Saturday, March 24, 2018

Nelvana of the Northern Lights



Nelvana of the Northern Lights (1940-1947/ This edition 2014): edited by Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey; story and art credited to Adrian Dingle: War-time importation restrictions left Canada without American comic books for six years. In their place rose "the Canadian whites," mostly black-and-white comic books that offered the same sort of superheroes and action heroes seen in the American comics of the time. 

The "Whites" would die off quickly once American comics returned to post-war Canada, killed by economies of scale. But Nelvana would live on in the memory of some, to the extent that the Canadian animation studio founded in the late 1970's took its name from her.

Who is Nelvana of the Northern Lights? Well, the daughter of a god of the Inuit, loosely based on actual myth. For an Inuit goddess, she looks a lot like a Caucasian movie star of the 1940's. Her brother looks even more Caucasian, even Aryan, and his ability to transform into a magical Great Dane seems mighty peculiar for the Canadian North. What, no Husky?

Nelvana predates Wonder Woman as a female superhero and post-dates some forgotten American female costume crimefighters. When the series begins, Nelvana protects the interests of the Inuit from a mythical invading nation that seems to be an odd combination of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Change came quickly to all superheroes in the 1940's, Canadian or American. Soon, Nelvana fights the Axis along Canadian soldiers and RCMP officers. 

But she also fights lost civilizations hidden beneath the Arctic Ice and, once the war is over, an invasion of Radio-men from the Ether. And there the stories end.

Adrian Dingle was certainly the equal of most American superhero chroniclers of his time, and superior to many. There's a pleasing touch of Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff to his art, and the stories themselves move at breakneck speed. They have to. They're generally less than 10 pages long. Nelvana mostly handles things herself with an ever-changing array of powers, her male companions mostly forgettable. 

Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey should be thanked for bringing back the complete adventures of Nelvana in this labour of love. A Table of Contents that cited the specific issues and publication dates for each story would improve the volume, but that's mainly an academic quibble. Kudos. Highly recommended.

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