Jeff Lemire brings superheroes to Canada, and vice-versa
by Emmet Matheson
Last month saw the debut of a new series from DC Comics featuring an offshoot of what, before the X-Men, before the Avengers, used to be the World’s Greatest Superhero Team. Justice League United, however, has two key differences: they’re based in Canada and their newest member is a young Cree woman from Moose Factory, Ontario who goes by the name Equinox.
Prairie Dog caught up with Jeff Lemire, the Toronto-based cartoonist who writes Justice League United and created Equinox, via e-mail.
You’ve brought the Justice League to Canada. Superheroes have often been read as metaphors for U.S. military strength, from Captain America socking Hitler on the jaw in 1941 to post-9/11 themes in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Does having the team based in Canada change that traditional read on superheroes?
The recent trend in superhero team books is to have them working as agents of a government organization, or for other clandestine purposes. I really wanted to get back to having superheroes that inspire, rather than conspire. The move to Canada was a way of moving the team away from the American military and rooting them more in a rural setting, reconnecting with humanity, experiencing different cultures etc. Humanizing them.
There’s so much to talk about with Equinox, but what really impressed me is that whenever we see non-American superheroes, they’re usually reflective of some kind of national ideal of their home country: Captain Britain, Tasmanian Devil, Fleur-de-Lys, that kind of thing. With Equinox, though, instead of making a character that attempts to represent an entire country, you’ve grounded her in a really specific and unique part of the country that’s actually underrepresented.
That was exactly my intent. What is Canada? Any blanket sort of nationalism is pastiche at this point. This is an incredible diverse country. From region to region it is totally different. And each region is filled with all kinds of cultures and voices. So to try and capture all of that in a single comic book story would be impossible.So instead I chose one region and one culture and tried to use this project as a way for me, and hopefully my readers, to learn more about it.
Equinox is from the James Bay region, which to me at least, is Joseph Boyden country. You actually went there while creating the character. That seems like a lot more legwork than we might expect a writer of superhero stories to put in. What attracted you to that region?
Joseph Boyden attracted me. I am a huge fan of his and his work made me want to go there and learn more about it. And as a result I actually got to meet and spend time with him as well, which was fantastic. And it is a lot of legwork, but if you take on a project like this, where I’m trying to create something based on a culture that is not my own, I knew I had to invest in it on a bigger level than if I were just making up another white superhero.
How can you have a Canada-based version of the Justice League and not include the greatest Canadian superhero of all, Anne of Green Gables (who recently took down Wolverine AND Superman in a CBC poll of favourite CanLit characters)?
She appears in issue four, fighting an alien invasion alongside Don Cherry and Leonard Cohen.