An essay analysing some themes in Captain Canuck (largely without spoilers, too)

Who Do You Trust?
Conspiracies and Corruption in the Captain Canuck's Future Reality.

"One sad truth we learn...is that you won't know who to trust in the 1990s!"
                                                                                 Opening passage to "Behind the Mask" (#4)

The future world inhabited by Captain Canuck and his friends was, in many ways, an optimistic world. This was not some dark, cyberpunk future, but a relatively clean future where cities were liveable and forests still surged untamed in rural Canada. Canada, itself, had become a true world leader. Of course, since C.C. was a government agent tackling international terrorists and megalomaniacs, he wasn't immersed in the gritty street level crime that most comic book superheroes make their bread and butter, explaining some of the perceived Pollyannaness of this reality.

The one dark side that emerges reading the captain's adventures, the recurring motif, if you will, is one of paranoia. Beneath the surface of this clean, reasonably well-adjusted future, we're left with the underlying question: who can you trust?

In the very first adventure, we are introduced, not to just one hero, but two. Captain Canuck and his partner, Blue Fox. A team, we assume. Batman and Robin, the Lone Ranger and Tonto. But by the end of that issue, Blue Fox is revealed as a traitor. Clearly that revelation doesn't have the same impact as it would if Blue Fox had been around for a few issues. It's an intellectual shock more than an emotional one. But it sets the rules for later issues.

Captain Canuck uncovers more than a few conspiracies, unmasking the corruption of politician Rosechuck and General Jackson, doctors who weren't doctors and, worse, corrupt doctors who were doctors, and more. In "Masquerade" (#10), the theme of not knowing who to trust is epitomized in the form of a young woman C.C. is protecting, but who changes her story as readily as someone might a piece of clothing.

In one of the series most memorable scenes, arch foe Mr. Gold explains his plans for the domination of Canada (#6). One plan involves the exploitation of Canadian disunity (the one hint in the series that Canada hasn't worked out all its problems in the future) by staging a coup by independence minded "western hotheads" -- a coup Gold doesn't expect to succeed but which will open the way for his puppet politician to gain power. The other plan, and perhaps the most unexpected in a four colour world of Lex Luthors, Dr. Dooms and Darkseids, is chillingly un-spectacular: the formation of a new political party that, with the right funding, and Captain Canuck's endorsement, Gold feels will eventually achieve power.

I'm not sure comics had seen anything like Gold up to that point. A man who planned to achieve his ends by working within the very system he intended to subvert. A new kind of villain in a world where bad guys traditionally wore colour-coded costumes and tooled around in "Jokermobiles" and whose main goals tended to go no further than the local chapter of the ubiquitous "First National Bank".

Gold wasn't seeking to undermine the establishment; in many ways, he was the establishment. He didn't seek power...he was power. The power of money, the power of influence, the power to corrupt, to seduce, to coerce, just as he attempts to enlist Captain Canuck's help in his scheme. It would be a few more years before American comic villains like Lex Luthor and the Kingpin would attempt similar tactics.

In the series' most spectacular epic, "Chariots of Fire", we learn aliens have been manipulating many things and have agents everywhere, even within Earth Patrol, like the double-agent Rhoade. More sinisterally, the aliens have mind-controlled operatives who are completely unaware that they are being controlled. Even C.C. has had his memory altered so as to forget his original encounter with the aliens. Who can you trust takes on new meaning when you can't even trust yourself.

Of course, how much does this reflect any deeper significance and how much was it just a reflection of its time? And how much was just the logical nature of the rather unusual story techniques used by the Captain Canuck guys?

Richard Comely certainly had concerns about what he saw as hidden agendas and secret conspiracies between multi-national corporations and totalitarian governments. It's little wonder, then, that Captain Canuck would reflect the notion that dishonesty can lurk even in high places behind seeming honest faces.

As well, Captain Canuck began in the '70s, a time of Watergate and, in Canada, the Keable Inquiry and MacDonald Commission uncovering scandals involving out-of-control R.C.M.P. officers. Every purveyor of fiction was into conspiracy theories and fearing corruption in once sacred institutions -- younger people weened on the X-Files miight not realize that that TV series is just a throwback to the 1970s. You're hard pressed to find a cinematic thriller from that period that didn't mine this theme in one way or another. And comics were not immune from the trend. In American comics, Steve Englehart inparticular returned to it again and again, with Captain America (circa 1974-1975) uncovering both governmental corruption and being betrayed by his sidekick, the Falcon (don't worry, they patched things up), Batman faced with a corrupt municipal government (Detective Comics circa 1977), and even American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was depicted as signing treaties of convenience with no less a despicable figure than the dictator of Latveria, Victor von Doom (Super-Villain Team Up #6, 1976). Nor was Englehart alone in the comic book world of recognizing that villainy didn't always wear capes. A recurring malevolent force in Marvel Comics from the period was Roxxon -- an oil company always up to no good. In a sense, compared to some of these things, Captain Canuck was rather optimistic. At least the threats came from out-side. General Sunn could be insensitive, but he wasn't evil. Nevertheless, even within respectable institutions like C.I.S.O. and Earth Patrol, serpents lurked. Even within the Canadian space program (#8)! And what makes Captain Canuck unusual compared to American comics is how regularly these themes were returned to.

Of course, some of this may be a reflection, not of Comely's personal ideology, nor of the temper of the times, but of old-fashioned story-telling. Unlike most American comics where recurring villains are de rigor, and you generally know who, what and why just by looking at the cover, Captain Canuck tended to indulge in plots that actually unfolded as you read. After all, should "Space Watch-Death Watch" (#8-9) be viewed as part of the conspiracy motif, with trusted ranch hands and Canadian astronauts being involved in villainy, or just as a logical way to unfurl a story that owes as much to conventional thrillers as to superhero action? The series' final published story, "Fire Fight", is a good example. A story where no one is quite what they seem, but is that a reflection of a paranoia subtext, or because the story is, first and foremost, a mystery? And American comics, even Batman comics, are rarely mysteries in any substantial sense.

In the end, Captain Canuck as a series would have fit in well with the 1990s resurgence in conspiracy and paranoia stories. The mythical 1990s envisioned in Captain Canuck wasn't such a bad place to live -- but it was a good time for a hero like C.C.to know who his friends were (Kebec, Redcoat, Stardance, etc.)...'cause knowing who you're enemies were was a mite trickier.

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