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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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/ 

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/

Grey’s SUPERanatomy

Grey’s SUPERanatomy
A review of Corey Redekop’s “SUPER” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe edited by Claude Lalumiere and Mark Shainblum (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Corey Redekop’s “SUPER” intertwines the medical drama with the superheroic, creating a commentary on the medicalizing of bodies that differ from a socially created norm. “SUPER” presents the reader as one of a group of doctors who are being led into a facility whose purpose is to deal with medical issues that may arise from superhero bodies. The reader is led through an introduction to the facilities and some of the specific concerns that relate to super bodies. Redekop, although playing with humour and the absurd, also plays with the hyper-real by examining the potential realities of the diverse bodies presented in traditional superhero comics from the problematic digestive issues of a body made of stone, what happens when a super body heals too much and produces new bodies out of every discarded part, and what happens when an elastic body stretches too far. He also invites questions around those issues not explored in comics like what happens when a superhero acquires an STI or how superheroes cope with erectile dysfunction. 

Redekop plays with medicalised rhetoric around disability by instead applying this to superhero bodies, bringing attention to the ways that we socially construct disability as a problem. He uses medical rhetoric like calling people “supercapables” (playing with the term ‘handicapables’) to point at the way that language often is used as a distraction from deeper social discriminations against people with different bodies. He brings attention to the way that rhetoric often replaces real social change and nifty acronyms replace accessibility. Indeed, the facility itself is called SUPER (Sanatorium for the Uberhuman Palliative, Emergency, and Restorative care), playing with the way that medical bureaucracies often apply language to new situations instead of policies of change. Bringing attention to things like palliative care and terms like “restorative”, and “sanitorium”, Redekop focuses the reader on the institutionalization of people with disabilities and the aged. He invites the question of “what happens when we no longer consider different bodies to be USEFUL bodies?”, a question that has occupied disability scholars regarding the representation of disabled bodies as only valuable when perceived as productive. 

Redekop reverses the lens of looking at disability as the Other by also ensuring that the doctors are from traditionally pathologised groups, made up of people who exhibit borderline personality disorders and “near-crippling” social phobias. The doctors would likely be treated as stigmatized people because of their psychological disabilities and be subject to all of the social oppression that other people labelled “mad” would experience. By situating the doctors as people with stigmas, Redekop breaks down the barrier that is arbitrarily created between able-bodied and disabled, or, in this case, between able-bodied and superable-bodied. He portrays the psychological disabilities of these doctors as assets, aiding in their ability to think up new medical treatments. By putting the reader into the position of one of the doctors through the second person narration, Redekop further complicates the portrayal of disability by having the reader occupy a diagnostic position, making the reader the medical authority who is learning about new bodies. 

Combining social critique and questions with his characteristic humour, Corey Redekop wields his words like a scalpel, cutting to the root of complex social questions and operating in a theatre of critical wit.

To find out more about Corey Redekop’s work, visit his website at http://www.coreyredekop.ca

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

Super Psychiatry

Super Psychiatry
A review of Kim Goldberg’s “Bluefields Reharmony Nest” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe Edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumiere (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Kim Goldberg’s “Bluefields Reharmony Nest” asks the question that those who have grown up reading Batman stories with Arkham Asylum in them have wanted to know – what happens to the superheroes who need psychiatric help. Rather than telling another supervillain psychiatric story, Goldberg creates a psychiatric facility for superheroes who are perceived to be in need of psychiatric care. She opens with a counselling session in which superheroes are narrating the experiences that motivated them to seek out psychiatric care (this is a voluntary facility). 

Goldberg’s superheroes are an interplanetary group whose psychiatric needs are tied to their experience of colonialism, ecological destruction, and alienation. Goldberg doesn’t automatically follow traditional representations of psychiatry and place all responsibility for mental health upon the individual, but rather looks at a few systemic violences that have contributed to people’s psychiatric needs. She questions the ability of psychiatry to achieve mental health goals by bringing attention to the diverse methods by which people are able to achieve healing and the way that each individual defines healing
To discover more about Kim Goldberg’s work, visit her site at https://pigsquash.wordpress.com 

To discover more about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, visit http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html  

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