True Patriot Presents #1 Review
Review by Billy Seguire
Each time I find myself covering a Chapterhouse Comics book, the concept of shared universe seems to take centre stage. It’s a concept we take for granted in comics, that all the stories we read from a single publisher will take place within the same continuity, but we’ve never really had it happen here in the Great White North. For the first time, Chapterhouse is using their already impressive stable of characters to create an entirely new world. And they’re doing it in Canada.
In theory, the ingredients are all there. Captain Canuck and Northguard are the legacy characters that form the foundation, filled with historical precedent and purpose. Pitiful Human Lizard is a modern creator with ideas driving our way forward into the future. Standing amongst these iconic titles, True Patriot Presents feels like an explosion of scale, powered by ambition and nostalgia in equal measure. This an all-ages all-star roster of superheroes from across our home and native land, and the result is earnestly fantastic.
The idea of an anthology comic is a great way to pack in the new heroes and geography rapid-fire as a workhorse book to fill in the holes a universe of continuity demands. I’m going in cold to this series, not having any real knowledge of the True Patriot team beforehand, but it’s already clear to me why this series has been selected by Chapterhouse to continue the work of expanding their distinctly Canadian universe. Because of the unique way in which each story is told, I’ve decided to review each of the three separate stories in this book individually.
Arrowhead – Phase One: Test Flight
Written & Art by Jay Stephens
Of all the titles in the book, Arrowhead stands out the most for the huge importance placed on legacy within this story. There’s tons of emphasis put on presenting the Arrowhead suit as an object of history, as even the first character we meet in the story is described as being the second person to wear it. Linking the suit with the Avro Arrow, a Heritage Minutes worthy example of Canadian innovation and source of endless conspiracy theories, Arrowhead ends up with an Iron Man meets The X-Files sort of vibe that just feels naturally good to read.
Cody and Del together form the superhero known as Arrowhead. Placing the character of Cody Meekis, a native teen struggling with prejudice and racism in a comic-filtered, small town version of Brampton, Arrowhead approaches its audience with a strong anti-bullying message promoting diversity and tolerance. It succeeds not only at being a fun superhero origin, but taking an approach to telling stories that will resonate with its audience in a way that stories involving heroes with established histories usually fail to do.
There’s something interesting to be played with here in the idea of a superhero who exists independently of its alter-egos. While the emphasis is definitely placed more on Cody within this origin story, further stories looking closer at what Del represents within the Arrowhead mythos would most certainly be welcome. With a silhouette similar to Martian Manhunter and carrying similar baggage, I think the creators have chosen the right characters to put a face behind the mask. The fact that Arrowhead’s first act in-suit is violent retribution towards the bullies, who I remind you are teens themselves, is interesting. While definitely excessive force, that flawed reasoning of a teen’s angry sense of righteousness can lead to some amazing places if allowed to be explored fully in further issues.
The colours in this story are particularly beautiful. Jay Stephens cleverly sets important scenes at both sunset and sunrise to create a twilight palette unique to this story that really makes the visuals stand out. Its an effect that blends spectacularly well with the suburban aesthetic of Brampton. The four panels of Cody waking up at sunset and finding the briefcase bring to mind Luke Skywalker on Tatooine. It blends well with Stephens’ unapologetically angular artstyle that plays to the strengths of the Arrowhead design.
The Grey Owl & Tundra – A Lesson in Thunderland!
Written by J. Torres
Art by J. Bone
The Grey Owl story in True Patriot Presents is a flat-out revival of Silver Age dynamics made flesh. Taking place around Niagara Falls, A Lesson in Thunderland is the story that I think best represents what True Patriot Presents is trying to accomplish. It’s such a colourful world, taking an iconic Canadian landmark and filling it with fantastical environments and characters that just feels like a safe haven for optimistic superhero stories.
Featuring Thunderland as a hidden city behind Niagara Falls, you get the sense that it’s the kind of world Jack Kirby wanted to live in, and it continues the legacy of that era of storytelling to an incredibly fun degree. J. Bone pulls off crazy amounts of whimsy here, and the the backgrounds of Thunderland genuinely leap out at you in all their kid-in-a-candy-store wonder.
Along for the ride is Tundra, a Ben Grimm-esque character from True Patriot’s version of The Fantastic Four, The Family Dynamic. While the inspiration for the character is perhaps a little too on the nose, the homage is at least a loving one, and Torres uses this basis to create a story about body acceptance and self-worth that gives the story an immense amount of heart. I liked that Tundra was given a set of powers that gave him a willing control over his girth, and yet still had issues accepting himself. The Grey Owl seemed like heroic mentor type character in this story and this story really seemed to portray the best side of him in this context.
Although it felt great to read, there’s a bit too much lightness in A Lesson in Thunderland which stems from its lack of conflict. There’s simply no antagonist in this story to really push the story forward. It’s a story about the superhero community and world, which means its character-focussed approach is appropriate, but I think there had to be something bigger here to sell me on these characters. It’s the kind of story I’d like to read once I know these guys, but doesn’t do as good a job introducing them as I felt Phase One: Test Flight did for Arrowhead.
Gull Girl – Hail to the Gull
Written by Fred Kennedy
Pencils and Inks by Rob Armstrong
Colours by Sigmund Torre
Fred Kennedy’s Hail to the Gull is an anomaly within True Patriot Presents #1. While the other two stories were colourful, bright adventures filled with pop and whimsy, Gull Girl’s tale is steeped in darkness. Even though it’s presented as a bedtime story, there’s more of an adult undertone to what unfolds. It’s not totally at odds with the other two stories in this book, but it definitely feels like a disparate element.
Now, interstellar sci-fi stories are something I hold quite dear. Kennedy’s other Chapterhouse offering, The Fourth Planet, is an astounding piece of storytelling that meshes classical visuals with alien worlds in an operatic comic that feels grand in scale. While I don’t think that approach works quite as well here alongside the context of the previous two stories, it’s still an ambitious effort to take a ridiculous concept to its extremes. It’s tough to know how this affects the Chapterverse as we know it. You can either imagine a gritty dystopian alternate-reality in the landscape the final images provide, or assume the US has actually been taken over by a seagull-armed woman from space. Considering recent events, it may not be too extreme of an alternative.
Something I only noticed in retrospect while writing this review was the lack of gender equality in terms of characters who got to take centre stage. In fact, the unnamed grandmother reading the story in Hail to the Gull is the only woman with a speaking role within the entire issue of True Patriot Presents #1, including Gull Girl herself. This is a flaw Chapterhouse seems to be addressing starting with the upcoming all-female Agents of PACT series, but it was honestly surprising to see such a poor showing for gender equality in a Chapterhouse book after I’d had so many good experiences with the company in the past.
Wait and See. Overall, True Patriot Presents #1 was a well balanced book. Of the heroes presented, Arrowhead seems to have gotten the best story, one that’s simultaneously light, rich, and meaningful, with the other stories coming off either too light or too dark in terms of tone. The variety was nice, but it was a shame neither of the latter two stories seemed to hit that same sweet spot. I think there’s great potential in this series that hasn’t quite been hit upon yet, but I still think it’s worth getting into now.
The Chapterverse books share the benefit of being new. They are free to experiment and grow without the weight of expectation, yet the company seems determined to grow and build on their foundation to create new heroes that represent Canadian history and identity. This identity, grounded by legacy heroes like Captain Canuck, is definitely influencing the True Patriot Presents heroes to move in the right direction. If Chapterhouse focuses on what it’s best at rather than riffing on established stock characters, I can really see this book taking flight.