0 / 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

Johnny Canuck the Fightin' Canadian
By Ian Reed

"Not so fast, Nazi dog! Time for a taste of the True North, Strong and Free! KaPOW!"
Johnny Canuck, Two-Fisted Tales #11, "Secret of the U-boat Menace!" April, 1940.
An all-together forgotten Canadian hero of World War II comic books, the Fightin' Canadian first appeared in Two-Fisted Tales #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 numbers.

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.

Ian Reed can leap tall buildings.



Current Article

Forget Magazine

Miguel Strother

Leah Bailly

Ian Reed

Scott Leslie

Jeff Beer

Steve Mayoff

Alice Kuipers

Forget Magazine


Miranda Post


Darren Anderson

Nathaniel G. Moore


#207 1851 Haro Street, Vancouver British Columbia, Canada, V6G 1H3.

(604) 669-3192


ISSN: 1710 193X

Copyright © forgetmagazine, 2004, all rights reserved.