For six months in 1986, Vancouver hosted their first world’s fair, Expo 86, and it was a pretty big deal.
It forever changed the landscape of the city, transforming it from “a sleepy provincial backwater to a city with global clout,” according to a Wikipedia entry that needs a citation.
Over 22 million people visited Expo 86 and the guest list was stacked with ’80s notables. There was royalty (Prince Charles and Di!), politicians (Margaret Thatcher! George Bush!), comedians (Bill Cosby! Bob Hope!) and one of the directors of a Rambo (First Blood II’s George Cosmatos!). And in the pages of a late ’80s Marvel comic book, a team of Canadian superheroes even passed through Expo 86, defusing a deadly battle on the fairgrounds between a kill-squad of gigantic mutant-killing robot Sentinels and a green-skinned villain.
For the uninitiated (and unpatriotic), Alpha Flight was created by artist John Byrne to fill up space in an X-Men comic in 1979. Launching in 1983, Alpha Flight’s first series lasted 11 years and 130 mostly-forgettable issues to anyone outside of Canada. The Expo 86 issue was definitely one of those issues.
The Alpha Flight team was essentially The Avengers except they assembled because each member had a singular weirdly specific Canadian attribute.
The team was led by Guardian, a sort of fusion between Captain America and Iron Man, who draped himself in Maple Leaf-adorned robotic armour so he wouldn’t get hassled when he backpacked in Europe.
Instead of Thor, the Norse God of Lightning, Alpha Flight had Snowbird, an Inuit demigod.
There was also Sasquatch, a scientist imbued with Hulk-style powers from a gamma radiation experiment that he conducted underneath the Northern Lights because: Canada. A-Flight even had their own pair of mutant siblings just like The Avengers, except one of them was even a Winter Olympian.
But the single most Canadian thing about Alpha Flight was their most notable villain: a never-ending series of constant government budget cuts.
Our Expo 86 issue begins with Mesmero, a green-skinned mutant who can brainwash people, breaking out of a Washington State jail and hopping the border. The government sends a horde of robot mutant-hunters called Sentinels over to capture him. To avoid an international incident (and also for yuks) they send the type of Sentinel that can turn invisible and prank Canada’s many lumberjacks.
Mesmero wakes up to magic of Expo 86. The Sentinels find him. Alpha Flight intervenes, turning the Vancouver fair into a comic book set-piece.
Unfortunately there’s not a lot of Expo 86 on display in the comic. Artist Dave Ross includes a few shots of the monorail, Science World and the gondolas, but doesn’t dig deep enough for a McBarge cameo, or even a throwdown between the Sentinels and the equally murderous Expo Ernie.