Can Canada have a superhero?

I came across this post by Ami Angelwings via When Fangirls Attack!. Her main point is a good one–Supergirl is yet another example of a female character, whether strong or not, constantly defined in relation to others rather than being allowed a genuinely autonomous identity. But she offhandedly suggests

I always think that Supergirl should move to Canada. XD Just cuz.. Canada has like… no heroes…

I’ve often expressed a multitude of frustrations with Superman, and one of them is that he manifests pure American exceptionalism–what ‘truth, justice and the American way’ implies varies with the era and the incarnation of the myth, but that it is fundamentally American stays constant.

We don’t really talk much about the ‘Canadian way’. No one would ever walk around and label someone’s actions ‘Uncanadian’, let alone consider that one of the most heinous insults possible. I’m not saying we don’t have our methods of being collectively arrogant, but it’s just never quite the same. So, two questions: what would a quintessentially Canadian superhero look like? And does the successful marketing of a heroic embodiment of Canadianism require the presupposition of the possibility of actual power (because if we can’t even fantasize about how our national characteristics can save the world, can we channel those characteristics into a world-saving mythical figure)?

Others have attempted to answer my first question (their failure to create characters with any level of actual appeal leaves my second open for debate based on the term ‘successful’). There has been both a ‘Captain Canada’ and a ‘Captain Canuck’ (I’ve never read either, of course, because I’m unpatriotic). I feel like Captain Canuck can immediately be dismissed from serious consideration, because he’s got a self-deprecating, silly-sounding, cute and amusing national nickname for his superhero-name. Nothing really ‘super’ or ‘heroic’ about the word ‘Canuck’. Some notes on Captain Canada are enlightening, though (from Guardians of the North, emphasis mine):

[Daniel] Eaton…is then, through encounters with various superheroes and goddesses, taught about the many levels of consciousness and sources of mental power…the armour permits Captain Canada to fly and to become invisible. Captain Canada can also create holographic images of himself and can pass through material objects. Finally, Captain Canada has innate mental powers

(Wait–his name is Eaton? Like, the department store/really rich philanthropic family Eaton? What, did ‘Tim Horton’ seem too obvious?)

So–Captain Canada:

  • gets power by quietly sitting back and learning things
  • is primarily mentally rather than physically strong
  • has practical powers (invisibility, the ability to pass through things) based on going unnoticed, being quiet and unassuming, and not having an immediate impact on his surroundings.

These are definitely qualities Canadians tend to assign to themselves as a group in our cultural mythology. Positive features in people, sure, but they don’t exactly strike me as the stirring, rousing qualities of a mythical superhero. Whether that reflects poorly on me/standard definitions of heroism or on Canada’s chances at a hero is open for debate.

And in Captain Canada’s first storyline:

Not long after acquiring his new identity, Daniel Eaton sets out for Montreal, where he is to launch his career as Captain Canada. He picks up a beautiful model named Kelly, who is on her way to Toronto. The two stop at a diner for a bite to eat. Kelly is mistaken for Miss Canada and is kidnapped by two punks. Eaton pursues the two kidnappers and quickly nabs them and delivers them to the RCMP.

Climactic, world-changing stuff, really. It’s appropriate that Captain Canada should ultimately solve the problem within the parameters of our national mantra–Peace, order and good government. Ah, the world is exactly as it should be again. Beautiful women safe to eat at diners, random ‘punks’ being escorted away in handcuffs by noble, straight-backed, red-shirted Mounties. Is anyone else picturing that jail scene in Canadian Bacon right about now?

So if we a) focussed on the right problems and actually created a dark and serious threat and b) found some way to distill the cultural elements of Canadianism into something strong, heroic and noble without devolving into mountie-caricature, would people buy it? And–given the broader implications of nationalism/patriotism, about which concept I am personally conflicted–would we want to?

That said, I think it might be cool if Supergirl were to say ‘Fuck this patriarchal sidekick shit. I’m moving to Canada, marrying a woman and battling evil under their taxpayer-funded public heroism program’. Damn. Actually…I could totally appreciate that one.


2 thoughts on “Can Canada have a superhero?

  1. Oliver says:

    Without going all Harold Innis up in here, there’s some difficulty in codifying an overriding Canadian mythology beyond either the Metropolitan inclinations of Dominion-era Canada (which I’m sure you and I would agree represents a stunted, patronizing vision of Canadian cultural identity) or our much-lamented regionalism. So maybe an anti-hero might be of more use?

    I’m not sure what kind of values would orient our hero, but I could probably draw out a rough character sketch: Perhaps a disturbed schizophrenic who’s broken out from under the tutelage of a ruptured crime-fighting partnership between two conflicted overlords, who then underpins his (yes, my hero is a dude) value system against (but always in relation to) his former mentors. His shattered self contains a multiplicity of contradictions and conflicting selfs, replete with an internalized anti-ego, which speaks in a broken and antiquated vernacular – at once foreign and wholly familiar – bent on the hero’s destruction. He carries with him a massive burden of guilt for crimes he was compelled to commit before his psychic disfigurement, and his inability to redress those crimes renders him complicit.

  2. purtek says:

    Yeah, the lack of codified mythology is part of the essential problem. I think there is an element, at the same time, of questioning the value of the exaggerated features of superheroism as applied to hyperpatriotic qualities–Americans can do it more easily because they see themselves as the default position, one that doesn’t require the additional adjectival description.

    Your anti-hero, however, sounds awesome. I love the ‘broken and antiquated vernacular’, and I’m intrigued by the guilt/complicity aspect. Now you need some other characters (like, say, the non-dudes–because you knew I had to go there) and then you should write it. 🙂

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