PROGENITORS, PRODIGIES AND ASSORTED BLACK SHEEP
Captain Canuck didn't come out of nowhere, nor did he disappear without leaving an impact on others. So what were the comic book influences on C.C., and what did he influence in turn? Well, obviously I don't know, not having any inside knowledge, but here are some likely suspects published on both sides of the Canadian border.
It would be silly to ignore this American icon, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby wa-ay back in 1941 for Marvel Comics (then Timely Publishing), and pretend it had no influence on the development of Captain Canuck. Not only do they share the same rank-as-name, but C.C.'s original costume (with its big gauntlets and big-cuffs on the boots) looked suspiciously like Captain America's. They even shared similar powers: slightly above normal abilities thanks to artificial intervention. As well, I recently realized that during the late-'60s, early-'70s, Captain America acted as an agent for Marvel Comics' resident spy organization, SHIELD. So the similarities are even more pronounced.
If only because of his name, Johnny was probably in the minds of Leishman and Comely when they created C.C. The creation of Leo Bachle in 1942, Johnny was a clean cut, two-fisted war hero, traditionally decked out in jodhpurs and a bare chest, who fought the Axis in the black & white pages of Canadian comic books during W.W. II. The name itself predated the hero, being a kind of Canadian archetype in the manner of Uncle Sam (U.S.A.) or John Bull (Great Britain). Bachle left the comic book field, but not the entertainment business, subsequently working as a stand-up comic and actor under the stage name Les Barker.
Appeared in some black & white Canadian comics from 1974-1977 (Orb Magazine and one issue of Power Comics). Another flag-themed hero, Ian Davis was experimented upon by evil aliens while in the woods with his family. His family is killed, but Ian emerges imbued with super strength and various light-based powers and is recruited by a government agency, Alert. So we see powers that echo the 1940s heroine Nelvanna (see the Canadian Whites entry below), a hero who works for a government agency (just like C.C.) and an origin that actually anticipates C.C.'s origin (as C.C.'s alien influenced origin wasn't revealed until his 5th issue -- in 1980). There have apparently been one or two aborted attempts to revive the character over the years.
This U.S. comic book creation (created by Len Wein in 1974) bears an obvious superficial similarity to C.C.: he was a secret agent for an imaginary, hi-tech, Canadian spy agency, gifted with strength and speed slightly above normal. That's where the similarities end, because this cigar-smoking atheist also has an unbreakable skeleton, miraculous healing powers, super senses, metal claws...and the willingness to use them. He made his debut in the Incredible Hulk #180-181. He's gone on to be a member of the hit comic book, the X-Men, as well as landing his own successful comic. He was chosen to be one of the focal characters in the big-budget X-Men movies. All of which runs counter to the (Canadian-held) notion that Canadian characters would prove unpopular with American audiences.
Captain Britain might seem like a stretch, given he was created for Marvel Comics' U.K. branch -- Marvel which already had the world's most famous flag-themed super hero. Originally, CB bore little resemblance to C.C. Indeed, with a face-covering red and blue costume and an origin rooted in a physics project gone awry, one could imagine Spider-Man as a bigger influence. BUT...there are some interesting quirks to the story. For one thing, he was created in 1976 -- after Captain Canuck. And though Captain America certainly introduced the idea of a national super hero called "Captain __ (fill in the country)" it hadn't exactly been mandatory. A previous Marvel-created British hero was called "Union Jack" -- no Captain required. So is it possible that with a Captain Canuck on the stands (joining Captain America) it inspired Marvel to call their British hero CAPTAIN Britain?
But where the connection becomes more intriguing is when the character was revamped in the 1980s. Gone was the full-face mask, replaced by a more conventional half-face cowl...and a flag-themed costume with a lot of white in it. White? When the British flag is more obviously red and blue? As well, CB was given a physical makeover, emphasizing him as an imposing, towering, broad shouldered figure -- much the way George Freeman drew Captain Canuck. As well, artist Alan Davis used stylistic and visual quirks that were -- arguably -- evocative of George Freeman, including giving CB an exaggerated lantern jaw. There's even a storyline where some shady types attempt to recruit CB for political capital...not unlike how Mr. Gold wanted to get C.C.'s endorsement in Captain Canuck #6.
So is this anything more than coincidence? I mean, what's the likelihood some British comics creators were familiar with -- let alone influenced by -- a short lived Canadian comic? Well...interestingly, in the Captain Britain instalment from The Daredevils #7, there's a panel showing a crowd of alien and other worldly figures. Davis peppers the crowd with a few gag cameoes of characters from other companies (such homages are not uncommon in comics -- see the Tintin "cameo" in Captain Canuck #4, or the Asterix and Obelix allusion in Captain Canuck: Unholy War #2). You can see the Green Lantern emblem, and another character who might be Mr. Miracle (both DC Comics' creations), and another character who (particularly in the original black & white) looks like a certain maple leaf sporting super hero...
|Vindicator / Guardian
This character actually had more than one alter ego over the years. Originally created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne to give background to Wolverine (see above), Vindicator made his debut in Uncanny X-Men #109 as Wolverine's former boss, come to bring him home. He later became head of Alpha Flight (see entry further down), a government financed, Canadian superhero group, and subsequently changed his name to Guardian. Unlike C.C. he had genuine superpowers (well, that is, his suit did), but like C.C. he was a government agent, and his suit bore some similarity to C.C.'s (though, obviously, I can't prove a direct influence -- they were both based on the flag, after all). In his alter-ego, he even had jet black hair -- though James MacDonald Hudson was a little more stereotypically WASPish than C.C. He was killed off, but his wife, Heather, then donned the costume in his stead -- she actually wore the costume longer still under the name of Guardian. But James was later ressurected (now going back to Vindicator so as not to confuse with Heather's Guardian), then killed off again, ressurected again -- and even cloned so that at one point there were more than one of him! At this point, I'm really not sure who or if any of them -- Vindicator, Guardian, Heather, or any variation on James -- are still around or active in Marvel Comics.
Northguard was created in 1984 by Mark Shainblum and Gabriel Morrissette as the lead feature for the black & white Canadian comic book New Triumph. The debt to C.C. is a little more obvious here: Shainblum even has a fan letter published in the pages of Captain Canuck.
Northguard was Phil Wise, a Joe-average Canadian (and comic fan) who was recruited by a private company to don the Uniband -- an arm band that gave him superpowers (firing ray beams, etc.). It was a mixture of superhero & spy, with a hint of revisionism (Phil, a bit of a nebbish, was a poor physical combatant, and only clumsily bilingual) and done in a "mature readers" style (using cussing, mature subject matter and the like). Aside from the flag-themed costume, obvious similarities to C.C. was the idea of a hero working for an agency (as opposed to being a lone-wolf), the espionage milieu and lack of "super"-villains, and the conspiracy-to-take-over-Canada plot line (Northguard's foes were American religious fundamentalists).
Northguard was also Jewish (although, not an especially religious kind of guy). So, like C.C., the character chosen to epitomize Canadian identity was not a stereotypical WASP figure. In fact, Northguard is one of the only superheroes in comic book history identified as Jewish -- and one of the first to star in a comic as opposed to being part of a team. (X-Man/Excalibur-ian Kitty Pryde, Fathom of The Elementals, and Colossal Boy of The Legion of Super-Heroes are the only others that come to mind -- as well as Ben Grimm of The Fantastic Four, though I believe that was only made part of the character in recent years).
Northguard also introduced Fleur de Lyse, a female, francophone superhero using martial art skills. Northguard is usually ranked with Captain Canuck as the most professional, "coulda been a contender" of the Canadian comic books. The series ran for five issues, then Caliber, a U.S. company, published a follow-up 3-issue mini-series, still by Shainblum and Morrissette (as well as a trade paperback collecting the original five issues called Northguard: Manifest Destiny...though it seems as hard to find as the original comics themselves). The series was high-profile enough that the characters were part of Canada Post's 1995 superhero stamps (Fleur de Lyse got a stamp; Northguard appeared on the First Day Cover).
Apparently Mark Shainblum is interested in
off some of his Northguard comics (and other titles published by Matrix
Graphics). I don't know what he's asking, but I doubt it's going to be
exorbitant. So if you're interested, e-mail him at email@example.com.
1st Series: An American comic about a band of Canadian superheroes operating under government control as part of Department H (initially written and drawn by British-born Canadian comic giant, John Byrne, then later handled by mainly American writers and artists), the comic featured Vindicator/Guardian and a host of others that came and went over the series' long run. There was the Sarcee Indian sorcerer, Shaman, and his daughter, Talisman, and the French-Canadian siblings, Northstar and Aurora, as well as Snowbird, Sasquatch, and Puck, a dwarf superhero, and many others (including a second tier team, Beta Flight). They even had their own recurring villains, such as the Master, a cro-magnon man evolved into a super-advanced megalomaniac.
Contrary to what I previously wrote, the team was reasonably diverse ethnically (coming to include some black characters as well). Though maybe not wholly reflective of the "multi-culturalism" the real Canada has striven to reflect over the last few decades (crowd scenes still tended to be entirely white faces), it wasn't too bad. In fact, the series was actually quite progressive. It had the already mentioned Puck -- one of the few little person heroes ever in comics. I previously suggested he was the first, other than Mr. Miracle sidekick, Oberon, but then remembered there was actually a post-war 1940s Canadian comic about an armless war hero, Major Domo, and his little person sidekick, Jo-Jo, who acted as his hands. I'm not making this up! In fact Jo Jo, who was bald and sported a mustache, actually looked like Puck -- wonder if Byrne was familiar with the character? (As an intriguing coincidence, in issue #13 of the original Alpha Flight series the characters have lunch at a restaurant called...Jo-Jo's). There was also Box, an amputee who operated a powerful robot; Aurora suffered from dissaociated identity disorder (though only those who deal with the disorder can say whether it was handled sensitively or not); and perhaps most high profile...Northstar was eventually revealed as the first gay hero in comics!
For that matter, the idea of Walter (Sasquatch) Langkowski being of Polish ancestry, though hardly seeming a radical concept, is unusual in comics when you stop and realize how few non-visible minorities appear. There are precious few super-types (particularly at the time) with non-Anglo-Saxon surnames. Trivia buffs might note that the reason John Byrne included a Polish-Canadian character in with all the blatantly cliched "Canadians" (a Scottish-Canadian, francophones, and Native Indians), may have to do with the impact of a hit 1960s Canadian TV series starring John Vernon called Wojeck about a crusading coroner (it probably inspired the later American series Quincy) that indelibly cemented Poles into our national identity.
Although the idea of a high-tech government super-team, complete with shadowy departments and secret agents, may strike a Canadian as a bit, um, unlikely -- we can barely keep our battleships from rusting out from under our sailors (do we even have battleships?) -- the series, even with American writers, tried to make it more than just a U.S. comic that happened to be set in Canada. Like Captain Canuck, there was a real attempt to cover the whole wide country in the stories, with the issues jumping from locale to locale (as opposed to having every issue set in, say, Toronto). There were even cultural references, such as throwing in a Bethune Memorial Hospital (Norman Bethune being a real life Canadian doctor from the '30s). I could quibble and say it didn't always seem genuinely Canadian (even Byrne's issues), but they tried and, hey, how do I know Spider-Man genuinely reflects New York?
Alpha Flight lasted a healthy
(plus a couple of annuals) in its first run. Again, belying the
that stories set in Canada can't cut it in the international
They also guest-starred in various Marvel Comics titles and appeared in
a couple of X-Men/Alpha Flight mini-series.
The team was revived in the late 1990s for a new series written by
Steven T. Seagle mixing old and new characters and borrowing a bit of
an X-Files flavour as the newly re-activated Department H was given a
more sinister, conspiratorial air. It only ran 20 issues -- which is
too bad, 'cause I actually liked it, the characters engaging, the mix
of issue-by-issue adventures and underlining sub-plots entertaining.
Unfortunately, the unintended cancelation meant some plot threads were
left unresolved (even as Seagle tried to wrap up others).
Revived again in 2004, this times as an almost completely new team
(with I believe only Sasquatch retained from earlier versions) it was
also played mainly as a comedy series -- with problematic results.
Generally suffering from negative reviews, it only ran a dozen issues.
It also maybe reflected a curious shift in Marvel's attitude to its
Canadian heroes, by lampooning them.
Over time, most of Alpha Flight have been
killed off, so I believe few of the team are still technically around
-- though, in comics, death is only permaanent...untill a new writer or
editorial regime comes along (many of the team have been killed off --
and come back -- before).
This 2011 revival was as a limited series -- and was clearly a labour of love for the (American) writers and (Canadian) artist. And an attempt to basically tell an Alpha Flight "epic", involving them being hunted by the government as part of a scheme by an arch-foe. And the classic character line-up was essentially meant to be a fan "dream team" reassembling the roster that really hadn't existed since the very earliest issues (many of them having left, or died, or been re-imagined over the years).
Another revival, before the fourth one above, Omega Flight was, like the third
series, a curious, potentially insulting affair to Canadians. Though
still retaining a few of the old team, the new Flight -- so I
understand -- featured a lot of American characters who were brought up
to Canada to help fight a growing super villain problem that the
Canadians were, apparently, unable to deal with on their own. Hmmm.
Though initially marketed as an on going series, it eventually was
published as just a five issue mini-series.
Conceived by Sandy Carruthers (inker/colourist), with Northguard's Mark Shainblum as writer and pencils by Jeff Alward, Canadiana so far exists only as an internet project. But guess what? That means she's free and available for reading at Sandy Carruthers personal webpage (http://www.sandycarruthers.com). According to the accompanying notes, Carruthers felt he had to get her out there one way or another...or he'd go mad, so even though it's professional level quality (writing and nice, full colour art) they're presenting it for free! Canadiana is yet another flag-themed character -- this time a young woman with the ability to fly, and super strength, and a bit of a surly attitude. You have got to love any Canadian comic where a surreal dream plane is depicted like an old Group of Seven painting, and where her spirit guide is none other than Tom Thompson -- and it's not done as a smary, self-conscious joke and, more, it works! Reading the early pages, her initial adversary is a religious cult leader -- and unlike C.C. and Northguard, there are more than just our heroine who has superpowers. The series seems to flirt with some "mature readers" material, just so ya know.
|The Northern Guard
A short-lived attempt by American Moonstone Comics to kind of do with Canadian comics what American publishers have been doing with American characters for years: re-imagining old properties. Written by Canadian Ty Templeton it took old Golden Age Canadian character names like Johnny Canuck, Commander Steele, and others and applied them to new concepts (as well as some newly created ones) in a series set in a kind of post-Apocalyptic "Red Dawn"-type reality where parts of Canada have been over run by foreign armies. (Philosophically the series seemed to skew both Right and Left!) I liked the idea of trying to dust off old characters (the way American comics do) but I'll admit, the issue I read just didn't really grab me, in terms of the characters, or the plot, or the art.
These are Canadian characters and Canadian comics that probably owe little (or even nothing) to C.C., but I'll include them anyway. I'm focusing, at least for now, on English-language, adventure/fantasy type comics -- I've also added a bit about related characters in other mediums. In no particular order...
________The Canadian Whites________
This was a nickname for the Canadian comic books published during W.W. II (so- called because most were in black & white).
When non-essential items like American comic books were banned from importation (to keep Canadian dollars in Canada for the war effort), Canadian comic books sprang up to fill the void...and, rarities of rarities, became hugely successful. Though not as superhero heavy as their U.S. inspirers, they had their share of flashy stars such as Johnny Canuck, Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Thunderfist, Captain Wonder, Whiz Wallace, The Owl, Commander Steel, and many, many others appearing in titles like Triumph Comics and Active Comics.
It would be a gross lie to suggest these stories were, overall, liberal and racially egalitarian (some I've seen were quite offensive). Nonetheless, as I write about Captain Canuck and other modern Canadian comics, I notice an interesting aspect of racial diversity (more so than in U.S. comics). Of the war time heroes to have any kind of a lasting impression, only two come to mind: Johnny Canuck and Nelvana. Nelvana was, of course, a beautiful, Inuit crimefighter (very loosely inspired by the Inuit goddess). The existence of this early, successful, "ethnic" character, may have encouraged later Canadian creators (consciously or unconsciously) to explore heroes outside the rigid WASP mold of U.S. comics. Just a thought.
The commonly held belief about the Canadian Whites is that, when U.S. comics returned at the war's end, the Canadian ones couldn't compete and were crushed. However, I've heard the story was a little more complicated (and archetypically Canadian) than that. What I heard was that, shortly before the war's end, some Canadian publishers made deals with U.S. companies to print Canadian versions of U.S. titles -- it was cheaper, and therefore more proofitable, than printing original material (despite the fact that they were reaping huge profits already). However, due to paper rationing, they had to cancel their original, domestic titles in order to publish the U.S. ones. Well, when the war ended and U.S. comics could cross the border freely, the American companies no longer needed their Canadian "partners" and started shipping their own comics once again...and the Canadian companies no longer had any titles of their own, or staff, to compete with them.
In other words, as usual, Canadians went for the fast, easy, "I'm alright, Jack", screw-Canadian-identity, grasshopper vs. the ant, profits...and ended up weasling themselves out of a job. At least, that's the way I heard it.
________Star Rider and the Peace Machine________
Richard Comely's 1982 follow up to Captain Canuck was a black & white, tabloid-size serial-anthology comic. His belief in a conspiracy theory dubbed the Communist-SuperCapitalist Conspiracy (postulating that western big business and communist governments were in league to create a one-world, totalitarian regime/monopoly) took centre stage, both in the lengthy editorials, and in the fiction.
The various on-going storylines included the titular story, about a time traveller trying to prevent the Super-Capitalist takeover of the future (written & drawn by Comely); "The Raft", a post-apocalyptic saga of people trying to flee to the U.S. after communist hordes have invaded Canada (by Comely, with art by Tom Grummett -- who now does work in U.S. comics); and a couple of less-didactic pieces: "Komputer Keene", a quasi-superhero piece about a guy with a computer-like brain, and his operatives (written & drawn by U.S. pro artist Ric Estrada); and "Steel Chameleon", about a U.S. master of disguise with a steel plate in his head (written by Comely, with art by Royston Evans). Comely later licensed out Steel Chameleon and he appeared with Northguard. Though both Star Rider and the Raft were intended to be on-going, and so the stories were left unfinished by the mag's cancelation, Komputer Keene (which only appeared in issue one) and the two-part Steel Chameleon story were self-contained.
Perhaps browbeaten by C.C.'s double failure, Comely, like a lot of Canadian creative types, may have felt that what was needed for success was a stronger American slant. Thus, three of the four features were set in the States with American characters; only "The Raft" was set in Canada...and its characters were fleeing to the "promised land" of the United States. If Comely hoped this new "Americanism" would guarantee sales, he was mistaken: Star Rider and the Peace Machine folded after only two issues.
One of the most astounding enterprises ever undertaken in comics, Dave Sim announced shortly after beginning his seeming light-hearted, independently published, black and white Conan the Barbarian spoof (about a barbarian aardvark in a world of humans) that it would run 300 issues and culminate in his anti-hero's death. Sounded like marketing hyperbole, but as the series continued to unfold, veering from comedy to drama to pathos to philosophy, Cerebus going from barbarian, to prime minister, to pope, and more, it became clear Sim meant it. And sure enough, Cerebus came to an end the very year (2004) and month Sim's said it would, all those years ago. One of the most highly regarded comics around (by critics), the series also acquired its share of detractors as it progressed, as even some long time fans felt it became too self-indulgent and slow, and Sim's personal politics and philosophies took a turn towards the bizarre.
Cerebus anticipated many comic book trends, from
properties, to the notion of collecting the monthly comic in sequential
trade paperback collections, collecting the (massive) story arcs
single covers. I had read a single issue, and wasn't really impessed
way or the other...but that's because, with the epic storylines,
a single issue is a bit like reading one chapter, out of context, from
a novel. Since then I've read one of the TPBs -- the second, the
tinged High Society. Many people,
and detractors alike, consider it the series at its peak and I must
was pretty impressive, bordering on brilliant. Very funny, yes, but
too, and with Sim showing an understanding of the potential inherent in
the medium of comics, in writing and art, that was truly amazing. It's
a shame if some of the later volumes really did start to go off the
Cerebus was also advertised as going to appear in the never-published
Canuck 2nd Summer Special.
Canadian Todd McFarlane made a big splash in mainstream U.S. comics, first as an artist, then as a writer/artist. He broke with the big companies to go independent with the creator-owned Spawn, about a U.S. government assassin who becomes an agent of the Devil. Spawn has become a huge hit, and made McFarlane very wealthy, though I've yet to read it. I saw a few episodes of the adult-aimed animated series, which was extremely violent and, frankly, just a little nihilistic, as well as the live-action feature film, which was less violent, and emphasized a superhero-style morality tale. Apparently McFarlane didn't like the movie, and promises any sequel will be more violent (gosh, just what I wanted).
McFarlane broke with the big companies in the name of artistic freedom, so that his creativity would not have to conform...but, of course, this Canadian writer/artist chose to write about an American character, set in the United States. Yup, now there's non-conformity for you. Interestingly, though, Spawn is black...meaning that, like C.C. and Northguard, McFarlane chose to focus on a "minority" hero. Also like C.C. he was a government agent.
A black & white comic created by Barry Blair in the mid-'80s about a Canada-based, sword-wielding, martial artist, Toshiro Kimura (notice a pattern of ethnic diversity here?) I've only read one issue of this series: I don't know how long it ran. It was a little hard to follow, with both the main character (who'd gone to England) plus some weird cut-aways to some punker characters just hanging out, and another to some super-suited cyborg types duking it out -- I'm assuming it all made sense if you had read previous issues. I was kind of underwhelmed by both the story and art, but who's to say based on only one issue? It had its own, official, "Samurai" fan club. It was intended for mature readers.
An odd-ball mixture of grittiness and superhero parody by Bernard Mireault, the Jam was a costumed crime fighter with no superpowers and was the back up feature in New Triumph. I'm assuming this was Canadian, but I may be wrong as the character was subsequently published, in his own mag, by some U.S. companies.
Created by Shainblum & Morrissette in the '90s, Angloman was a black & white political parody about a well-meaning superhero stuck in the middle of English-French relations in Canada. A retreat from the adventure-drama of Northguard, and the periodical format of the comic book medium itself, you're more likely to find Angloman as a softcover book in the humour sections of bookstores. There have been (I think) two books so far and it was also a comic strip.
A mid-80s black & white comic that was the home to Northguard & Fleur de Lyse, The Jam, and Steel Chameleon. The title was an obvious homage to the 1940s Canadian comic book, Triumph. It was published on a quarterly basis and lasted 5 issues.
"Orb Magazine "
I know little about it, except that it was a
black and white anthology comic, adult-aimed, and published in the
'70s and produced, among other things, Northern Light. It ran
about 6 or 7 issues and provided early exposure to some Canadian
who would later work in American comics. Further info can be found
around the internet.
|Just for the heck of it, let's step
outside of the
medium of comics for a moment for some related characters:
"Canada's greatest alluminum crime fighter"
in print, but this superhero parody, about a costumed hero with a canoe
welded upside down to his head, was featured in a series of sketches by
arguably Canada's greatest comedy troupe, The Frantics, both in their
radio series and in their CBC TV
on the Floor.
________Rocket Robin Hood________
This Saturday morning cartoon from the late '60s was one of those cheesy shows where, even as a kid, you could recognize they were just reusing the same animation over and over again for various shots...but, darn it!, it sticks in the memory of anyone who's seen it. I mean, what's not to like about a series that relocated the Robin Hood premise to outer space complete with rocket packs and "Sherwood asteroid"? I didn't even realize it was Canadian until I read about it years later. With the Americans quick to cannibalize their pop cultural history, when are Canadians going to come up with a live action version of this? Think about it. Paul Gross as Robin, Maury Chaykin or Blu Mankuma as Friar Tuck, etc. Get C.O.R.E. or somebody to do the f/x. Hmm? Think about it.
A number of Canadian
have revolved around the idea of a superhero-like protagonist -- a
who is unique from those around him. Seeing Things (a very
mystery/comedy series about a psychic reporter),
Forever Knight (a
vampire cop), and Due South (a mountie -- get it? he wears a
-- who seemed stronger, faster, with keenner senses, than anyone else).
Back to The Ultimate Captain Canuck Tribute Page
Captain America, Wolverine, Vindicator/Guardian and Alpha Flight are all copyright Marvel Comics. Northguard is copyright Matrix Publishing. Johnny Canuck is copyright Bell Publishing (I think). Star Rider and the Peace Machine is copyright Richard Comely. Canadian is copyright Sandy Carruthers. The Fellowship of the Midnight Sons is copyright D.K. Latta. Cerebus is copyright Dave Sim. Spawn is copyright Todd McFarlane. Samurai is copyright Aircel Publishing. If I've goofed in assigning copyright, let me know and I'll fix it.