Friday, August 26, 2005

Heroes in repose - Looking at Northwest Passage

I hope you’ll permit me to go a little English Lit 101 – Compare and Contrast?

Now that I’ve had a bit of time to digest the story I’ve realized a few of the chords it struck with me. Especially Governor Lord. I see him as a combination of two other characters in particular. Bruce Wayne/Batman in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings. Not exactly the most common of bedfellows I realize but stay with me.

I see a big connection between Gov. Lord and Bruce Wayne in their drive to return to their youthful, and more physically demanding, lives. Both of them are older men looking to a comfortable retirement but keep gazing back at their exciting past. Exploring the Canadian wilderness and fighting crime in Gotham City meant they lived moment to moment whereas in their older years they find themselves distanced from any immediate danger. Bruce in Wayne Manor and Gov. Lord in the more obvious Fort Newcastle. Now, I know that Gov. Lord hasn’t exactly “returned to action” in volume one of The Northwest Passage the way Bruce Wayne does in DKR, but I’m fairly sure he will in the upcoming issue. Until then we’ll have to wait and see if I’m proven wrong but that’s not the point.

We see in both men a desire to return to youth instead of fading into a comfortable old age. Gov. Lord expresses his desire to find the Northwest Passage where Bruce Wayne seeks to return to the identity he became more comfortable in – Batman. Another parallel is the impetus for their actual return to action being violence and crime. Gov. Lord has a sudden problem with French mercenaries whereas Batman has the Mutants. Not only is it the crime that spurs them into making a decision they desired but their reasoning is that they must take on the role of defender. Batman is the proclaimed defender of Gotham and is tied intimately to the place and Gov. Lord is the representative of the Hudson Bay Company and the Crown of England. For those of you that don’t know the history, the Hudson Bay Company was a combination of private enterprise and official representation of English law in the Canadian frontier.

And, make of this what you will, Gov. Lord’s nephew appears to be en-route to a role similar to Robin and Eagle Eye is the wizened old friend (Alfred). There’s also a definite connection between the roles of these two men and their costumes at different points in their lives.

Now the connection between Gov. Lord and Bilbo Baggins is that they both share the aspect of being former adventurers who seek to return to their adventuring ways. Neither of them are comfortable in their current role even if they give off the appearance of comfort. Both of these men (yes I know Bilbo is a Hobbit, thank you) were one day wandering through the wilderness on grand adventures then were plunked down and meant to operate in the now mundane tasks of daily existence. Bilbo in The Hobbit is happier to return to the life he left behind and returns relatively unchanged. But in LoTR he starts the story itching for one last adventure so one has to wonder how unchanged he really was by his adventuring.

The thing about heroics and adventuring, is that they are very fine to read about but to experience them will change your views on life. Like The Matrix, you’d do fine to never know it existed but knowing it exists and taking the red pill can you ever truly take the blue pill later on? Probably not but I’ll ask Laurence Fishbourne if I ever meet him. I can’t remember if this is right or not but I think Tolkein examined just this in The Hobbit with Bard, the Guardsman of Lake Town, who slew Smaug the Dragon. He was a hero who just had no role in society when there was no need for a hero. That’s how Bilbo, in LoTR, and Gov. Lord feel.

All these characters don’t seek adventure for adventure sake, I think they partially seek a return to youth as well. What I like is that none of them are presented as the whiney old white guy who wants to lose the spare-tire and get back to his high school life.


Jim Roeg said...

Okay, Jon--you've convinced me. I'm going to check this one out. I'm always curious to see how Canadian history gets presented in fictional form and it's nice to see comics (from Northwest Passage to Louis Riel) getting into the act. I'll be most interested to see how the book presents the First Nations characters...often a stumbling block for historical adventures like this! Interesting comparisons by the way. If someone had told me that Canadian history could be compared to either DKR or the Hobbit back in high school, I might have stopped doodling for ten minutes and paid attention!

joncormier said...

I know with all my fawning over this project it seems a little unbalanced. There is a bit of "Hollywood-ification" going on in this story. Some of the language isn't exactly historically accurate (at least how would anyone know) and some of the characters are a bit simplified, and the relationship as it is presented between the native peoples and the European settlers doesn't seem to be sugar coated to make it more digestable, although it is still there only not as pronounced as it can be in other stories.