There’s an odd complaint amongst Canadians and outsiders looking inward that the country’s pop culture identity seems to be comprised of scraps of British, American, and Native cultures with little discernible creativity of its own. And while there are few things that are more intrinsically associated with American pop culture than the superhero comic, it’s easy to forget that even Superman was created by a Canadian. However, it’s much more surprising that nearly an entire generation’s worth of Canadian bred heroes and heroines have all but been wiped out in favour of preserving their “cooler” American counterparts. Will Pascoe’s engrossing and incredibly well researched and laid out documentary Lost Heroes: The Untold Story of Canadian Superheroes seeks to preserve and restore a legacy of Canadian literature that no one back in the 1940s really thought to protect all that much.
Beginning during World War II, four comic book companies created what were affectionately known as the Canadian Whites, colourless comic books printed on lower level paper stock designed to take the place of vastly more popular American comics stopped being imported as part of a wartime conservation effort. It was a period that launched some fairly memorable characters like Johnny Canuck, Nelvana of the Northern Lights (a female superhero that beat DC’s Wonder Woman to press by a few months), Cosmo Grant (essentially Canadian Batman), Freelance (a fast paced adventurer), and The Iron Man (no, not that Iron Man). And then, almost as soon as the war ended, many of these titles simply stopped being produced or they quickly faded into obscurity.
While the film spends most of its time looking back on the biggest and inarguably most interesting boom period in Canadian comics, there’s a rich thread of that same history that runs through to today’s growing resurgence in interest and the almost deathly slow periods in Canadian comics from the 70s to the 90s. There wasn’t even really ANY presence in the 1950s and 60s, which begs the question as to how an entire industry could almost close up shop seemingly overnight.
With an affection for characters who in many cases could have been just as interesting as their south of the border counterparts, Pascoe and a line-up of interviewed artists, experts, literary historians, and fans go beyond the Alpha Flights and the Wolverines to look at homegrown heroes that sadly never really left home. Not that there’s anything wrong with Canadian superheroes not gaining a wider audience. It just would have been nice for other generations of youngsters to know that there were masked and caped heroes looking over the Great White North and not just the US of A. It might run a little long for comic novices, but the comprehensive feeling of the material to not just cover one specific time period is greatly appreciated.