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The Death and Return of Captain Canuck

06/12/2013 12:09 EDT | Updated 08/12/2013 05:12 EDT

In the annals of comic book super heroes, characters often have a signature catchphrase. Superman has: "Up, up and away!" The Avengers shout: "Avengers Assemble!"

And the resilient Canadian super hero Captain Canuck? His tag line could be: "He's Back!"

That's what the cover proclaimed on his 1979 revival, the first of what would be a number of resurrections over the years. Heck, his coat of arms might read: Ille est reditus (or something like that).

And now yet again -- he's back!

This time as an animated webseries. Rumours of Captain Canuck on the screen (big, small, live action, animated) have periodically burbled and died only to then, like the character himself, reappear. But this time actors have been named, promos posted. All thanks to the creative business model of drumming up fan money ahead of time (not unlike the Veronica Mars movie).

So who is Captain Canuck and why does he seem as inevitably recurring as a Constitutional debate?

Captain Canuck was the first Canadian super hero since the 1940s. And he's the Grand Old Man compared to later characters like Northguard or the American-published Vindicator/Guardian (or whatever he/she's called these days) of Alpha Flight.

You could maybe label me a fan. Oh, I'm too cynical and obstreperous to quite be considered a model fan, but my history with the character goes back decades. To a late afternoon stop off at a convenience store on the long drive back from a family trip to Algonquin Park. Yeah, I know -- how Canadian is that? And there was that cover on the comic rack: the first one to declare "he's back!"

As my mother drove, I strained my eyes in the fading twilight, amazed by the gorgeous colours unparalleled in then-contemporary American comics, the bravura art of George Freeman, and a story involving hover cars zooming over a lost Inca city (how freakin' cool is that?), but starting from "smog-ridden Sudbury". I've wondered if my later interest in Canadiana -- and cultural identity -- has its roots in reading that American-style comic that nonetheless referred, not to mythical lands like Manhattan and Coney Island, but to places that were part of the real world. Not just Sudbury -- but smog-ridden Sudbury (this when Sudbury's environmental reputation was infamous).

When I first started to explore this new thing called the "internet" many years later, I created a website devoted to Captain Canuck -- partly as just a creative exercise, partly because I felt something so Canadian deserved a presence (there are other sites, including the official one).

My affection for C.C. (as he was known -- "Cap" was Captain America, after all) has waxed and waned over the years (I think I last up-dated my site a few years ago) but lingers.

Created in the 1970s by Richard Comely, Captain Canuck managed only three issues. Then it was revived in 1979 for it longest -- and arguably best! -- run, totalling another 11 or 12 issues. Then he was periodically revived for brief runs, constantly being re-invented (in the fashion of similar American characters) given new origins and alter egos.

Still, each version pays homage to the version before -- a villainous Mr. Gold, depicted as everything from a super-capitalist to an outlaw biker, has bearded different C.C.'s over the years. Riel Langlois, writer of Captain Canuck: Unholy War, e-mailed me once suggesting my website's analysis of the original series helped inspire some ideas for his take on the property.

By any empirical standard, Captain Canuck should be viewed as a failure. Yet there's a resilience to the property that borders on uncanny. Almost 40 years after the first issue hit the stands, the character is still a name that draws recognition, and it's not strictly due to Canadian pride. I've talked to Americans who remember the character, too. On my fansite I speculate about C.C.'s possible influence on later characters, including the Alan Davis re-design of Marvel's Captain Britain.

For whatever reason, C.C. enjoys a bit of a "cult" status.

Still, constantly reinventing the property is a problem. On one hand, if it didn't work the first time, there's maybe justification for starting over. But it's hard to see the character as iconic if you're constantly changing him and his environment (the original series was set in the near future).

To me, the real Captain Canuck is the original near-future hero, Tom Evans, and his supporting cast. He boasts the longest run of any of the versions to date. To this fanboy's thinking, the others are just keeping the chair warm for the one true Captain Canuck.

Tom Evans was a quintessential Canadian hero in ways none of the later versions have been. He was fluently bilingual (in issue #11 much of the dialogue was en Francais). He was at home on parliament hill and traipsing with feral aplomb across the snowy wilds of Alberta. He could beat up bad guys but, by and large, he wasn't belligerent. And he was metis. If blonde, blue-eyed Captain America represented the American Dream, then what did a bilingual "part Indian" champion say about the Canadian Platonic ideal?

The new webseries is following the re-imagining trend: the costume has been redesigned (including what look to be samurai swords strapped to his back!) and though he's, once more, Tom Evans, the themes and character descriptions borrow from various incarnations.

The voice casting is already raising the series' profile, including Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany and Laura Vandervoort (of Smallville and the up-coming Bitten). And as C.C. himself: Kris Holden-Ried. There's always the question with voice actors whether it should be an opportunity to cast against physical type, or whether the audience wants to picture the face behind the voice. It's safe to say that Holden-Ried might easily be on a short list for a live action version as well -- Holden-Ried currently kicking butt as the brooding wolf man on TV's Lost Girl.

Will an animated webseries be just one more firefly flash in the C.C. legacy? Or will it finally move the property out of the "also ran" category? Will it be a Saturday morning kids series in tone? Or aimed as much at pleasing adult fans as winning young ones? Only time will tell (the series I believe will go online July 1st -- Canada Day).

Still, for now, we can all exclaim our hero's signature battle cry:

"He's Back!"