X-Men #121 (May 1979)
"Shoot-out At the Stampede!"
Chris Claremont/John Byrne-Terry Austin
Doug: Shoot-out is right, kiddies! Today's fare is one big brouhaha, pitting our not-so-merry mutants against those novice heroes from the Great White North, Alpha Flight! So why waste any time?
Doug: As we open, Cyclops, Colossus, and Storm are now in full costume and breaking into the Calgary Stampede -- a large fairgrounds-type area. The blizzard we saw in last week's book appears to be over, and the X-Men have been scattered -- Wolverine and Nightcrawler were captured last issue by various members of Alpha Flight, and Banshee (now powerless due to events in X-Men #119) is hanging with Colleen Wing and Misty Knight. Cyke blasts some doors open, and is admonished by Colossus for the property destruction. See, that's just a nice bit of characterization, a theme we've continually come back to in this 3-issue look at the foundations of Alpha Flight. Once inside, Cyclops' thoughts wander to the events of the past day, serving as the obligatory recap of the last issue's events.
Karen: Cyclops does have a sound reason for it: if Ororo carried him and Colossus in, she'd make an easy target. But realistically, could she lift Colossus over the wall? I guess the winds would do most of the work, but still...
Doug: Ororo has flown ahead on reconnaissance, looking for Kurt and Logan. Returning, she calls to Cyke and Peter that she's found them, albeit apparently unconscious and bound in a large open area (the rodeo arena, I'm guessing). As our heroes arrive, they are met by an imposing team of super-beings -- this is our introduction to Canada's finest. Isn't Sasquatch imposing?? Cyclops confronts James Hudson, now known as Vindicator, and they argue over Wolverine. But as they bicker, Colossus is suspicious of the movements of Alpha Flight's speedster, Northstar. For whatever reason (and we are led to believe it's unfounded), Peter thinks Northstar is maneuvering behind Cyke's back. Taking a page from the Hulk, Colossus stomps the ground and creates a shockwave. Well, now everyone's edginess comes to the fore and it's game on!
Karen: It's a fantastic group shot, and yes, Sasquatch, who looks like he may be punching his fist in preparation, does look very intimidating. I think it's interesting that just before our X-trio encounters Alpha Flight, Peter questions the rightness of what they are doing. If Wolverine is wanted by his government, is it right for them to go after him? That is the kind of thought I might expect from someone who has lived under totalitarian rule. Cyclops dismisses it, saying that Professor X would never have admitted Wolverine if he was a criminal. No, but he would admit a homicidal maniac! But I digress.
Doug: The X-Men are engaged and seem at a disadvantage. It's obvious from the beginning that Alpha Flight has some intelligence on the X-Men -- certainly Hudson had briefed everyone and they'd practiced since his scrape over a year earlier. As is typical in super-hero tussles, the main guys are by necessity depowered, disorganized, and on the verge of demoralized. But the wild card is evident right at the beginning, as Wolverine and Nightcrawler were not out, but merely "playing possum". Down only Banshee, the X-Men are still picked apart by Alpha Flight. When will they learn? What do you think of this as a plot device? I can't give you a specific list off the top of my head, but it just seems like every time we do a team book the good guys come out playing like amateurs and just get pasted.
Karen: We've seen this lack of team-work with these X-Men over and over again and honestly, I can't tell if it was really intentional on the part of Claremont/Byrne or not. It does seem pretty pathetic, especially considering that we see Cyclops trying to be a good leader, stressing the importance of training, but these guys are a bunch of loose cannons. There are some nice match-ups, and the playfulness between Nightcrawler and Aurora is fun. I believe Byrne slipped himself into a cameo on page 16, when the ever-growing storm blows out a window in the Calgary Tower. During the Sasquatch - Colossus throw down, Claremont has Sasquatch say he's "taken worse from the Steelers' front four." A fan would point out on the letters page of issue 126 that Sasquatch's civilian ID, Walter Langkowski, was a linebacker, so how could he face another teams' defense? This brings to mind the baseball game from X-Men 110 and how it was obvious Claremont knew nothing about the sport. Why include it if you don't know what you're talking about?
Doug: The rest of the book is basically one big brawl. Opponents are chosen with no surprises -- Storm and Snowbird take to the air, Colossus and Sasquatch lock horns, Cyclops and Nightcrawler try to hold down Northstar and Aurora, and Wolverine tangles with some constructs of Shaman. Vindicator runs loose throughout all of this, which seems to tip the scales in Alpha Flight's favor. But as the teams duke it out, the blizzard that was a central part of last issue's plot begins to intensify, to the point that it is becoming dangerous. Storm is finally able to snare Snowbird in her cape, and then she flies off into the eye of the storm to attempt to squelch it. She is successful, which further reveals the extent of her powers. But as she lands, exhausted, Northstar cheap-shots her with a blow to the back of the head, knocking her out. Cyke retaliates with a knock-out beam of his own.
Karen: I liked Snowbird's look but her powers never impressed me. She could transform into arctic animals. Ho hum. Storm should defeat her easily. Once again, we have an impressive, heroic moment from Storm as she dissipates the tempest. Northstar's dirty punch pretty much summed up his character for a long time: he always seemed like a punk. Scott's protectiveness of his team-mates, and pure anger, was nice to see.
Doug: With the fight elevated to a less-than-honorable pitch, Cyclops picks up Northstar by his shirt and is about to pummel him when Wolverine, of all people, stops him. It's a great scene, just further adding layers to not only Logan's character but to the relationship between he and Cyclops. Wolverine tells that the fight needs to end, that it should never have gotten out-of-hand -- but that he was just enjoying the scrap too doggone much! Wolverine then surrenders to Hudson and is loaded into a specially-made van for transport. Of course the guards utter the obligatory tough-talk, and Logan gives it right back to them.
Karen: It's a nice turnabout, with Wolverine as the voice of reason. This was a character that was still mysterious and appealing. I loved the development of the relationship between him and Cyclops. It was very reminiscent of what happened with Captain America and Hawkeye back in the early days of The Avengers.
Doug: In the last scene, the X-Men are on a plane being escorted to U.S. airspace by the Canadian Air Force. Cyke is raising the troops to return on a rescue mission. Everyone's all in, when suddenly a dissenting voice comes from the co-pilot's chair -- it's Wolverine! You know, the cage hasn't been built that can hold him!
Karen: That was a beautiful ending. No need for any explanation - all you need to know is Wolverine is a bad mother!
Doug: This was a fun 2-parter, I guess 3-parter if we count the first appearance of Vindicator. Claremont and Byrne/Austin remain on top of their collective game, and many enthusiasts would say that the best was still yet to come. That's a tough act, as what's already in the rearview mirror is pretty awesome! Perhaps the best thing about this little series was the extension of the Scott/Logan relationship.
Karen: We got character growth and a tantalizing taste of a new team. What more could you ask for?