Metropolis's Superman and Gotham City's Batman are getting a brand-new colleague from Canada this spring: a teenage Cree superhero hailing from Moose Factory, Ont.
The isolated James Bay communities of Moose Factory and Moosonee take the spotlight in the forthcoming Justice League Canada, a five-issue story arc written by comic artist Jeff Lemire for the comic series Justice League United. The stories, featuring artwork by Mike McKone, debut in April.
After earning widespread acclaim for his Essex County graphic novel trilogy — based on his rural upbringing in southwestern Ontario — Lemire and his poignant storytelling style piqued the attention of comic giant DC Entertainment. After he had multiple titles (including Superboy, Justice League Dark and Green Arrow) under his belt, the Toronto-based Lemire landed a plum assignment: Justice League America. The patriotic artist and writer promptly pitched a Canadian stint for the classic DC super team.
"Not just put the CN Tower in the background and call it Justice in Canada," he told CBC News. "I wanted to put it in a rural setting because I think that's a really interesting thing: to take these big, bombastic superhero stories and put them in a very quiet setting, where you normally wouldn't see those characters."
First Nations inspiration
An interest in Canada's First Nations stories and a desire to share a different perspective than typically shared in general society and the media played a major part in Lemire's vision.
The result: along with the Justice League's Canadian relocation comes the brand-new heroine Equinox: a 16-year-old Cree teen from Moose Factory named Miiyahbin, whose power stems from the Earth and changes with the seasons.
"Creating a teenage female superhero was interesting to me because, generally, most superheroes are white males. We need diversity and we need different personalities," Lemire said.
"You need very distinct voices for personalities on the team or else you just start writing the same character in a different costume."
Multiple research trips north proved illuminating and rewarding for Lemire. He spent time in grade school classrooms, soaked up the local scene (including an abandoned NORAD base and trap-line visits) in Moosonee and Moose Factory and got feedback on his ideas from residents.
Moose Factory musician and comic fan Nathan Cheechoo, for instance, advised Lemire to "take away all that stereotypical imagery and get down to basic principles" in his depictions.
"I don't walk around with beads and fringe and feathers and a loincloth. And that was something I wanted to bring to Jeff," he said.
"We want our stories shared, and if this is another way to share it, then I think mission accomplished," added Cheechoo, who said his own children are now reading comic books, too.
This project tells them "we're just as important as Superman, Clark Kent, Batman and all these people. That's something I want [my kids] to share with friends."
To find the voice of his new heroine, Lemire drew from the many teens he met during his visits, including Miyapin Cheechoo, who said she is excited and proud of the new project.
"She's a fantastic artist, she's got a great personality and right away I kind of started channelling her," Lemire said.
Whether Equinox becomes an enduring character in the DC universe remains to be seen, admitted Lemire, who also said he is cognizant of potential controversy as "a white guy from Toronto" trying to tell a native-inspired story.
However, he said, "If I end up going [north] a few times and teaching kids how to draw or about comics, and 10 years from now some kid from James Bay ends up writing or drawing [his or her] own comics, then none of that other stuff will matter because the project was worth it."