13 Canadian-Bred Superheroes Who Ought to be Considered for Membership in the Recently Announced Justice League Canada
So the big news out of this year’s Fan Expo convention in Toronto is the announcement that DC’s Justice League of America book will see the team move its headquarters to Canada in 2014 and add a new Canadian character to the team. Writer (and Toronto resident) Jeff Lemire told convention-goers the new character will likely be “a character that reflects a real part of our cultural identity, who could be a real Canadian teenager” (I’m picturing Snapper Carr or Rick Jones wearing a toque and using “eh” a lot). That’s all well and good, but if the Justice League is going to be stomping around my homeland, then the least they could do is hold a few auditions for native-born members to join the team. Case in point: Freelance, one of the first Canadian comic heroes to star in his own title. Created by Ted McCall and Ed Furness for Toronto’s Anglo-American Publishing, Freelance appeared in about three dozen books from 1941 to 1946; he had no super powers as such (though he was stronger than regular men because he was raised by a tribe of natives in a hidden tropical valley in the Antarctic), but he managed to cause trouble for Nazis all over the world. Highly athletic and resourceful, he was often joined in his crusade against evilness by his ally, Big John Collins, who probably wondered why he didn’t rate jodhpurs and a snazzy codename like “Freelance.”
What he could bring to the party: a strategic mind capable of analyzing any situation; a potential bridge between the superheroes and Canada’s intelligence/military advisers; a guy with connections in every port, given his long history protecting Canadian interests abroad.
2. The Penguin
“The Penguin, mysterious defender of justice, whom no one has seen without his bird-like mask and lived to tell…” Not to be confused with Batman’s arch-nemesis, Adrian Dingle’s Penguin was a detective and super-spy who first appeared in Bell Features’ Wow Comics #15 (1943). He wore a bird-like mask, white tie and tails as his costume; Dingle added to his distinctiveness by concealing his true identity from readers (the Penguin was regularly unmasked by his foes, none of whom ever lived long enough to reveal his name to the rest of the world). He was renamed The Blue Raven for copyright reasons when Bell tried to break into the U.S. market after the war, but that didn’t last long.
What he could bring to the party: A dash of mystery; the ability to work deep undercover; various detective and spy skills; a willingness to get messy in order to get the job done.
3. Nelvana of the Northern Lights
Fun fact: Canada joined Great Britain when it declared war on Germany in 1939, more than two years before the United States joined the fray. In December 1940, Ottawa passed the War Exchange Conservation Act, which restricted the importation of U.S. goods deemed non-essential to Canada’s war effort. With a nation of young readers suddenly deprived of stories about Superman and other popular heroes, a handful of Canadian publishers popped up to meet the demand. A lot of the characters they created were imitations of the more popular American comic-book stars, but Nelvana was a notable exception. First appearing in Triumph-Adventure Comics in 1941 (several months, note, before Wonder Woman’s debut in the U.S.), Nelvana of the Northern Lights was another Adrian Dingle creation; he was inspired by Inuit legends of a powerful old goddess. The daughter of a mortal woman and an Inuit god, Nelvana’s powers included light-speed travel along “a giant ray of the Aurora Borealis,” invisibility, telepathy, shape-shifting, super-strength and the ability to melt metal. And while her comic-book contemporaries were content to fight Nazi spies and saboteurs, Nelvana battled alien and supernatural threats in other dimensions or in lost kingdoms hidden under the polar ice. Alas, the one enemy she couldn’t vanquish was a fickle audience; she disappeared shortly after American superheroes were allowed back into the country, with her last original adventure appearing in 1947.
What she could bring to the party: A touch of glamor to the proceedings; no small amount of serious firepower; a strong connection to the northern gods and the lands they preside over; someone with whom Wonder Woman could bond in between missions, considering the strong-woman-with-a-connection-to-the-gods-making-her-way-in-a-male-dominated profession thing they share.
4. Iron Man
Not the armored Avenger you might be thinking of, this Iron Man has the distinction of being considered the first original Canadian-created superhero, first appearing in Maple Leaf Publishing’s Better Comics #1 (03/41), shortly after the ban on American comics took effect. Vernon Miller’s creation had more in common with the Sub-Mariner than Mama Stark’s boy; the lone survivor of an underwater South Seas civilization that was destroyed by an earthquake, he snaps out of his depression by coming up to the surface world to fight Nazis and pirates. As one would. He came with the standard-issue underwater hero powers (super-strength, amphibious attributes, ability to leap tall heights) — not as impressive as traveling along the Aurora Borealis, maybe, but the ability to bust through iron doors when the need arises ain’t nothing to sneeze at.
What he could bring to the party: Seven-tenths of the world’s surface, people. Just sayin’.
5. Johnny Canuck
Much like Uncle Sam evolved as a way for 19th-century cartoonists to personify the United States, Johnny Canuck first appeared in Canadian political cartoons in the 1860s, usually as a younger cousin or bullying victim to Uncle Sam or Britain’s John Bull. Uncle Sam was turned into an actual superhero by comic legend Will Eisner in 1940, so it probably didn’t come as any real surprise when 16-year-old Leo Bachle borrowed the Johnny Canuck name and likeness for his own creation, a daredevil air force captain who almost singlehandedly won the Second World War despite his lack of superpowers. Johnny appeared in 28 issues of Dime Comics and quickly became one of the more popular Canadian heroes of the 1940s, despite (or more likely because of) the overly jingoistic tenor of the stories (sample Johnny dialogue: “The Germans had better start making stronger rope if they want to hold Canadian captives!”).
What he could bring to the party: An embodiment of the nation’s spirit; an everyman perspective; natural leadership skills in any team setting, as evidenced in a recent comic series that resurrected Johnny and several other Canadian Golden Age heroes.
6. Canada Jack
American and Canadian comic artists working during the war years came up with a wide range of characters, from beat cops with masks to nearly omnipotent beings. But what’s interesting is that the more popular Canadian comic-book heroes of the day tended to be relatively average guys lacking the superhuman powers of, say, a Superman or Spectre. What this might say about our national psyche and/or socialist leanings I’ll leave alone for now, but there’s no denying that, the occasional Nelvana excepted, the more successful Canadian characters during the Golden Age were guys like Freelance, Johnny Canuck… and this fellow, who was George Menendez Rae’s contribution to the war effort. Published by Montreal’s Educational Projects, Canada Jack was a man with superior (but not superhuman) strength, as well as top-notch horseback riding, gymnastics and jiu-jitsu skills; his adventures tended to keep him on the homefront home fighting spies, saboteurs and kidnappers. His popularity was bolstered by the formation of the Canada Jack Club, a real-life children’s group organized to encourage young people to support the war effort. Each issue of Canada Jack’s comic, Canadian Heroes, would feature a page devoted to CJC News, as well as profiles of “Honour Members” who did something extra for the war effort, like organizing paper drives in their neighbourhoods.
What he could bring to the party: Experience; mentorship to younger heroes; the rare ability to train others to become the best in their fields; embodying the role of the old soldier whose very presence is all it takes to rally the troops and inspire them to fight on.
7. Northern Light
Like their counterparts in the United States, Canadian comic heroes faced their share of challenges in the postwar years, not least of which was a war-weary public that wanted to take a break from all the fighting and flag-waving. While legislators on both sides of the border turned their attention to the growing number of crime and horror comics, a handful of superheroes managed to hang on, but by the time a brand-new Flash kick-started the Silver Age in 1956, there were no Canadian publishers offering any superhero fare. It pretty much stayed that way until 1974, when Orb, a short-lived Canadian black-and-white magazine focusing on sci-fi, fantasy and horror, presented the adventures of the Northern Light. His origin: Ian Davis, a prize-winning architect, moves with his wife and son to a remote wilderness. A group of aliens capture the family and perform terrible experiments on them, murdering Davis’ wife and son in the process. Davis is rescued by a Canadian security agency known as Alert, and he soon discovers the experiments have left him with superhuman powers; specifically, he can turn invisible, radiate energy, and transport himself at light-speed on beams of light. Not exactly fair compensation for his loss, but nothing to sneeze at, either. Removing himself to a secret fortress in northern Canada, he fought extraterrestrial threats to his homeland with the aid of his agency partners.
What he could bring to the party: a heavy dose of angst and guilt (using the powers that came at the cost of his family); unparalleled reconnaissance and surveillance skills; a hero who can be literally anywhere on Earth in the blink of an eye; a swanky northern address that isn’t full of Kryptonian knick-knacks and bric-a-brac.
8. Captain Canuck
While America has produced more than its share of patriotic heroes draping themselves in red, white and blue, the list of Canadian heroes sporting the red and white of our national flag is slightly shorter, partly because we didn’t adopt the maple leaf design until 1965 (well past the prime patriotic years for comic-book heroes). But ask any Canadian to name a patriotic hero, and chances are Captain Canuck will be their first pick. Published sporadically since 1975 (his latest iteration being a series of animated webisodes), Richard Comely and Ron Leishman’s creation started out as Tom Evans, accidental recipient of super powers via yet another alien abduction, though his power set (slight strength and speed augmentations) were not as flashy as the Northern Light’s. He faced the aliens (who wanted to use Earth to breed unstoppable warriors) after dealing with assorted spies, terrorists and drug barons; a 1994 revival found a new captain battling a political conspiracy against the Canadian government (my guess: American radicals who just can’t let the metric thing go). The recent webisodes have recast the captain as a cool-as-a-cucumber fighting machine saving Parliament Hill from bomb plots with style, and you can’t tell me that wouldn’t be useful to a certain league of justice.
What he could bring to the party: one party-sized bucket of WhupAss™; a soldier’s dedication to the cause; an ironclad guarantee that, no matter what the battlefield, he will be the last hero standing, each and every time.
9-10. Northguard/Fleur de Lys
Am I approaching my quota on maple-leaf-clad team members? Probably. Unlike Northern Light and Captain Canuck, Northguard was a willing participant in the acquisition of his own super powers, though I seem to recall an abduction being part of his story, too. When a Montreal-based corporation called PACT (for Progressive Allied Canadian Technologies) discovers evidence of an international conspiracy to overthrow the Canadian government, it develops a revolutionary weapons system, the Uniband, to give an individual the firepower of an army battalion (and also allows the user to project a powerful force field). Chosen because his brain waves were a close match to the murdered agent who was originally slated to wear the device, young comic fan Phillip Wise agreed to be recruited by PACT, but only if he could adopt the identity of a national superhero while acting as their agent. He fought the nefarious forces of ManDes (short for “manifest destiny”) and saved René Lévesque (a real-life Canadian politician) from an assassin’s bullet; his escapades inspired martial arts expert Manon Deschamps to adopt the identity of Fleur de Lys (she carries a non-lethal weapon shaped like a fleur de lys that produces bright flashes of light). Created by Gabriel Morrissette and Mark Shainblum, their adventures first appeared in the mid-1980s in the independently published New Triumph comic; if they’ve had a recent revival on par with Captain Canuck’s recent web cartoon, I haven’t seen it yet.
What they could bring to the party: A more youthful perspective; team members that can share in the readers’ sense of wonder by virtue of being less experienced than the other JLA members; an obvious symbol of the close relationship between the English and French parts of our country; a good dose of idealism when the team is tempted to put expediency ahead of morality.
11. Captain Newfoundland
I might be showing some bias towards my provincial homeland on this one, but hear me out. A… being (“superhero” doesn’t seem quite right) who first appeared in the weekly Herald magazine out of St. John’s (North America’s most easterly city), Captain Newfoundland was not ashamed to literally put his nationality where his mouth was; his eyeless mask depicted a map of the island of Newfoundland. He first appeared in the magazine’s Captain Newfoundland comic strip in 1981, and later in the 1984 graphic novel Atlantis. His back story was as trippy as they come; a cosmic traveler, his race came to Earth millennia ago to teach humans things like how to build pyramids and become one with the universe. They also founded the kingdom of Atlantis, which of course was one day completely destroyed… except for one remaining tip of its landmass, which became what is known today as Newfoundland. A tutor to young superheroes, Captain Newfoundland can change his shape, communicate telepathically, travel on the spiritual plane, and bend time and space to appear anywhere (and anywhen) he wants. Not much of a conversationalist, perhaps, but not a being you want to mess with… or give reason to mess with you.
What he could bring to the party: One heaping dose of mystic might; an instant translator and communicator when dealing with out-of-this-world beings; someone who can alert the Justice League to more metaphysical threats to humanity; someone with the ability to see future threats before they materialize; a pretty damned handy being to have around when you misplace your car keys.
The world’s first Inuk superhero, Super-Shamou gained his super-powers (the standard Superman strength/flight/invulnerability combo) from a shaman’s amulet of caribou teeth. Creators Barney Pattunguyak and Barney Tapatai (who actually donned the cape) produced a Super Shamou program for the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation in 1987; it featured Shamou patrolling Canada’s Northwest Territories and saving hapless residents, usually children, from various Arctic-related mishaps. Only three episodes and one comic book featuring Super-Shamou were ever made, which you can still find on the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation’s website, but that’s enough to make this list.
What he could bring to the party: An always welcome dose of diversity to the team; a team member who can function as the team’s conscience; a knowledgeable guide to Canada’s northern regions and the people who populate them.
Paul Mahler was your average high school history teacher when a chance encounter with radioactive dishes bestowed upon him the awesome ability to instantly clean and put away any and all dirty dishes within his sight. Deciding he has to use his “great powers” with “great responsibility,” he gets himself a costume, calls himself Dishman and sets out to fight crime in his city with his newfound powers. Not surprisingly, his… ah, unique powers don’t exactly prove to be up to the task. The story, which appeared in the one and only issue of 1988’s The Mundane Adventures of Dishman, is played completely straight, which makes it even funnier; may creator John MacLeod never have to wash his own dishes.
What he could bring to the party: Hell, wouldn’t you want this guy around when the party’s over? Even if he’s completely useless in a fight, those platters with the leftover guacamole and crab dip aren’t going to clean themselves.