Northguard #1 Review

Written by Anthony Falcone
Art by Ron Salas
Colours by Irma Kniivila
Letters by Ed Brisson

Review by Billy Seguire

Northguard #1 CoverStraight out of the pages of Captain Canuck comes Northguard, Canada’s top secret agent superhero. Much like their successful modernized take on Canuck, Chapterhouse Comics has brought back 1984’s Northguard, rebooted to expand and build upon a shared universe of Canadian superheroes in a new standalone series. It’s a bold move, but one I feel is totally working based on the tone of this first issue. By giving room for the ongoing Chapterhouse Universe story to expand south of the border, they’ve opened up Canuck’s weird world of otherworldly powers and alien invasions to the international stage. Setting up a danger that affects Canada via an external human threat, Northguard is the perfect realization of the Chapterhouse Comics take on James Bond.

This first issue establishes Northguard’s purpose in his own book. While Captain Canuck has remained fairly insular within Canada’s northern regions, Northguard is at its best when being used to look at Canada-US relations. At the start of this book, Northguard is sent south of the border to represent Canada’s interest in Aurora Dawn, a cult that believes in and is trying to hasten the alien invasion of Earth. The book constantly reminds us that Philip is a foreigner working in the US, even including a CIA liaison who secret agent Wise can’t wait to get away from. It’s similar enough in tone to Captain Canuck to share common ground within its world, yet the execution seems to be far darker. The first page of this issue includes a ritualistic human sacrifice by fire that honestly shocked me. The seamless transition to Wise and Dr. Cape experimenting in the lab pushes the story forward at a clipping pace, but those Lovecraftian elements of the story linger in the background for a long while.

In another comparison to Captain Canuck, Phillip Wise comes with far less emotional baggage than Tom Evans as a protagonist. He’s also more skeptical about the whole thing. Not having the same experiences as Tom, his approach to the mystical elements of the series reminds us of how foreign this threat really is. Wise is derisive of even calling himself a superhero in public. In fact, it seems like even having to wear the superhero uniform is an encumbrance to Wise, and although the gadgetry is definitely useful, it’s very clearly removed from who Wise is as a fully trained agent. It’s a cool take on the superhero format by making him begrudging. Likewise, giving Northguard a wide international setting to explore by using the Canadian hero to handle international espionage shows confidence from both Chapterhouse and writer Anthony Falcone to take risks in making this classic character work. There are shades here of a larger journey to be had moving forward, a unique perspective from the character that can give Chapterhouse’s superhero comics some needed balance.

Ron Salas gives us formidable art to bring our new hero to life in this first issue. A few minor things have changed from his first appearance in Captain Canuck, but they’re all well explained and justified as upgrades the agency has made. The new look makes Northguard really stand out against the blue-toned backgrounds of this series, and the few instances where the background becomes red make for intense internal moments that subtly alter the reader’s perspectives. The revamped design of Northguard’s costume has taken the best elements out of what made it work originally and reworked it into a clean design that’s similar to Captain Canuck without being derivative, and with a more streamlined silhouette that benefits the character’s style. While Captain Canuk instantly evokes strength and power, Northguard is a sleek secret agent, able to slip away and hit when the time is right.

One small touch I really liked within this issue was the female Aurora Dawn enforcer Kint. A musclebound behemoth up against wirely Northguard, the woman is intimidating and formidable. The book takes this at face value and doesn’t make a spectacle out of an intimidating woman as a character, making none of the transphobic or sexist intonations I feared. Combined with Manon Dechamps’ position of power over P.A.C.T. reminding me of Judi Dench’s M in Bond, the female presence in Northguard is fairly strong considering the independent nature of the character. With the end of the issue teasing a new antagonist who (someone decidedly familiar to Captain Canuck readers) that presence is only increasing. While still not on Captain Canuck’s level in terms of diverse gender and racial representation, the more streamlined, solo-adventure style of Northguard (rather than the team-based action of Captain Canuck) lets that be an acceptable element for me.

The Verdict

Buy It. There’s so much going on at Chapterhouse Comics nowadays, and it’s so much better than you actually expect it to be. The full commitment to letting creators like Andrasofszky and Falcone run wild with their expansive imaginations has produced captivating stories that breathe new life into characters only a handful of readers have even heard of. I applaud Chapterhouse for working to construct a shared universe of heroes all our own. Building off the well-received Captain Canuk series, Northguard stands as a more sceptical counterpart within the madness of dark mysticism and alien conspiracies. A few parts James Bond, a few parts X-Files, Northguard adds up to something fresh and appealing in the wider world of comics. A darker, leaner, international hero with true Canadian spirit.

Billy Seguire
thebillyseguire@gmail.com
A Toronto-based writer and reviewer who thrives on good science-fiction and stories that defy expectations. Always tries to find a way to be excited about what he's doing. Definitely isn't just two kids in a trenchcoat. Co-Host of Scooby Dos or Scooby Don'ts.

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