Canadians are firmly on board the superhero TV show bandwagon judging by ratings for new shows like Gotham and old favourites like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Gotham, set in a world before Batman, attracted almost 3.4 million viewers for its September premiere on CTV, not far off the 3.6 million viewers that Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted to last fall, making it the most watched premiere of any series in Canada.
Arrow, a show about a crime-fighting vigilante that stars Toronto’s Stephen Amell, averaged 1.47 million weekly viewers last fall and spawned The Flash, a spinoff series debuting on Tuesday night that has already attracted critical approval.
With American broadcasters in a race to secure rights to as many superhero properties as they can get their hands on, the question must be asked: Will we soon see a Canadian superhero make the jump to live action TV?
“Absolutely,” said Fadi Hakim, president of Captain Canuck Inc. “There’s no doubt about it.”
The driving force behind the Captain Canuck animated web series, Hakim’s optimism stems from the recent resurgence of long-lost Canadian heroes who, over the last year, have been inching their way back into the mainstream-conscious.
In fact, they have never been so popular.
Last year, comic book historians Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey crowdsourced $50,000 to reprint the original stories of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, a 1940s comic series about an Inuit demigoddess whose tales had been lost in time.
This year, Richey and Nicholson raised more than $30,000, respectively, to reprint the tales of Johnny Canuck, a Canadian Second World War hero, and Brok Windsor, a doctor who turns into a giant after discovering a secret land in the Canadian wilderness.
And in April, Toronto’s Jeff Lemire launched a new monthly Canadian-based comic book series for DC comics. Titled Justice League United, it introduced Equinox, a Cree superhero from Northern Ontario, who fights alongside a slew of established characters.
A Captain Canuck feature film has been in development by Minds Eye Entertainment, a Saskatchewan production company, for several years.
“There’s been a Canadian superhero renaissance happening, so you do see things like an influx of interest in Canadian heroes,” said Richey. “We are moving in this direction where there is this kind of established superhero culture that Canadians know more about and understand.
“I definitely think people are thirsty and want more.”
As for Hakim, his five Captain Canuck webisodes have garnered more than 60,000 views on YouTube with a voice cast that includes the likes of Laura Vandervoort (Bitten, Smallville), Kris Holden-Ried (Lost Girl) and Critics Choice Television Award winner Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), it’s fair to argue the web series already has the talent necessary to land a network deal.
Couple that with the success that recent Canadian shows like Bitten and Orphan Black have enjoyed, and there’s good reason to believe a northern protector could emerge in live action within the next five years.
“We have a rich history as far as Canadian superheroes are concerned,” said Hakim. “People love superheroes, but they’ve come to the forefront because of technology.”
Corrie Coe, Bell Media’s senior vice-president of independent production, said the broadcasting giant would be open to pursuing a series based on an established Canadian hero or graphic novel. Bitten, a supernatural series based on Ontario author Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, is an example of their willingness to pursue Canadian content, she said.
“It is something that we think about and it’s something that we are open to. (Bitten is) not quite a comic book hero, but it’s moving in that territory and I think it’s an example to our openness in trying to find fantastic stories wherever they are coming from.”
Coe says a prospective series would need “many of those elements that are in common with what we need on any Canadian series to get it off the ground,” such as a driven showrunner and strong creative team, and its success would hinge on its casting choices, special effects and compelling story.
“It’s actually surprisingly tricky to cast these very charismatic roles where you want (the actor) to be charismatic and absolutely engage an audience, but they also have to at times be heroic without being laughable . . . and have that pop-culture charm,” Coe said. Audiences “are looking for characters and stories that they want to hear more of.”
As for making his Captain Canuck series live-action, Hakim is adamant about building up his character’s popularity through a regular comic book series and an animated movie first.
The demands for these types of stories are not going away any time soon, he adds.
“There’s a steady stream of interest and it just kind of shows that (Captain Canuck) never went away. . . . I find that a lot with all the other Canadian superheroes,” he said.
“The popularity is only going to snowball, so what took two years to develop is only going to just get faster and faster.
“We’ll be there in five years.”