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Monday, August 20, 2007

The Strange Case of the Canadian Superman

In 1967, Canada was... well, kind of full of itself. The country was celebrating 100 years of Confederation (it's a little bit like independence, except, you know, without the independence), they got a spiffy new flag, and we even tried to create our own marketing lingo in "Chimo" and the "Ookpik." The most important event of all, though - or, at least the event most likely to induce orgasms in members of the Canadian press at the time - was Expo '67, a World's Fair held in Montreal, Quebec. One reporter even called it "the most staggering Canadian achievement since this vast land was finally linked by transcontinental railway." Maybe you had to be there.

Regardless of whether or not Expo '67 was the second coming of Canadian Jesus, or just a ruse to lure in stupid Anglo-tourists, it would leave behind a legacy worth far more than a million rusting-geodesic-domes combined: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Superman's brother:

the Canadian Kryptonian, and , judging by the cover, a bit of a dick.

Now, a lot of us up here in The Great White North already like to think that Superman is Canadian. After all, Joe Shuster was Canadian, right? And The Daily Planet started it's publishing career as The Daily Star, an alleged homage to the Toronto Star, Canada's most unseemly tabloid. And the most damning evidence of all about Kal-El's Canadian-ness is that the government told me it was so, featuring Superman in a set of patriotic stamps in 1995.

But the truth of the matter is that Superman has no business with Canada: he's an American hero through-and-through, donning the red and blue, and standing on guard, not for thee, but for "truth, justice, and the American Way." And while Joe Shuster may have been born in Canada, he left when he was just 9 years old, long before he met up with a kid named Jerry Siegel and wrote about a super-strong man from a doomed planet.

To mesh this with my opening schpiel about the good old days of 1967 (bet you wish you were paying attention now, don't you?), this issue was supposedly written in order to commemorate the United States' and Canada's new-found bedfellow-ship with each other. Not only did we agree to host a few of Uncle Sam's nuclear missiles earlier in the decade, but JFK himself liked our Prime Minister, Lester Pearson, so much that he gave him the Presidential flag from his vacation house when ol' Lester (whose nick-name was "Mike" - not kidding, folks) came up for a barbecue.

So this new Canadian Superman is a pretty big deal, then.

Or story begins as any Superman legend would, whether it contains one Superman or two, with the destruction of Krypton - but wait, there's more! Kryptonopolis, candidate for most lazily-named city in the Universe and home to Jor-El, wife Lara, and son Kal-El, is saved from destruction by none other than Brainiac. Brainiac arrives in his "ominous spaceship" (re: red plate with an arrow stuck in it) and abducts the city, placing it in a bottle, a la Kandor. He then reveals just one of the many shockers you will find in this "imaginary story:" Brainiac is, in fact, on the side of the forces of good, saving Kyptonopolis not just because he wants another coffee-table conversation piece, but because he wanted to save them from their homeworld's destruction.

I wonder how the citizens of Kandor would feel if they knew that, even in an alternate universe, they still get the shaft. It's either living in a bottle where you face the constant threat of Brainaic's temper tantrums smashing your world, or you can just die with the rest of them. Oh, I'm sure they were all probably jerks anyway.

And hey, can someone tell me why every child under the age of ten in a Silver Age DC comic spoke with all the fluency of a slightly-advanced chimpanzee?

Just wonderin'.

Brainiac explains to Jor-El and Lara that he requires the element ZN-4 to return the city to normal size, but there must have been a sudden explosion of people enlarging themselves, because the supply of ZN-4, all across the galaxy, has been exhausted. So Brainiac and the -Els are left, Star Trek: Voyager-style, travelling through space trying to find a planet with ZN-4 on it.

In the meantime, the Kryptonians do what anyone would do in the circumstances, and mate: a brother to Kal-El, named by Brainiac (as the godfather, whatever the phrase might mean on Krypton) as Knor-El, is born. Look at the forehead on that kid!

His brother isn't Knor-El, it's freaking Sinestro.

But anatomical anomalies aside, the two Krypto-brothers grow up better than most brothers do, not once even coming close to killing each other. Knor-El decides that he craves power and kick-backs, so he trains to become a police officer, and Kal-El is drawn to the Erlenmeyer flasks of his father, and becomes a scientist.

When Brainiac (who consistently fails to live up to the name) finally finds a supply of ZN-4, he discovers that he parked in a meteor-impact zone, and tries vainly to shoot the thing before it hits the arrow+plate spaceship - you know, instead of just moving out of the way.

This does not end well for Brainiac.

The Kryptonians, on the contrary, are fine - they don't even try to find a reason as to why. Hey, shit happens, and they're just happy to be alive. But Jor-El makes a startling discovery: Brainaic has manged to transfer enough ZN-4 gas into Kryptonopolis to enlarge but one person. So they do the only thing one can do in this situation: forgo sending the smartest, the best, or the brightest, and decide who gets to live out their life un-bite-sized by putting on their own version of Kryptonian Gladiators.

No women allowed.

After a multitude of events, including moving hurdles, space chess, giant robot wrestling, and dodgeball, the winner is decided:

Knor-El wins! KNOR-EL WINS! Knor-El wins? Well I'll be damned; Knor-El does win.

So, Knor-El becomes Superman, and, in an amazing twist of fate, also becomes Ken Clarkson, ace reporter for the Daily Planet. After putting an end to a prison riot, Superman's next job is to investigate the landing of a giant phallus. Out of the space-phallus comes an alien bearing gifts of Kryptonite, and Knor-El, after being on the planet for less than a week, has already been defeated by the green-colored rocks. But all is not lost! Kal-El, that sneaky, two-faced bastard, was able to produce a small quantity of synthetic ZN-4 gas. Rather than sharing his discover so that they could all escape, or even better, selling his discovery to the other Kryptonians for top-dollar, good ol' proto-Clark Kent kept it to himself, just in case his brother was ever incapacitated by aliens in a giant - well, you know.

Kal-El thumps the aliens soundly, and saves his brother. But now the Kal-El is out of the bottle! What are they to do? You can't have two Supermen, that'd be crazy!

Those of you have read the title, and the introductory paragraphs, are probably wondering: but what, exactly, does any of this have to do with Canada? Well, I said that two Supermen would simply be nuts, so what does Kal-El do? He becomes HYPERMAN, Montreal's superhero!

Taking the secret identity of Charles LeBlanc, he also gets a job as a reporter, but for the Montreal Star - which would probably be a separatist paper if the stories of Hyperman had continued to today.

Alright - so it ain't much. Montreal is mentioned in all of two panels, and Hyperman doesn't really have any sort of characteristic that would make him more Canadian then American. But can you imagine if somebody had picked up that "imaginary story" ball and ran with it? What if there were an Elseworlds tale of Hyperman, clearing organized crime and drug-dealing bikers off of Montreal's streets? Would he be supportive of Quebec separation? Would he have fought the FLQ in the 1970's, or would they have eventually won, backed by a super-powered terrorist? There are unique Canadian stories here, man. It's really a shame that with all the Canadians working in American comics, no one picked up on Hyperman.

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