Canadian History in the News: The past is always a part of the present. This blog series looks at current events and stories that have a Canadian history element to them and I offer my opinion on the subject.
In between the 23 films that will be coming out over the next four years and TV shows such as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Gotham, Arrow, and The Flash, the superhero overkill bandwagon doesn’t look like it is going to be stopping anytime soon. Given Canada’s history of superheroes, will a Canadian hero or heroine soon be getting a ride on that wagon?
According to the Toronto Star and Fadi Hakim, the president of Captain Canuck Inc the answer is “Absolutely.” Just give it five years or so.
But before we jump to 2019, let’s take a step back and look at the year 1941, the beginning of Canada’s vibrant history of superheroes. Yes, you read that correctly. Original Canadian comic book publication began in 1941 and is the accidental result of government intervention. To counter Canada’s growing trade deficit with the US, the government introduced the War Exchange Conservation Act to restrict the trade of non-essential goods. American comic books fell under this ban and Canadian artists sought to fill the void created. As a result, the Canadian comic book industry flourished for roughly five years. The end of World War II led to the removal of the ban on non-essential American goods and this subsequently triggered the collapse of the Canadian comic book industry in 1946.
Despite this, a number of homegrown characters have come about over the decades, alongside figures from both the DC and Marvel worlds. So what’s so special about Captain Canuck?
Captain Canuck first appeared in 1975 and is the creation of cartoonist Ron Leishman and artist/writer Richard Comely. The series was the first successful Canadian comic book since the collapse of the nation’s industry and marked the beginning of a revival period for Canadian comic books.
Captain Canuck’s real identity is Tom Evans, a Canadian International Security Organization (CISO) officer. While camping with some boy scouts, the whole lot of them were seized by aliens and exposed to Zeta rays. While the boys stayed under the aliens’ control, Evans developed super strength and speed. Evans’ employers decide to take advantage of this turn of events, give him a costume, and the code name, “Captain Canuck.” The story is set in the futuristic world of 1993 and Canada is as a superpower because of our natural resources. As such, Captain Canuck has to deal with all sorts of shenanigans like the ever-present communist threat, cult leaders, more aliens, drug traffickers, the destruction of the Canadian space station, and worst of all, a thief who stole the plates for the new Canadian $10 and $20 bills!
Currently, Captain Canuck has a web series and reportedly there are plans to make a feature film, but these rumours have been around for a few years now.
If a Captain Canuck series does not get picked up, there is always Nelvana of the Northern Lights. With her debut in 1941, Nelvana is considered to be the first Canadian national* superhero and one of the first female superheroes, (debuting even before Wonder Woman). Adrian Dingle, her creator, based Nelvana off of a Inuit mythological figure, which he learned about from tales told by his friend and Group of Seven painter, Franz Johnston.
* Nelvana is not the very first Canadian superhero. That title belongs to Iron Man (not Marvel). However, he lacked a distinct Canadian identity and thus Nelvana is generally given the title of our first national superhero.
Nelvana is the daughter of Koliak the Mighty, King of the Northern Lights. Koliak’s marriage to Nelvana’s mother, a mortal woman, angered the gods. In response, Koliak was turned invisible and he became the Northern Lights. Both Nelvana and Tanero, her brother, (a cursed demigod who appears as a Great Dane), protect the Inuits with help from their father. Nelvana can use the rays of the Aurora Borealis to travel at the speed of light, has heat ray abilities, can become invisible, turn into ice, and use her magic cloak to transform her and Tanero into light, and the siblings can communicate telepathically. Oh, and she’s immortal. Last year there was a $50,000 kickstarter campaign to get her original stories reprinted. They achieved their goal in 5 days.
Personally, if a Canadian superhero makes to the big or little screen, I would rather see a Nelvana feature than a Captain Canuck one. I mean, she surfs on the Northern Lights and her sidekick is a big, demigod dog. That’s awesome. But let’s be real, if any Canadian superhero is going to get their own series, it is probably going to be Wolverine. I am surprised there isn’t a X-Men live action television show yet. What Canadian superhero would you like to see get their own TV show?
Library and Archives Canada. “ARCHIVED – Canadian Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946.” Accessed from: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8300-e.html
Library and Archives Canada. “ARCHIVED – Guardians of the North: Captain Canuck.” Accessed from: http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/lac-bac/guardians_north-ef/2009/www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/superheroes/t3-305-e.html
Library and Archives Canada. “ARCHIVED – Guardians of the North: Nelvana of the North.” Accessed from: http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/lac-bac/guardians_north-ef/2009/www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/superheroes/t3-302-e.html
Tepper, Sean. “Are Canadian superheroes ready for TV close-up?” The Toronto Star. Accessed from: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/television/2014/10/08/are_canadian_superheroes_ready_for_tv_closeup.html#