A Personal Rumination on Captain Canuck

Firstly, who am I? Nobody, really. Among other things, I'm that saddest of all life forms -- the would-be writer. I go by the name D.K. Latta and have had pieces of short fiction (science fiction and fantasy) published in various magazines and web-zines, including a few professional ones. I've even had stories voted among the "best of..." by readers of some of those magazines. None of this is relevant to Captain Canuck, but most web-sites include some sort of bio pieces on the creator of the site, so that was mine. Now, on with the show...

A funny thing happened on the way to creating this web site. I rediscovered Captain Canuck.

The first issue of Captain Canuck that I bought was no. 4 (a cool one, where much of the action takes place in a lost city in South America), and I instantly sent away for the first three issues. Subsequently having trouble finding it with any regularity on the stands, I ordered a subscription. Now, bear in mind, I hadn't done that before, for any comic. I don't want to say I was poor, but...I wasn't rich, that's for sure. So, if not a big deal, subscribing to Captain Canuck certainly wasn't anything to sneeze at either. I must have been pretty impressed, huh?

However, over the years, as I got older and "put aside childish things", I regarded my Captain Canuck collection as a patriotic fetish, nothing more. A 2nd rate comic when compared to the titans of Marvel and DC, that only had a place in my heart because it was Canadian. I decided to set up this web site as a homage to an also ran.Then I started rereading the issues preparatory to setting up this site, and I gradually began to think that maybe there was more substance to my younger self's interest than I gave me credit for. And maybe, just maybe, Captain Canuck was a lot better than I had convinced myself it was.

Oh, sure, the Canada element helped. The thrill of reading passages about "smog-ridden Sudbury" or seeing depictions of the parliament buildings would be hard to describe to an American or British visitor to this site, someone used to seeing -- who expect to see -- his or her country, familiar landmarks, and national in-jokes, casually depicted in movies, TV, and comics. But it was almost unheard of at the time for anything to admit it was Canadian, particularly in a pulpy, adventure context like a costumed superhero. It's gotten better over the years...but not by much (of the current "Canadian" TV series that come to mind, more than half are supposed to be set in the United States, with nary a Canadian reference anywhere -- the ratio becomes even more absurd if yyou remove shows made for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from the equasion).

But there's a lot more to Captain Canuck's appeal than some sort of (mild) jingoistic reaction.

Reread recently, the writing is surprisingly ambitious in spots, throughout the series...though it definitely improved as it went along; the last half of the series is better than the first half. If I say Captain Canuck was "different", you'll probably roll your eyes, identifying "different" as a code word for "sucky" -- you know, how critics will say "watch this movie, it's different from a formulaic Hollywood film", when what they really mean is: it's slow, boring, with poor characterization.

That's NOT what I mean with Captain Canuck.

Art suspects C.C. knows he's a villain, and C.C. suspects Art's a villain, and that Art suspects he suspects...but neither are admitting it outright...in other words, there's a lot of nuance going on, conveyed with dialogue and facial expressions (Captain Canuck #9)
Captain Canuck was like its American progenitors: a pulpy, action-adventure series, with plenty of running about, narrow escapes, and two-fisted thrills. What made it "different" was a willingness to have actual plots!

How many U.S. superhero comics have you read where the first issue of a two-parter starts out great: intriguing set-up, interesting characters are introduced, you can't wait for the continuation...and then you get the continuation and it's just one long fight scene: no plot, no story development, no characterization. In Captain Canuck there were plot twists, surprising changes in direction, and a sense you were reading an actual story, not just a vignette. There was also some nice dialogue and easy badinage between the characters that a lot of U.S. comics lack, even today -- a real plausibility to some of the lines.

Easy badinage between characters (left) Captain Canuck #4 (and, despite the poor reproduction, dig those colours)

Just as a crude contrast, I was reading the trade paperback Batman: Tales of the Demon concurrent with my re-reading of Captain Canuck. The Batman collection reprints stories from throughout the '70s and early '80s, written by Denny O'Neil -- an American comic giant, it's fair to say -- illustrated by top artists, and presumably featuring some classic stories. And, of course, starring one of the most successful superheroes in comic book history. And, frankly, it was no more than O.K. The plotting, for the most part, was thin and shallow, the characterization about the same, and the dialogue, at best, workmanlike. Assuming Tales of the Demon represents, not necessarily the best of American superhero comics, but at least the average, it actually pales beside (the better) Captain Canuck.

Conversely, there wasn't a great use of sub-plots or soap opera as one associates with most U.S. comics, nor was C.C. a particularly angst-riddled character. Though, in that sense, perhaps it wasn't much removed from what DC Comics was doing at the time. And there were moments of genuine introspection, and occasional subtlely effective demonstrations of relationships.

Don't misunderstand: Captain Canuck had its share of groan-inducing lines, dimwitted plot elements, and simplistic characterization. But it also had its share of smarts, of cleverness, of plots that were more than just an excuse for fight scenes: no bad guys escaping from prison to get revenge on the hero, no serial robbers with the eccentric m.o.

Admittedly, there were technical problems that are rare in U.S. comics, such as spelling and grammatical mistakes. And occasional colouring snafus because the colour separation process they used was on the cutting edge. Nowadays U.S. comics have the benefit of computers to separate colours...and even then Captain Canuck at its best holds up quite well.

Long before American fan favourite Alex Ross, George Freeman also indulged in "gag" cameos...such as Belgium comic book character TinTin as a goon in one panel (right) Captain Canuck #4

The art could be uneven, particularly Richard Comely's. George Freeman's kinetic, but stylized, style might not be to everyone's taste, but looking at it again, his art (mixed with the colour) is truly...captivating. There is an organicness, and 3-dimension to his work that a lot of even the giants of the comic artists lack. And the colours? When Captain Canuck shows a sunny day, you can actually feel the heat on your skin.


My point is: I had intended to set up this web site merely as a kind of nostalgic homage to a fun but ultimately (I had convinced myself) 2nd rate comic. However, re-reading the stories all these years later, and contrasting it with (even modern) U.S. titles like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the X- Men, etc., I realize Captain Canuck -- at its best -- really was as good as itts competition.

So welcome to a future than never was, and the rip-snorting exploits of the man who called it home...Captain Canuck!

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