9 Comic Covers that Feature Canada’s Maple Leaf Flag in One Form or Another
1-2. Captain Canuck #1 (07/75)/Captain Canuck Reborn #0 (09/93)
There are literally dozens of examples of comic covers prominently featuring the American flag, most of them — not surprisingly — appearing during the years of the Second World War. Covers featuring the Canadian flag are a little harder to find for various reasons, not least of which is the maple leaf flag wasn’t officially adopted until 1965, a few decades after the period in which comics were at their most patriotic. Plus, as clichéd as it sounds, Canadians as a whole are (hockey games excepted) not as inclined as their southern cousins to wave their flag, and we just don’t have as many comic-book venues in which it would be appropriate to do so. One obvious exception: Captain Canuck, created by writer Ron Leishman and artist/co-writer George Comely in 1975. It appeared at a curious time in Canadian history, when most Canadians were still riding a patriotic high from Expo ’67 (which also celebrated Canada’s 100th anniversary as a nation) and looking forward to the Montreal Summer Olympics in 1976; given the tenor of the times, a patriotic hero was almost inevitable. The first few issues were, to put it charitably, heavier on enthusiasm than solid workmanship, and the storyline (it’s the future world of 1993, Canada is a major superpower, and Canuck is a costumed secret agent with moderate doses of super-strength and speed) was not exactly the stuff of legends. A sporadic printing schedule didn’t help much, either, but the story and art did eventually improve and the Captain amassed a decent cult following among Canadian and American readers alike. His first-ever issue shows the Canadian flag proudly flying in the background, while the first issue of his 1990s comeback series goes one step further and has the hero proudly brandishing the flag himself. All in all, not a bad showing for the guy who pretty much became Canada’s answer to Captain America by default.
3. X-Men #109 (02/78)
The story goes that Wolverine, created by Len Wein as a throwaway character for a 1970s-era Incredible Hulk issue (and boy, talk about your redundant phrases), was made a Canadian superhero to help bump up Marvel’s sales in the Great White North. This theory is supported by the fact Wein later added him to the international roster of the “all-new, all-different” X-Men team that debuted in 1975. In that story, Wolverine forcefully resigns from Canada’s “Department H” to join Xavier’s team, an act that doesn’t endear him to the people who invested a lot of money and effort in his training. This particular issue of X-Men features the first appearance of Weapon Alpha, an intelligence operative in a special flying suit that’s clearly designed to make him look like he’s literally wrapped in the Canadian flag. His mission: to return Wolverine to the employ of his former handlers, one way or another. Only later would readers learn who this Weapon Alpha really was and how we was connected to Wolverine’s past, but at the time reader reaction north of the 49th was likely more along the lines of, “Dude! Check it out! He’s wearing our flag! In an X-Men comic!”
4. Alpha Flight #43 (02/87)
Weapon Alpha (later called Guardian) would return as the leader of Alpha Flight in later issues of The X-Men; later still, he and his team would debut in their own title. Early issues were promising, given they were written and drawn by the British-born-but-Canadian-raised John Byrne (who also drew Weapon Alpha’s debut issue above), but as time went on the book devolved into yet another Marvel super-team book, with the only thing Canadian about it being the occasional shout-outs to the West Edmonton Mall or Toronto’s CN Tower. Evidence of the book’s disinterest in the team’s homeland can be found in the fact that it took almost four years for the Canadian flag to appear on the cover, and even then it had to share the spotlight with the Stars and Stripes. In this issue, old X-Men villain Mesmero has escaped from custody and flees across the U.S./Canada border, only to be pursued by giant Sentinel robots. Naturally, things go wrong (as they tend to do when one relies on giant robots for security matters) and it’s up to Alpha Flight to keep the Sentinels from running rampant at Vancouver’s Expo ’86.
5. Alpha Flight #120 (05/93)
By 1993, Alpha Flight was practically indistinguishable from every other Marvel title on the stands, what with the grunting and the grimacing and the faux-Claremont “Hear me, X-Men!” dialogue cranked up to 11 whilst Liefeld acolytes ran amok with their cantaloupe and pigeon-toe fetishes on full display. Another hallmark of the period: ridiculous cover enhancements that served no purpose other than to encourage the idea of buying comics as collectibles rather than, you know, comics. This particular issue of Alpha Flight came prebagged (frozen in time for your non-reading pleasure!) with a poster inside showing a group shot of the then-current team; the bag itself was imprinted with a Canadian flag pattern that partially obscured the cover art underneath. Not exactly worth driving across the border in search of a near-mint copy, but kind of neat nonetheless.
6. Wolverine Origins #2 (07/2006)
In 2001, Marvel finally told the story of Wolverine’s origins in a limited series titled, appropriately, Origins; debuting in 2006, Wolverine Origins was a follow-up title that filled in the blanks between Logan’s early years and his recorded history with Department H and the X-Men. Or so I’m told — to be honest, I stopped following Wolverine as a character back around the time that even Marvel was making fun of how many “guest appearances” he was scoring in every title from Spider-Man to Power Pack. At any rate, this particular cover is a variant, meaning that it’s one of several covers printed for this particular issue. What makes it interesting is that, while the other two covers for this issue each got roughly half the print run, this cover (a piece of Joe Quesada artwork showing Wolverine’s face tattooed by the maple leaf flag) only appeared on 1 in every 100 issues, making it a highly sought-after book by some Wolverine fans. Personally, I can’t see myself going on eBay to cough up anywhere from US$45 to $300 for a book that came out only four years ago, but that’s just me: cheap, Canadian, and proud of it.
7. Wolverine: Son of Canada (04/2001)
No need to get too baroque on this one: this “special Canadian edition” comic was a giveaway comic distributed by Doritos and available only to chip lovers in Canada, hence the big Canadian flag on the front. Each of the 65,000 books in the run were individually numbered for that extra-special “limited edition” feel. The story, if you can call it that, was the ultimate in by-the-book scripting, with Wolverine, the Hulk, and Spider-Man teaming up to save other Marvel heroes and the people of Canada from the nefarious forces that chose to stage their attacks at prominent Canadian landmarks, like Toronto’s CN Tower or Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Though you have to wonder why C-list super-villains like Blastaar would be chosen to run amok through our streets and not, say, someone worthy of the heroes assembled here. Darn it all, who does a country have to talk to about getting a Doctor Doom or Magneto up in our face?) And in an oh-so-subtle bit of advertising, the splash page features our three heroes appearing on the streets of Vancouver as a Doritos truck rumbles by in the background. Hungry yet?
8. Justice League International #7 (11/87)
OK, so the flag doesn’t get star billing on this one, but it’s up in the corner just under the DC bullet, and that should count for something. And yeah, it’s partially obscured by the title, but at least it’s not almost buried by other flags (sorry, Brazil). This particular issue is noteworthy in that it marks a major turning point in the history of the Justice League team — having signed up some new members after its short-lived yet infamous Justice League Detroit era, the team receives UN approval to become a truly global peacekeeping force, hence the collage of international flags in the background. Justice League became Justice League International with this issue, but it later changed to Justice League America because DC wanted to rename its Justice League Europe companion title to Justice League International because… you know what? Just start your collection off with 1997’s JLA and you’ll be fine.
9. Tomb Raider: The Series #15 (09/2001)
I know even less about Tomb Raider: The Series than I do about Tomb Raider: The Video Game, which is to say I’m fairly aware it has something to do with some gal raiding tombs with the help of a big pair of… guns. Oh, and Angelina Jolie apparently kicked ass playing her in the Tomb Raider movies. So imagine my happy surprise to see a copy of this particular issue, one suggesting that Lara Croft was focusing her attentions on some Canadian tombs in need of raiding. Alas, ’twas not the case, as the story inside has something to do with ancient books and zombies and other Indiana Jones-like tomfoolery. This variant cover was created specifically for that year’s Canadian National Comic Expo, an annual convention in Toronto that has since grown into the largest annual comic/horror/sci-fi/anime/video game/whatever else they can fit into the building event in Canada. So technically, it probably falls more under “calculated branding exercise” than a book on this list ought to, but I’ll take what I can get.
Are there others? I really hope so. Anyone who can point me in the right direction will be mightily thanked for their help.