COMICS REVIEW: "Alpha Flight #1 Facsimile Edition" fails to recapture the magic of yesterday

Marvel Comics' new "Facsimile Edition" comics have quickly become one of the more popular and interesting Marvel projects in the past few years. These "Facsimile Edition" books are exact reproductions of the company's most iconic comics from the past 50+ years and have included the likes of Dazzler #1 (1981), Silver Surfer #14 (1970), Marvel Presents #3 (1976), Incredible Hulk #181 (1974), Fantastic Four #1 (1961), and Amazing Spider-Man #252 (1984). These "Facsimile Edition" books differ quite substantially from the "True Believer" reprints in both price and replication; "True Believer" books have repackaged and reprinted popular Marvel comics from yesterday and today at the cost-friendly price of $1, while the "Facsimile Edition" books have replicated the original books exactly as they were published originally (except for some updated trade dressing on the cover).

"Alpha Flight #1" Facsimile Edition

This gives the "Facsimile Edition" books a much stronger feeling of importance, that is accentuated by the "frozen-in-amber" feeling they espouse. Rather than feeling like a cheap reprint, they are meant to seem more meaningful; a book that demonstrates for a younger generation the way that comics used to be read in the Golden and Silver ages of comics. Yet, if the recently released Alpha Flight #1 Facsimile Edition is representative of this attempt, it does, disappointingly, fall quite flat.

Alpha Flight #1 (1983) saw John Byrne's eponymous superhero team from Canada receive their own on-going series after being previously introduced within his X-Men work. As a proud Canucklehead who has made it his mission to collect Byrne's Alpha Flight run in its entirety (I'm not quite there yet, but I'm working on it...), I couldn't pass up the opportunity to compare the two books.

Previous installations of the "Facsimile Editions" have been focused on books that hold incredible value in today's comics market. It would be surprising to see someone who owned a raw Incredible Hulk #181 risk handling it for the purposes of a comparison between the original and the "Facsimile Edition".

It is for this reason that Alpha Flight #1 Facsimile Edition is particularly unique. While other "Facsimile Editions" are replicas of highly coveted and expensive books in the comics market (Dazzler #1 aside, perhaps), Alpha Flight #1 is readily available and not very difficult or expensive to procure.

The side-by-side comparison of the two books is actually quite interesting and, when we consider the intention of the "Facsimile Editions" in a world where anyone could go online and read the book digitally through Comixology, revealed to me some important thoughts about materiality and "the comic book" today.

"Alpha Flight #1" (1983), left vs. "Alpha Flight #1" Facsimile Edition, right

Take, for instance, the paper stock that each book is printed on. While the original Alpha Flight #1 was printed on the classic newsprint paper stock that defined its contemporary era, the "Facsimile Edition" is printed on paper stock more common to today's comics. This has the unintended (one would think) impact of making the "Facsimile Edition" physically heavier and the interior art of the book substantially more glossy than the 1983 edition.

"Alpha Flight #1" Facsimile Edition, top vs "Alpha Flight #1" (1983), bottom

This would seem a small qualm to hold against the book, however, when one is paying the $3.99 cover price in hopes of revealing some lost connection with the past, it is a meaningful problem. Again, why bother purchasing this book if its purpose is only to re-release the narrative? Anyone can obtain that with comics digitization (it's currently $1.99 on Comixology), saving their money and space for more important physical comics in their collection. No, for these books to have meaning, they must do everything they can to return us to the time from which they came. The Alpha Flight #1 Facsimile Edition would seem to fail at that right off the top.

Another issue that links back to the paper stock issue is the way that newsprint naturally subdues colours within the book, as the page soaks up and alters the colour. As a result, the colours in the original Alpha Flight #1 are muted and quiet. In complete contrast, the colours in the "Facsimile Edition" are loud and ablaze all over the page. This is most noticeable in the abstracted backgrounds that Byrne uses throughout.

As was common with comics at the time (and especially with Byrne's work) the foreground of the comics panel content was really all that mattered, leading Byrne to use a single colour as a backdrop for the action. Byrne's choice to use a multitude of colours for this abstraction doesn't stand out as angrily in the original edition of the comic because of the newsprint paper stock, however the colour is impossible to ignore in the "Facsimile Edition" as it screams for you to look and see it pop off the page. The effect is that, rather than act as a backdrop the way that it does in the original edition, it fights for parallel importance (and, at its most egregious, supremacy over the characters).

Byrne's choice to use a multitude of colours for this abstraction doesn't stand out as angrily in the original edition of the comic (bottom) because of the newsprint paper stock, however the colour is impossible to ignore in the "Facsimile Edition" (top) as it screams for you to look and see it pop off the page.

The colour problem is one that persists throughout the "Facsimile Edition" of the book and occasionally, functions to change the entire landscape.

This issue, titled "Tundra", focuses largely on the icy landscape of the same name. In the original, we are introduced to a barren, icy wasteland with little green (used sparingly and harshly subdued). However, in the "Facsimile Edition" the Tundra seems far less...Tundra-like as the areas that were previously just dirt seem to be fruitful with growth. This doesn't just change the look of the page, it changes the way that the book communicates setting to us and this problematic representation unintentionally alters our understanding of the story world that we have entered.

What the book does do well though is replicate the original content of the comic. The ads are beautifully reproduced and are actually what provides the "Facsimile Edition" with its "time capsule" feel. Not only are we reading a comic that was originally published nearly forty years ago, but we are also seeing the industry choices that were made at that time. The nostalgia bomb drops as memories of Cracker Jack popcorn and Kool-Aid bleeds into our minds as we read. It is the ads that really help us return to the bygone era of this book and, in that regard, the book provides quite a fulfilling experience.

Though, as a result, it makes all of the other problems with the book much more poignant. These "Facsimile Editions" could have been special; books that transcended modern comics practice and fostered an authentic, meaningful return to a time when comics were at the peak of their popularity. Had they spent the time to truly replicate these books as they were made in the past, I would be all in. But, in a world where one does not have to leave their couch to buy/read this issue digitally, all the Marvel "Facsimile Edition" books are able to accomplish is reproduce the contents of the book, while failing to reproduce the magic of yesterday.

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