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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Panel Vision - Canadian Superheroes Guide

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For those who don’t know, this Friday is Canada Day, the day America’s lovable northern neighbors celebrate their nation’s founding.  I’ve elected to celebrate this most auspicious holiday early with a look at the various superheroes of Canada that have come out of Marvel Comics.  I’m focusing solely on Marvel for this guide because there really aren’t any Canadian superheroes in the DC roster.  

If they do exist, and I’m not sure they do, they haven’t been represented in any of the major international superhero groups like the Global Guardians or Batman Inc., which most likely means they’re a one-off character like Louisiana’s “King Billy” superhero.  Marvel, on the other hand, has an entire team of Canadian heroes with a vast and expanding roster.  So let’s take a look at proud protectors to the North with your guide to Canadian superheroes. 

We open with the biggest name on the list; Wolverine.  Most folks probably still aren’t aware Wolverine is from Canada, even though it popped up in X-Men Origins: Wolverine but that movie was also terrible so it makes sense.  

But yeah, Wolverine is a proud son of Canada going all the way back to his earliest inception in the pages of the Hulk.  In his first appearance, Wolverine was acting as an operative of the Canadian government trying to stop the Hulk after the gamma giant wandered into Canada for unaccountable reasons.  That Canadianness is actually the whole reason anyone know Wolverine at all believe it or not.  

See, in 1975 when Chris Clairemont rebooted the X-Men franchise he decided the new team would be internationally themed, with the members representing various nations of the world like Russia, Japan, and Kenya.  So, when Clairemont wanted a representative of Canada he decided to scoop up Wolverine and the rest is history.  

This even tied into the first iteration of Wolverine’s origin story, that he was a special weapons project created by the Canadian Department H and intended to lead their government superhero team Alpha Flight.  Obviously that didn’t happen but that doesn’t mean Alpha Flight never had a leader.

This is a double entry given that these characters are so inter-connected there’s really not much to say about one without the other.  Guardian was a brilliant Canadian scientist working closely with the Alpha Flight project to develop Canada’s answer to the Iron Man armor.  

His solution was a lot more elegant than Tony Stark’s, creating a kind of fabric circuitry that could be warn like a costume while also giving the wearer super strength, flight, and a force field.  With Wolverine refusing to join the team, Guardian stepped up, painted his costume with the Canadian flag, and became team leader. 

Eventually, Guardian was killed by the team’s archenemies Omega Flight (a group of failed government superheroes now bitter and out for revenge.)  In the wake of his death, his wife dawned her own costume and took the name Vindicator, seeking vengeance for her husband’s death.  

She led the team for a time before she and most of the original Alpha Flight members drifted away.  Most recently (IE 2011) the entire original team were brought back and reformed under Guardian to combat a new evil lurking within the Canadian government.  That evil turned out to be Vindicator, driven mad by the loss of her daughter and joining forces with some of Alpha Flight’s greatest enemies. 

In case Guardian’s set-up wasn’t clear enough, he’s essentially a blend of Captain America and Iron Man but painted up in Canadian colors and mythos.  That’s the case with a lot of Alpha Flight team members and none more so than Sasquatch.  Sasquatch is essentially the Canadian Hulk with a design aesthetic going all the way back to that Wolverine origin issue I mentioned.  See, aside from Wolverine and Hulk there was a third creature in that mix: the Wendigo.  

However, unlike on Hannibal or in the pages of BPRD, Marvel’s take on the mythic Wendigo is a lot more bone simple: they’re essentially big dumb albino sasquatches that howl their own names.  But, the Wendigo did give the Hulk a run for his money so when it came time for writers to contrive a Canadian Hulk settling on a Sasquatch/Wendigo/Yeti/Abominable Snowman/Big foot riff was the obvious choice.

As such, Sasquatch was originally a brilliant physicist working to recreate the gamma experimented that created the Hulk in attempts to reverse the process.  Something went wrong, as it always does, and the good doctor was transformed into a massive, orange, hairy beast.  The big difference is that Sasquatch actually maintains his mind when he transforms and can actually change between his human and sasquatch forms at will. 

It was later introduced that his mutation wasn’t the result of the gamma beams at all but a rip in reality created by them and allowing a group of demonic Northern deities known as the Great Beasts to possess Sasquatch.  I’m fairly certain this concept is no longer on the books but the Great Beasts do keep popping up as one of the team’s greatest enemies. 

Now meet Alpha Flight’s take on Quick Silver and Scarlet Witch as well as the only reason some fans wrongly consider Alpha Flight part of the X-Men mythos (seriously, these are the only two mutants on the entire original team.)  The idea with these two is that they were young mutants scooped up by Department H’s Hull House Program, a series of half-way houses and foster homes meant to find young mutants to be press ganged into government service.  That’s one of the consistently bizarre things about Alpha Flight, they’re origin is steeped in government malpractice and abuse of civil rights.  Anyway, eventually the Hull House program produced these two, fraternal twin mutants with the power to fly at super speed. 

Northstar is obviously the Quick Silver of the team in that he’s incredibly snide and incredibly European.  Both of the twins are native French speakers but Northstar is much more stuck-up about that fact, also he has elf ears for no definable reason.  His biggest place in the Marvel universe is as one of the few gay superheroes in the MCU and a frequent collaborator with the X-Men.  

Aurora is less aristocratic but a lot more complicated as her time in a Catholic shelter pre-Hull House left her with a weird split persona between her good side and her evil side.  It’s pretty bone simple as far as psychology goes but it does give her actual demons and the concept even predates Scarlet Witch’s freak-outs in House of M so in that respect she was a trailblazer. 

Puck is one of the strangest conceivable team members I’ve ever come upon.  His whole thing is just that he’s a little person and kind of an acrobat.  He doesn’t have any powers or gadgets or even tactical skill or ninja moves, he can just kind of bounce around pretty well like a “human hockey puck,” those are the comics’ words not mine.  

Despite such a bizarre set-up he’s actually one of the most enduring Alpha Flight members.  A lot of this comes from the fact the comic is aware of how comical he is without ever undercutting his effectiveness.  Sure he’s a hairy little dude in a dopey costume but he can still bounce around a take out a whole room full of guys like it was nothing.  

He’s a lot like Bouncing Boy from the Legion of Superheroes that way, in that he’s got an incredibly dumb name and power but he still gets stuff done.  Almost a little too well actually as, after his death, he became a major agent of Satan in Hell, I am not even kidding.  

This all happened in some Wolverine comic where Logan got sent to Hell but yeah, Puck was a major grim reaper of the infernal before returning to the land of the living.  Makes you wonder what he did to end up in Hell, especially given he was always the kindest guy on the team. 

Marina, much like Puck, is a bizarre character in that initially she really didn’t have any powers.  You know how people like to joke about Aquaman being the lamest superhero?  Well Marina can challenge that particular claim.  She’s another marine based hero (obviously,) only rather than being Atlantean she’s from some weird alien species of hideous monsters.  

She occasionally morphs into her true monstrous form but not often, instead favoring her relatively frail normal look where she literally has no power other than breathing underwater.  I have no idea why she ended up on the initial team line-up other than setting up her people as an alien invasion threat.

Thankfully, the 2011 Alpha Flight revival fixed a lot of this, giving her actual superpowers and a real identity to back them up rather than just “sheepish fish out of water.”  The 2011 version of Marina is kick-ass aquatic punk alien who quotes ‘80s movies like Repo Man and can beat up a tank.  

It’s a great take on a weak character, emphasizing big emotions and her role as an alien teenager on the run from her own people.  Sadly this version of Marina, much like all of the 2011 Alpha Flight stuff, has never reappeared out of their mini-series but it’s still a dope send-off to the character. 

Here’s another double up entry, this time between father and daughter.  Shaman was a founding member of the team and was pretty much your standard mystical Native American character.  As much as I don’t like the stereotype it is a big part of pretty much all the major Native American heroes of Marvel comics save for a handful.  

Still, Shaman was an actual character beyond the core stereotype of using “native magics,” specifically he was something akin to group dad as he was always the oldest member of the team.  He got killed in the same big Omega Flight smack down that killed Guardian but, luckily, his daughter took up the family business and adopted the name Talisman. 

Talisman, much like Sasquatch, was pretty much the only name in Canadian superheroes for about a decade and was one of the few classic team members to get pulled into the joint US-Canadian Omega Flight team during the Civil War era of Marvel.  Like a lot of mystic superheroes her powers were very broadly defined without much focus other than “she can do anything because magic,” but she was still a fun character and defined by something other than just being a medicine woman.  Shaman later returned with his comrades and even got to persist to the present as a reoccurring character in the new Doctor Strange comic book. 

Snowbird is one of the only other original characters to persist consistently.  Originally, she was just a mysterious member of the team nobody knew anything about who could turn into any animal and fly.  Eventually her origin got fleshed out during the Great Beasts storyline I mentioned earlier.  It turned out Snowbird was actually part of the same forgotten Canadian pantheon as the Great Beasts only she was a force for good, it was also revealed she had the power to turn into any mythical animal as well, including Sasquatch. 

It was a weird revelation that didn’t amount to much other than a way to seal off the beasts and save the day but when the rest of the team got killed Snowbird managed to endure, as she was technically a god.  This eventually landed her a spot as a major supporting character in Marvel’s bizarre run of late 2000s Incredible Hercules comics.  

The Hercules books a strange entity I’ll probably cover in depth down the line but they were essentially a blend of mythic fantasy, cosmic event comics, and broad comedy.  Snowbird came in as a key member of Hercules’ God Squad, a team of divine superheroes assembled to deal with an invasion of Alien Gods attempting to usurp the pantheons of Earth as part of the Secret Invasion event.  Later, Snowbird actually managed to use her place on the team to resurrect her friends during the Chaos War event so that’s twice she’s saved the entire team from complete annihilation. 

Now we’re getting into the really G-list Alpha Flight members, especially in Box’s case cause this guy’s origin is stupid.  Box was originally a drone robot used by the forces of Omega Flight to fight the original team.  Though the Box robot did kill the Guardian the team managed to take down the guy behind it and later decided to try and use the robot for good…sort of.  

The Box robot was damaged in the battle so it needed to be repaired which is where thing gets weird.  Rather than just rebuilding the robot, its inventor, Roger Bochs, was approached by a mutant named Madison Jeffries with the power to shape metal, plastic, and glass with his mind.  Jeffries became the new Box by basically shaping a whole ton of unconnected mechanical bits around his body through his mutant powers.

It was stupid, I mean ungodly stupid.  The origin story is so needlessly complicated and completely unrewarding I don’t get why they didn’t just have the inventor put his mind into the robots body or something simple like that.  Yeah, it’s been done before, but there’s a reason that familiar ideas get to be familiar and that ideas like “mutant shapes robot body around him” didn’t really catch on.  Anyway, eventually the two men got bitter over who should be allowed to wear the Box armor, the inventor turned evil, and the mutant guy had to kill him, and nothing of value was lost.

Oh good, you always know you’re in for a great character when they’re named after a liqueur.  No really, that’s actually where Yukon Jack takes his name, it’s advertised as the “black sheep of Canadian Liquors” and is apparently made from Canadian whisky and honey.  

I don’t really know why Yukon Jack adopted such a doofey moniker, as there’s nothing about his character that’s related to alcohol or honey or really any of these things.  I suppose Jack is from the Canadian Yukon though I’m dubious that his name is Jack given that he’s a member of the Turpa’lurpa’todian tribe and views himself to be a living God but what do I know.

Jack was part of a very short lived revamped version of Alpha Flight in the God awful era that was late ‘90s/early 2000s comics.  That may have been a glorious time for DC but this was right around Marvel’s bankruptcy and easily their worst era so stuff like Yukon Jack hasn’t aged particularly well.  

Well, I say it hasn’t aged well but I kind of doubt Jack was taken all that seriously at the time.  He was another mystic hero with vaguely defined powers but he did seem to be able to do anything and clearly wasn’t human.  He also married Snowbird as part of an incredibly complicated and unrewarding story about time travel, robot duplicates, and everything else that makes non-comic fans disregard the entire medium. 

You have got to love Major Mapleleaf, I don’t care how cynical you are this guy is one of the greatest superhero concepts I’ve ever encounted.  Major Mapleleaf is essentially a stereotype made flesh.  Originating in the ‘90s, because of course, he was a ret-con character, introduced as someone who’d always been part of the past just never mentioned before now.  

He was apparently part of the Marvel superhero team the Invaders, a group of allied superheroes led by Captain America during World War 2.  He’s more or less forgotten now, which is a damn shame and one of the greatest failings in Marvel history, but his biggest story was when he returned in the ‘90s to go on a rampage. 

See, after WW2 Mapleleaf eventually retired after his son Maple died from AIDS.  So, when there was a big media fervor over a baby with HIV Mapleleaf went on an angry rampage believing society didn’t care about his son’s death because his son had been gay.  It was actually a pretty heavy story for a guy named Major Mapleleaf and dress like a Dudley Do-Right but it also led to Northstar coming out as gay.  The character was briefly revived in the 2004 Alpha Flight book that also gave us Yukon Jack but that Major Mapleleaf never did anything as awesome as his dad and his costume was garbage so really who cares?
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