Golden Age Superheroes in ModernityA Review of Epic Canadiana Volume 1 by Cloudscape Comics, edited by Bevan Thomas.
By Derek Newman-Stille
Epic Canadiana volume 1 delightfully connects the golden age of Canadian comics (the origin of the Canadian superhero comic) with modernity, creating a link through Canadian comic book history. Epic Canadiana re-introduces readers to an aged Johnny Canuck, modelled after Leo Bachle’s WWII era Canadian golden age comic hero, creating a parallel between these two ages of comics by imagining that the character was part of Canadian history and art of an early age of superheroes who withdrew from the superhero business. Possibly drawing inspiration from Darwyn Cooke’s DC New Frontier comic which envisioned a McCarthyist witch hunt on superheroes, Epic Canadiana imagines a period if time when the population became suspicious of superheroes and turned away from them. Superheroes in Canada are now called upon to return to the business and begin fighting against villainy in the nation.
Epic Canadiana is told as though it is a persuasive argument to Johnny Canuck to encourage him to return to superheroism and is structured as a series of mini comics (each with different authors and writers) that each showcase a certain hero’s tale. These tales are historically diverse, with comics set at various periods in Canadian history, and serve to create his link between Canadian comic book history and the present by featuring characters scattered across that time frame. Several of the characters also pay homage to golden age comic characters. The character Ikniqpalagaq, for example, is a modern-day re-envisioning of the Golden Age comic character Nelvana of the Northern Lights, maintaining her connection to the Northern Landscape, her Inuit heritage and her role as a demi-goddess. Yet this homage also allows for adaptation and Ikniqpalagaq more closely connects with Inuit cultural imagery than Nelvana (who was often assumed by onlookers to be white). Ikniqpalagaq provides the character with an Inuit name, a costume inspired by inuit regalia, and Inuit facial tattoos, more closely identifying her with her cultural location. Similarly, the golden age comic character The Penguin (not to be confused with the DC comics villain of the same name) is re-envisioned as The Loon, a character who still has the bird-like mask of The Penguin, but instead identifies with the loon, a bird that has a Canadian connection (where penguins do not). The Loon also becomes a mantle that people at various points in history assume, taking on the character’s identity to battle crime and this use of the figure of The Loon at different points in history similarly expresses the idea that Epic Canadiana is creating a thread of the superhero myth through Canadian history, reminding readers that the concept of the Canadian superhero is not a new one and underscoring the importance of being aware that the Canadian superhero has been part of the Canadian imagination since WWII.
At the same time that there is a connection to these historical figures, there is also an acknowledgement that these early imaginings were products of their time and were texts that erased a diversity of Canadian experiences (particularly those of Canadians from groups who were not in positions of privilege). Some of the stories in the collection try to provide some further cultural diversity to their character by, for example, re-imagining Canadian historical figures like Canada Jack as a closeted gay man and the inspiration for a new LGBTQ superhero Jacque de Canada, who takes on an activist role as well as superheroism by battling against the forces of homophobia.
The use of different authors and artists for each of the superhero tales in the collection lends it an eclectic feel, letting the reader feel as though they are experiencing each superhero’s narrative with a distinct voice and expression.
Epic Canadiana represents an elaborate historical and expressive tapestry of Canadian comic imagination, winding a thread of history through diverse imaginings of what a Canadian superhero could be. The heroes in these pages are born of magic, mutation, a call to action… but more importantly, they are born of a Canadian imagining of what it means to be heroic and speculation about what a Canadian superhero would consider worthy of battle.
To discover more about Cloudscape Comics and Epic Canadiana Volume 1, visit their website at http://www.cloudscapecomics.com/comics/ .