Lost Heroes Review

By | Monday, October 12, 2020 Leave a Comment
Lost Heroes poster
Over the weekend, I watched Lost Heroes, the 2014 documentary by Will Pascoe that looks at the history of Canadian superheroes. I've read a bit about Canadian comics before, but I'm hardly an expert so there was a lot of new information there for me, as well as some good refresher material that sounds familiar but I would've been hard-pressed to provide any specifics unaided. They covered everyone from the original Iron Man (from 1941) to the always-in-a-seeming-comeback Captain Canuck to Faith Erin Hicks' webcomic hero, Superhero Girl. And there were semi-requisite interviews with a number of Canadian comic creators and historians like Ty Templeton, Greg Pak, and Jeet Heer.

Like many of the Canadian related comics pieces I've seen (other documentaries, books, articles, etc.), Pascoe took the approach that the history of Canadian superheroes is almost as much a story about the quest for Canadians to find their own collective identity. Much of it is presented specifically in relation to US comics. As an origin, that makes sense since the Canadian comic book industry largely came into existence because they could no longer import American comics during WWII, but I would have liked to have seen a somewhat different approach taken for everything after that. Not that the approach is wrong or bad, but it's one I often see around Canadian comics.

I should specify, too, that while the documentary largely focuses on Canadian comics, it is in fact about Canadian superheroes. Which means that A) it does cover some live-action pieces, and B) it also has a significant portion dedicated to Wolverine and Alpha Flight, characters that were created in the States primarily for American audiences. In both cases, they put heavy emphasis on John Byrne's involvement. Granted, he was Canadian for a while (and he may indeed still hold Canadian citizenship) but he was born in England and has been a naturalized American citizen since 1988, neither of which are ever mentioned. I think this speaks to some of the identity struggle Pascoe (and some other Canadians) have: there seems to be this inferiority complex that makes them hold on to any credit they can. Holding up Byrne as a Canadian hero, despite his not having lived there for around four decades by the time this documentary was made. (Joe Shuster was given some good screen time as well, despite leaving the country when he was eight. Similarly, Todd McFarlane was given some praise, even though he moved to Washington right after high school.)

Interestingly, Ty Templeton in particular comments on the lack of a cohesive Canadian identity. He jokes, for example, about how the hero Canada Jack's superpower was just being Canadian... which presumably meant he just ate bacon and drank maple syrup. Much of the time discussing Wolverine also revolved around how his lack of a cohesive identity -- the various mysteries surrounding his background, his time as an X-Man and an Avenger and a lone wolf character, etc. -- sort of unintentionally reflected Canadians' own sense of confusion about their collective identity.

Towards the end of the documentary, there's some discussion about how Canadian superheroes always wind up taking a back seat to American ones because Canadians are considered "other." Which strikes me as an unfortunate side-effect of the Canadian sense of self-identity in the first place. Because, after all, American heroes are "other" to Canadians... as well as every other country they show up in. Captain America: The First Avenger grossed over $193.9 million outside the US, and there is not a superhero more definitively American than Cap. So attributing Canada's lack of mega-successful superheroes to their otherness says more about Canadians' sense of self than it does about their talent at creating quality material.

Overall, Lost Heroes was a good look at how/why the superhero genre looks the way it does in Canada, and who many of the notable characters are. It was well put together and well-produced, and I'm only sorry that so many Canadians feel like they're stuck in America's shadow. I'm sure you can find the documentary in many places, but it is available for free on Amazon Prime.
Newer Post Older Post Home