Have you ever wanted to visit Tibet? Are you sympathetic to the plight of the Tibetan people? If so, you’ll enjoy this comic. Heck, you might enjoy it if you’re completely A-political too – I don’t know. But I think this book is great because it has all the elements I think a good story needs -- travel, adventure and ideologically charged conflict! Indeed, the reason (besides by passport) I've always enjoyed Alpha Flight is that it almost always gets political. I remember, the first time I ever visited Ottawa, I was not impressed with the Canadian parliament because it was a place where laws were made. No, I thought it was cool because it once served as Alpha Flight's headquarters! (Warning: Spoilers Below)
The story is Bill Mantlo and the art Jim Lee. Now, this story is known as one of Lee’s earlier greats, but I honestly believe the true genius of this comic is the written story. It revolves around Alpha Flight stalwart-turned-reject, Puck as he tries to find solace in this isolated corner of the world. To his dismay, he arrives right at the time that PRC forces are about to massacre a group of Buddhist monks. The monks use their powers (this is a comic book after all!) to resist, but are soon overwhelmed by a combination of military technology and comic-style power – in the form of the Jade Dragon – a soldier who adapts the powers of his namesake mythical monster in the service of the People’s Revolution.
Puck manages to escape to the lamasery where he meets the “High Lama” who himself is a cross between Dr. Strange and the Dali Lama. The Jade Dragon follows into this house of worship, where he confronts the Lama, and the resulting conflict opens a gate for both Puck and this holy superhero to pass through and find what they've been searching for.
As someone who has always wanted to visit Tibet, and has a profound respect for the Buddhist faith, I thought it was great place to put a comic book story. It was also really neat to see state-sponsored heroes fight. Indeed, the story carries on into the next issue and involves the Canadian Prime Minister. As a former political staffer, I found this particularly amusing.
It was also nice to read a story by Bill Mantlo. As you may be aware, Mantlo was victim of an accident almost twenty year ago, from which he has not completely recovered. He wrote some great comics, including the complete seventy-five issue run of Rom: Spaceknight, a title I’ve always felt is underrated. He also did a twenty issue run of Iron Man and an amazing sixty-eight issue run of the Incredible Hulk, where he discussed important issues such as child abuse. Even more impressively, in the mid-80s, Bill went back to law school and ended up working as a public defender. As a late-arriving law student myself, I can’t tell you have much respect I have for this. Defending the accused is never an easy job, but always a necessary one.
I’m not sure if you’re an Alpha Flight fan. It’s obviously one of the smaller fan-bases in the Marvel universe. But if you’re looking for a good old’ fashioned Indiana Jones-type story, you’ll enjoy Alpha Flight #59. In fact, if I remember correctly, an original locale for the Last Crusade was going to be China. Hmmm.....