Long before Deadpool graced the big screen with his anti-hero sarcasm and quips about Canada, there were Captain Canuck and Northstar, Canadian superheroes who used their powers to fend off American influence, battle Nazi invaders, and more. The Canadian strain of superhero often has its roots in well-known national stereotypes—nature, wildlife, indigenous culture, hockey—but they’re a part of the pop cultural history of the country, and live on in the pages of comic books and movie screens across the border as well. Heck, even the prime minister is about to get comic book treatment.
1. CAPTAIN CANUCK
Dressed in a red-and-white body suit covered with that familiar maple leaf, Captain Canuck is the cult favorite of Canadian superheroes. He was created by cartoonist Ron Leishman and artist/writer Richard Comely in 1975, and first appeared in Captain Canuck #1. The original's alter ego was Tom Evans, a secret agent with superhuman powers who lives in the futuristic year of 1993 where Canada is the most powerful country in the world (hey, we can dream, right?). The comic never took off, and despite a few attempts at resurrecting it with new Captain Canucks, the series seemed destined to fade away into the Great White Graveyard of forgotten superheroes. But a few years ago, a fan raised more than $50,000 Canadian through crowdfunding to bring Captain Canuck back to life. In 2013, Chapterhouse Studios released Captain Canuck as a cartoon web series voiced by actor Kris Holden-Ried and featuring Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany as the character Redcoat. Not exactly world domination, but at least it’s not cable.
Leave it to Canada to have the first openly gay Marvel character. Northstar, whose alter ego is the French-Canadian Jean-Paul Beaubier, was created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne and first appeared in the X-Men series as a member of Alpha Flight, a team of other superheroes that served as Canada’s answer to The Avengers. Like the X-Men, Northstar was a mutant born with superhuman powers such as speed, flight, and the ability to harness and project photonic energy blasts. These powers also made him into a champion skier, but after the thrill of the slopes got old, he joined a Quebec separatist terrorist organization and later the Alpha Flight team.
Byrne says he always intended on some level for Northstar to be gay, but it took 13 years for the character to come out, large due to Marvel’s reluctance to showcase gay characters. In 1992, Northstar officially came out in an issue of Alpha Flight. In a historic issue of Astonishing X-Men in 2012, Northstar married his partner, Kyle Jinadu. It was the first depiction of a same-sex marriage in mainstream comic history.
Guardian might be the closest thing Canada has to Tony Stark and Iron Man. Created in the ’70s by John Byrne, the comic tracks the life of James Hudson, an engineer with American-Canadian Petro-Chemical who develops a super suit with super powers that is supposed to help with mining exploration. But when he learns that his evil boss, Jerome Jaxon, is intending to use it as a weapon of destruction, Hudson leaves work with just the power-controlling helmet and heads up Department H, a secret arm of the Canadian military. He also enlists the help of his former secretary, Heather McNeil, whom he later marries and recruits to be a part of his Canadian superhero squad, Alpha Flight. Their first task was to try and capture Wolverine, who had left the fledgling Alpha Flight for the X-Men, but the mission was unsuccessful. Byrne’s Alpha Flight would go on to include other notable heroes such as Puck, Aurora, Sasquatch, and Northstar.
If Guardian is Canada’s answer to Iron Man, then Sasquatch is the closest thing to the Hulk north of the 49th parallel. Born Walter Langkowski, a former football pro and admirer of Dr. Bruce Banner’s work, he attempts a similar gamma ray exposure experiment in order to give himself super strength. Instead, the rays open up some sort of mystic barrier that exposes him to “The Realm of the Great Beast,” which essentially transforms him into a big, old, hairy, Canadian Big Foot. Unlike Banner, who lost control of his own mind in the form of the Hulk, Langkowski was able to maintain his own personality and intelligence while in the form of Sasquatch.
5. NELVANA OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
One of Canada’s first superheroes was an Inuit woman, who even predated DC’s Wonder Woman by a few months. Nelvana of the Northern Lights made her debut in an issue of Triumph-Adventure comics in 1941 and was created by artist Adrian Dingle, who was inspired by tales of Canada’s Arctic region. Often described as an Inuit demi-goddess, she was the daughter of a mortal woman and Koliak the Mighty, King of Northern Lights. Nelvana drew her superpowers—which included flight, invisibility, and super speed—from the lights themselves, and used them to ward off everything from mammoth men to Nazis.
In 1995, Nelvana was chosen among fellow superhero stars Superman and Captain Canuck to be featured on a series of stamps issued by Canada Post. In 2013, Canadian comic book historians Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to republish Nelvana of the Northern Lights in a single volume.
Unlike Captain Canuck, who wears his True North heritage proudly, Wolverine’s Canadian history is a little less overt. Fans of the X-Men series know that the Marvel antihero was born in Cold Lake, Alberta as James Howlett, later known as Logan. The character first appeared in The Incredible Hulk in 1974 as the antagonist. He was created by writer Len Wein and Marvel art director John Romita Sr. (assisted by editor Roy Thomas) and was first drawn for publication by Herb Trimpe. Aside from being a part of the mutant X-Men squad, he’s also joined forces with Alpha Flight and The Avengers. He’s known for being a badass, having super-healing powers and retractable claws, and is one of Marvel’s most popular characters of all time. It also doesn’t hurt that actor Hugh Jackman’s rendition of him may have been the best part of the earlier X-Men movies.
While Deadpool’s Canadian origins aren’t immediately known, Marvel has listed his birthplace as “unrevealed location in Canada.” The character first appeared in The New Mutants #98 in 1990, and his alter ego is Wade Wilson, a mercenary assassin created by artist/writer Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza. Like Wolverine, Deadpool has the superhuman powers to regenerate any damaged or destroyed cellular tissue. The comic character doesn’t do much to acknowledge his Canadian roots, but in the movie, he claims to be from “Regina, Saskatchewan,” the city “that rhymes with fun.” It’s an old joke that didn’t amuse the mayor of the town, who immediately rebuked a proposal to build a Deadpool statue in his honor.