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Friday, November 30, 2007

Captain Canuck Week: Friday Night Fights

Pfft... Canada? Bahlactus laughs at Canada. They've barely got a military at all. They're the "nice" country. They're so polite.

That's what we call peace-keeping.

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Captain Canuck Week: What Are Super Agents Made Of?

It's what you've all been waiting for! It took four years to get there, but in Captain Canuck #5 we were given a glimpse into what made Captain Canuck super enough to qualify to be a super-agent. You'll notice that Bluefox, C.I.S.O.'s other super-agent, is conveniently omitted from the origin story. Hmmm...

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Captain Canuck Week: The Merchandising

I'd like to think that Captain Canuck was a labor of love. I'd like to believe that it was an idea born out of two young Mormon guys who wanted to present a vision of the American superhero, but representing their principles, and maybe even espousing general Canadian ideals, and if they can make a living doing it, so much the better. Like I said, I'd like to believe that the process is "creativity first, riches later." Of course, the cynical side of me knows that it just can't be so.

Captain Canuck looks like it was made primarily to form spin-off industries: the sheer diluge of offers for t-shirts, posters, and other assorted crap is staggering. There's the usual fare, stuff I can understand, like t-shirts and fanclubs:

and posters, you gotta have posters, posters are easy:

For a new character, yo'd think that they would stop there, maybe slow down and wait for the dude to take off before they try to license him out further. But they went onward with pens and other miscellany:

Then, we start entering WTF-territory:

Plaques? Wooden plaques? For an independent, not-really bi-monthly, Canadian comic book? Well, it could be worse, I guess. They could start hawking stock in the company to a bunch of ten-year olds and change their name to the "Captain Canuck Corporation:"

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Captain Canuck Week: The Man They Call Catman

Captain Canuck introduced a number of back-up features, none of which proved popular enough to warrant their own book: Jonn was about an intergalactic astronaut who crash-lands on a sword and sorcery world; Beyond was a similar adventure with a more medieval-slant; the Chaos Corps appeared, mercifully, only once; and then there was Catman.

Catman had great things to live up to. He'd been advertised to appear in Captain Canuck since #1. He was later slated to appear in Jonn #1, a solo series for our intrepid space Conan, but since their wasn't any chance of that happening anytime soon, his arrival was delayed. Catman never showed up until #4, which you might remember as being the first issue produced after a four-year hiatus. Yikes. This purple fucker certainly had some expectations to live up to.

Unlike his similarly-named counterparts from the DC universe, Batman and the villainous Catman, Comely/CKR's Catman was a mostly-naked man with advanced powers bestowed to him from an alien who kept bigfoots (bigfeet?) as pets.

While adventuring in the arctic on an expedition to film the elusive Sasquatch, Jason Corey is, like all cats, distracted by a shiny object in the distance. When he heads off half-cocked to investigate, he falls down a crack in the ice and is almost killed. He's saved only by a wizened old man who treats his injuries, but also keeps him imprisoned within his home for weeks, or perhaps months - Jason isn't sure, but he knows he can't even attempt escape since the old bastard took his clothes, meaning he'd be a Popsicle if he ever found a way to leave the place.

The old Yoda surrogate also harbors a dark secret - he's actually an alien from the planet Arrimo, and crash-landed on Earth over 200 years ago. Rather than attempting to repair his ship and leave, he's instead taken to living under the arctic ice and keeping wild ape-men locked up with him for his own amusement. The bigfoots don't really have a point in this story other than to aggravate Jason, it seems: he risks his life to get pictures of these things, and some old alien dude is keeping 'em on ice! The nerve.

Obi-Wan frequently leaves the human alone for several hours to snoop around his spaceship, so one day Jason gets the bright idea to actually attempt escape, and follows the old guy to see where he goes: Jason sees him use an amulet-like device that changes him purple, and surmises that it must shield him from the cold - if Jason could obtain the trinket, he might be able to escape the ship without freezing to death.

Luckily for Jason, his host is getting rather forgetful in his advanced years, leaving the device lying out in the open for him to find. Faster than you can say, "Holy crap I'm a rip-off of Batman and the Creeper," Jason escapes and is free to live a mostly-normal existence, albeit one in which he never has to buy winter coats again.

Catman's origin tale ends with the appearance of Jason Corey's sister, Susy, and she asks him a question more fitting of a post-Super-Bowl interview: "What are you going to do now?"

Okay, so he doesn't actually say that. But he does mention clearing their father's name, and nailing some guy named "Ellingson." Kinky, but also frustrating: we never, ever, find out who their father is, what he's done, or who Ellingson is. Captain Canuck #3 would be the only appearance of Catman, save for an illustrated short story that appears in #6.

Catman would return in the 1993 series, Captain Canuck: Reborn, but he would change his name to "Splatter," never have alien powers to begin with, and go around shooting criminals with a paintball gun. Man, the guy just can't catch a break, can he?

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Captain Canuck Week: Introducing the Captain

Welcome to Blackmarket Pies' celebration of all things Captain Canuck, Captain Canuck Week!

First published in 1975, Captain Canuck was the first national Canadian superhero, emulating Captain America for a country that was just beginning to acquire a national-consciousness, following the late-sixties' wave of Expos, new flags, and Ookpiks. Created by artists Richard Comely and his friend Ron Leishman, and clad in red and white, Captain Canuck was a government agent who worked to take down multiple conspiracies - from a primarily communist threat from 1975, to an alien threat in 1979, to the more paranoid super capitalist/communist plot in 1993, to drug-dealing bikers in 2005.

The books were printed on paper that was of a higher quality than most American comics at the time. That, unfortunately, was about the only thing of any quality in the first issue - the art was odd, the writing choppy, and the dialog was stilted. Things picked up in #2, and by #3, the art and writing were solidly mediocre. The Captain would turn out to be unpredictably popular (well, for Canada, anyway), but high costs were enough to shut down Captain Canuck by the third issue.

The Captain would be back in 1979, tough, with the art under-going an incredible improvement in #4, and then leaping off of the page once George Freeman took over in #7. Comely worked as writer in every issue of the book until #13, where it was announced that he was leaving to return to freelance work. However, Comely himself implies that he was "dismissed" from CKR Productions, the company that had produced the comic since #4. Professional turmoil in comics? Inconceivable!

CKR Productions would fold with #14, but the Captain would return in 1993 for 4 issues of a new "Reborn" series. It was not well-received.

Completely re-envisioned in 2005 with the "Unholy War" series, Captain Canuck would return as a comic-book reading RCMP officer who had trouble keeping his secret identity under wraps. It was intended as a 3-issue mini, but had a fourth issue released in September 2007. There have been no further developments with the character since then, but previews of the "War of the Independents," coming in 2008, suggest that both versions of Captain Canuck (1975-1981 and 2005) will be involved.

And now that you're fully versed in the basics of Captain Canuck, it's time you took part in the amazing adventure that was the Captain's introduction to our fast-paced, modern, Canadian world: Captain Canuck #1 (remember, it's a COLLECTOR'S EDITION!)

The story: "Arctic Standoff!"

The time: the far-flung future of May 8, 1993.

The scene: a missile monitoring station in the desolate vastness of Northern Canada. A bearded weirdo in a jumpsuit alerts his superiors of incoming hostile aircraft before he's blown to smithereens. The aircraft is manned by two helmeted men who have limited experience with punctuation that does not include the exclamation mark, and maybe the ellipsis. They inform the Canadian authorities that after taking out the lone technician reading a magazine in the middle of the wilderness, they are now in a position to negotiate the complete turnover of the nation of Canada to their interests, in exchange for not initiating the "total thermo destruction of Canada." I guess that means they were planning to melt us.

In response, the CISO (helpfully decoded as being an acronym for the "Canadian International [?] Security Organization") sends in their two specially-tained super-agents: Captain Canuck, in the red jammies, and Bluefox, in the blue electro-Long Johns.

Captain Canuck and his, I assume, Quebecois partner, were created by the government of Canada when "the predictions of Canada becoming the most important country in the world became a reality in the 1980's." Apparently this was because we had a lot of oil, trees, and rocks.

After travelling in an underground monorail system to Quebec, then on a pink jet to the arctic, then on a snowmobile further into the arctic, then on foot for a few kilometers, then on a dogsled the rest of the way, the two Super-agents arrive... somewhere... to clandestinely take out the terrorists threatening to thermo-destruct the true, north, strong and free. Kids, if you're looking to get into the art of compressed storytelling, do not take notes from Captain Canuck#1 - unless your editors have ever uttered the phrase "this needs more polar bear wrasslin'."

But, alas! Bluefox is revealed to be working for the other guys! Those other guys seem to be anti-capitalists, but we're never told what kind, or who they're working for. It depresses me to think that the CISO, now the security agency for the most important country in the world, saw fit to produce only 2 super-agents, but didn't think it would be prudent to ensure that 50% of your team weren't Commie traitors. Hindsight's 20/20, I guess.

After a page where the good Cap' explains why people in Russia do not smile, he commences with the ass-kicking that Canadians are known for (albeit without the sticks and drunkiness). That "crazed" Bluefox manages to push the big red button, though, and the prairie provinces have a about a half an hour before they're vaporized by incoming missiles. Wait, missiles? When the hell did missiles come into this? I thought we were heading for thermo-destruction? Do you ever have those moments when you're reading a comic and you feel like you're missing something big, like maybe the editors completely lost a few of the expositional captions along the way? That's what reading this whole story feels like.

Anyway, Canuck, after having no problems shooting his ex-partner in the spine, heads outside to "pull the plug" on the missiles - no, really, to stop the launch of what we can only assume are nuclear missiles, he rips the power cord in half, a contrivance so unrealistic that it made me appreciate the down-to-Earth qualities of silver-age Superman.

He succeeds, and the reader discovers, to his or horror or delight, that CISO had decided to send in some back-up agents to help stop the invasion of a vast, frozen wasteland. The reader also discovers the horrible, subtle propaganda inserted into the Cap's adventures:

Yes, God did indeed help the lone commander disobey direct orders, coming idiotically close to initiating nuclear Armageddon (unless he, you know, shot up the building containing the big plug that Captain Canuck pulled, or something). Religion was a regularly occurring theme in the early Canuck stories, stemming from Comely's Mormonism, but all references to the big guy stopped at issue #3. I'd have to assume that CKR Productions insisted that Comely refrain from any overt endorsement of religion, to avoid alienating readers and advertisers.

Other items of interest include the entirely inexplicable...

and art so good, you won't believe it ain't real:

"Arctic Standoff," the main story of Captain Canuck #1 (COLLECTOR'S ITEM), didn't make a whole lot of sense, and the art was terrible. In fact, in the immortal words of Chris Sims, it was not very good. The series did get better before it got worse, though. In fact, I don't think it ever got worse during its original run; it didn't have time to.

If I've interested you enough in the good Cap'n, it's easy enough to get your hands on a copy for yourself: #1 is extremely common around the net, and it seems that there's even an autographed copy up on eBay every week.

And, hey! Here's something even I didn't know: according to Wikipedia, "Marvel had approached Comely for the rights to use Captain Canuck in Alpha Flight, but were refused, so Byrne created a new character."

Oh, man. How awesome would that have been? I wonder why he refused...

Come back tomorrow to learn about one of the Cap's many back-up features: the man they call Catman.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

The Ongoing Adventures of Ronald Reagan

Every collector of comic books has a speciality, or a niche, as I like to call it - it's virtually impossible not to. A niche is a set of specific criteria that a comic collector sets out when looking for comics: they might only be interested in comics featuring a specific super villain, or it could be something as general as collecting the entire run of James Robinson's Starman. Regardless of how much or how little material there is to find, every comic fan does this - it would simply be too unsatisfying, not to mention expensive, to simply collect everything, or to collect a bunch of stuff without rhyme or reason. Some amount of selection is required to satisfy that little part of our brains that just loves patterns and gestalt sets.

Bahlactus has a niche. Chris Sims has an unhealthy obsession with Rom. And myself? Well, in addition to my interest in Canadian superheroes, I have an odd fascination with graphical representations of Ronald Reagan.

It began innocently enough with this post, regarding DC's Legends miniseries:

And then I found those panels from Phantom Stranger (1987) #3 drawn by Mike Mignola.

I came across many more that I didn't bother cataloging, but now I really wish I had: you see, I am now compelled to find out exactly how far Reagan had his filthy mitts into DC continuity in the 1980's. Why did he keep showing up in this company's product? Did any other contemporary president enjoy nearly as much face-time as he did, in contrast to the merely metaphorical appearances that George W. Bush now inspires?

This is my mission, nay, my quest. And I'm going to share it with you.

The next chapter in Ronald Reagan's apparently awesome life begins as any good story must, with the Legion of Superheroes. In Booster Gold (Vol. 1) #8, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, and Ultra Boy are summoned by Chronarch, a cockroachy-looking guy, to look at this really awesome thing he found: the time machine of Rip Hunter, a time-travelling hero who will become intimately involved with Booster Gold in the pages of 52 and Booster's subsequent 2007 series. For now, though, Booster Gold is simply the guy who stole Rip's device and used it to travel back to 1985, where he would become a superhero in an attempt to find fame and fortune.

Chronarch informs the trio that pieces Brainiac 5's force-shield belt were discovered in the damaged time-machine. This is impossible, thinks Brainy: the machine has only gone from Booster Gold's time of the 25th century straight back to 1985, and Brainiac's belt is from 500 years past the 25th century. In a monumental feat of intellect that would amaze even Jimmy Olsen, Brainiac 5 completely fails to even consider that the reason that the very belt he is wearing ends up back in 1985 is because he brought it there, and the three Legion amigos decide to head into the past to solve this grand mystery.

After that, we're treated to what might fittingly be called Booster Gold: Week One (note to DC: Booster Gold: Year One? awesome idea, don't you think?), wherein Booster and Skeets discover the smells of Metropolis '85, take part in their first act of super-heroism by helping an old lady home with her groceries, and fail to understand the subtleties of the economy circa 1985:

But all that's just diversionary tourist stuff: the real reason Booster and Skeets travelled back to this particular time is because they know that there'll be an assassination attempt on the DCU's favorite president. Behind the hit is the villainous organization called The 1000, who's grand plan is to kill the original vice-president Bush and president Reagan, have the shape-shifting alien, Chiller, replace Reagan, who will then appoint the leader of the 1000, a senator, as the new vice-president. "Reagan" will then resign, which will leave the senator as the President of the United States. Where he thinks he'll go from there is anyone's guess, as the POTUS can't really accomplish anything without the approval of congress. Maybe he's just really eager to throw an awesome party aboard Air Force One.

As Booster Gold and Skeets prepare to save the president from his killers, Booster screws up royally thanks to that time-honored tradition of super-hero team-ups: if the heroes have never met before, they must mistake each other for the bad-guy and immediately throw down. Specifically, because Skeets tells him that the would-be murderer of Ronald Reagan is a shape-shifter, Booster thinks that Chameleon Boy is the criminal, and the Legion thinks Booster's the criminal because...well, he kinda is one, seeing as how he did steal a bunch of artifacts and a talking robot from a museum in the future.

The story was simply too epic to fit into but one issue, so the dastardly plot to kill Bush and Reagan is continued into Booster Gold #9.

Chiller escapes with the politicians by mimicking one of the Secret Service agents, but Skeets isn't far behind, trailing the limo like he was programmed to catch a shot of Bush Sr's drunken crotch. Meanwhile, the Legion and Booster realize that they aren't each others' enemies and head over to Skeets's location, where the combined might of a washed-up football star from the future and a group of kids from even further into the future allow the Prez and VP to be rescued safe and sound.

But Reagan's legacy does not end here:

(click to enlarge)

Yes, we have Ronald Reagan to thank for Booster Gold. And did you see that? He's so respected that even Booster Gold, saviour of the 52 universes, cannot bear to embarrass him by making a correction. Ol' Goldie is willing to be known by the wrong name for the rest of his life just to keep Reagan happy. Yeah, DC knows where its bread is buttered.

How many superheroes do you know that have the honour to be named after a president's verbal gaff? And with pride? Even Booster Gold knows that you just don't fuck with the Gipper.

(And don't forget, fans of Reaganomics: Booster Gold #8-9 will be reprinted in next year's Showcase Presents: Booster Gold)

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The Return

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand I am back! After who knows how long spent away from the comforting glow of the interweb, I return to its gentle caresses, more in need of money and time than ever. Of course, I couldn't make my comeback fight on just any old night... it's gotta be during the main event, the Friday Night Fights, squaring off against the two-fisted sure bet that is Bahlactus!

And tonight we're outsourcing the concussions straight from the Great White North, with the knock-out punch from Captain Canuck #3, which burst groin-kickenly onto the scene wayback in '75, providing definitive proof that the Mounties were in on the conspiracy from the very beginning:

(you're gonna want to click that and make it bigger)
But, what conspiracy? And who the hell is Captain Canuck, exactly? Good questions, my friends. And they will all be answered, because next week? Next week is his week:

Starting Monday, be prepared for 7 full Strangely-Brew'd days of the other Captain, Captain Canuck! Think you can handle the greatest hero of the middle power, Bahlactus?

Prove it.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Harlan Ellison and the Amazing Arrogance Machine

So, apparently Harlan Ellison is a complete dick.

For those unfamiliar, Harlan Ellison is a writer of fiction and comic books, mostly in the realm of Science Fiction (but don't call it sci-fi - he hates it when you call it Sci-Fi), or "speculative fiction," as he likes to call it.

I was first introduced to Ellison through a book at my high school's library. "Six Science Fiction Plays" included Ellison's original script for the most famous Star Trek episode of all, "City on the Edge of Forever." It had space drugs. It had a secondary character who turns out to not be important at all. And there were future space pirates, too. I don't judge 'em folks, I just tell 'em.

It also included a rambling introduction by Ellison in which he claims that the producers ruined his script by having Kirk let Edith Keeler SPOILER ALERT die. Yeah, because you can really let Star Trek continue by fucking up history and having the Nazis win WW2. In Ellison's script, Kirk was supposed to suddenly forget about saving the universe, and it had to take Spock to physically stop him from saving Edith Keeler. The characterisation that was necessary to achieve this result involved Spock behaving like an ass-hat throughout, and Kirk attempting to sacrifice billions of lives for his own sake.

The changes that Roddenberry et al had to make made the episode thought-provoking and poignant. It made you ask: is one man really so powerful? Can the death of one person affect history to such an extent? If time travel is possible, how do we deal with questions of free will, or good and evil, or individualism and the tyranny of the common good? In a world where time travel is possible, there is no easy morality - sometimes, great evil actually leads to great good. And how do you behave as a hero in that situation? As Daniel Greenfield wrote in "Star Trek and the City on the Edge of Forever Controversy" at :

...the story is devoid of heroes and villains, but focuses squarely on the terrible decisions that have to be made for time to roll on as it does.

The episode, as scripted by Ellison, was too simplistic, and didn't take into account this altered morality. It also depicted Kirk and Spock as behaving completely out of character. Thus, it was changed. And Ellison has been bitching about it ever since, even in a book called "Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever," described thusly by Greenfield:

In it Harlan Ellison would repeat the thesis that "The City on the Edge of Forever" was the greatest Star Trek episode, something for which he took credit for, and that its butchery was a crime against literature. Bolstering his claim with cartoons and pop culture references and letters to TV Guide, Harlan Ellison shifts from argument to tirade and back in the blink of an eye, the vast bulk of it directed at Roddenberry until he finally lambastes Gene Roddenberry for dying before the book could be published. (Emphasis mine)

Ellison has also apparently violated the terms of a prior lawsuit with Fantagraphics books, by refusing to post

...the 500 word Statement by Gary Groth that Harlan Ellison agreed to run on his website — unedited and unaltered — according to the settlement agreement signed by both parties... (The Comics Jounal)

And there's this, of course:

Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis on stage at the Hugos wasn't funny and it wasn't okay. I understand (from third parties; I haven't spoken to her about it) that Connie Willis's position is that Ellison has done worse and she can handle him, but I really didn't want to watch it and neither, I think, did a lot of other people in the audience. Up to then the comedic schtick aspects of the Hugo presentation had been genuinely funny. After that, I think, many of us just wanted it all to stop. (Patrick Nielson Hayden,

Now, there's this news: SPOILER ALERT (regarding the new Star Trek film) a "leak" about the plot of the new movie claims that the "Guardian of Forever" is involved. Ellison has gotten his panties twisted into a bunch once more, claiming that he owns all of the elements created for the episode. Technically, he doesn't: the "Guardians of Forever," as written in Ellison's script, were bald headed aliens who guarded the portal. In the televised script, this has been altered to be the portal itself. It's movie magic! He did, indeed, create Edith Keeler - but Edith Keeler isn't in this movie. This wouldn't be an issue if Harlan was trying to get residuals for his episode (say, in a method like his buddies in the WGA are doing as we speak), but instead he's trying to assert total ownership over something that was heavily reworked by Gene Roddenberry and Robert Justman - something that he claims, over and over again, to have nothing to do with. And did I mention he's a total dick?

This is not to say that he isn't a good writer. I'm judging the man, not his work. Honestly, I haven't read anything by Ellison other than the script in that book I picked up so long ago (about 6 years, methinks), so I can't comment - I just know I won't be buying them, because I don't want him to receive any royalties or residuals by way of my wallet.

Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. He is, after all, lawsuit-happy. And crotchety.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Quark's Guide To Doing Business On The Internet

Lesson One: Exposure

Further wisdom from Quark can be found within the pages Deep Space Nine: N-Vector - including Lesson Two: Dealing With Venture Capitalists:

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