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 

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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

Drawing Attention to Oppression

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “You Will Draw This Life Out to Its End” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

As much as Jerome Stueart’s “You Will Draw This Life Out to Its End” is a love story between an artist and a man involved in the mining union of a distant moon, it is a commentary on the power of art to bring attention to issues of oppression. Renault relies on his celebrity status as an artist to bring issues of oppression of miners to the attention of the solar system, pointing out that they rely on people skilled in mining for their water and air, but don’t guarantee the safety of miners. 

Through painting the lives of everyday people, Renault gains an understanding of the struggles that miners are expected to go through and the lack of support they have to survive in hostile conditions. He refuses to leave their mining colony because he realizes that his celebrity status means that certain protections are provided to the colony that wouldn’t be if he weren’t there. Renault engages in a form of Artivism – art-based activism – to advocate for safer conditions for the miners by first illustrating their everyday lived experience and letting the solar system see the conditions they live under, illustrating their humanity, and by making the miners art themselves, transforming their lives into powerful stories about human ingenuity and survival. 

Stueart brings attention to the role of art in sharing under-represented stories, making marginalized people’s lives noticeable in a world that likes to pretend that oppressions don’t exist, and the transformative power of art.

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

Poet Panic!!!

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “Why the Poets were Banned from the City” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine Publications, 2016)By Derek Newman-Stille

Literature has often been regarded as dangerous, perceived as a potential spark for revolution. It is one of the reasons why books have been banned by groups that sought to prevent access to information. 

Jerome Stueart’s “Why the Poets were Banned from the City” explores a society where a conservative group has outlawed literature and any exploration of the imaginative. This society only allows artists to exist for the production of advertisements, the creation of content that drives the economy. Literature unconnected to capitalism, that doesn’t immediately result in the sale of something else is perceived as threatening by this society because it evokes feelings in the audience without giving them a capitalist outlet for them to express their emotions. 

Stueart brings attention to the relationship between consumption and art in a capitalistic society, evoking the dangerous way that we tend to entwine art and product. But, he also brings attention to the way that literature is frequently associated with threat, the attempts by groups in power to silence literature that evokes emotional needs and the desire for change. 

In Stueart’s narrative, imaginative literature has been banned because it is believed to be threatening, causing people to become emotional and act out. Although imaginative art has been banned, a father discovers a fragment of a poem by Emily Dickinson in his daughter’s hands in the tub that she drowned herself in and begins a new vendetta against poets, perceiving them as creating dangerous literature that causes children to feel too much. This father and the society that empowered him to view literature as a threat is reminiscent of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s where conservative groups tried to suggest that creative games like Dungeons and Dragons were causing mayhem and danger amongst young adults. This rhetoric has frequently been trotted out to try to advocate for the banning of books, cancelling of television shows, and censoring of films, so it is still something that regularly surfaces, often accompanied by the rhetoric of “but what about the children”. The banning of creative works tends to come from a perception of children as blank slates waiting to be filled and forever at threat of being contaminated. Stueart’s narrative explores a society in which this rhetoric is pushed to the next level, where all of society is perceived to be at threat from creative works and the only people who are allowed to read them are artists, but only to fuel their imagination for writing advertisements. 

Stueart invites us to consider the ramifications of a society that perceives of art as threat, and reminds us that we are a thin page turn away from that society and should be vigilant of the banning of creative works. This society becomes a people without metaphors, a people who feel a need to act out in some way when experiencing emotion, and a people that have been detached from their history, their stories, their ways of understanding themselves and others.

To discover more about Angels of Our Better Beasts, visit http://chizinepub.com/the-angels-of-our-better-beasts/

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