Fan Expo: Pak & Van Lente Upgrade "Alpha Flight" to an Ongoing

In the Marvel Universe, superteams often enjoy close relationships with their governments, but they're not usually agents of their home country. Canada, though, has a long, proud tradition of government superteams. In the wake of the recent "Chaos War" event, Canada's premier team of costumed heroes, Alpha Flight, reformed.

The original lineup of Alpha Flight -- Guardian, Vindicator, Snowbird, Sasquatch, Puck, Northstar, Aurora and Marina -- put their lives on the line for their country countless times, and some of their number even died protecting their nation. They were later brought back to life by the mystical conditions of the "Chaos War," so the group was furious and terrified to recently discover that their country had turned against them.

Canada's turn against Alpha Flight is being chronicled in the team's current self-titled series by writers Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak and artist Dale Eaglesham. So far the series has showed how new Prime Minster Gary Cody and the members of his Unity Party have exploited the chaos of the current "Fear Itself" event to turn Canada into a draconian police state. Most of Alpha Flight have been declared outlaws. Now, to save their country, they must fight against it. It's going to be a long, epic fight, too. At Saturday's "Pint O' C.B." panel at the Fan Expo Canada Convention in Toronto, Marvel announced that Pak and Van Lente's "Alpha Flight" series had expanded from a miniseries to an ongoing. Comic Book Resources spoke with the writers about their plans for the series.

CBR News: These days we're more likely to hear about an ongoing series being downgraded to a mini than a mini being upgraded to an ongoing. How does it feel to move from an "Alpha Flight" mini to an ongoing?

Greg Pak: It's really great. I think we really need to tip our hats and express our extreme thanks to the fans, because from the beginning we were dropping hints that if fans ordered the book and the numbers were good enough, it could be extended. And the fans really came through. Folks talked it up and preordered with their comic stores.

Fred Van Lente: We blame you, the public! [Laughs]

How long have you guys known that "Alpha Flight" would become an ongoing series? How has that affected the book's current storyline?

Van Lente: We had an inkling of this really before issue #1 came out. So we always had a backup plan. That plan allows us to do even more of what we're currently doing. I'm not sure how I can explain this without being spoilery, but we basically have a more robust second act to the "Unity" storyline, which I'm really excited about.

It's fun to be able to work on a broad canvas like this. We were able to do three years worth of stories on "Incredible Hercules," and now it's great that the first act of our "Alpha Flight" story is going to be at least a full year long. That's really exciting.

Pak: Fred and I have talked about how there is a big transition in writing a genuine team book. With "Hercules" we had a really big cast, which was a blast, but it was really the story of two buddies: Amadeus Cho and Hercules. That's a fairly straightforward thing to focus in and concentrate on. With "Alpha Flight" we've got our big plan where we have fun things going on and revelatory events occurring with different characters in each issue, so everybody gets their moment in the sun. Plus there's this great shared drama that's going on with all of them. Now we've got a little more real estate, and that helps in the sense we've got a little more room to play our various cards and to really give all our characters moments to shine. So that's a big bonus.

So there's room to tell some extra tales that tie directly into what's going on, like perhaps the story of how Puck escaped from Hell?

Van Lente: Exactly. Basically it allows us to have a lot of fun with the outlaw status of this former team of government superheroes. That's the place where they're going to end up very soon, and it's a fun status quo for Alpha Flight, which is sort of typified by the cover of October's issue #5 which has them toting guns, '90s-style. They start robbing banks. We have a bank heist scene coming up that's a lot of fun. It's a very different thing for Alpha Flight and superheroes in general, and we get to maintain that status quo even longer.

It seems like Alpha Flight's outlaw status would be a matter of concern to some of the other major players in the Marvel Universe, like the Avengers or the X-Men. Now that your series is an ongoing one, are you able address how the situation in Canada is affecting the rest of the Marvel U?

Pak: Yeah, we'll get a sense of how the things going on in Canada are being perceived around the world and how it affects the wider Marvel Universe. Also we'll see what happens when the wider Marvel Universe starts to take an interest in all of this.

Van Lente: As many Wolverine fans know, one of his first unrequited love interests was Heather Hudson. So part of the reason Wolverine left Alpha Flight was his feelings for a married woman. Now that Mac [Heather's husband, Guardian, aka James MacDonald Hudson] is apparently a criminal in the eyes of his government, he's going to show up and sniff around. So there may be a renewal of that love triangle because now Heather Hudson, Vindicator, is the official superhero of Canada.

What about heroes from other continents? Will they become involved? It seems like another major government-sponsored superteam, England's MI-13, would be especially interested by what's going on in Canada.

Van Lente: Captain Britain and MI-13 will play a role in this series. There's a little organization that's existed for years in the Marvel Universe, but no one has really paid that much attention to it. It's called the Commonwealth Heroes. We're going to be introducing them in future issues of "Alpha Flight." We'll see how Alpha Flight reacts to being a member of a "super" superteam formed from the superhero teams of all these different countries, and the insanity will get ratcheted up even further.

So far we've talked about your plan for the near future of "Alpha Flight." Let's talk a bit about your current and immediate plans for the series. So far, "Alpha Flight" #0.1 and #1-3 have been released. How would you describe the dynamic of the team going into issue #4?

Van Lente: Northstar definitely seems to not want to be with Alpha Flight, but he's a hero at heart, and that's what I like about Northstar as a character. He is a reluctant hero, to say the least. He joined Alpha Flight in the first place to be closer to his estranged sister and has been trying to get away ever since, but they keep sucking him back in. Of course he also has to find his boyfriend, Kyle, who has fallen into the clutches of Department H, as many of our readers already know. So we have some exciting developments along those fronts, as well.

Even Northstar was happy to see Puck when he ran into him in "Alpha Flight" #2, and now that Puck is back, the Alphans are really starting to gel again as a team. What do you feel he adds to the team?

Pak: Historically he's been the comic relief of the team. This team is fun because we've got a number of quippers including, Marina and Walter [Langkowski, aka Sasquatch]. Every team has a character, though, that embodies a lot of the spirit and ethos of the team, and I think people have thought that way about Puck. He's the bon vivant who readers have really glommed onto. In a lot of ways he's the heart and soul of the vibe that is Alpha Flight. So having him back has been a ton of fun, but these are strange and bizarre circumstances, and Puck is coming from a strange and bizarre place. [Laughs] He spent some time as a lord of hell. So now he's got a whole different take on things, which is sort of very appropriately off kilter and even disturbing. But at the same time it preserves a lot of that lighthearted fun that he always brings. So he definitely brings the right kind of spirit in multiple ways to the team.

In "Alpha Flight" #4, in stores September 14th, you introduce the team to the Canadian government's new official superteam, Alpha Strike, a group lead by Vindicator that's been tasked with taking down the fugitive members of Alpha Flight. Alpha Strike's ranks include Purple Girl, Citadel, Wendigo and Ranark the Ravager. What made you want to include these characters on the team?

Van Lente: I always got a kick out of Purple Girl, a creation of Greg's personal hero, Bill Mantlo, when he was writing the book. So I definitely wanted to use her, but I thought it would be cool to make her badass and more of a villain. I often bemoan the lack of really good female villains.

Citadel is a character I created in "Wolverine: First Class" with Clayton Henry, one of our "Incredible Hercules" collaborators. He's basically the anti-Wolverine. He has an adamantium exo-skeleton and a healing factor, as opposed to an adamantium internal skeleton and a healing factor. He's the big brawler.

I like having Wendigo on Alpha Strike because Wendigo is this big, scary creature, and anyone who would put Wendigo, a cannibalistic unstoppable monster, on a superteam is obviously insane. That just goes to show you the mindset of the people running Department H.

Lastly, this character is close enough to being an original character, but we have Ranark the Ravager, who is one of the earliest Alpha Flight villains from one of their earliest appearances, which was in "Marvel Two-in-One."

Basically we had Dale totally redesign him because he kind of looked like a knockoff of Apache Chief from the "Super Friends" cartoon. So it was a little iffy in terms of political correctness and design. We went to Dale and said, "Ranark the Ravager is an evil shaman. Go!" [Laughs] And this is what he came up with; this wonderful, creepy, Blair Witch-type character who is covered in bones and has rubbed soot in his skin. He's an undead shaman who -- and this is a retcon on our part -- worships the long-time Alpha Flight foes, the Great Beasts of the North. His presence on the team also indicates that the people running the show up in Ottawa are a little crazy, because Ranark's presence in and of itself may break down the barriers between our world and the world of the Great Beasts. That obviously is a very bad thing.

Alpha Strike aren't the only villains playing a role in Alpha Flight's immediate future. In October's issue #5, the team runs afoul of Taskmaster. Fred, what's it like returning to Taskmaster after your recent miniseries with the character? What role does he play?

Van Lente: It was awesome. He's definitely in a support role, but I'm not going to tell you what he's doing, and I'm not even going to tell you if he's on Alpha Flight's side or isn't. What he's actually doing in issue #5 is a fun revelation. You'll also learn that Taskmaster and Puck go way back. As Alpha Flight fans know, Puck is a well-travelled mercenary. So he and Taskmaster have crossed paths before.

Artist Dale Eaglesham seems to have enjoyed drawing some of the more villainous characters of "Alpha Flight," like Taskmaster and Ranark the Ravager. What can readers expect from his work in the months ahead?

Pak: Dale has eaten alive anything that we throw at him. I loved working with him from the minute I first had the chance to on the "Savage Land" arc of "Incredible Hulks." The pages I saw there were tremendous, but Dale is not the type of guy to rest on his laurels. He always pushes himself to do things in different ways and do new, fun things. Really, every time he draws an image there's always something special and surprising coming out.

Van Lente: And we always have him redesigning something. [Laughs]

Pak: [Laughs] Yeah. His Ranark design is amazing. Plus his work just has these fantastic little touches. I think Dale is having a blast with Puck and finding cool ways to show that Puck is just a bit off. He's keeping him really fun, but at the same time the character has this dark glint in his eye that's really great.

Also, I love it when artists give background characters character. Because when those incidental characters in a book feel real, the superheroes feel more real. If you see a person reacting in the background in a stunned way to what a superhero is doing, then what the superhero is doing becomes even more spectacular, and Dale is just having a lot of fun with some of these background characters. So we really appreciate that. It makes the scenes have more impact, and it makes everything just special and fun.

So Dale, like you guys, is on this book for the long haul?

Pak: Oh yeah. Dale has also been a dream to work with because he's so passionate about the book. He's been talking it up and getting out there on the Internet to plug it. It's clear that he really cares about this book and wants it to succeed. The fact that we've been extended is due in large part to the fact that he's been out there hustling it just like everybody else.

Your last major ongoing series, "Incredible Hercules," ran for three years and told a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. Are you guys looking to do something similar with "Alpha Flight?" Now that it's an ongoing, have you started thinking about a larger, overarching story for the book?

Pak: Fred and I talk usually several times a week every week about the immediate thing we're working on. Then once a month we usually sit and have our two-brain summit where we talk in a big way about the future of our books and remind ourselves of what the big themes we're working with are, and where we want to go. We've had several of those about "Alpha Flight," and we'll continue to do that. We have a lot of writing to do just to finish the story that we're working on right now, but we're definitely thinking about where this is all pointing to. Without even discussing it, we've created a new world, a new milieu for these characters which can be infinitely interesting.

With "Incredible Hercules" we realized that we were bringing in all these mythological characters and had reintroduced this Greek-myth milieu for our characters to play around in, and a in a similar way we're starting to build things up for "Alpha Flight." We'll have lots of possibilities to choose from the next time we sit and figure out where things are going to go. There's been a nice ground work that has been set. So we're very grateful to have the extra real estate to spread the story around and expand.

Any final thoughts you would like to share about your work on "Alpha Flight?"

Pak: We want to reiterate that now we're going to start to see how what Alpha Flight is doing affects the rest of the Marvel Universe, and vice versa. That's a nice next step that will have some big impact and be a lot of fun.

Van Lente: Yes, and again the response to the book has been tremendous, and the entire team is incredibly grateful. So thank you.

Pak: Absolutely, especially to all you Canadians who are entrusting a couple of dopey Americans to tell these stories. Thankfully we have Dale and his wife Louise to keep us honest. So we're very grateful to have them on the team helping us to not embarrass ourselves too much when it comes to all things Canadian.

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