousins.

At the risk of overstating the historical significance of Byrne’s 28-issue run on the book, there were a number of interesting things going on in Alpha Flight during that period. Not only did Byrne experiment with long-form and non-traditional (for a 1980s mainstream superhero funnybook) narrative elements, but he also played around with recurring themes of supernatural and body horror which contributed to the run’s bizarre and unsettling feel. While it might not have reached the disturbing levels of Alan Moore’s work on Saga of the Swamp Thing, there wasn’t (and still isn’t) anything quite like those Byrne issues Alpha Flight on the the stands.

Despite being Alpha Flight’s creator, Byrne wasn’t really wasn’t happy with the gig, seeing the characters as uninspired quasi-caricatures with limited storytelling potential. Although I think he did a pretty decent job elevating most of the individual members beyond the typical 2-D “international high concept collective” trope, he did have a point when it came to Snowbird.

Where other Alpha Flight members were given ample moments of characterization, Snowbird (a.k.a. Narya a.k.a. Anne McKenzie) spend most of her time flitting about the periphery as a roaming plot device. The daughter of the Inuit goddess Nelvanna (a nice tribute to Canada’s first superhero) and a human archeologist, Snowbird was born to combat the Great Beasts, a group of primordial demons whose return served as a primary plot thread throughout most of Byrne’s tenure on the series.

Apart from participation in one of greatest instances of brass-balls reader-trolling in funnybook history…

…Snowbird really didn’t do much besides getting lectured by disapproving members of her divine family, getting stricken down by newly revealed limitations on her powers, and making kissy-face with a former co-worker in the Canadian Mounties…

Yes, Snowbird was a Canadian superhero inspired by native myths, who shared a superheroic name with an Anne Murray song, a civilian surname with the characters of a famous SCTV sketch, and was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

And did I mention that she was a essentially a young child who had matured supernaturally into an adult woman? This was a Byrne book, after all.

Yet as laughably grotty as her concept and origins were, I still maintain a soft spot in my heart for Snowbird. Her marginalization — intentionally or not — had a distancing effect which ended up emphasizing her otherworldliness and the strange uniqueness of Byrne’s Alpha Flight run in general. Unlike Thor or Hercules, whose godhood didn’t interfere with their integration with the Avengers’ insitutional culture, Snowbird came off as fellow traveller whose connection to Alpha Flight rested solely on overlapping agendas rather than personal relationships…

…and should that lead to ripping out a teammate’s heart in the middle of a Vancouver street, then so be it.

Over the past few decades, Snowbird has gone through the usual paces of a d-list superheroine with no appreciable fanbase — a nightmarish pregnancy, multiple deaths and resurrections, a pretty nifty supporting role in an Incredible Hercules story arc — but it’s really those old issues of Alpha Flight that have sustained my qualified affection for the hard luck goddess of the Great White North.

Well, that and her weirdly alluring eyes.

Related posts:

  1. Nobody’s Favorites: Color me unimpressed
  2. En attendant
  3. Nobody (Else’s) Favorites: Go west

9 Responses to “Nobody (Else’s) Favorites: Fly away with you”

  1. Chris Wuchte

    I recently re-read that Byrne run. Like most ’80s comics, it couldn’t live up to my childhood memories, but it’s still a fun read.

    At the time, I hadn’t realized how much he avoided actually writing them as a team. Not only are issues featuring the entire team rare (maybe even non-existent after that first issue), but it’s rare to even get more than two of them together for most of the run. Reading it now, it’s so obvious that Byrne didn’t want to do it, but as a kid it ranked right up with my favorite titles.

    I’m going to continue reading the post-Byrne issues, but I have a feeling they’re going to feel very ordinary compared to what came before. Plus, there’s something like a hundred more issues after he leaves! The ’80s-’90s – when the comics industry could sustain an Alpha Flight title for over a decade.

  2. Matthew Johnson

    Whew! For a second there I didn’t read the revised title and thought that you were going to nominate Snowbird as a regular Nobody’s Favo(u)rite, in which case we were going to have to Have Words.

    My personal favourite Snowbird story was her second appearance in X-Men, when it is revealed that capital-W Wolverine is not, in fact, as tough as a regular wolverine (or Snowbird transformed into a wolverine, anyway.)

  3. HoorayforGooba!

    Like the above commenter, I had a moment of fanboy rage until I remembered the flipped script for December. I love those Byrne Alpha Flight issues (and have a soft spot for those that came after) and was thrilled to see Snowbird show up in Incredible Hercules.

  4. Al Bruno III

    Ah this takes me back. I read ALPHA FLIGHT but always found it, as you observed, more of an anthology than a team book.

  5. Sumfeller

    I can’t ever see myself hating Snowbird. She’s got a great look, she’s not overexposed, and her powers are neat. It helps that the aforementioned Hercules run was my first big experience with her. Given that she’s on the same team as Puck and Sasquatch, a lot of jobbing should probably have been expected. Why do writers keep making teams where one member has to spend half the book benched?

  6. Tim O'Neil

    I’ve always found Byrne’s famous antipathy towards the concept quite interesting: this is a great run, and it’s great precisely because working against what he saw as the concept’s inherent limitations forced him to think creatively about ways to circumvent these limitations. I think his approach to Alpha Flight as a “non-team” worked really well, and I’ve always been surprised no one had ever taken this approach (loose central affiliation with a number of branching solo adventures) and applied it to the Defenders.

  7. bitterandrew

    Byrne did return to the theme with his equally great-but-problematic West Coast Avengers run but, yeah, the Defenders would be an ideal for this model.

  8. Tristan

    I don’t know, in a way wasn’t Byrne’s Alpha Flight sort of a reverse-Defenders? One group is nominally a team, but rarely works together as one, the other has no reason to be a team, but forms one anyways?

  9. Ffnordd

    In that 2-part X-Men Wendigo story, didn’t Claremont hint at a possible relationship between her & Wolverine? Never saw any kind of follow-up to that (Although Claremont was famous for not following up on throwaway teasers in stories).

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