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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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 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 69: A Chat with Mark Shainblum

On this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I invite Mark Shainblum back to talk about Canadian Superheroes. This time, we were able to do our interview at Ad Astra.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Beyond the Masks

Beyond the Masks

A review of “Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe” Edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumiere (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

So often the superhero genre is treated as infantile, low brow, and therefore as un-valuable. Yet, the superhero has become our modern fairy tale, a transposition of the magical into the urban, replacing fairy godmothers with scientific experiments gone wrong. They still construct the brave princes and princesses facing off against the evil witches and corrupt kings – and they used to follow that simple binary of morality – good versus bad, hero versus villain. Yet, the most powerful way that superhero tales mirror fairy tales is through their adaptability, their ability to change, modify, and alter themselves to fit the concerns, issues, and ideas of each age for which they are re-written. 

Yet there is nothing simple about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe. Lalumiere and Shainblum present us with morally complex superheroes, challenging the simple ideas of hero and villain. They share stories that complicate the figure of the superhero by presenting the wanna be superhero who ends up causing problems for the police, sharing tales of characters who literally reshape the comic tropes themselves, villains escaping to visit ailing grandparents, retired superheroes, superheroes who behave like villains, but the thing that all of these tales have in common are questions – interrogations of the genre and its tropes and opportunities for re-thinking the superhero for a new age. 

Superheroes are often portrayed as figures in masks and these masks allow them to be changeable, to play with identity and invite readers to question what lies beyond the facade. The authors in Tesseracts Nineteen challenge, question, and complicated the superhero while still presenting us with the tales we adore and have come to associate with the genre. As much as these heroes hide behind secret identities, there’s nothing more revealing than tights, and Tesseracts Nineteen reveals all of the potential within the superhero genre for thinking about our society in new ways through that lens of abstraction. 

To discover more about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html
To discover more about the work of Claude Lalumiere, visit his website at http://claudepages.info

To discover more about Mark Shainblum, visit his website at http://www.shainblum.com
To read some of the reviews of short stories in the collection, click on the links below:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/07/03/greys-superanatomy/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/06/19/super-psychiatry/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/06/12/outside-the-panels/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/05/11/superficial-government-superhero-programmes/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/05/09/multiverse-history/

SUPERficial Government Superhero Programmes

SUPERficial Government Superhero Programmes
A review of Mary Pletsch and Dylan Blacquiere’s “The Island Way” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe. Edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumierer (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “The Island Way”, Mary Pletsch and Dylan Blacquiere use the superhero format to explore island culture and the interactions between PEI and mainland Canada. The Federal Government creates a new group of superheroes that are meant to embody Canadianness, having representatives from each of Canada’s provinces as a way of illustrating diversity. Quickly, the government discovers that only showcasing geographical diversity is a problem and realises that they need to include aboriginal superheroes and people from other under-represented groups.This superhero group, as many governmental diversity initiatives tend to be, ends up being largely superFICIAL, only portraying diversity without having substance. The superheroes selected for each region tend to embody regional stereotypes, embodying ideas about a province that the rest of Canada tends to project onto them. 

Price Edward Island is treated as many islands who neighbour mainlands are. PEI has all of the decisions about their superhero made by the mainland governments and projected onto the island. The government ignores any viable Islanders and instead decides to relocate a superhero to live part time on PEI in order to fulfill the requirement of regional diversity. They choose a candidate, that, not surprisingly, has a look of Anne of Green Gables about her and therefore continue to create marketable superheroes rather than effective ones. 

Pletsch and Blacquiere play with ideas of tokenistic inclusion, control from a mainland government, and the idea that many Prince Edward Islanders have that one is either a true Islander who has lived in the are their whole life (and come from Island stock) or that they are a “come from away” who will never really belong or fit in. The government in their world uses a transplanted superhero while ignoring the work of the protagonist of the story, Maggie, a woman who has to survive by working in a restaurant and spends her time saving the Island by piloting a ghost ship that keeps islanders safe. By being under-represented and out of the spotlight, Maggie has to examine her relationship to ideas of glory and the representation of government ideals versus the notion of supporting a local community and keeping her neighbours safe. 

To discover more about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog

Multiverse History

A review of Patrick T. Goddard’s “Diary of a Teenage Grizzly” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe” Edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumiere (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille


In “Diary of a Teenage Grizzly”, Patrick T. Goddard brings together multiple different comic book and fan narratives. He addresses a letter to the editors of Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe in which he tells them that he uncovered a diary from his time as a teen superhero in the 1980s. He plays with the notion of the multiverse to write himself into a superhero story, creating an alternative history for himself in which his teenage years were a battle between his life as a teen and his life as a superhero. Goddard plays with the fan fiction narrative of the Mary Sue, in which the author inserts her/himself as a character into the story, but uses the comic book narrative and the format of a diary to play with the idea that this was an alternative history for himself.

Despite being a superhero story, Goddard’s tale reveals some of the realities of teenage life including the complicated mix of feelings that get experienced in the high school setting. Goddard’s character/ self experiences clashes between different social groups, the pressure to fit in and conform, conflicts with personal needs versus the desires of parents, and the uncertainty that defines the teen experience. Writing his teenage self as a bear shape shifter whose emotions trigger him to change from human into grizzly bear reveal the way we portray teens as unstable, subject to emotion, and generally a danger when they become emotional, ascribing animalistic characteristics to them.

Goddard invites us to imagine the life of the superhero child and the pressures that it places on their life in addition to the regular challenges of high school life. He explores the complications of hiding identity, celebrity culture around superheroism, and the challenge of defining one’s moral structure in a world that is divided into hero/villain. 

To find out more about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html

 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 21: An Interview with Mark Shainblum

After reading Northguard, I knew I had to meet with Mark Shainblum and talk to him about his work in Canadian comics and the overall idea of creating a Canadian superhero. I was lucky that I ran into Mark at Fan Expo Canad and had a chance to chat with him.

In our interview, we talk about the characteristics of the Canadian superhero, the role of superheroes in the imagination, francophone Canadian culture, Jewish Canadian identity, the importance of having heroes who make mistakes, and comics as literature. Hear about some of Mark Shainblum’s upcoming projects as well as his extensive knowledge of comics and comic history.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.