Cartoonist Tony Wolf Tells Us Why Alpha Flight Was So Progressive Back In The Day

by Oliver MacNamee

Christmas can be a time when some stories can slip you by, so I hope you’ll forgive on this occasion for bring to your attention the work of one Tony Wolf, writer, cartoonist, presenter who has contributed to The New York Times and hosted The Action Room amongst many other gigs.

Well, back in December Tony Wolf made a rather interesting contribution to the UK’s New Statesman, a magazine focusing on politics, British society and the big issues of the day. What makes it relevant to a pop cultural website is the subject matter: Canadian superhero group, Alpha Flight, and how progressive a book it actually was.

Not only did it introduce us, way, way back in the 80’s, to an openly gay character, Northstar (although it was more heavily hinted at at the time), but, as Wolf informs us in this article-cum-comicstrip, Northstar wasn’t the only progressive character or storyline writer/artist/co-creator John Byrne introduced.

Wolf adds, in said article, the following:

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

Not to mention Byrne going on to include the openly gay police officer, Captain Maggie Sawyer, on his famous run of Superman and Action Comics.

The article and the accompany comic strip is not only a great reminder of how progressive comics became, thanks to the work of such big names as Byrne, but how important a little book like Alpha Flight was at the time. Well worth checking it out in full now, over at The New Statesman website.

And all of this in just a handful of issue Byrne was responsible for before swapping with Mike Mignola for The Incredible Hulk after just two years on Alpha Flight.

A real ground-breaking comic before the internet and long before Comicsgate, who I dare say would have moaned even then at their precious little funny books being turned into a better reflection of the society we live in then, as today. But then, you can’t please everyone.

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