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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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