Vancouver hosted their first world’s fair, Expo 86, and those six months changed the city forever.
The international fair transformed the city from “a sleepy provincial backwater” into “a city with global clout,” according to a Wikipedia entry that needs a citation. Expo 86 also gave us Skytrain, Science World and a McDonald’s that was in the water.
Over 22 million people visited Expo 86 and it had a guest-list stacked with ’80s notables. There was royalty (Prince Charles and Di!), politicians (Margaret Thatcher! George Bush!), comedians (Bob Hope!) and a Rambo director (First Blood II’s George Cosmatos!).
Even comic book characters got in on the excitement. Archie and the gang came to Vancouver in the pages of their comic. And so did Alpha Flight, Marvel’s ultra-Canadian superhero team.
For the uninitiated and unpatriotic, Alpha Flight is a superhero team created by artist John Byrne to fill up space in an X-Men comic in 1979 (and to give Wolverine more backstory).
The team was essentially a government-funded Avengers. The biggest difference is that instead of assembling the most powerful, iconic superheroes of the time, Alpha Flight is a team formed of characters with weirdly-specific Canadian attributes, stereotypes and questionably-appropriated powers.
- There’s Guardian, a bland fusion of Captain America and Iron Man. He drapes himself in maple leaf-adorned robotic armour so that he doesn’t get hassled when he visits Europe.
- There’s Sasquatch, a scientist imbued with Hulk-style powers – the result of a gamma radiation experiment that was conducted underneath the Northern Lights because, Canada.
- There was also a pair of mutant siblings, one of whom was also a Winter Olympian.
- And of course, there’s a guy named Puck.
Debatably, the single most Canadian thing about the Alpha Flight was their most notable villain: a never-ending series of constant government budget cuts.
In ’83, Alpha Flight jumped out of their cameo in X-Men and stepped up into their own series. The first volume of Alpha Flight lasted 11 years, over 130 mostly-forgettable issues to anyone outside of Canada. And the Expo 86 issue (#43) was definitely one of those issues.
Enter: Expo 86
The plot: Mesmero, a green, brainwashing mutant escapes a Washington State jail. He hops the border to hide out at Expo 86, pursued by Sentinels, mutant-hunting robots that also turn invisible to prank lumberjacks.
Mesmero wakes up to magic of Expo 86 all around him: “a grand international exhibition.” The Sentinels find him. Alpha Flight shows up and intervenes. They turn the Vancouver fair into a comic book set-piece. There’s even a murder, sadly matching Expo 86’s total body count.
Throughout, Dave Ross does the best to show Expo 86 with what’s he’s given. There are a few shots of the monorail, Science World and the gondolas. However the issue ends without the showdown everyone was clammoring for: the Sentinels squaring off against the equally murderous Expo Ernie.