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Alpha Flight

Minimates
by yo go re

Canada's answer to the Avengers, Alpha Flight is a team of super-powered individuals united by Canada's Department H to deal with threats to their homeland. Led by the battlesuit-clad Guardian, the team also included the aquatic Marrina, the diminutive acrobat Puck and the flying, light-generating mutant Northstar.

Guardian is James MacDonald Hudson, and the fact that Department H shares its initial with his last name should give you an idea of how he got the job leading the superteam. And, showing the consequences of putting a scientist into the field, his suit exploded with him inside it by the end of the comic's first year. Whoops!

Say what you will about John Byrne's ego, the guy's a good artist. And when it comes to superhero costume designs, Guardian's is one of the best ever made. Look at it! It sells "Canada" just as hard as Captain America's suit sells "USA," but does it in a more stylish manner. He's wearing the Maple Leaf, but it's offset, wrapped around his ribs instead of plastered on his chest. You might not be able to make it out on his chest, due to the muscles painted there, but the back is perfectly clear.

You can remove Guardian's mask, to reveal the face of Hudson beneath. Probably. We'll get to that in a minute, but for the rest of this paragraph, assume it's him. He's got dark black hair in a rather generic, clean-cut shape that befits a scientist and bureaucrat. Mac has the angriest face in this set; he looks like he's ready to punch somebody.

So, about that identity confusion. Packaged next to Mac in the tray is a bluish-green robot head of some sort. The cover of Alpha Flight #27 gives us a clue, however, and in that issue we find that the James Hudson who seemed to have been returned miraculously to life was in fact Delphine Courtney, an evil robot the team had faced before. She was posing as Mac, but eventually pulled off her synthetic face to reveal the truth, and that's what the head represents.

All the members of Alpha Flight represent some different aspect of Canadian culture - in case you coldn't tell, Puck represents hockey. Seriously, his codename refers to a hockey puck, not to the mischievious spirit: the explanation is that he's small, fast and hard. Yeah.

The original intention for Puck was that he was a dwarf and had no special powers, just extensive training in gymnastics and brawling. Eventually it was revealed that he was originally a 7' tall adventurer who willingly imprisoned a demon inside his body, which is what shrank him to 3'6".

Since he's meant to be diminutive, Puck gets the "slipper" feet. His costume is dark blue with a big orange P on the front, and his bare arms and legs are hairy. His headgear is a separate piece, and therefore removable, but there's no reason to do so - he doesn't have any replacement hair. Yes, he's bald in the comics, but they didn't paint him any ears, so he just looks weird without his cap on. Incomplete.

To allow you to re-create Puck's acrobatic abilities, he comes with a very simple, yet very cool accessory: an extra left hand, with a hole in the palm. The hole is the same size as the ones in Minimate feet (ie, Lego-compatible), and will thus plug securely onto the included disc base. This Minimate can do a single-handed handstand!

When John Byrne created Alpha Flight, they were more a set of powers than actual characters - for instance, Northstar only had super speed because it was a good way to counter Nightcrawler's teleportation. Anyway, when it came time to flesh them out, Byrne decided to make one of them gay, (because this was the early '80s and people were just starting to realize that homosexuality was genetic, not environmental).

Like Guardian, Northstar has an asymmetrical costume element: in his case, a large white starburst on his right hip. His costume is a stylish black and white, with simple gray details to create his muscles. He's actually worn the same costume for most of his career - every time it's been switched, he's eventually gone back to the original.

Drawing Northstar and his sister Aurora, Byrne gave them black hair with white highlights. Apparently this was confusing to later artists, because it's very common to see them drawn with blank white hair. So you can decide which version you like better, the set includes a second piece of hair, done in white instead of black.

The set also includes two flight stands - legitimate "swooshing" bases, not just hover pegs like Slimer had. There's one base designed for two feet, and one for one foot. Northstars and Guardian are the only ones in this set who can fly, so you can pick which one you want to fly on which base. I should also report that Northstar's knee joint broke, so I had to glue the leg in place. Nine years, hundreds of Minimates, and this is only the second time something like that has happened. Still annoying, though.

Our final figure in this set is Marrina, the generic sea-girl. She was the team's representation from Newfoundland. You know, since it's an island. She's an honorary Avenger, she was married to Namor, she was secretly an alien who turned into a monster and had to be killed when she got pregnant... oh, and also she apparently hung out with Alpha Flight sometimes.

Rustin and I (and quite a few other fans) have both expressed our desire to see Spider-Man Minimates start coming with "thwip" hands - you know, thumb out, two fingers up. It could be used for Dr. Strange, too. Anyway, whenever the subject is brought up, DST head honcho Chuck Terceira says no, he wants to stay away from fingers on Minimates if at all possible.

Ignoring the fact that the first Minimate thumb showed up in 2004 and the fact we showed you Puck's new hand not eight paragraphs ago, here we are again, saying Marrina has fingers. She has fingers and they're webbed and they're fingers, Chuck! We posit that Spider-Man is at least as important to Marvel as Marrina, and deserves just as much consideration when it comes to his hands. Mold it as part of a webline and call it an accessory if that helps you feel better, but give the guy his thwip, guys! Okay, sorry, rant over, back to Marrina.

Marrina doesn't look like a normal human, the way Namor and Aquaman do - she's got pale yellow skin, webbed fingers, eyes big enough to make an anime character jealous and no nose to speak of. Yes, Minimates always lack noses, but she barely had one in the comics. Her hair is a light green bob, which has a very nice sculpt, particularly around the back of the neck. Her suit is a scaly green, much like Namor's, but she was wearing it before she ever met him. AA even remembered to paint the necklace she always wore.

The Alpha Flight box set is a very cool offering - and it'll be even cooler once the second box set comes out and completes the team. The inclusions of the Delphine Courtney head and the white hair for Northstar suggest that someone on the development team is a big-time Alpha Flight fan, and generally a lot of work went into all four figures. There's even going to be a Heather Hudson and Box two-pack at some point, so in almost no time you'll have the complete roster.

-- 08/27/12


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