Northguard Resurrected

A review of Anthony Falcone and Ron Salas’ Northguard #1 (Chapterhouse Comics, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

I was a huge fan of Mark Shainblum’s and Gabriel Morrissette’s Northguard comics, even though I discovered them long after they had stopped being published. I had a fascination with the idea of the conflicted superhero, Philip Wise, whose love of comics allowed him to change military technology into a superhero identity, dressing himself in the Canadian flag and taking on the image of the superhero to try to do some good in the world. Like Canadians ourselves, Wise was uncertain about his identity and constantly reassessing what it meant to wear the Canadian flag and how this related to his identity. He was a superhero who was defined by intersections, defined by his own desire to constantly question what he thought he knew and any easy answers that were provided for him. 

I was incredibly excited to find out that Chapterhouse Comics had decided to bring back Northguard, but was hopeful that Shainblum and Morisette would be writing the comic. I had worried that others wouldn’t be able to capture the character’s uncertainty, his conflicted nature, and his naive innocence. I finally decided to give Anthony Falcone and Ron Salas’ run of the comic a chance. Their Northguard is an older, more seasoned superhero, lacking the innocence and naivity of the younger Philip Wise. This is a Northguard who has already proven himself and made a name for himself amongst officials at PACT. 

Like Shainblum and Morissette’s Northguard, the Chapterhouse Northguard quickly becomes enwrapped in conspiracies and in conflicts between Canada and organizations in the United States who believe they have a place in determining Canada’s future. My hope is that we can see some of Philip Wise’s personality coming through this Northguard – some of his uncertainty and questioning of the world around him, and his interrogation of the notion of Canadian identity, particularly from his perspective as a Jewish Canadian who has experienced discrimination before. I look forward to seeing some depth develop for Northguard, some conflict. 

It was exciting to see that Gabriel Morrissette had written a mini-comic as part of this issue of Northguard featuring the character in his 80s garb, and allowing a bit of retro playfulness come through this character. Morrissette’s flashback gives us some insight into Philip Wise’s time between the early run of the comic and the Chapterhouse revisions of the character.

To discover more about Chapterhouse comics, visit https://www.chapterhouse.ca

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Infected by Repression

A review of Colleen Anderson’s “Sins of the Father” in OnSpec #105, vol 28, No. 2
By Derek Newman-Stille

Colleen Anderson’s deeply psychological tale “Sins of the Father” brings attention to the long term repercussions of violence, not only on the victims of violence, but on the family of the person who is perpetrating violence. Anderson’s narrator is the daughter of a murderer who was hiding his murderous behaviour from his family. He was able to perform the image of the loving father, not allowing his mask to slip in front of his wife and daughter until he was finally convicted. 

Anderson’s narrator bares the wounds of her father’s actions in her nightmares, guilt and shame, trying to purge his dark legacy by doing as much good as she can, taking work in the hospital to try to make the world a better place.

Anderson explores the idea of violence, of predatory behaviour as an infection, a black mould that creeps and crawls through human monsters, a fungus that taints people beneath their human faces. Her monsters are not otherworldly, but, rather the human predators, the monsters that conceal themselves in their humanity. Her narrator can still feel her father’s blight infecting her soul, but she uses this tinge of darkness to find the criminals in her world, to feed their own crimes back at them, letting them experience what their victims experienced. 

Anderson examines the horrors that come from an absence of empathy and ideas of repression, imagining a literal fungus germinating in those who victimize others, letting them become prey to monstrosities that grow within them.

To find out more about OnSpec, visit https://onspecmag.wordpress.com/current-issue/

To discover more about Colleen Anderson’s work, visit https://colleenanderson.wordpress.com 

Golden Age Girls of Canadian Comics

A review of Kalman Andrasofszky and Blake Northcott’s Agents of PACT # 1 (Chapterhouse, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Many of the new Chapterhouse comics seem to be focussed on the narratives of men, so it is exciting to see that Agents of PACT is focussed on women. As a fan of the original Northguard comics by Mark Shainblum, I was extremely excited to see that Agents of PACT # 1 opened with the Northguard character Fleur de Lys. This flash from the past set the tone for the comic as one that is bringing back a golden age of Canadian comics, exploring figures from Canadian comic history and newly revised versions of these characters. 

Agents of PACT #1 interweaves narratives from Chapterhouse’s new Captain Canuck narrative with figures like Fleur de Lys, bringing in new narratives with characters that speak to a history of Canadian comics. Chapterhouse portrays a world on the edge of transition and change, with new powers arising in different people, organizations fighting over political power and the ability to shape the future, and the intrusions of further paranormal activity. 

This is also a comic about what it means to be a superhero, a question that is poignant for the Canadian comic book fan since frequently comic book historians like John Bell have suggested that Canadians are uncomfortable with the idea of the superhero, particularly given the superhero’s highly individualistic and self-aggrandizing nature. Marla is a character who has developed abilities to control liquid gold, but doing so causes her physical and emotional pain, and she is still trying to figure out what it means to be a superhero and if she, herself, counts as a superhero. Andrasofszky and Northcott draw on aspects of Mark Shainblum’s Northguard in producing a superhero who is self-critical and self-questioning, a character who invites questions about what it means to be a superhero. 

To find out more about Agents of PACT, visit https://www.chapterhouse.ca/collections/agents-of-p-a-c-t 

What Happens When the Magical Girl Grows Up?

A review of Nicole Chartrand’s Shattered Starlight # 1 
By Derek Newman-Stille

We’ve probably all heard of “Magical Girl” stories – figures like Sailor Moon. “Magical Girl” stories generally feature teens who are suddenly called upon to fight forces of evil, given superpowers and magical items, and through their fights learn about responsibility, friendship, and the power of community. But.. what happens when the “Magical Girl” grows up? 
Nicole Chartrand’s Shattered Starlight comic explores a woman who used to be a Magical Girl and has grown up. She still has her powers and her mystical hockey stick, but she also has all of the issues of an adult – having to deal with problematic bosses, watching friendships change and fade as people get older and find out new things about themselves, and dealing with moral grey areas. 

Arcturus, Guardian of Heaven contrasts with many of the magical girl tropes. Her magical handler is an alcoholic who no longer provides much in the way of guidance. Her teammates have mostly gone their separate ways, challenging the Magical Girl trope of community and friendship. Now everything is about to change for her. Her role as a Magical Girl turned woman is shifting and she is told by her boss that she should think of the change in her role as being like a new job.

Chartrand wrote and illustrated the comic, illustrating her proficiency at both. The characters, drawn with huge eyes and expressive faces as well as incredible costumes evoke the golden age of Magical Girl stories, and also show how hard it is for Arcturus to fit in with her contrastingly simple outfit. At times she is overwhelmed by walls of previous magical girls in typical costumes, dwarfing her and portraying her as a small part of a larger tradition. Chartrand illustrates the complicated fit of Arcturus in this world of magical girls. 

To discover more about Shattered Starlight and Nicole Chartrand, visit http://www.shatteredstarlight.com/about/

Although this is a review of the physical first issue of the comic, you can read the webcomic at http://www.shatteredstarlight.com

Superhero Psychology

A review of Michael Johnstone’s “Missing in Action” in OnSpec # 105 Vol 28, No 2 (2017).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Can a superhero retire? Is it the sort of lifestyle that can be surrendered? Michael Johnstone’s “Missing In Action” is a tale of a superhero who is experiencing PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) after the murder of his son. He surrendered his position with the League of Canadian Heroes because every day on the job reminds him of his loss and re-traumatizes him. He has sought to keep his identity a secret, hiding from public life, and avoiding people who could recognize him, burying himself in a new civilian identity because he wants to be a normal human being. 

But the world isn’t that simple, and the cape and cowl aren’t as easy to give up as it seems. Jason Park can’t stand by and see a girl be abused by her father, especially since he is trying to excuse his abuse of his daughter on the fact that she is “a freak”.

Johnstone brings out aspects of the superhero mythos that are under-represented. He asks what would happen if there were vigilante justice in a world where abuse continues to happen and police rarely do anything to stop it. He reminds the reader that the sort of experiences superheroes have are not ones that can be easily shrugged off and that there would be long term psychological consequences for loss, not a short hate spiral that only lasts the length of one comic issue. Johnstone’s “Missing in Action” is a story about complicating the superhero narrative, and taking it into areas that are less simple than good vs evil.

To discover more about OnSpec, visit https://onspecmag.wordpress.com/ 

Who Are You? 

A review of Jerome Stueart’s The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Jerome Stueart’s The Angels of Our Better Beasts is a struggle between the multiple aspects of human identity. It’s cover evokes the Governor General award winning Marian Engle’s Bear, a tale about the encounter between human civilization and the wild, and Stueart’s collection is also one about the clashing of different definitions of what it means to be human, including a relationship between a woman and a bear. These are tales that question what it means to be human.

Stueart’s own struggles for self discovery are laced through these tales, rich with questions about religion, queer identity, the search for home, and the desire to find a place in a world that likes to ignore those it oppresses. These are tales about the quest for that ineffable thing that we call “home”, a place of belonging, comfort, and acceptance that is hard to find, and this search drives these stories out into the depths of space, into realms of fantasy, and into the dark depths at the root of the human heart. These are tales of wandering and wanting, questing tales that have uncertain endings, telling readers that stories shouldn’t have easy endings, but should be things open to interpretation, to speculation, and to wonder. 

These tales explore the slipperiness of identity, the fluidity of the human experience and the changes we human beings undergo regularly in our quest to find ourselves. Stueart tells us that our quest to find ourselves will never be complete because what we ARE is always changing, always slipping away and becoming something else. His tales are stories of complexity and uncertainty, things that define the human experience far more than an easy question of “who are you?”. 

Stueart weaves stories ABOUT stories and about art into his narratives because these are the best methods of asking deeper questions. He explores the power of the artistic to push the imagination and open up new questions. Populated with vampires, werewolves, gryphons, gods, and cryptozoological inquiry, these tales are ultimately about the nature of humanity and the way that we all contain little drips of monstrous ichor within us… and maybe those monstrous drops are kinder than our human nature.

To find out more about Jerome Stueart’s work, visit https://jeromestueart.com

To find out more about The Angels of Our Better Beasts and other ChiZine publications, visit http://chizinepub.com

Godly Love Story

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “Brazos” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine, 2016).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Mythology is filled with love stories between a human being and a god. These stories are generally told from the perspective of the beloved of the god… and generally they don’t turn out well for the human being with mortals transformed into trees, driven mad, or abandoned. Jerome Stueart’s “Brazos” takes a different perspective, providing a meeting of fathers – the father of a god, and a farmer, who is the father of a young woman getting ready to go to college. This is a modern myth playing with ancient traditions, and those traditions are encoded in the way that the fathers speak to each other about the relationship between their children.

Stueart sets his story in a modern American setting, adding a new setting to an old myth and playing with the power of myth to speak to multiple audiences. His farmer is an American self-made man, not trusting anything he didn’t build himself, and this gives him an instant distrust of the easy success of a god. He recognizes the history of gods mistreating their mortal lovers and wants better for his daughter, asking why humans have to make all of the sacrifices for gods and questioning whether this will allow for a deeper relationship if the god gives nothing and the mortal gives everything.

Stueart brings attention to power dynamics in relationships, inviting a questioning of relationships and assumed sacrifices. He uses myth to bring attention to the way that traditions are mythical and need to change under new circumstances, needing to be as transformative as the gods of these myths and their mortal lovers.

To find out more about Jerome Stueart’s work, visit https://jeromestueart.com
To find out more about The Angels of Our Better Beasts and other ChiZine publications, visit http://chizinepub.com