An all-together forgotten Canadian hero of World
War II comic books, the Fightin' Canadian first appeared in Two-Fisted
#7 in November 1939, published by the tiny Toronto-based
comic house Mapleleaf Pulps.
Johnny Canuck was a skilled woodsman, trapping furs in the deep
Canadian woods when he was caught up in a mysterious snowstorm.
Blinded by driving winds and vicious cold, Johnny desperately
wandered in search of shelter. Lost beyond all hope, he stumbled
into a mystical grove of pines ringed with huge, leering totem
poles. Seemingly safe from the storm, Canuck discovered he had
a new problem, a pack of ravenous white wolves advancing on him.
The storm raged outside the circle of totems trapping Johnny inside
an impromptu gladiatorial arena. Fighting the wolves barehanded,
Johnny is gravely injured. He is saved at the last minute by a
ghostly native medicine man, Inuk Shuk. Inuk brings Johnny back
from the edge of death by using the power of the animal totem
poles that guard the Sacred Grove of the Hero. Transformed, Johnny
becomes the super-strong and bullet proof Fightin' Canadian, complete
with a costume consisting of a full Canadian army uniform minus
the standard issue shirt, which is replaced by a white costume
shirt emblazoned with a trinity of red maple leaves, a domino
mask and mighty stone gauntlets named Strong (right) and Free
(left). Inuk then explains the price of salvation to Johnny. "A
great evil rises like the winter sun. You must fight, white-man,
fight for all Canada!" Johnny thanks Inuk, and pledges to
forever fight against those who would threaten the Dominion of
Canada and thus, a Hero is born!
From this first appearance in Mapleleaf's flagship Two-Fisted
Tales until his last appearance in Johnny Canuck, the Fightin'
Canadian #23", the kick ass Canuck punched his way into
the hearts of a generation. After a quick meeting with the prime
minister Mackensie King, the Fightin' Canadian was sent off on
thrilling secret missions in war-torn Europe. One of the highlights
of Fightin' Canadian stories where the grisly assortment of over-the-top
Nazi villains that opposed our hero. Gordie Burton, creator, author
and artist on almost all Fightin' Canuck stories, had a definite
flair for writing devilishly evil villains. Kommandant Heinrick
Von Krieg, director of the SS super weapons programs, a brilliant
Nazi scientist, prone to bouts of megalomania and
fiendish scheming, was Johnny's key nemesis. Readers longed to
see his dastardly monocle knocked out by a well-placed punch from
their hero. Von Kreig was a fan of elaborate deathtraps, in which
Johnny would find himself regularly trapped at the end of issues.
Scholars have debated the effectiveness of this matinee cliff-hanger
story structure on the disperse Canadian population. Mapleleaf
was one of very few Canadian pulp printers that mailed out subscriptions
and their distribution was spotty at best. Rural readers could
go months between issues, during which schoolyard debates could
grow heated. Only the next issue would answer the hotly contested
questions like, "Will our hero survive the dastardly deathray?"
This unintentional word of mouth marketing coupled with the hero's
distinctly Canadian references and dialogue ("Holy Halifax!"
was his favoured expression) drove domestic sales to astronomical
Mapleleaf, seeing a huge jump in sales of Two-Fisted Tales
issues that featured the Fightin' Canadian, launched Johnny
Canuck, The Fightin' Canadian in February, 1940 for the until
then unheard of cover price of 12 cents. It was an instant smash
hit. Johnny punched his way through Von Kreig and a parade of
classic villains: Ruhr, the Man of Iron, The living tank Panzer,
Dr. Neechee and his hideous Uber-men, Swastitron and menacing
Swastibots, and the mysterious and deadly Sons of Wotan, a secret
mystical Nazi society. Von Kreig and his SS scientists also menaced
our heroes with spectacular super-weapons, with names like Thor's
Hammer, Odin's Eye and Valkyrie's Sword.
The Fightin' Canadian also teamed up briefly with other heroes,
like the controversial Red Pair, a team of Soviet heroes. Comrade
Hammer and Mistress Sickle, along with their sidekick the Kremlin
Gremlin, helped Johnny during his adventures on the Eastern Front.
The Bullet Brigade, a team of British commandos, also fought alongside
the Fightin' Canadian on a few occasions. Notable absences in
plots include rare mentions of American heroes and a lack of stories
focused on the war in the Pacific. Debate on these omissions is
decidedly nationalistic. Burton himself is quoted as having said,
"The kids can go buy Captain America if they want Yankee
stories," to a Toronto Daily Mail reporter, but it
was never fully documented.
Sadly, the Fightin' Canadian soon disappeared from the public
eye, a victim of his own popularity. A story published in Two-Fisted
Tales #21 entitled "The Phantom Saboteur", introduced
a Quebec-based supervillain called Le Patriote, a French separatist
who sabotaged various industries and forced the Fightin' Canuck
to return from overseas to oppose him. Regarded as a slap to the
face of Quebecers serving overseas, as well as stirring up the
ire of powerful Quebec politicians in the House of Commons, the
story was a nail in Mapleleaf Pulp's coffin. The publisher was
already battling a marketplace saturated with American war comics,
which flooded into Canada after Pearl Harbor, and a lawsuit from
the producers of the 1924 Hollywood film The Fighting American,
a romantic comedy starring Mary Astor. Having their book brandished
angrily on the floors of the Parliament lead to a final drop in
sales that doomed the publisher to bankruptcy. The final issue
of Johnny Canuck, the Fightin' Canadian, #23, was published
in July, 1943. Rights to the character where never completely
resolved in the dissolution of the company, and as such, it remains
in legal limbo. The Fighting American, whom Joe Simon and
Jack Kirby created in 1954, was named only after Simon carefully
ensured the copyright on the film name had already expired before
creating their hero for Prize Comics.