Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The classical era

 If you go on BBC iPlayer at the moment, you get offered a selection of complete sets of 'classic comedy'. I don't know, I always think a 'classic' needs to be defined as 'before I was born', because all of these twenty-to-thirty-year-old shows are things I watched when they were brand new! Nothing that has been brand new to me at some point should count as a classic. The BBC need to consult me and tailor their offerings accordingly.

Seriously, though, the BBC is defining 'classic' as 'conventional early-evening kind of stuff' rather than the more innovative and surreal comedy that was around in that era. But even if  that's the rule, couldn't they bring in something that hasn't been aired so much lately? How about digging up Russ Abbot? I saw one of those strange satellite channels showing the Kenny Everett Video Show just recently, which was a delight (it's not very good, but it has a certain something and I remember my dad liking it). How about bringing back one of those sitcoms from the brief period when John Gordon Sinclair was the foremost sitcom star in Britain? Joking Apart? Coupling? I need to do some research and pick out all the good comedy that I personally haven't seen for too long.

And could they possibly drop the inescapable Fawlty Towers (yes, it IS very funny, but we've all seen it ten million times by now and I think we all need to re-evaluate the inflexible rule that it's the greatest sitcom in history) and replace it with something else from those days?

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

I bet he has no trouble remembering where he left his car keys

 It's true, I don't have that problem. I haven't got a car. I have, however, got a bike, and I wish I could remember what I did with the lights. I distinctly remember they used to live in my laptop bag for work, and a while ago (after living for at least two years within a couple of minutes' walk from the office) I decided to take them out and keep them somewhere more sensible from now on.

I don't expect I'll ever see them again now. I'll have to buy some new ones...

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Definitely more exciting than the football!

 Yes, Bosnia vs Finland is a crucial game for the two nations' hopes of getting through to the play-offs, but there's much more at stake in the Memory League tournament this weekend! I had the honour of commentating on a truly epic match between Johannes Mallow and Naoki Miwa this morning, and there are going to be plenty more like it today and tomorrow! Tune into the link I posted yesterday!

Friday, November 12, 2021

Those who can, do. Those who can't, commentate.

Please tune in tomorrow, from 8:00 in the morning, to MemorySportsTV to see all the action of the Memory League African/European Open! Sixteen great competitors, all of them younger than me, will be taking part, and I'll be joining in with the commentary if I can get out of bed in time for the early start.

Check out the official player profiles!

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Live action!

I'm playing a qualifying match for the African-European Open on Memory League on Saturday, at 11am British time. It'll be streamed live on MemorySportsTV, so please tune in and see what happens!

I'm up against Sakaya Hokazono, about whom I know absolutely nothing, and as usual I'm out of practice and probably won't do well. But it should be fun to watch anyway!

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Parlay voo french?

 Here's that wonderful bilingual super-powers registration form I mentioned in the course of yesterday's blog - printed in Alpha Flight #120, in 1993, and written by someone who at least knows that such things in Canada are written in English and French, but doesn't speak the latter language at all.

I mean, the difference between "avoir" and "être" is one of the first things you learn when you're trying to speak French, right? And "I have had a sighting" becomes "j'ais riser une". I don't claim to be great at French myself, but I could have corrected this one even at the age of 16 when I first read it...

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The yesterday, today and tomorrow man

 Let's talk about a favourite Marvel superhero of mine. I'm willing to bet that most of my readers have never heard of him; I don't think there's going to be a movie any time soon. But as I've mentioned in this blog many times over the years, Bill Mantlo's Alpha Flight comics are a very important part of my comic-reading existence. And a central part of those stories, for a while, is the little-known hero Manikin!

A little background before we begin - Bill Mantlo officially took over from John Byrne as the writer of Alpha Flight with #29, cover-dated December 1986. But for at least the previous five issues, Byrne had been following Mantlo's instructions in his final Alpha Flight stories, turning it from a series about a loose collection of heroes who lived in different parts of Canada and seldom got together into a more coherent traditional super-team of the type Mantlo wanted to write about. Simultaneously, Mantlo was writing the Incredible Hulk under Byrne's direction, undoing everything that had happened to the Hulk over the past several years and reverting him to the kind of Hulk-smash character that Byrne wanted to write about. The two writers had agreed to swap comics (Byrne was almost certainly the instigator of this; Mantlo was much more the type to do what he was told to do), and the groundwork for the change was very impressively thorough!

Mantlo inherited a team consisting of Heather Hudson (the non-superpowered widow of Alpha's original leader Guardian), Northstar and Aurora (flying super-speedsters), Snowbird (mystic shape-changer), Shaman and Talisman (mystic father and daughter), Puck (acrobatic tough-guy dwarf), Box (powerful robot controlled by its legless inventor Roger Bochs, who can phase his body into the robot), Mr Jeffries (able to transmutate machinery but lacking any costume, codename or interest in superhero life), Marrina (generally absent fish-like hero) and a dangling plotline about the mind of Walter Langkowski (formerly Sasquatch) floating about in the ether somewhere after his physical body was magically destroyed. Quite a cast!

And Bill Mantlo steadily set about writing them all out, or changing them unrecognisably from the Byrne days. By the time we get to issue #43, cover-dated February 1987, they've all been through a lot of stuff. Heather Hudson has acquired a copy of her late husband's battle-suit and is now the superhero Vindicator; Marrina and Talisman have officially left Alpha Flight, and a lot of the team are having serious problems by this point with mental and/or physical health - it's really great to read, and I highly recommend it! But #43 is where the saga of Manikin begins!

Alpha Flight #43, February 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Dave Ross, inks Whilce Portacio

Roger Bochs, who's been trapped in the Box armour since getting the bends on an underwater adventure that also wrote out Marrina in #40, has gone stark raving mad, and Alpha Flight take him to Lionel Jeffries to see if he can help. Issue #30 introduced Lionel, the doctor brother of Alpha's Mr Jeffries (whose first name in that issue was revealed to be Madison - it is flagged up that this is a ridiculous name for any self-respecting Canadian, but we don't get an insight into what the Jeffries parents were thinking...). Lionel was an insane super-villain with the power to warp the human body into monstrous shape, but he's cured at the end of this story, and by this point has his own clinic, New Life, in which he uses his powers to heal people. We visit it for the first time here, and meet Lionel's unnamed medical intern in a very incidental way.

Longtime readers of this blog will recognise the panel in between these two first appearances of the intern - it featured in an old blog of mine about Northstar that subsequently prompted an article on CBR about the way Northstar remembers something that doesn't happen until next month. The whole Northstar story I talked about there is running simultaneously with the story making its start here. But this nondescript doctor in a brown suit is actually the second character introduced with the intention of his eventually joining Bill Mantlo's new all-different Alpha Flight team, after the Purple Girl made a much more ostentatious debut in #41 and dominated the last couple of issues.

We don't see any more of him than this - the debut of Manikin is a very, very slow burn...

Alpha Flight #44, March 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Dave Ross, inks Whilce Portacio

While the main plot of this issue focuses on killing off Snowbird (and her husband and baby) in a pitched battle between Alpha Flight and Pestilence, we get a quick cutaway to the New Life Clinic, where Dr Jeffries' intern now has a name - Dr Knapp.

And Dr Jeffries is starting to seem a little bit creepy...

Once again, nothing but standing in the background of two panels for Dr Knapp, but he's a part of Bill Mantlo's long-term plans, believe me.

Alpha Flight #45, April 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils June Brigman, inks Whilce Portacio

Shaman officially leaves the team at the start of this issue. But Alpha's depleted ranks are bolstered by the return of Roger Bochs, brought back to the headquarters by Dr Jeffries, with Dr Knapp tagging along for the ride. Bochs has been rebuilt into a handsome new body, complete with legs - good news for him and Aurora. But then Walter Langkowski's spirit returns, occupies Snowbird's corpse and wants to resume his old relationship with Aurora - only to find that he's become a woman!

But none of that has anything to do with Dr Knapp, so let's have a look at what he gets up to in his two pages of this issue...

Mmm. Yes. There's a bit of a problem with this. When she was introduced four months ago, the Purple Girl was explicitly said to be thirteen years old. Dr Knapp, though as an intern we can assume he's fresh out of medical school, must surely be in his twenties. There's been no suggestion that he's Doogie Howser (who, incidentally, wasn't created until 1989, two years after this comic). But yes, Bill Mantlo has put these two characters into a love story subplot. New artist June Brigman draws Knapp with very youthful looks (and no glasses), but he still looks like a grown-up doctor...

Alpha Flight #46, May 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils June Brigman, inks Whilce Portacio

We're back in New Life at the start of #46, trying to fix Sasquatch. At first, all Dr Knapp does is stand behind Dr Jeffries as usual, listening to Bill Mantlo's trademark lengthy recap of everything that's happened in the comic so far...

But when Lionel proves unable to do anything to "Wanda" Langkowski, Dr Knapp steps in with an expert analysis of the problem!

And the Purple Girl still thinks he's cute. Roger Bochs, whose new body is steadily decomposing, is also still having mental problems, as is Aurora. When they've departed, the gang say goodbye to Drs Jeffries and Knapp... and there's also something definitely wrong with Dr Jeffries.

Knapp's first real moment in the spotlight is still mainly to serve as a sounding board for Lionel's development, but there's more to come...

Alpha Flight #47, June 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Craig Brasfield / Mike Mignola / Steve Purcell, inks Whilce Portacio / Terry Austin

Nothing to see here, though. Maybe because of the change of artists (the letters page of #46 said that David Ross "is in Southeast Asia at the moment and Terry Shoemaker, June Brigman and others will be filling in for him") or maybe just because of an editorial decision to make #50 into a double-sized spectacular, Alpha Flight production seems to have fallen behind schedule. Luckily, in those days, Marvel Comics always kept a stock of inventory stories to slot into any gap - they were usually written by Bill Mantlo - and this one is a solo adventure for Vindicator, taking a break from all the continuing storylines and doing something completely unrelated on her own. No other Alpha Flight characters appear in the issue.

Alpha Flight #48, July 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Terry Shoemaker, inks Steve Leialoha / Hilary Barta

Back to the story. Roger Bochs is reduced to screaming insanity, Aurora isn't much better, Northstar is dying, Puck is increasingly irrelevant, and Madison Jeffries is now occupying the Box robot. The version of it seen on the cover here doesn't make its debut until next issue, so it's another Alpha Flight sneak preview of things to come!

So it's time for another trip to New Life, and Dr Knapp is still standing by - although he seems more interested in the Purple Girl than anything else that's going on.

But eventually, there comes a time when you can't just stand around holding a clipboard. That time comes for Knapp when Lionel Jeffries finally reveals the extent of his insane plan! Knapp finally tells his boss that he's not going to stand for it, and for his pains gets transmutated into unrecognizability. He can't say he wasn't warned...

And so Lionel and Roger merge into Omega, the ultimate enemy of Alpha Flight, and go out to fight them, leaving Madison and Knapp, or what's left of them, lying on the floor of the lab. Cue an extensive battle scene, which Alpha Flight don't seem to be winning. But at the end of the comic, we come back to the lab, and something's happening to Knapp!

That's right, he's got a first name! Whitman Knapp! He must be about to become a significant character at last!

Alpha Flight #49, August 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils June Brigman, inks Whilce Portacio

And a new superhero is officially born, after six months of build-up! We've finally reached the point where showing every panel that features Whitman Knapp would be too much, but he's very much the star of the first three pages of this issue. First of all, he gets a very cool splash page...

Then one of the three beings that have sprung from Dr Knapp gets to deliver the traditional recap of previous events (which is quite minimal, by Bill Mantlo's standards)...

And then we get our full explanation of exactly what Whitman's power is. Or, rather, "William", as he refers to himself here. He can bring into existence three beings - a blobby giant amoeba, "Proto", which can dissolve things; a big primitive creature, "Apeman", who is fierce and strong; and a futuristic human, "Highbrow", who can teleport people and things. They all follow Knapp's orders, and Highbrow is fully equipped with knowledge of who they are and how everything works.

Really, this is what I like about Manikin (as he out of nowhere decides to call himself on the next page). His superpower basically boils down to creating a gang of quirky friends for himself. The whole 'evolution' theme to it all has obviously sprung from his own subconscious mind, and it makes him very distinctively different from the average superhero.

But Manikin is really only a secondary focus to this issue. He joins in with the fight scenes, even getting into the action himself after Highbrow prompts him to use his normal human abilities to rescue the Purple Girl. And they have a kiss, sort of...

The main story, though, is about the Jeffries brothers. It ends with Madison, having spontaneously redesigned the Box robot into a new cooler form, deciding to kill Lionel rather than take him prisoner and risk him getting loose again.

Manikin and his gang, along with the rest of Alpha Flight, just stand and watch while Madison blows his brother to pieces. After a page of silent reactions, Manikin says "I - I guess... I... we... had better clean up the lab." Then the rest of the team are distracted by finding that Northstar has collapsed, and Aurora has entirely cracked up. It leads into the big fiftieth issue spectacular...

Alpha Flight #50, September 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, artists June Brigman / Whilce Portacio

(presumably Brigman only provided rough breakdowns at most on some pages of this extra-long issue, hence the unusual joint 'artist' credit)

This issue is all about completing the removal of John Byrne's characters from the comic. It's been a wild ride, and once again I really recommend reading this early half of Bill Mantlo's Alpha Flight run in particular! Northstar, Aurora and Puck all leave the team in this one, but the focus on them in this issue means we only get one page looking in on "the fledgling Beta Flight."

Whit (as Kara calls him, though he once again gives his own name as William) has now apparently moved into Alpha Flight's mansion and become one of the two members of their training team Beta Flight. There is no dialogue or caption to explain that this has happened, it just seems to be taken for granted.

Whitman, we can only assume, has no family or friends he might want to spend his time with - this is a feature of Bill Mantlo's stories, treating the team as a group of people who all live together and have family-style dramas, very different from the way Byrne wrote the individual heroes with their own homes, families and social circles. But it suits the way Whit is portrayed here - he's found a new home and he likes it.

He and the Purple Girl are definitely being written (and drawn) as young kids now. Their puppy love is meant to be sweet and not at all weird. Kara's line about "more than a lot of cuddling" probably means kissing and holding hands at the same time.

Anyway, with the decks cleared, it's time to move on to the bold new era of Alpha Flight!

Alpha Flight #51, October 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Jim Lee, inks Whilce Portacio

Jim Lee is a very, very famous superhero comic artist, and this issue of Alpha Flight was his first published work. And in all fairness, it's very, very, VERY good! There's an enormous amount of detail, a wonderful flow of storytelling from one panel to the next, it's just plain gorgeous!

After all the upheaval of the past couple of years, the lineup of Alpha Flight is now fixed more permanently as Heather Hudson (Vindicator), Madison Jeffries (Box), Wanda Langkowski (Sasquatch), Kara Killgrave (Purple Girl) and Whitman Knapp (Manikin). The cover box in the top left corner, which has previously shown a random selection of characters varying from one issue to the next, is now fixed on showing just four - everyone except poor Whit. And the colourist seems not to have known what the Purple Girl's main defining feature is, and has coloured her face in caucasian flesh tones, but never mind.

The focus of this issue is to emphasize that the new team dynamic is much more stable, mentally speaking, than the previous lineup - a real happy family who work together well, and are also hugely powerful and effective as heroes. It does this by showing them fighting the entire Canadian armed forces in a training exercise, and winning.

We get to see Manikin's superhero costume for the first time here - a pretty simple tracksuit, with yellow arms and legs and black torso. The Purple Girl still doesn't have a costume at all, so maybe these are Whit's own clothes that he wears when he's not in his doctor getup.

The back of his top is a light brown, rather than black, which looks a little strange. Anyway, Whit starts out nervous - having never been in a combat situation before, it must be a little disorienting to find yourself being attacked by a literal army - but acquits himself nicely, and still finds time for some friendly banter with Kara.

And Box and Sasquatch are still teasing him like you would a kid, while Vindicator calls him a "handsome hunk" in the same vein (unless that speech bubble's meant to be pointing to the Purple Girl...)
The main focus of this story, apart from the extensive power-demonstration of the new team, is Gary Cody, the government liaison to Alpha Flight, who dates back to John Byrne's earliest stories and so clearly needs to be got rid of. Gary is nervous about this new Alpha Flight lineup, hacks into their computers, and gets hold of all their data, even the things Heather doesn't know about. It's leading into the next series of adventures, but first...

Alpha Flight Annual #2, 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, layouts June Brigman, finishes Bob McLeod

This is the second, and final, Alpha Flight Annual - a double-sized extra comic telling a self-contained story rather than the continuing adventures of the regular monthly title. It's of no great interest to Manikin fans, being basically another solo story for Vindicator, with a little support from Box and Sasquatch. Beta Flight, though, are left at home when the Alphas go all the way to Antarctica for a prehistoric adventure.
This one page is the only appearance of Kara and Whit in the annual. Moving on...

Alpha Flight #52, November 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils June Brigman, inks Whilce Portacio

A large part of this one involves a flashback to the prehistory of Alpha Flight, as Gary Cody investigates that data he'd downloaded earlier and learns that the late James MacDonald Hudson (Guardian, Heather's husband, original Alpha Flight leader) had experimented on a convicted murderer and turned him into the super-powerful evil villain Bedlam, who was then trapped in a cocoon, but is now reawakened, kills Cody, and goes out into the world.

At this point, Bill Mantlo was writing Mac as having been pretty much outright evil, and also responsible for giving Wolverine his adamantium bones and claws against his will. This was done to smooth the way for a relationship between Heather and Madison, but seems to have been unpopular with readers as well as wildly out of character for poor Mac. It was handwaved away in the next issue - and that wasn't the only thing that needed some dialogue adjustment...

So while Heather swims, thinking about how she's freed herself from the shackles of Mac's memory and can move on from the man who could do such a terrible thing to his friend, Whit and Kara sit on the shore and canoodle.

Somebody might have had a word with Bill Mantlo about that age difference, though, because probably after the art was drawn, Box has a thought bubble acknowledging that it's a bit weird. On the next page he thinks to himself that he trusts Whit not to take advantage, and then goes to embrace Heather in the sea.

But this scene is another classic Whitman moment - he's so bad at flirting that he thinks it's appropriate to bring his friends along to watch, and has to be told by Highbrow that it's not the best idea!

The letters page, meanwhile, prints several letters discussing #49, not one of which mentions Manikin's debut. They're all about the hot topic of fratricide, and Whit seems to have slipped under the radar.

Alpha Flight #53, December 1987
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Jim Lee, inks Whilce Portacio

Jim Lee draws Wolverine for the first time! Alpha Flight is a sort of spin-off of Wolverine's adventures, although they date back to a time before he was particularly cool or popular. Charting the whole of Wolverine's history would take a far better man than me, so it's lucky for all of us that he's currently doing it - please go and read Paul O'Brien's epic Wolverine chronology!

Back with Manikin, though, he's training with the rest of the team when we first see them, battling against robots controlled by Jeffries - Whit sends his guys to help Kara, gets knocked out himself, and Kara mind-controls the three other-selves to save the prime unit.

But then Bedlam the Brain Blast destroys the mansion and captures everybody!

Bedlam has vast mental powers, and uses them to create a huge building in the Arctic, where he holds not only Alpha Flight, but also the Derangers - a group of people with superpowers and mental illnesses who had been held prisoner and experimented on by Lionel Jeffries (they'd only been glimpsed in a very brief cameo in #49 before this).

You don't need to get familiar with the Derangers, who all die in this issue with one exception. Bedlam makes his 'guests' fight each other, and Whit and Kara have another bit of tag-team action.

Box and Wolverine come to the rescue, but it's Vindicator who finishes things off by killing Bedlam. By the end of the issue, Heather has put the whole Mac thing behind her one way or the other, and we can all carry on as before. Manikin is part of the big happy Alpha Flight family!

Alpha Flight #54, January 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Hugh Haynes, inks Whilce Portacio

Goblyn, the one of the Derangers who didn't die, has escaped into the blizzard outside Bedlam's headquarters. She's a monster with claws, who takes the place of small girl Laura Dean - actually her twin sister. At first it's said that when one of them is on Earth, the other is in a world inside Laura's mind; it later turns out Laura can just open a gate from one other-dimensional world to the other and they don't need to swap places, but they themselves don't know it at this point. In any case, by the end of this issue they're the new members of Beta Flight! Manikin, meanwhile, mainly contributes to this adventure in the capacity of a doctor and support team - he helps repair the base, pronounces Bedlam and the Derangers dead, and comforts Kara with a cuddle. 

But Vindicator especially is disturbingly keen to kill Goblyn in cold blood, a trait that continues over the next few issues. Even Manikin gets caught up in the mob psychology when they've finally got her cornered! It's only Kara who persuades the others to spare Goblyn's life (which when you consider she's technically a very young girl and was really only fighting in self-defence is a bit worrying) and let her join the team.

The letters page in this issue accidentally reprints the one from #52, so there's still no indication of what the readers think about Manikin...

Alpha Flight #55, February 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Jim Lee, inks Whilce Portacio

Manikin makes his first appearance on the cover of a comic! Very small, in the bottom-left corner, and coloured wrongly, but it's a start.

This issue is about Sasquatch fighting the Great Beasts who are part of his/her origin story, were all killed in John Byrne's issues but nonetheless reappeared in some previous Mantlo stories, and are back again now - or four of them, anyway. They're described as "all four Great Beasts", but there used to be two others...

Anyway, Manikin is once again showing his skills are best suited for a non-fighting support staff - it makes him a distinctive and impressive member of the team.

This issue devotes quite a lot of time to establishing Bedlam's Arctic base as Alpha Flight's new headquarters - and then destroys it at the end of the issue. When Manikin is forced into battle-action, it's brought to a very quick end at the hand of Somon the Artificer and his death-touch.

He's not actually dead, but there's no real indication of this in the art or dialogue. We see nothing else of Whit in this issue except a very small glimpse of Sasquatch carrying his lifeless body into the giant Box (Jeffries turned the entire base into a great big Box robot to fight the Beasts) at the end. The issue ends with Box exploding, leaving behind nothing but a massive crater.

Alpha Flight #56, March 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Jim Lee, inks Tony DeZuniga

When we catch up with our heroes, they're in a spaceship with Box's colour scheme, warping through space and screaming! It seems that when Box blew up last issue, Jeffries reshaped the giant robot into a giant spaceship, and it's now out of control. It turns out that Jeffries has subconsciously shaped the ship after his own internal workings and the labyrinthine structure of Bedlam's base, and that the base contained 'Bedlamites' - creatures that were another part of Bedlam's evil plans. Also, when Goblyn reappeared at the end of last issue, both Laura and the Purple Girl vanished, and nobody knows where they are. And Goblyn's running wildly around the ship again.

So in the circumstances, you can forgive Vindicator and Sasquatch for forgetting all about the horrific injury Manikin suffered and leaving him to pull himself together...
And once he's done that, he gets straight on with being a heroic doctor, and seeing if he can fix things.

He eventually makes his way to a gigantic metal brain, infected with a tumour full of Bedlamites. He first tries to direct Goblyn to destroy it, but since she can't really do it with enough subtlety, Vindicator is once again very eager to blast her to pieces. Whitman has to step in and make her not do it.

And then, in a wonderful moment, he directs Heather to blast the right parts of the brain to save Jeffries' life! Now this is real superhero doctor stuff!
Of course, it's very unlikely that Whitman, in his very junior doctor career, has ever performed brain surgery. And identifying "the area of the brain most associated with personality" in a surrealistic mechanical nightmare representation of a brain? This boy knows his stuff!

And our heroes do indeed restore Madison's mind and regain control of the Boxship. Now they just have to find a way back to Earth, and also (as Whitman slightly tetchily reminds them) find Kara.

The letters page gives us our first mention of Manikin from a reader - but just to ask whether his name is Whitman or William, since it's been inconsistently given. It's definitely Whitman, the editor's response confirms.

Alpha Flight #57, April 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Jim Lee, inks Tony DeZuniga

Still rocketing through space, the Boxship sets down on a lifeless planet to absorb more mass to power it. Manikin is still angry about Kara's disappearance, and picks a fight with Goblyn - which Heather breaks up by blasting Goblyn in the back. Madison has to tell her she's being unreasonable.

Laura and Kara do return from "Liveworld", where Laura and Goblyn go when they swap places - ominously, Laura says it's a beautiful and perfect world, but there are scary things there that she never sees...

Whit is delighted to get his girlfriend back, and gets on well with Laura too - she's quite taken with Proto. Manikin doesn't play a major role in the story of this issue, but gets a cool pin-up kind of pose in one panel, and Kara blows him a kiss as the Boxship tries to blast off! Also, he describes the planet (shortly before it comes alive and attacks everyone) as "as dead as Winnipeg on a Wednesday night". That might be his home town, maybe? It's certainly the one and only piece of biographical information we ever get about the mystery that is Dr Whitman Knapp!

Goblyn resolves the problem with the living crystals on the planet by purring at them and reassuring them that the humans are friendly. Vindicator promises to try to be nicer to her (just 'slightly less homicidal' would be a start...) in future. But it leads in to a cliffhanger introducing someone who'll be important to Manikin's story - the Dreamqueen!

And the letters page finally catches up with some reader response to Manikin. In letters concerning #52, one describes the new hero as "the most original character I have seen in quite a while", and another calls him "one of the best minor characters to come from Marvel in a long while". Obviously, there might have been a million negative letters too, but the ones the editors chose to print are all glowing and positive! Another letter-writer liked the way Madison noticed the age difference between Kara and Whit.

Alpha Flight #58, May 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Jim Lee, inks Al Milgrom

Liveworld is in fact the realm of the Dreamqueen, a demon able to shape the world around her - everything else in it is her creation, with the exception of Goblyn and Laura. When Goblyn first popped up (sent there by Laura while they were still in the womb), the Dreamqueen was intrigued, and made it a nice place for them while she studied them and tried to figure out a way to escape her world and conquer others. Now she's moving onto stage two of her plan, and is holding Laura prisoner.

Meanwhile, the Boxship is still flying through space, and Manikin has a couple of nice moments...

I like the goggles and headset - Sasquatch is really much more of an all-purpose scientist than Whit is, but he looks good as a tech-support guy.

The entire Boxship gets warped to Liveworld and crashes heavily. While Alpha Flight recover, Goblyn goes off to try to rescue Laura from the Dreamqueen's citadel, and then Alpha are attacked by an army of demons!

The letters page has one letter disliking the idea of a 'junior team', like so many superhero groups at the time had, but doesn't specifically mention Manikin.

Alpha Flight #59, June 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, art Jim Lee / Al Milgrom

This issue's all about reintroducing Puck, who ended #50 restored to his natural appearance (six foot six, 74 years old) and living in Tibet, and also introducing Jade Dragon, a Chinese hero who turns into a green dragon. We also meet the High Lama, a venerable Tibetan mystic, who dies in the course of the story and becomes an even more powerful spirit. He offers Puck the chance to travel to other worlds to seek enlightenment, including the one with his old friends. This is all we see of Manikin in this one:

And so we end up with Puck, Jade Dragon and the Chinese army ending up in the battle!

Alpha Flight #60, July 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Jim Lee, inks Al Milgrom

With the chaos spilling over into Danwei, China, the world has taken notice - Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney features prominently, discovering that Alpha Flight are involved in a major international incident that could lead to world war.

It's an epic fight, and it takes the more enlightened minds of the High Lama and Puck to realise that the Dreamqueen's demons only exist if you believe in them. But before they can do anything about it, Whitman is once again seriously injured, and once again none of the senior Alpha Flight even seem to notice...

Eventually, Laura manages to seal the Dreamqueen back in Liveworld (and having previously been reluctant to talk, Laura's now fluent in Bill Mantlo wordiness, isn't she?), but not before the Dreamqueen zaps the minds of all the gathered heroes. This is important to the forthcoming story arc.

In the end, the High Lama sends all the heroes away and departs this plane of existence. Brian Mulroney is glad the situation has sorted itself out, but vows to have words with Alpha Flight when next he sees them!

The letters page, meanwhile, prints a letter suggesting that someone needs to "slap some sense into" Manikin for making moves on the Purple Girl ("who is all of sixteen or seventeen").

Alpha Flight #61, August 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Jim Lee, inks Al Milgrom

Starting from this issue, Alpha Flight and the rest of Marvel's direct-market-only comics had an upgrade. The price went from $1.00 to $1.25, but you really did get more bang for your buck-and-a-quarter. They now had credits on the inside front cover, a full uninterrupted 28 pages of story, two pages of letters and a few house ads to fill up the back of the comic. Those were the days. They also got a superior colouring process, which to my eye looks garish and tacky, but maybe I've just got a sentimental attachment to those little dots that were a central part of American comic colouring.

This change coincides with the last six months of Bill Mantlo's run on Alpha Flight, and it's probably fair to say the best days were behind him. It's unclear just how much of this is set-up for the new writer; there are a few places over these next few issues where the dialogue has clearly been rewritten in a different hand, and there are one-page interludes reintroducing Talisman (who became the central character of the next writer's stories) but there might have been a wider input into the stories too, like Mantlo had with the final Byrne issues.

In any case, we start this issue with Alpha Flight back in Canada and facing a government inquisition. While Heather and Madison answer questions from MPs, Sasquatch and the 'kids' go out to an Ottawa bar for a break from the hotel they've been put in. Whit has a coke. The trouble only starts when Wanda tries to pay the bill...
That takes me back. I remember in a comic shop, long ago, someone saw a customer paying for his comics with a card, and observing that they seem to be everywhere nowadays. The observer said he wouldn't get one until they started taking them in pubs.

But the team find they've got no money. This is another example of the Bill Mantlo approach to writing the team - they all lived at the mansion, on government money, and apparently Wanda hasn't tried to go out and spend any money of her own, ever since her resurrection. Nice full-page splash here, too.
The team then go out into town, where Wanda tries to withdraw money from the bank or sell some of her stocks, but is refused on the grounds that she's very clearly not Walter Langkowski, who is dead. She tries her ex-wife, Ronnie, who does accept that she's Walter, but maliciously refuses to let anyone else know she believes it. Alpha Flight, we're told, are broke.

Which is a little strange - does Manikin not have a bank account? Does he have no family, no home, no possessions? Okay, unlike Walter (whose back-story includes a professional sports career and a lot of money), there's no reason to assume Whit could support the whole Alpha Flight team, but there's absolutely no suggestion in this one that he has any money at all!

Heather refuses to work for the government any more. She assumes Alpha Flight can get by in the short term on her late husband's life insurance money, and for the future on Walter Langkowski's fortune. She doesn't consult Wanda before deciding this is what they'll do. And when it turns out that money isn't available, the team seem to have no choice but to break up and go their separate ways. Which leads Whit to mumble something significant - he wants to go back to being a doctor. He doesn't explicitly say that this means breaking up with Kara, but she certainly understands it that way.

Of course, significantly, it will turn out that the Dreamqueen is able to influence their minds from this point onwards - she doesn't seem to be actively involved in this decision, but there might be a little nudge here or there. It leads into a series of solo stories to finish the Mantlo era.

The new expanded letters page has ten letters, relating to #57. Three of them mention Manikin - one says "By the way, I think that Kara and Whit's romance is great. Age makes no difference when it comes to love." Another just generally likes him and Kara. A third asks where Apeman, Proto and Highbrow go when they're not being used - the answer is unhelpful, just saying it's "unlikely" that they go back to their native time periods

Alpha Flight #62, September 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Jim Lee, inks Al Milgrom

This issue starts off with Kara, Laura and Goblyn back at Kara's mother's house. In two pages of reminiscences, Kara recalls the team splitting up, and confirms that the relationship with Whit is over.

It's understandable. Whit has become a superhero in the excitement of the moment, he's been in a few fights, usually picking up some nasty injuries, and found he works better as a doctor. He decides to pack it in, and although he could have handled the breakup with Kara rather better, it could have gone worse. He promises to write, and hopes they can stay friends, but she's not impressed.
The rest of the issue focuses on Kara finding that she's subconsciously raised her evil late father, the Purple Man, from the dead, and has to fight him off. Or was someone else involved with the nightmare scenario, maybe?

Two Manikin mentions on the letters pages this month, and they're not positive. One letter-writer lists the characters that he loves (Goblyn, Box, Vindicator and Sasquatch), says he even kind of likes the Purple Girl, but says he isn't crazy about Manikin. And another letter says "I like the new characters like Sasquatch, Box, Apeman, Highbrow, Proto (not Manikin) and especially Goblyn!" Poor Whit.

Alpha Flight #63, October 1988
Writer James D. Hudnall, pencils Hugh Haynes, inks Mike Gustovich / Don Hudson

Nothing to see here for Manikin fans - this strange issue is written by James D. Hudnall, who would take over from Bill Mantlo from #67. Mantlo surely never missed his deadline (it would be completely unlike him), so maybe this is giving the new guy a trial run. It's a story about Box being infected by a computer virus, and only he and Heather appear in it. Unlike the surrounding issues, there doesn't seem to be any Dreamqueen influence on their minds.

It shows the kind of writer Hudnall is - there's a definite affection for the old Byrne stories, but a pretty poor execution of ideas. His era of Alpha Flight feels generally like a bad fan-fiction.

Two letters mentioning Manikin again, both of them in the course of an appraisal of all the team members. One says he's probably one of the strongest Alphans, if only he didn't leave himself vulnerable all the time. The other says he needs a better costume and to break up with Kara.

Alpha Flight #64, November 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, breakdown pencils Jim Lee, finisher Al Milgrom

This issue's primarily about Sasquatch - in the course of her court case to prove her identity, she is suddenly overcome by memories of all her identity confusion, and unleashes the Great Beasts, Snowbird and the gods in an epic battle, only to be eventually snapped out of it by Aurora.

But there are one-page catch-ups with the rest of the team, and it seems Dr Knapp is settling in very nicely to his medical career!

He probably is a lot more suited to working on the children's ward than to fighting super-villains.

Only one letter mentions him this month - it speculates about whether Proto, Apeman and Highbrow really come from the past and future, and suggests that it's more likely they just come from Whitman's mind. The letter doesn't get an answer.

But at the bottom of the letters page, it promises that next issue will see "Manikin Depressive!" It doesn't. I assume the next issue's Box story was meant to come before this Sasquatch one, but was bumped down the order when the Hudnall fill-in Box story was added to the schedule.

Alpha Flight #65, December 1988
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Hugh Haynes, inks Al Milgrom

Just the one panel of Manikin in this one, although it shows he's keeping in touch with Heather, at least. The main focus is on Box - once again, he's out of control (that fill-in issue really does mess up the story progression!), but this time the robot seems to be responding to Madison's feelings of guilt over the deaths of his brother and best friend. It's all very nightmarish, dreamlike, isn't it? The narrator keeps saying that, but readers don't seem to have picked up on the subtle hints...

No letters page in this one - the space is taken up by more ads for other Marvel comics.

Alpha Flight #66, January 1989
Writer Bill Mantlo, pencils Hugh Haynes, inks Gerry Talaoc

And now we reach the highlight of Manikin's superhero career, with the final Bill Mantlo story! And Manikin has come to realise that he's just a character in a comic book, and it's his turn to be killed off!

That's a fantastic opening page. Hugh Haynes isn't the best artist to grace the pages of Alpha Flight, but he does a very good job with this one. Talking to the narrator (who replies in caption boxes), Whit recaps his history and the history of Alpha Flight, "lying or dying at the whim of the writer simply to satisfy some formulaic conception of style or plot"! He brandishes an issue of Power Pack, strangely - that wasn't one of Bill Mantlo's comics. But the way Whitman says "it seems to explain so many things..." really shows us how his mind works, now that it's been brought to the fore by (spoilers) what turns out to be the Dreamqueen's subtle manipulation. This is why I love the character!

Whit explains his own origin as resulting from the writer having boxed himself into a corner with the Scramble story, and fortuitously having introduced a minor background character a few issues earlier who he could now turn into a hero. And he confronts Bill Mantlo himself with the revelation, and calls him a sadist!

The plot, Whitman believes, is that Heather will come to him for help with her own delusion - believing that she can't take her battlesuit off and needs Whitman's medical help. And Whit wants no part of it!

Hiding from the story and the 'degenerate creep' writing it, Whitman becomes steadily more paranoid. Heather, equally deranged, builds on her increasing tendency to blast everyone and everything she doesn't like, and starts to demolish the hospital looking for Whit, while Box tries to restrain her...

But at the end, somewhat to Whit's surprise, Proto finally does dissolve the control circuits of Heather's suit, and everything's fine. Alpha Flight are left wondering what's been going on lately, but the power behind it is still capable of preventing them thinking her name. 

And that's the last panel of Bill Mantlo's run on Alpha Flight. Setup, of course, for James D. Hudnall's era to start with an epic four-part Dreamqueen story. There's one passing mention of Manikin on the letters page (another reader says the Whit-Kara romance is great, and age doesn't matter!), and then we move on to a new direction for Alpha Flight. Except for one of them, that is...


James D. Hudnall clearly had no interest in using Manikin, and took the cowardly writer's way out of simply dismissing him off-panel. When Alpha Flight get together, Vindicator tells them (and us) that Manikin doesn't want to be part of the team any more. Which is fair enough - he'd already made it clear he'd rather go back to medicine, and it's only superhero conventions that require someone to put the mask and cape back on as soon as they're attacked in their happy retirement. This panel from #67 is the only mention of our hero in all Hudnall's adventures.

The letters relating to the final Mantlo issues make almost no mention of Manikin, either - not a word in the #67 letters page, and one line in #68 (that he "has the distinction of having the stupidest power in the Marvel Universe). By #69, the editors have clearly made a point of printing only the most critical and negative letters - a normal way of stressing that a new writer is a great thing - and we get a lengthy tirade saying that "Kara Killgrave and Whitman Knapp are not totally disgusting in and of themselves, but they symbolise the darkest era in Alpha Flight history." And so on. 

In #70, the letters page turns its focus to Whit's conversations with the narrator in #66. Very few readers seem to have seen it as a delusion, and most letters talk about Whit's "new power" to talk to the narrator. Most of the letters disapprove of this innovation. The longest one is from a reader who hasn't actually read the comic, but whose sister has phoned him to tell him about it, prompting a massive long essay on why that kind of silliness shouldn't appear in comics! The focus on negative letters is carried over from the previous issue, but you do get the impression that the editors felt the dislikes exceeded the likes in the response to #66, and that might have led to Manikin disappearing so completely from the comics from this point onwards. #71 does print a letter demanding "Bring back Manikin NOW!!!", which gets a reply saying that Manikin doesn't want to come back. #72 has a letter saying that far from having the stupidest power, Manikin has one of the most unique. #73 asks Hudnall to please keep Whit involved with the team somehow, and rekindle his romance with Kara. But it doesn't bring him back into the comics...

It does my favourite character a favour, really - he's such a signature Bill Mantlo personality, it would be painful to read him being written by a less talented writer like Hudnall, and drawn by an awful artist like John Calimee (who debuted with #68 and was the worst artist ever to grace the pages of Alpha Flight). Manikin is gone, but he does get remembered by the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update '89 - the series providing profiles in alphabetical order for all the characters who have been introduced or changed dramatically since the previous Handbook series in 1985/6!

By hook or by crook, I'll be last in your book. Manikin, with name spelt wrongly on the cover, is the final entry in #4 (which came out around the same time as Alpha Flight #75), and showcases some very nice artwork by James Brock and a comprehensive summary of our hero!


And that's the last any comic-readers see or hear of Manikin for another two years. Until suddenly, out of the blue, the second period of Whitman Knapp's association with Alpha Flight begins...

Alpha Flight #97, June 1991
Writer Fabian Nicieza, pencils Michael Bair, inks Chris Ivy

The Hudnall era is over, and the Fabian Nicieza run is getting towards its end by now. Alpha Flight have settled their differences with the Canadian government, and now operate out of a huge new headquarters in Toronto, complete with large non-superhero support staff and a remit as much about research and development as about traditional superhero fights (although that side of things was entirely ignored by subsequent writers). Basically everybody who has ever been associated with Alpha Flight is on the team now, with one exception. Or, as it turns out, without even that one exception! Because, unannounced and without any explanation or introduction, suddenly Dr Whitman Knapp is there, helping Diamond Lil with her medical problems!

Not a word explaining who he is for the benefit of readers who don't remember Bill Mantlo's stories. I guess it's just a treat for the long-time fans. It makes sense for him to be there - he was probably invited to join the Department H medical team, which a couple of issues previously was described as in the process of setting up shop. Shaman is an experienced medical doctor, but it couldn't hurt to have another one with superhuman medical experience on the base.

By the way, Shaman is a Native American, which means that not only does he have magic spirit powers, his skin is bright red. If you use those colours on Marvel's previous colouring and printing processes, it looks halfway human, but nobody seems to have felt the need to adjust it in 1991 comics yet.

I've talked about a comic from this era on my blog before, and I have to stand by what I said about Michael Bair's art. One way or another, that and Fabian Nicieza's writing don't really gel - look at that conversation between Shaman and Whit, spread across three panels! It just looks weird.

And this is Whit's reunion with Kara. Are they talking again? Have they kept in touch all this time? I guess there must have been a conversation off-screen, but the readers don't get to know about it!

Why the sudden reappearance of Whit? I have no idea. This was the first Alpha Flight comic edited by Bobbie Chase - maybe she was a fan of the character?

In the next issue, Laura wakes up from her coma and transports everyone in the room away somewhere. Whitman is not seen to be present, but possibly it was Nicieza's intention for him to be among the disappeared Alphans too, since he goes unmentioned for the next several issues. He doesn't get involved in defending Toronto against the massive alien invasion that takes up the story until #100. Or maybe the intention was always just to get rid of Shaman and still have a doctor on staff, because that's the role Whit plays in #101...

Alpha Flight #101, October 1991
Writer Fabian Nicieza, pencils Tom Morgan, inks Chris Ivy

It's Nicieza's final issue, and it feels like he had a lot more stories planned that never came to fruition. This issue is mainly devoted to the loose end of the team members who Laura Dean teleported away - Northstar goes to ask Dr Strange to search for them, strangely accompanied by Sersi and Vision of the Avengers, who are still hanging around after the crossover storyline of the previous issues. They contribute nothing at all, and neither does Doc Strange, really - he makes a great effort to find the people he's looking for, but can only sense that they're alive.

Meanwhile, Diamond Lil is back under the knife (or the alien laser, anyway) and Whit is in charge of the biopsy. He seems to be having fun with it, at least.

Success! The rest of the team then go away to pay their respects to Mac (who was resurrected at the start of the Nicieza run, then killed off again in #100), and come back to headquarters to find Dr Knapp has some good news for them.

Scott Lobdell then takes over as writer, and prefers to focus more on a small core team of Alpha Flight instead of the sprawling cast Nicieza used. Whitman Knapp is not seen or mentioned in the two-part story of #102 and #103 (in which the team go away to Central America and fight Diablo). But he's still hanging around, and we get a glimpse the next month!

Alpha Flight #104, January 1992
Writer Scott Lobdell, pencils Tom Morgan, inks Chris Ivy

This issue revolves mainly around restoring Aurora to the team. She was one of the ones who Laura warped away, but this issue reveals that she'd actually left the room at super-speed before that happened, only to be abducted by the super-villain Headlok. The rest of the abductees are still missing.

Whitman isn't involved in any of that. We only see him in one panel, watching Alpha's new spokesman Windshear talking to the press.

What's Whit nervous about? The punchline might be intended to be that he was responsible for the jet being given clearance to land on the roof while the interview was going on, but it's not really clear. 

The issue ends with Alpha Flight getting new team uniforms (Windshear gets the credit for that innovation), and Madison and Lil announcing their engagement.

#105 revolves around Madison's bachelor party. You'd think he would have invited Whitman, considering their previous close relationship as teammates and Whit's involvement in Lil's all-clear from cancer, but nope. Probably Madison still thinks of Whit as a child. He's not mentioned at all in this one - nor in #106 (the Northstar coming-out story), nor in #107 and #108 (in which the core Alpha team go on a world tour and the support crew back in Canada don't get a look-in). The main story of #109 is the same, but then there's a backup strip by the new Alpha Flight writer, and he's another great favourite of mine!

Alpha Flight #109, June 1992
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson

The main story in this issue is by fill-in writer Sven Larsen (Scott Lobdell seems to have left very abruptly), but there are five pages in the back, crammed in to accommodate Simon Furman's needs as the new writer.

Furman is always going to be famous as the writer of the British (and later the American) Transformers comic in the 1980s - he did an absolutely wonderful job writing stories that fitted in between issues of the American title, using any characters that were available and not involved in the American stories at any given moment. A whole generation of British comic fans look up to Simon Furman as a god, believe me.

Which made him very suitable to come on board as the writer of Alpha Flight at this time - the World Tour storyline has been brought to an early end because of the "Infinity War" crossover running through all Marvel's comics in the summer of 1992. Infinity War was a six-issue miniseries that was a sequel to Infinity Gauntlet. Infinity Gauntlet was the one that was adapted loosely into the Marvel movie "Infinity War", just to confuse people. The comic version of Infinity War is nothing like Avengers: Endgame, but it was a major event that Marvel heavily promoted, and all the comics like Alpha Flight were required to do three months of tie-in stories.

Alpha Flight's role in Infinity War was to stand around in crowd scenes and contribute absolutely nothing to the plot. Simon Furman takes the same approach to these tie-in stories as he took to Transformers - find characters who the main plot wasn't using, and tell a separate story about them. So that's what we're doing in these five pages!

It's called "Distant Thunder" - a title Furman had used in a classic Transformers story - and shows us the missing Beta Flight team (Kara, who's now called Persuasion, Laura, Goblyn and new Hudnall character Witchfire) in Liveworld, fleeing the Dreamqueen. Shaman was with them too, last we saw, but it turns out he wasn't teleported away with them, but just followed them, trying to find them, and has now come back on his own. Finally, just as the main Alpha Flight cast are called away to America to stand in the background of Infinity War #2, our missing heroes find their way home, and Whit is waiting to greet them!

Windshear, also not wanted for the Infinity crossover, is angry with the Betas, and tells them they're grounded! Last we heard, Shaman was in charge of Beta Flight (though he was never really seen to do anything with this responsibility), but Windshear seems to have taken on that role from this point onwards. He becomes the authority figure, and good old Whitman Knapp takes on the role of leader of the rebellious junior team!

Alpha Flight #110, July 1992
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Chris Ivy / Bruce Patterson

Fans of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl will be fans of this comic too - it's the first appearance of Brain Drain's mechanical body. It's a big one for fans of Manikin too!

Alpha Flight's enemy, the self-styled Master of the World is reacting to the universe-threatening events of Infinity War by launching a separate scheme to take over Toronto. He does this by having his new Omega Flight team unleash creatures called the Ska'r from another dimension where they're imprisoned by Talisman's talisman, and driving the entire population insane. It's an incoherent plan at best, but at least it gets Beta Flight (who Windshear has petulantly demoted to Gamma Flight) into action.

Before it all kicks off, Whitman is delighted to be asked out by four girls (some of whom are possibly over the age of consent by now), but disappointed to find they're more interested in superhero business than in generally breaking curfew to annoy Windshear...

And when Kara gets hit by a thug on the street, that prompts Manikin to get into superhero action for the first time in many years!
Of course, by the end of the issue, things have started to go really mad, and it looks like Gamma Flight are going to be in for a very rough night!

Alpha Flight #111, August 1992
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson

While Alpha Flight fight doubles of themselves alongside the world's other superheroes, in scenes that add nothing at all to the ongoing plot of Infinity War but allow a handful of little character moments, Toronto has gone mad and the only heroes left in Canada are Windshear and the Gamma Flight team!

Manikin again serves as the spokesman for those crazy kids while Windshear quotes the rulebook at him amidst the chaos...

Until eventually, Kara has enough, uses her powers to take over Windshear's mind and gives everyone a break from the bossiness.

Most of the focus of this issue is on Talisman, the Ska'r and the Master's scheme. The story concludes next month!

Alpha Flight #112, September 1992
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson

Manikin appears on the cover of a comic, for the first time in years! Although he's wearing a Gamma Flight costume that he actually never wears inside a comic. The purple man in the sky behind the Master is the Magus, the big bad of Infinity War, who has absolutely nothing to do with this issue, but presumably his presence led a few gullible comic-buyers into purchasing it.

It's a big chaotic fight in Toronto, and Manikin doesn't have much of the action, but he sends Highbrow to get Kara out of a tricky situation.

And eventually grumpy old Windshear has to admit that those irreverent kids have got what it takes...

After quite a bit more fighting, mainly involving Talisman but also Windshear and the others, everything is resolved. Our heroes are officially reinstated to Beta Flight, and get snazzy new uniforms and a team logo!

Manikin, more by chance than design, has resumed his superhero career! #113 is another fill-in story by Sven Larsen, a flashback set during the early Mantlo era, before Whit joined the team. But the letters page has the first mention of Knapp for a long time - a reader asks why he didn't join the fight in #97-#100 and gets the simple answer that Whit thought Alpha Flight had it under control.

Alpha Flight #114, November 1992
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson

While Weapon Omega deals with his own issues and new cool character Wyre, Heather decides to give Beta Flight the opportunity to deal with a relatively minor super-team job, dealing with a hostage situation. It doesn't go well...
Manikin again takes charge of the team outside the research complex where the hostages are held, criticising Kara for being too free with the use of her mind-control powers, and getting Laura to transport them inside (for some reason - it seems to me that Highbrow could do it better than Laura's way, which involves travelling through another dimension!), but when they get into the action situation it's Witchfire who gives the orders. Beta have presumably been working on using everybody's personality and experience in the most appropriate way. On the other hand, it's a costly error of judgement to send Whit to check out the situation!

Oh dear. Once again, Whit's taken out right at the start of the conflict, but this time it's much more serious! The Jackal (son of the Spider-Man villain, apparently) has poisoned claws, and Whit is a goner.

To be continued!

Alpha Flight #115, December 1992
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson

The Wyre story continues, bringing in the rest of the Alpha team and Talisman too, but out in Sudbury the situation is critical for the Betas. Witchfire, after killing Jackal in the heat of the moment, tries to take charge and help Whit.

Kara is deeply upset, as Whit unexpectedly starts to grow a cocoon around himself!

What's going on now? It seems our hero has another aspect to his powers, but it'll be a while before we see how it turns out for him...

Alpha Flight #116, January 1993
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson

First Wyre, now Rok. I do love Simon Furman as a writer, but his supporting-character names need some help...

The Weapon Omega story takes up most of this issue, but Alpha Flight also have to face a media frenzy after bringing Whit to a public hospital. National distrust of superheroes is building up, in a simmering subplot. But Whitman Knapp doesn't know anything of it - he's fully wrapped up in his cocoon.

Kara is still deeply devastated by what's happened, while Witchfire blames herself, and thinks she'd sell her soul to save him. This turns out to be a bad thing to think when you're a person of mysterious demonic origins...

For the next two issues, we see nothing of Manikin, or the rest of Beta Flight, while Weapon Omega brings Wyre to live with the team, renames himself Wildheart and is generally very cool in an early-nineties comic kind of way. Alpha Flight are drawn into a fight with the Wrecking Crew as a sinister Canadian politician, manipulated by a more sinister villain brings in a Superhuman Registration Act. Another new character, young Albert Louis aka Feedback, is brought into the story too. Spoilers, it's all the Master of the World scheming again. It'll build to a head over the next year of comics. The Manikin situation just gets a couple of passing mentions - but then in #119, things start to happen...

Alpha Flight #119, April 1993
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson

While the aforementioned plots go on, we get a look-in on Kara, and the cocoon...

We're inside the mind of Whitman Knapp! And it's full of dinosaurs! In fact, he's created a symbolic representation of Earth history, and Highbrow has to explain that it is in danger of collapse.

And the situation isn't helped when a gang of Master-manipulated human anti-superhero zealots break into Department H, knock Kara out and intend to shoot the cocoon to teach those superheroes a lesson!

Alpha Flight #120, May 1993
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson & friends

The Alpha Flight comic celebrates its tenth anniversary, costing fifty cents more than usual but coming with a little poster in a plastic bag with little Canadian flags on it. The comic has the same number of pages as always. The credit for inking is "Patterson & friends" so presumably it was a rush job to get it finished by the deadline - it doesn't look hasty or sloppy, though.

Inside, despite Wyre's valiant effort to stop them, one of the extremists manages to shoot the Manikin cocoon in the head. It causes a drastic reaction in Whitman's mind!

Whitman Knapp is reborn! But at the cost of his friends - Highbrow, Apeman and Proto are gone. He's understandably devastated about it. And the rest of the team, as usual, are too distracted with their own issues to offer him any support...
#120 also contains a 'superhuman registration form' for readers to fill in, which previously appeared in Marvel Age magazine to promote the storyline. Being Canadian, it's bilingual, and the French translation is so absolutely terrible it beggars belief. Did Simon Furman write it? I doubt it - surely some American junior editor must have been responsible...

Whitman Knapp goes unmentioned in #121, in which Alpha Flight get some help from Spider-Man and Wolverine to deal with the Brass Bishop. But then we're into another Infinity crossover...

Alpha Flight #122, July 1993
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson

Infinity Crusade is the third, last and worst of the big crossovers that spun out of Adam Warlock's early-nineties popularity. It involves a lot of heroes with spiritual kinds of mindsets being brainwashed and recruited to serve the Goddess, but as usual Alpha Flight's role is to stand in the background. Simon Furman devotes more page-space to exploring the minds of the Alpha characters involved, but still primarily focuses on an unrelated Beta Flight story.

We start with the team in training with Wyre, authorised by Whitman Knapp, who's settled back into a supporting role for his super-powered pals. Guardian isn't happy about it, but soon gets called away to the big emergency.

Whit and Kara share a friendly grumble at being left home while the grown-ups go out to save the universe...

But there's something bad going on back at home, too!

Witchfire is the big bad of this story - making a suitable contrast to the Goddess, she goes all demonic. It turns out her father is Belasco, one of the Marvel Universe's many devils, and she's unleashed her full evil - thanks, it seems, mainly to her guilt over what happened to Manikin!

There's also a backup strip focusing on Puck, for which Simon Furman brings in an all-British art team of Barry Kitson and John Stokes. UK Transformer comic nostalgia to the max!

Alpha Flight #124, August 1993
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson

Witchfire has taken over Department H and turned the whole place into a demon-filled nightmare. Guardian, Northstar and Wildheart sneak away from the events of Infinity Crusade to try to sort it out, but Witchfire is much too powerful for them. She's chained Manikin to a wall, while he valiantly tries to talk her out of her demonic state...

That's all we see of poor powerless Whitman in this issue, but the next is another big one for our hero!

Alpha Flight #124, September 1993
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Pat Broderick, inks Bruce Patterson

While Witchfire continues to torment Alpha Flight, Whit continues to beg her to see reason and find the good within herself. Soon enough, she gets tired of this and gags him, but it turns out Whit has one more trick up his sleeve!

Yes, Manikin is back, with the altered power to change into any one of his three former friends! To be honest, I prefer the original power - it's a lot more cool and different than simple shape-changing. But at least he's back in action, and as he very amply demonstrates in this story - Whitman Knapp's skill is not in superhero fighting, it's in bedside manner and empathy! He spends the rest of this issue, naked, reasoning with Witchfire and talking her down from her evil, insisting that the more bloodthirsty Alpha Flight give him this chance!

He can turn into Highbrow, Apeman or even Proto now if he wants to, but it's as Dr Knapp that he saves the day.

Now this is a real hero! And we even conclude the story with an excerpt from his diary, which I for one would really like to read more of...

And that, sadly, is Manikin's last big moment. #125 and #126, although they stop boasting "an Infinity Crusade crossover" on the cover, still tie into the big Marvel story of 1993... sort of. They involve a side story featuring a different bunch of characters who aren't involved in the Crusade, very loosely tied in to what's going on with the Goddess. Manikin doesn't appear, but the backup strip in #126 does give us a glimpse of him.

Alpha Flight #126, November 1993
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Manny Galan, inks Mark Stegbauer

The continuing story of the Alpha Flight second-string against the monster Carcass concludes in this one, but the backup strip (and incidentally, the introduction of backup strips is a very Simon Furman touch which I really appreciated) focuses on the newest recruit Feedback - he pushes himself to improve his combat skills, and Manikin is there to offer a word of advice.

Whit clearly sees a kindred spirit in young Albert, brought into the superhero world very much against his will, and worries about him.

But sadly, we're not going to see much more of these guys, or of Alpha Flight in general - the comic has been cancelled due to poor sales. #127 gives us the end of the Infinity Crusade crossovers, plus a backup strip focusing on Wildheart, and no mention of Manikin or the rest of the Beta bunch. Then we go into a three-part final storyline in which the Master's plan is revealed and Alpha Flight have to take him down. Once again, there's not a mention of the backup heroes of Department H; the story is all about the main team. #128 is a classic Furman trope - a dream of a possible future where all of the heroes are slaughtered. It even has a fan favourite Furmanism "Over. Finished." in it! #129 has Alpha going head to head against the Master's forces. No mention of Manikin or the others, although the letters page has a complaint about them using the "fourth rate characters" of Beta Flight when the writer's favourites don't get enough exposure. The final issue of the series is #130.

Alpha Flight #130, March 1994
Writer Simon Furman, pencils Dario Carrasco jr, inks Ian Akin / Frank Turner

It's a double-sized final issue resolving the whole Master-ruling-Canada problem and even bringing good old Mac back to life again. But there's still only room for a brief cameo of Beta Flight, including Manikin in Apeman mode, right at the end.

And then everyone (except Northstar, who's gone off to appear in his limited series) joins together in a big group pinup (drawn by a not very good artist) to finish Alpha Flight's eleven-year history. It's meant to be an upbeat ending, but it's rather sad.


It's become traditional for me to end this kind of ramble by giving a shout-out to the one and only modern writer who really 'gets' my favourite characters. But unlike Metamorpho and the Red Tornado, doing that for Manikin means shining the spotlight on the ONE AND ONLY comic since 1994 to mention Manikin at all! He completely and totally disappeared after the original Alpha Flight series was cancelled - I always hoped one day there'd be a story that would not only bring him back but restore his original power set... and hey, eventually there was!

Jane Foster, Valkyrie #6, February 2020
Writers Al Ewing / Jason Aaron, art Pere Pérez

Jane Foster, who started life as Thor's love interest in the 1960s, has been through a lot over the years. She's now a doctor and also a Vakyrie, and her series (just before it was cut short by the pandemic, ironically) featured supernatural adventures with a medical twist. In this two-part story, she recruits a team of very obscure superhero doctors from the Marvel universe to save the life of Death itself. And one of them is Dr Knapp!

Jane Foster, Valkyrie #7, March 2020
Writers Al Ewing / Jason Aaron, art Pere Pérez

Whit's back in his classic costume (although the artist doesn't realise the back of it is meant to be brown) and back in action. Still transforming into his past and future selves when the story starts, he valiantly signs up to the mission even knowing he seems to be fated to die (classic heroic Whit!) - and it turns out to be the tragic end of Proto, which leads into the other three being resurrected and separate entities again! Well, it's 75% success, I suppose, and I'm sure another good writer could bring Proto back one day!

And so there you have it. I suppose any character who's been almost exclusively written by Bill Mantlo and Simon Furman is always going to be one of my foremost heroes, but I do think he's a truly wonderful guy - a superhero who's far more than just big and strong and macho, who does genuine good for the world! Give him a movie, Marvel!