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Muccamukk

Muccamukk

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, read a lot of library books and e-books, still somehow never have enough room on my bookshelves.

Currently reading

The Radical King (King Legacy)
Martin Luther King Jr., Cornel West
Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie

Well, that was interesting...

Nelvana of the Northern Lights - Adrian Dingle

This wasn't so much a comic as six different comics with the same title, and often more or less the same character, or at least a character with the same name. The Nelvana comics were published in the 'forties as a serial in the Triumph Comics anthology (64 pages for ten cents!). Each story line pretty well took a different approach to the character, her powers, and the genre they were set in, and I'd approach it more as a linked collection than anything else.

They were, however, all by the same guy, and have consistently good art and layouts, even if the narration boxes feel more than a little old-fashioned. Comics hadn't consistently hit on the marriage of visual storytelling and prose, and at times it's a bit more like an illustrated radioplay script than a graphic novel, though this too changes as the series goes forward.

Story 1: We lead in with seven issues of Nelvana defending the Territories from Nazis, who are for unknown reasons called Kablunets not Germans or Nazis, which confuses me since Canada was well and truly at war and had been for some time, Anyway, the Inuit summon Nelvana, who is supposedly one of their goddesses, and she and her brother foil various Nazis plots. It's pretty standard war adventure stuff, with ridiculous Panto Nazis who speak English with a phonetic accent that resembles no existing accent ever, and are for reasons unknown are obsessed with sneaking into Canada via Baffin Island. On a scale of one to ten for offensive portrayals of the Inuit (not being Inuit myself, of course), I'd give this about Four: Could Be Worse. For an Inuit demi-goddess, Nelvana looks suspiciously like a Hollywood starlet in a miniskirt. She's also pretty ruthless, and outright kills quite a bit, which I found surprising, but I don't know '40s comics well. She has various electromagnetic ice powers that make me throw my hands in the air and yell, "BUT SCIENCE!"

Story 2: Next there are seven issues of Nelvana (sans brother, who never shows up again) travels to a fantasy kingdom under the north pole. This kingdom gets frozen in time for thousands of years, and is just thawing out again for the first time in five thousand years (cue picture of woolly mammoth fighting a dinosaur. BUT SCIENCE!) Nelvana gets involved in a dynastic struggle, flirts with the king's son, uses her electromagnetic ice powers to turn invisible and save the kingdom by killing a bunch more dudes. OKAY! I GUESS! (For those considering this for a Retro Hugo, I think this story plus the last three issues of Story 1 are the plots that ran in 1942. I'm nominating it, anyway.)

Story 3: Story two ended with the ice kingdom being hit by a Japanese missile. This story starts with a solid dose of racism, and Nelvana going to find out what the hell. Then it goes into FOUR ISSUES of no Nelvana at all. Instead we get a heart-stoppingly racist plot about the Japanese bribing the Inuit to help them invade Canada, and, it's worth saying again, doesn't have Nelvana at all. Our heroine is replaced by two white dudes (fighter pilots?) doing something or other. I'll be honest: I skipped ahead until Nelvana showed up riding a polar bear and saved the white dudes. I really do not have any words to describe how offensive this plot is, and heartily rec skipping all of it. (Except Nelvana on the polar bear. That was pretty great.)

Story 4: Nelvana moves to Ontario and becomes a secret agent. She still has electromagnetic ice powers, but spends much more time sleuthing. She rescues a scientist and foils a Japanese plot (fortunately very few Japanese appear, and then I think the war ends, and we're all saved for any more of this shit.)

Story 5: RCMP Corporal Keene (I'm not kidding) goes to Ottawa to enlist Nelvana's help in defending the Earth against radio-waved based Ether People who are sick of all our broadcasting and are going to wipe out humanity. Nelvana and Keene spent a bunch off issues (one in colour!) bopping around different dimensions trying to foil the Ether People. They have banter. It's a bit painful, but I did appreciate that Nelvana is still her competent cool cookie self. She's laid off on the killing people a bit, possibly because the war is over.

Story 6: Nelvana fights various gangsters. I skimmed a lot. It did end with her fighting an impersonator of herself who was using her rep to rip off the Inuit.

As you can probably tell from the verbiage expended, I was much more interested in the first storyline, followed by the second, and then five was non-terrible. In the early books, she's much more clearly allied with the Inuit and their territories, and not with Canada. I liked her brother, and fighting Panto Nazis was a lot better than really, really racist depictions of the Japanese, and the more secret agent-style stories later were a little dull (though I appreciated that her letterhead read: ALANA NORTH: SECRET AGENT.)

This reprint had several good essays in introduction (notably by Benjamin Woo who talked about the portrayal of the Inuit, and how the story telling changed), and an end note by editor Hope Nicholson about tracking down the historical basis for Nelvana (who turns out to have her name ripped off from an actual Inuit elder). There's also some wonderful full-colour fan art. I do wish it had included more information about the publication dates of each issue.