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Guardians of the NorthSuperhero ProfilesCreator Biographies
Guardians of the NorthCreator BiographiesSmashing the Axis: The Canadian National Superheroes of the Forties
Guardians of the North
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The first Canadian national superheroes – Nelvana, Johnny Canuck, and Canada Jack – emerged during the Second World War, when a foreign-exchange crisis led to a ban being placed on the importation of U.S. comics, including popular titles such as Superman (co-created by Canadian native Joe Shuster) and Batman. In part an outgrowth of our national political-cartooning tradition, the early Canadian comic book superheroes threw themselves into the battle against the Axis Powers, both abroad and on the home front. This period, which witnessed an explosion of English-Canadian comic book publishing, is now described as the Canadian Golden Age of Comics. In Quebec, no similar heroes appeared in the comic book field, which was dominated, instead, by religious comics.

During the nineteenth century, political cartoonists developed symbols, like John Bull (the United Kingdom), Brother Jonathan or Uncle Sam (the United States), and Miss Canada, to personify various nations. In this typical cartoon of the period, a demure Miss Canada spurns the unwanted advances of Brother Jonathan.

Canada was also represented by another popular cartoon symbol: Johnny or Jack Canuck. Initially Johnny resembled an earlier national symbol – the habitant figure utilized to personify French Canada. Later, as Canada expanded westward, he became more Western in his appearance, sporting knee-high leather boots and a stetson.


The first Canadian superhero to appear after the December 1940 ban on U.S. comics was Iron Man, who debuted in March 1941 in Better Comics (No. 1), issued by Maple Leaf Publishing of Vancouver. Created by a former Disney artist, Vernon Miller, Iron Man lacked a distinctly Canadian identity.

Iron Man was soon joined by a second Canadian superhero, Freelance by Ed Furness and Ted McCall. He first appeared in Anglo-American Publishing's Freelance Comics (No. 1) in July 1941. Although Freelance battled the Axis menace all over the world, he too was not particularly Canadian.


One month after the publication of Anglo-American's Freelance (No. 1), another Toronto-based firm, Hillborough Studios, issued Triumph-Adventure-Comics. It included the first adventure of Nelvana of the Northern Lights by Adrian Dingle. Nelvana was Canada's third superhero and first national superhero.

The daughter of the King of the Northern Lights, Nelvana was a powerful heroine who symbolized the Canadian North and who battled not just the Axis powers but many fantastic villains. Co-created by Franz Johnston of the Group of Seven, Nelvana preceded the best-known U.S. superheroine, Wonder Woman, by several months.

Towards the end of her career, Nelvana left the North for Nortonville, Ontario, where she adopted the identity of Alana North, Secret Agent. Not long after her move, she embarked on one of her most far-fetched adventures, involving little green men from Etheria.

These seven pages comprise the third chapter of Nelvana's seven-part adventure with the Etherians. In this exciting sequence, Nelvana and her companion, Corporal Keane of the RCMP, bravely enter the stratosphere, encountering the weird inhabitants of the world of Statica. Clearly evident in the installment is Adrian Dingle's fondness for the most improbable science fiction.

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