Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Story / Writer: Bill Mantlo (TIH#313 / AF#29)
Artists: Mike Mignola & Gerry Talaoc (TIH#313 / AF#29)
Words & Pictures: John Byrne (AF#28)

Foreshadowed in both series, this is a three-part crossover story, although the individual episodes do not take place in a linear order. More of a Y-shape really.

All I mean by that is that the first two issues - Hulk #313 and Alpha Flight #28 - both take place simultaneously.

That said, Alpha Flight both begins earlier and finishes a moment later than Hulk. I guess that makes one of the prongs of the Y a bit longer.

Alpha Flight #28: Cross-Over

First up, that's a fine story-title. As mentioned above, this issue is a crossover story with the concurrent Hulk #313. However it's also billed as a crossover with Secret Wars II.

Muddying the waters still further, the first nine pages - almost half the issue - feature neither Alpha Flight, the Hulk nor the Beyonder. Instead, it's set in Alberta, Canada, and all about a team called Omega Flight.

Jumping into the ongoing storyline blindfold like this, I found it tricky to get a handle on who all the unfamiliar members of this supergroup were. At one point it even seemed as though this was the intro to be a flashback story, because on page two Courtney implies that they have just encountered the Beyonder before the issue started.

Courtney: "You could have calculated all the possible permutations... including the arrival of this so-called 'one from beyond!'"

Despite flicking through the preceding issues, including those of Hulk #312 and Secret Wars II, I just can't figure out to what encounter he's referring. Is this another of author John Byrne's protests at having to add-in the Beyonder character to his script? Might even the title be a cunning reference to his being 'cross over' this?

Anyhow, it turns out that this actually is a flashback story, but only in that it happens to include a character whose name is 'Flashback'.

Flashback's super power is that he can grab multiple versions of himself from his future and flash them back into the present moment, enabling the group to make-up numbers quickly. The potential of an ability like this sounds limitless, until one of his future selves accidentally dies.

Flashback: "I'm dead... I'm DEAD! Maybe in a DAY, or a week... or an HOUR..."

Then, on page ten, the Beyonder actually does show up! Sadly, this is one of his crossovers in which he only appears for two pages.

Two more disappointments here:

1. The beginning and end of this scene can be found over in Secret Wars II #4, where Alpha Flight similarly appear for only 2-3 pages, saying dialogue that is tricky (though not impossible) to reconcile with their speech here.

2. In the Marvel UK reprinting of Secret Wars II, Alpha Flight was the resident on-off back-up strip until issue #41. When, in issue #57, they were all set to make this guest-appearance in the main Secret Wars strip, it was cut. I don't know why.

But back to their own US mag. Once the Beyonder is out of the way, the rest of Alpha Flight #28 takes place back in Vancouver.

Now most of the team are casting a laser-harpoon into another dimension to find a new body for Walter Langkowski, without their boss Heather finding-out. Their unspoken lack of respect for her - coolly citing an excuse for everything when she walks in - makes it tricky to choose who to side with.

Well, until they discover that the new body they've caught actually belongs to the rampaging Hulk, and suddenly everyone is united in cliffhanger mode.

The Incredible Hulk # 313: Hook, Line & Sinker!

Here we see the laser-harpoon from the Hulk's point-of-view.

He's trying to escape from the crossroads between dimensions when he suddenly gets speared by the futuristic fishing-rod. As the team are reeling him in, the Hulk gets yanked through all sorts of crazy worlds. Well, he isn't very happy about that, and he says so. A lot.

There's a touching moment of peace before the end when Walter gets to temporarily inhabit the Hulk's body. Bruce Banner, floating ethereally nearby, is elated that someone else's mind now occupies the frame of his alter ego. It means that Bruce can finally die and be set free from all the anguish he's suffered as a result of his green curse, while Walter can live-out his life in a real body again.

But the saga of The Incredible Hulk isn't one for happy endings. Walter believes that Bruce's laying-down of his life is an altruistic act on his behalf. Walter couldn't possibly accept the body on those terms. So Walter vacates the Hulk, and Bruce's tortured mind is once more snapped back to within the raging monster, who just won't die. (cue iconic piano music) It's a poignant, unsatisfying moment, with apparently no lesson to be learnt. After all, Walter was hardly wrong to assume the best of Bruce's intentions.

On the closing page, the Hulk is finally heaved back into our world, where he faces Alpha Flight as at the end of AF #28, and growls at them.

Alpha Flight #29: Cut Bait & Run!

Following-on from both the above issues, Hulk smashes Alpha Flight, who all slowly unite behind their earlier-ridiculed leader. There's even a brief fight between the Hulk and Tanaraq. As usual, it all ends with the Hulk just wandering away, leaving everyone else exhausted. (cue piano again)

The titular crossover between these two series was driven by a crossover happening behind-the-scenes too. The creative teams behind each title were swapping places on what was intended to be a permanent basis. To that end, there's a tangible sense in this issue of establishing a fresh premise for upcoming stories in both series.

For the Hulk, after a year of issues trapped between dimensions, more normal circumstances are at last restored as he charges across the Canadian / US border and presumably back into his lonely desert. For Alpha Flight, the final two pages find them receiving their commission back from the Canadian government.

It leaves both sagas with something of a blank slate for their incoming writers to work on.

If I had to pick just one title or the other to follow, then I'm pretty certain that Alpha Flight would win. I've got a bit of a soft spot for Canada, and their company just seems like far more fun.

(with thanks to Herschel)


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