Monday 2 June 2008

Will the real Iron Man please stand up?

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I think I missed out on an opportunity for blockbuster blog post a few weeks back. Even after going to see the Robert Downey Jr.-fuelled Iron Man last month and witnessing the ample coverage of its out-of-the-gate success, I completely blanked on the fact that nearly three years ago to the day I had written a piece about the original Iron Man; the Canadian Iron Man no less.

Back in the spring of 2005 I was working at the CBC in Toronto and was going through one of my periodic love affairs with superheroes (it's OK; my wife is totally cool with it). This time my affections were focussed on the "Canadian Whites," a series of short-lived but highly popular superhero comics that existed during the Second World War. Among the better known characters of this era were Johnny Canuck and Nelvana of the Northern Lights (who I discovered, preceded Wonder Woman as the first female superhero by a few months.)

Printed in black and white and often on cheap paper, the comics had a rough charm about them — a charm only amplified by their names: the Polka-Dot Pirate, Freelance, Canada Jack, Stuffy Bugs and Senorita Marquita.

Anyway, as obscure as the Whites were it dawned on me that no one had actually confirmed who the first real "made in Canada" superhero was. (Though, if you believed these guys you'd think otherwise.) So, with a bit of sleuthing I managed to find out that the first true Canadian superhero was …. Iron Man. Seriously.

Created by Vancouver artist and animator Vernon Miller, Iron Man debuted in Better Comics No. 1 in March 1941. Any description I could muster will pale next to a simple image. Like this one from Better Comics No.2 with Iron Man in full fighting form:

Pretty great huh?

White's Iron Man (which preceded Marvel's by a couple of decades) was the sole survivor of a destroyed civilization who lived and brooded underwater, surfacing occasionally to help out a couple of trouble magnets named Ted and Jean.

After countless hours of independent research I wrote a short pithy piece about Canada's Iron Man for the CBC Arts Online site, which all things considered was a perfect match. Looking back on this fine hero, it kills me the amount of blind adulation nationalistic comic fans heap on characters with little to no Canadian connection. Meanwhile, perfectly thought out home-grown characters are left to moulder in neglect. I mean, Canada's Iron Man was ahead of the curve; part Submariner (he preceded Namor) and part Tony Stark.

Nothing against the US of A's Iron Man, but he's never exactly been a heavy hitter. Apart from his changing costume, he just seemed like Donald Trump or Gordon Gekko in armour.

I just wish I was on the ball! As is, I feel like i was either three weeks too late or three years to early. I guess it's Better late than never.

(ps: I urge anyone curious about the Canadian Whites to visit Golden Age Canadian Comics Books. I have no idea who's responsible for this site, but it's the first I've ever seen to offer full scans of these rare books. A true gem!)


jim_b said...

Oh, that's Scott Dutton's site.

Blake Bell said...

"Canada's Iron Man was ahead of the curve; part Submariner (he preceded Namor) and part Tony Stark."

By this you mean our Canadian Iron Man debuted before Namor did? Mar '41 is before 1939? Canadian math at its finest! ;)

CCRider said...

Hey there,

I know the post I'm responding to is several years old but I came across it looking up information about Iron Man.

You may know this already, but I came across the Digital Comic Museum last weekend and it's a great source of Golden Age books, if you're still into that.


Brad Mackay said...

Holy sweet hannah!