in Captain Canuck
New: "Who Do You Trust?": an essay analysing recurring themes in Captain Canuck.

Religion / Race / Women / Violence / Canada & Future Politics / Closing


Richard Comely & Ron Leishman were Mormons and in the early issues, C.C. was  portrayed as religious, and minor "miracles" were not unheard of in the stories. However, issue #6 contains the last religious reference in the series, subtle or overt. In subsequent stories involving religious cults, alien beings, etc. (all subjects liable to engender some sort of religious commentary) C.C. is notably mum.

Divine intervention...and a Christ-like pose (#6)As an atheist, I don't exactly subscribe to the early religious scenes. However, though Comely was obviously expressing his own values (and values not given much breath in most comics), he didn't attack others' values, nor portray bad guys as belonging to identifiable demographic groups (at least in any sense that it was relevant to their villainy). Granted, one got the sense that most of the villains were atheists -- but, hey, we're used to those slurs.

It was never indicated if the other characters subscribed to C.C.'s beliefs. Even C.C.'s beliefs were vague: he obviously believed in one God (at least in the early issues), but makes no reference to Jesus was Comely intentionally trying to work religion into his story, without disenfranchising Jewish or Islamic readers?


C.C. without his mask (#12)C.C. himself was "part Indian" -- and though how much was never elaborated upon, some scenes indicated his ethnicity was visible (see right). Stardance was a full-blooded American Indian and Kebec was a francophone (and Lord West was British, if that counts as a minority). In the back up stories, "Beyond"'s Lady Elodil was black while the "Chaos Corps" was a multi-racial group. That's actually very good when compared to American comics. In fact, in terms of "Beyond", you can read an awful lot of fantasy novels and not find a single non-white character!

The series only had a handful of non-white "guest stars", but pick any 14 issues of a (contemporary) U.S. comic and see if they do much better. The portrayal of these characters was reasonably good, largely avoiding stereotypes (even the well intentioned kind) and idiosyncratic, "ethnic" dialogue. Actually, Lord West's early dialogue (Jolly good, wot) was actually the most ethnically cliched (though he quickly improved).

Interestingly, on the title page of #1, C.C. is depicted walking down a busy (presumably Canadian) street, and one of the pedestrians is black.

Huh? So what? you ask.

A multi-racial Canada (#14)Well I'll let you in on a dirty little secret about Canada: for a long time, if you were a black Canadian actor (or Asian) you almost invariably played non-Canadians (if you were black, you played an American -- maybe a draft dodger or something -- or sometimes a Jamaican). That's largely in the past now, but for a long time the image (unconscious or not) that Canadian artists presented to the world was of an all-white (and maybe Native Indian) Canada -- so much so that when American satirist Michael Moore did the movie "Canadian  Bacon", he continually has characters refer to how Canada has no minorities, and he doesn't seem to be kidding! Even in recent years if you see a movie with a Canadian character who's black (as in "Night Breed" or the mini-series "The Bourne Identity"), odds are, it wasn't Canadians who made it! So, for Captain Canuck to casually recognize Canada as a multi-racial society back in  1975...

Even fictional "ethnic" groups like the Aliens were rather less mono-dimensional and stereotyped than in movies like "Independence Day", or even the various "Star Trek" TV series.

All in all, Captain Canuck could have done better, but has little to be ashamed of when compared to U.S. comic books -- or TV series on either side of  the border.

C.C. and WOMEN

There weren't a lot of women regulars in Captain Canuck, but neither was the ratio particularly out Heather -- no meek Wallflower (#4)of sync with U.S. comics. Heather was no damsel in distress, being pretty capable when it came to the action stuff (although she did faint once -- but, hey, it was a monster!). Commander Wallace and Const. Sally (#14) were depicted as perfectly competent professional women -- in fact, at no point was any mention made of their gender, pro or con. It was accepted as the norm. Women appeared in the backgrounds as C.I.S.O. agents and the like.

In "Beyond", in which two of the five regulars were women, Lady Elodil was kind of an early "Xena: Warrior Princess". "The Chaos Corps" featured two women, one of whom was the leader. For that matter, "Catman"'s sister was a police officer.

The stories lacked any sexploitation -- for better or for worse; no voluptuous women in skimpy costumes. Mind you, of the three artists, probably only J.C. St. Aubin could have pulled off a sexy drawing even if they had wanted one.


There's a frequently promulgated mistruth about Captain Canuck, presumably  having to do with a desire on the part of pundits to promote the idea of clean cut, nice guy Canadians vs. our crude, violent, American cousins. To whit: the claim that Captain Canuck was a peaceful comic, with a hero who sought alternatives to violent solutions. HONK!!! WRONG ANSWER! Firstly, Captain  Canuck was squarely a two-fisted, action/adventure mag. Sorry, but it's true.

C.C. could scrap with the best of them. The overall level of violence in the comic was no better or worse than most comics -- sometimes people got killed, but it wasn't a prerequisite of the stories. And it wasn't grisly or gratuitous.

Art by ComelyThe belief that C.C. was less prone to violence may have its roots, not in an  ideological source, but an artistic one. Unlike many of their U.S. competitors, Richard Comely & George Freeman came up with plots! And the action/violence stemmed logically from these plots -- unlike a lot of U.S. comics where extraneous fisticuffs are thrown in (the hero interrupting a mugging, for instance) simply because the writer hasn't concocted sufficient plot to keep the action from bogging down. As well, the fight scenes tended not to be as long -- no five page brawls for C.C.

Art by FreemanThe two faces of C.C.: shooting it out in "Search" #6 (above), while (left) he comforts the dying bad guy, Gunner, in "Masquerade" (#10).

Ironically, despite Comely's belief in "wholesome" entertainment, in the early issues C.C. was actually more ambivalent about lethal-violence than some super heroes, perhaps because of the spy/cop roots of the character. He didn't carry a gun, but wasn't adverse to using one in a pinch (though he was never actually shown to have killed anyone in a shoot out). Conversely, at other times he'd discard weapons rather than use them, and seems upset by death -- even the death of a bad guy. Rarely was he depicted as a man who relished a fight.

As well, CISO agents were outfitted with stun guns and sleeping gas, as opposed to more lethal weapons.


Captain Canuck was set in the future and envisioned Canada as a super-power, no longer the Industrialized World's water boy, but a major player with a hi-tech spy agency and its own space program. That was a gutsy move: to not just set a superhero in Canada, but unapologetically so, where the characters aren't just hangers on to other, "sexier", nations (read Americans) as in TV's  Due South. Conversely, one could argue: what's the point of doing a supposedly "Canadian" comic, if you feel you have to re-invent Canada to make it work? It's a toss up, but I have to admit that, as a kid, I got a certain patriotic thrill from Captain Canuck's unassuming...confidence.

Which brings up an interesting point. Nationalism. Patriotism. Whatever. Captain Canuck had some limited distribution in the United States (and England) and letter-writers from those countries seemed to enjoy C.C's exploits, whatever his citizenship (just as, years later, Marvel's "Canadian" comic, Alpha Flight, would find an audience among U.S. readers). Recently, however, I was flipping through a (neat) book called The Comic Guide, a surprisingly extensive listing of comic titles, with reviews. Captain Canuck gets a (minor) write-up, in which the author decries its Canadian "chauvinism". To which I can only answer:


There is absolutely nothing in Captain Canuck that is any more nationalistically "chauvinistic" than is found in your average American...anything. Considerably less so, in fact.

In 90 per cent of U.S. comics, the world outside the U.S. doesn't exist -- save as a breeding ground for evil foreigners. Alien invaders always land in the U.S., world-conquering megalomaniacs always aim to acquire the U.S., super-teams are almost entirely comprised of Americans. Marvel Comics, to its credit, has done much, much better than DC Comics over the years, creating a number of non-American heroes (albeit back in the more progressive '60s and '70s), some even in their own titles. But, over all, American comics are about American heroes -- which is fine, really. Yet no one objects to the "chauvinism" of U.S. comics. But a piddly little Canadian super-guy comes along, suggesting that a Canadian hero might function quite nicely without American sanction, and at least one critic thinks it's gone too far? I assume the commentator in question must foam and froth every time a James Bond movie gets released. Newly Added: What's bizarre is that I think The Comic Guide is actually a British publication! That says something about something...I'm just not sure what.

For that matter, Stardance, one of the supporting characters, was an American.


Richard Comely's real life politics came to include belief in a global conspiracy: the Communist-SuperCapitalist conspiracy, which theorized big business and the Soviet Union were in league to take over the world -- I assume it has a new name now that the U.S.S.R. no longer exists. However, I don't know when Comely became fully interested in this belief, which makes it hard to assess what, if any, impact such views had on C.C.

Some of the stories contain elements that can be seen as fictional versions of that concern -- plots to take over Canada and sinister conspiracies appear in more than one storyline.

Reflecting C.C.'s espionage roots, foreign spys cropped up occasionally, though Comely refrained from naming their countries of origin. He also refrained from making them too one-dimensional; they were bad guys, up to no good, but not exactly demonized, baby-eating Bolshois, totally devoid of  conscience. (An interesting sidebar on Canadian philosophy: an early letter writer to Captain Canuck, who identified himself as a "conservative, right winger", criticized Comely's use of communist baddies, stating that what makes Canada Canada is a willingness to tolerate beliefs contrary to our own -- and Comely didn't disagree.)


Despite Comely's strongly held beliefs, Captain Canuck was not an especially preachy comic (unlike his later work). The conspiracies are just plot lines; the drug story is surprisingly devoid of any in-your-face sermonizing, particularly when contrasted with Spider-Man and other comics at the time (for better or for worse). Any message is to be inferred. Only the religious angle was (occasionally) heavy handed but, as noted earlier, not necessarily at the expense of others' beliefs...and it was dropped.

The first issue was billed as containing no offensive material; interestingly, throughout the series, Comely and company pulled it off reasonably well. Personally I don't agree with all of the series' views, but the comic didn't cross over the line from spirited debate into distasteful or offensive diatribe.

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