Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
This story takes place in the later half of Byrne’s first year on Alpha Flight, where he was trying to do something different with the team super hero dynamics. After their initial team outing in issue #1, Byrne split the team up and over the next 10 issues, he would dedicated the series to individual story arcs, all working towards regrouping the team for the big climax in Alpha Flight #11-12.
While split over Alpha Flight #9 and #10, the story itself was only 28 pages as each of those issues also had an 8-page origin feature focusing on Northstar and Aurora. “Things Aren’t Always What They Seem” was set in the Yukon Territory in Northern Canada and Byrne doesn’t waste any time introducing not only the secondary characters and some background conflict, but getting the main story going. An isolated cosmic ray research station intercepted a transporter beam carrying what appears to the Fantastic Four’s Thing. As you might have guessed, the being they inadvertently rescued wasn’t the Thing and proves be rather malicious alien.
You can see that Byrne’s having fun with the story similarities to The Thing move (in either the incarnation 1951 or 1982 with a remote arctic base and a murderous alien), but that’s were the similarities stop. Byrne sets the stage for a conflict between Sasquatch and the antagonist (whose identity I’ll let you discover) with the second most memorable story ending splash page (the first being Guardian’s death in Alpha Flight #12 of course).
An injured Langowski was forced to transform into his furry alter-ego, but his intellect is pushed back as a more primal and savage version of the Sasquatch battled the antagonist. Sasquatch’s origin revealed a few issues earlier that Langowksi was inspired by Bruce Banner’s work on Gamma Radiation and Langowski’s effort to reproduce his effort granted him the power of the Sasquatch with one essential difference, that he retained his intellect. Byrne plays well with that angle in issue #10, leveraging the combination of his strength and intelligence to overcome the antagonist. Langowski’s intellect allows for a thoughtful conclusion to the story which isn’t about the defeat of the antagonist, but rather the cost of the battle and the deaths of his fellow researchers, as well as Langowski’s concern over possibly losing control again.
From a post in November 2007 on his message board on byrnerobotics.com, John Byrne looked back on his work on this issue: “It’s frustrating to look at these old pages and see the ghosts of what is to come. I still had so far to go, to get my art even close to where I wanted it to be, but here and there, every once in a while, there would be a glimmer, an almost accidental moment of getting it right.”
I’ve always felt that Byrne’s art is at its best when someone else inks his pencils. When he inks his own pencils, the end result doesn’t seem as sharp. These two issues give you a taste of some of the more pure Byrne work of the 1980s.
Jason Shayer has been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.