View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
7 December 2018

Alpha Flight: the surprising story of Marvel Comics’ little-known Canadian superheroes

How an obscure 1980s comic series gave us the first gay superhero, the first superhero with dwarfism, and much more besides.

By Tony Wolf

Everywhere you look, superheroes are big business. Only this week, Marvel Studios, the film production wing of Marvel Comics, released trailers for two new blockbuster comic book movies.

Anticipation is high for Captain Marvel (the first Marvel superhero movie featuring a female lead) and the next Avengers movie, the trailer for which dropped to enormous hype Friday morning. But while The Avengers are the flagship characters of the Marvel Universe, I’d like to take you now on a tour through a more obscure corner of the superhero world.

The first Canadian superheroes were known as Alpha Flight – and their creator, John Byrne, spun some surprisingly progressive and groundbreaking tales for the early 80s.

What do I mean by “progressive”? Alpha Flight gave us a number of societal watermarks. The first-ever gay superhero. The first-ever superhero with dwarfism – who may well have been the inspiration for Tyrion Lannister. It also gave us one of the first instances of an episodic adventure series in any medium abruptly killing off a lead character for shock value.

During his later run on Superman for DC Comics, Byrne also gave us the first lesbian character in superhero comics, during a time when LGBTQ themes were almost never discussed (and if so, not with any subtlety) in the mainstream pop culture world. Byrne was (and still is, for many) a superstar of the form – though he is also known for making a number of questionable and controversial public statements.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Anyway, here is the story of Alpha Flight!

Note: on some screens, best enjoyment of this comic strip might require zooming in your browser window.

This piece was coloured by SirGryphon, an artist, writer, colorist, and designer based in Seattle. He owns a comics shop, Anyone Comics, with Dimitrios Fragiskatos in Brooklyn, NY. Find him on twitter & instagram at @sirgryphon and his store’s site: www.anyonecomics.com.

Tony Wolf is a comics creator and actor in NYC. He has written & drawn comics for The New York Times and been featured in New York Magazine’s Vulture. He tweets @tonywolfness and his Instagram is here.

Content from our partners
Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International
Time for Labour to turn the tide on children’s health
How can we deliver better rail journeys for customers?

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU