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.