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Snowbird (Alpha Flight) (Marvel Comics)

Snowbird aka Harfang

(Classic Alpha Flight) (Part #1)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

Snowbird is one of the core members of the original Alpha Flight Canadian super-team. This profile covers the “classic” era, which goes from the beginning up to Alpha Flight vol. 1 #28 (when Byrne finally leaves the book, which he never wanted to do anyway).

Since she’s a civil servant we have to be multilingual, c’est la loi. “Harfang” is short for chouette harfang (“harfang owl”), the French-Canadian name for the arctic owl (or snowy owl). It is borrowed from the Swedish harfång (“hare-catcher”). It was the name used in the French translations of the comics back when the character appeared.


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For context, we do suggest reading our Alpha Flight team profile first. It’s full of interesting stuff.

Since it was slightly too long, this profile is now presented in two parts. The .


Background

  • Real Name: Narya.
  • Other Aliases: Corporal Anne MacKenzie ; Anne MacKenzie Thompson.
  • Marital Status: Single, then Married, then Widowed.
  • Known Relatives: Hodiak (grandfather), Nelvanna of the Northern Light (mother), Richard Lawrence Easton (biological father, deceased), Dr. Michael Twoyoungmen (aka Shaman, foster father), an unnamed Inua divinity (apparently a maternal cousin once removed).
  • Group Affiliation: Alpha Flight, Inua, RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police/Gendarmerie Royale du Canada) – as Cpl. McKenzie).
  • Base Of Operations: Canada.
  • Height: 5’10” Weight: 108 lbs.
  • Eyes: White circles on solid black backgrounds. Hair: Pale blonde.


Mythology, schmythology

Some may wonder why a magician from the Tsuu T’ina nation  — Dr. Twoyoungmen — is closely associated with Inuit  divinities.

As a quick reminder about Canada’s size, there’s roughly 3,000 km (1,900 miles) between Calgary (Shaman’s hometown) and Nunavut (the Canadian territory mostly populated by Inuits). In a terrain and climate you don’t want to brave using low-tech methods.

Well, there’s a trick.


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The “Inuit gods” in Alpha Flight are not any sort of real-world Inuit mythology, but a historical comic book reference. The two main gods from the pantheon, Nelvanna of the Northern Lights and Hodiak, are direct references to 1940s comic book characters which were published in Triumph-Adventure Comics in Toronto.

Nelvana of the Northern Lights (one “n”), daughter of Koliak, was an early Golden Age super-heroine and one of the earliest Canadian super-heroes. She has a writeups.org profile, obvs.

Marvel secondary sources  have reconstructed an imaginary pantheon, the Inua, which merges :

  • Actual Inuit mythological figures (such as Tekkeitsertok, a patron spirit of hunting and caribous).
  • Comic book versions of actual mythological figures (such as Sedna).
  • Comic book history from the “Canadian whites” (Nelva(n)na and Hodiak).
  • Marvel characters (such as Snowbird).

See the Encyclopedia Mythologica by Anthony Flamini , and the marvunapp.com entry for the Inua .

Given its mixed nature the Inua pantheon is properly referred as “the Northern gods”, rather than using references to Inuit legends and lore.


Powers and Abilities

Snowbird is armed with a suite of magical powers to fight the Great Beast with. What is a Power and what is a Ritual is not always easy to tell — Snowbird’s abilities being vague. Many abilities are demonstrated but once without explanation, as convenient for the story.

Narya :

  • Is strong enough to crush high-tech metallic restraints with her bare hands. She also could punch a large hole through a reinforced concrete wall.
  • Can fly.
  • Can sense magic.
  • Can detect her team-mates (apparently navigating using a mystical sensation that heightens as she gets closer to them).
  • Can magically force others to fight the Great Beasts at her side.

Snowbird turns into a polar bear

  • Has superhuman eyesight. We assumed meant about twice peak human visual range, though it’s more implied than demonstrated.
  • Can magically heal her wounds and restore her costume.
  • Can effortlessly assume a fully human-looking form (complete with whichever clothes and small items she was wearing before the changed shape).
  • Is very difficult to teleport against her will. Shaman also once mentions that if a teleportation effect is used against Snowbird she can decide on the destination rather than just resist it, but that was not demonstrated.
  • Has a minor healing factor  (more implied than demonstrated).
  • … and may have other sundry minor abilities.

Her flight speed is never stated. But she covers vast distances between Canadian provinces within hours. She once followed a 500 miles trail to its end before Langkowski would die of exposure. Thus, 250 mph (400 km/h) is a reasonable estimate. She has occasionally wrapped people in her cloak to allow them to endure the cold and air friction as she carried them in flight.

Limitations

Snowbird becomes powerless and starts withering within less than a minute if she leaves Canada. This was caused by a mistake made by an inexperienced Shaman when he served as a midwife to Nelvanna. When he bound Narya’s life-force to the land to give her a stable shape and mentality, he was too specific and bound her to Canada rather than the whole dimension .

Snowbird flying as an Arctic owl

Both Snowbird and Shaman mention that Snowbird must not bleed, for mystical reasons. Nothing else is explained. Furthermore, Snowbird sheds her blood a few issues before this taboo is mentioned, without any special consequence.

What to do of this is unclear. Perhaps it is a sort of specific geas , such as not letting a brown-haired woman shed her blood during the day or some such intricate mystical taboo. Or perhaps the limitation is that she must not bleed outside of Canada, since this took place just before this limitation of hers was discovered.

(Out of universe, it’s just that this run wasn’t particularly concerned with planning or coherence.)

Half-breed, how I learned to hate the word

That Snowbird’s power is diluted by her half-human blood is mentioned several times. What it means in practice is unclear. As the grand-daughter of Hodiak, perhaps Narya would be powerful even by Inua standards as a full-blooded goddess, and able to single-handedly kill Great Beasts.

The question is academic, though. Since as a full-blooded Inua she wouldn’t be able to exist on Earth.

One also notes that several Great Beasts were led to underestimating her because of her “diluted blood”, turning this characteristic into an advantage for Snowbird.

Shapechanger

Snowbird’s signature ability is that she can turn into any beast native to the Great North. In doing so she adopts its natural weapons, size, senses and other abilities. See the Animals File on writeups.org for zoological game statistics and information.

Favourite forms include :

  1. The snowy owl.
  2. The polar bear (for its — in DC Heroes RPG terms — Growth, which gives her a higher degree of strength than most assume).
  3. A swarm of mosquitoes (with Flight and Fluid Form).

She is also seen turning into a rabbit (for stealth) and a wolverine (deadly, but too dangerous to use under normal circumstances as the beast’s ferocity may overtake her).

Snowbird uses a surprisingly narrow array of animals. She never used some forms that would have been very useful (say, an otter, a wolf, a beaver or a caribou).

Furthermore, the zoology wasn’t always the best. One issue has her regret being unable taking the form of a bat since they are “not of her domain”. Canada actually has more than 15 indigenous species of bats, many of which live very far North. One can find red bats living on Arctic islands.

Presumably this is more a product of poor research than Snowbird not knowing much about zoology, though out of caution our game stats do not include an Expertise in zoology. Nowadays research about Canadian animals is trivial – for instance http://www.hww.ca .

Gave names to all the animals

Narya is especially interested in assuming flying forms. She seems enamoured of flying and hunting in the shape of a snowy owl. Those animals are pretty large – they have a wingspan of roughly 1.5m (nearly 5 feet), and Snowbird’s harfang form seems even larger than that of a normal owl.

Snowbird transforming in her office

There seems to be no limit to Snowbird’s zoomorphic ability. As long as it is an animal species native to the North, she can fully duplicate its form and abilities.

The most remarkable demonstration of this came when she took the sasquatch form to Tanaraq. Technically and with a lot of squinting, he was a “beast” and sort-of native to the North. Snowbird’s white-furred sasquatch form was, if anything, stronger and fiercer than Tanaraq himself.

Snowbird hates taking the form of the enemy, though. Furthermore, the Tanaraq-duplicate form carries unique risks of corruption. It’s only used once and in exceptional circumstances during this era.


History

(The dates used in the History section are NOT official ones. They are just used out of convenience. See the Alpha Flight main article for more about this timeline.)

Narya is a demigoddess, daughter of Nelvanna of the Inua pantheon. The Inua are a race of gods, in the same way that the Asgardians  or the Olympians are gods. They have contacts with mystics from several First Nations in Canada. Traditionally, they tend to associate with the Inuit peoples in northernmost Canada, but have allies as far South as Calgary.

The Inua are chiefly known for their opposition to a set of monsters called the Great Beasts. They have protected the Earth from the ravages of the Beasts on several occasions. The roots for the immense hatred between the Beasts and the Inua are not known.

There might be some sort of tie between the two. When the current host of the Great Beast Ranaq was killed, Snowbird was wracked by pain.

Beasts of devastation

The fractious Great Beasts thrice attempted to invade Earth. One assumes that the Inua — and perhaps allies of theirs — were the ones who foiled all three invasions. During the third and last attempt, the Inua managed to lock the Great Beasts into their native realm. This dimension  is a ravaged, lifeless planet which the Beasts had long since despoiled.

However the Great Beast Tundra mystically created an energy vortex that duplicated the spell. Thus, he locked the Inua in their own dimension as well.

The Inua may also have been among the spirits who sponsored the creation of the Talisman. The Talisman is a mystical protector able to defeat the overwhelming menace of Llan the Sorcerer as it comes to Earth every 10,000 years.

Not meant to know, part 1

Circa 1955 a random archaeology student, Richard Easton, found a remarkable artefact. At that point he was working on a dig in northernmost Canada. The object looked like an intact, ancient metal circlet of unknown design. This was actually a magical item that could act as a gateway toward both the home dimension of the Inua, and the home dimension of the Great Beasts.

Snowbird flying majestically over a blue background

Aware of the danger, three Inua — Nelvanna, her father Hodiak, and a cousin of theirs — influenced Easton to don the circlet. This made it possible for him to see and hear them.

Nelvanna’s plan was to bypass the Inua’s exile by having a child with a mortal. She would then mystically give birth on Earth so her child would exist on the other side of the barrier, and be active on Earth when the Great Beasts would attack next.

Not meant to know, part 2

Her cousin transmogrified  Nelvanna the crone into a very attractive near-human so the scared Easton would agree to have sex. Nelvanna did get pregnant, but Easton was shattered by the experience.

Though by his reckoning a single night had passed, he reappeared on Earth a decade later. Demolished, Easton was gaunt, wild-eyed, paranoid and schizophrenic. Thinking that everyone and everything was an agent of the Great Beasts, he fled. Easton lived for years as a vagrant.

The former archaeologist somehow survived in the tundra, but saw his sanity steadily degrade. Years later, the madman would use his magical circlet to conjure the Great Beast Tundra, which killed him.

Nature girl

A year after Easton’s return to Earth, a great spirit — possibly Hodiak, apparently the skyfather of the Inua — contacted the most proficient shaman in Canada, Dr. Michael Twoyoungmen. Travelling North to the long-since closed archaeological dig, Shaman opened a small portal to allow Nelvanna to give birth on Earth.

The birth was a mystical event, completely different from a human birth. But Twoyoungmen helped the metamorphic baby come to existence and bound it to a human-like form tied to Canada. By the time the ceremony was over, the child was about one year old. Dr. Twoyoungmen called the baby girl Narya. He became her foster father.

At that point Dr. Twoyoungmen was living as an hermit, deep into the Banff National Park . This was fortuitous, since Narya rapidly grew up to become the equivalent of a 20-year old. Furthermore she had a number of striking, inhuman physical characteristics – particularly her eyes.

Narya did not need supplies, hunting her own food in animal form. Her favourite form, that of the chouette harfang (Arctic owl) became her avatar as a demigoddess of nature.

Narya’s growth was presumably accelerated to allow her to face the Great Beasts when they would return. The approximative date of this return was known in advance. Llan the Sorcerer would return circa 1990, and the dimensional barriers keeping evil things at bay would weaken years before that as a side-effect of his coming.

Taking Flight

The government discovered Narya’s existence through complete happenstance.

An old friend of Dr. Twoyoungmen, Heather Hudson, came to visit him in his eremitic retreat with her husband. During their stay, Heather was puzzled by Narya’s presence. Narya looked about 20 and had been raised by Dr. Twoyoungmen, yet Mrs. Hudson — who had grown up next to the Twoyoungmen house — had never seen her before.

Snowbird over a white background in the wind

Investigating, she saw the strange lass turn into a owl to hunt and eat small mammals. When she demanded to know what was going on, Dr. Twoyoungmen reluctantly explained his own mystical pursuits, Narya’s nature and the menace of the Great Beasts.

Dr. James Hudson offered to recruit Dr. Twoyoungmen and Narya in Department H’s Alpha Flight. They took the offer and were code-named Shaman and Snowbird.

On the Prime Minister’s secret service

Shaman cautiously agreed to have Narya join Department H for educational purposes. But she was in some respects still a young girl who had grown up in the wilderness.

  • She tended to be overwhelmed by the consciousness of her animal forms when experiencing strong emotion whilst transmogrified.
  • She naïvely repeated things that she had heard on the telly.
  • She was easily disoriented by bright lights and colours, particularly in animal form, and shunned clothing not made of skins.

While the rapidly-maturing and very intelligent Narya would soon outgrow all these issues, she was sent into battle before she was ready. The criminal scientist Egghead attacked Canada with his henchmen – the Eel, Solarr, the Rhino, Porcupine, the Swordman and Power Man. Canada already had a super-team, the Flight, but they barely had started training for the field.

Thus, the Flight’s intervention was mostly a failure. It would in fact have been an utter disaster without team member Saint Elmo sacrificing himself. Dr. Twoyoungmen was furious about Dr. Hudson’s decision, never having authorised for his ward to be sent into combat.

Snowbird

In 1975, when Wolverine left Department H, Narya was mature enough to pass for an adult. But she was still lacking life experience. A cover was arranged by the government in an isolated RCMP outposts in the Northwestern Territories – out of Yellowknife, in the district of MacKenzie .

Snowbird flying over a red background

The demi-goddess was given the unimaginative identity of Corporal Anne McKenzie, a police file clerk. Her superior Chief Inspector Cranmer was told by Department H to let her have open hours and not ask any question. As part of her Department H work, Narya trained Walter Langkowski in controlling his Sasquatch form.

This profile is continued in .


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By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: The first 28 issues of Marvel’s Alpha Flight plus flashbacks to that time or before — which is what we refer to as the “Classic” era.

Helper(s): Capita_Senyera, Chris Cottingham.

Writeup completed on the 9th of November, 2011.

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