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The 7 Most Canadian Superheroes Ever

Long before Deadpool graced the big screen with his anti-hero sarcasm and quips about Canada, there were Captain Canuck and Northstar, Canadian superheroes who used their powers to fend off American influence, battle Nazi invaders, and more. The Canadian strain of superhero often has its roots in well-known national stereotypes—nature, wildlife, indigenous culture, hockey—but they’re a part of the pop cultural history of the country, and live on in the pages of comic books and movie screens across the border as well. Heck, even the prime minister is about to get comic book treatment.

1. CAPTAIN CANUCK

Dressed in a red-and-white body suit covered with that familiar maple leaf, Captain Canuck is the cult favorite of Canadian superheroes. He was created by cartoonist Ron Leishman and artist/writer Richard Comely in 1975, and first appeared in Captain Canuck #1. The original's alter ego was Tom Evans, a secret agent with superhuman powers who lives in the futuristic year of 1993 where Canada is the most powerful country in the world (hey, we can dream, right?). The comic never took off, and despite a few attempts at resurrecting it with new Captain Canucks, the series seemed destined to fade away into the Great White Graveyard of forgotten superheroes. But a few years ago, a fan raised more than $50,000 Canadian through crowdfunding to bring Captain Canuck back to life. In 2013, Chapterhouse Studios released Captain Canuck as a cartoon web series voiced by actor Kris Holden-Ried and featuring Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany as the character Redcoat. Not exactly world domination, but at least it’s not cable.

2. NORTHSTAR

Leave it to Canada to have the first openly gay Marvel character. Northstar, whose alter ego is the French-Canadian Jean-Paul Beaubier, was created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne and first appeared in the X-Men series as a member of Alpha Flight, a team of other superheroes that served as Canada’s answer to The Avengers. Like the X-Men, Northstar was a mutant born with superhuman powers such as speed, flight, and the ability to harness and project photonic energy blasts. These powers also made him into a champion skier, but after the thrill of the slopes got old, he joined a Quebec separatist terrorist organization and later the Alpha Flight team.

Byrne says he always intended on some level for Northstar to be gay, but it took 13 years for the character to come out, large due to Marvel’s reluctance to showcase gay characters. In 1992, Northstar officially came out in an issue of Alpha Flight. In a historic issue of Astonishing X-Men in 2012, Northstar married his partner, Kyle Jinadu. It was the first depiction of a same-sex marriage in mainstream comic history. 

3. GUARDIAN

Guardian might be the closest thing Canada has to Tony Stark and Iron Man. Created in the ’70s by John Byrne, the comic tracks the life of James Hudson, an engineer with American-Canadian Petro-Chemical who develops a super suit with super powers that is supposed to help with mining exploration. But when he learns that his evil boss, Jerome Jaxon, is intending to use it as a weapon of destruction, Hudson leaves work with just the power-controlling helmet and heads up Department H, a secret arm of the Canadian military. He also enlists the help of his former secretary, Heather McNeil, whom he later marries and recruits to be a part of his Canadian superhero squad, Alpha Flight. Their first task was to try and capture Wolverine, who had left the fledgling Alpha Flight for the X-Men, but the mission was unsuccessful. Byrne’s Alpha Flight would go on to include other notable heroes such as Puck, Aurora, Sasquatch, and Northstar. 

4. SASQUATCH  

If Guardian is Canada’s answer to Iron Man, then Sasquatch is the closest thing to the Hulk north of the 49th parallel. Born Walter Langkowski, a former football pro and admirer of Dr. Bruce Banner’s work, he attempts a similar gamma ray exposure experiment in order to give himself super strength. Instead, the rays open up some sort of mystic barrier that exposes him to “The Realm of the Great Beast,” which essentially transforms him into a big, old, hairy, Canadian Big Foot. Unlike Banner, who lost control of his own mind in the form of the Hulk, Langkowski was able to maintain his own personality and intelligence while in the form of Sasquatch. 

5. NELVANA OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

A photo posted by nate newton (@igmrlm) on

One of Canada’s first superheroes was an Inuit woman, who even predated DC’s Wonder Woman by a few months. Nelvana of the Northern Lights made her debut in an issue of Triumph-Adventure comics in 1941 and was created by artist Adrian Dingle, who was inspired by tales of Canada’s Arctic region. Often described as an Inuit demi-goddess, she was the daughter of a mortal woman and Koliak the Mighty, King of Northern Lights. Nelvana drew her superpowers—which included flight, invisibility, and super speed—from the lights themselves, and used them to ward off everything from mammoth men to Nazis. 

In 1995, Nelvana was chosen among fellow superhero stars Superman and Captain Canuck to be featured on a series of stamps issued by Canada Post. In 2013, Canadian comic book historians Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to republish Nelvana of the Northern Lights in a single volume.  

6. WOLVERINE

Unlike Captain Canuck, who wears his True North heritage proudly, Wolverine’s Canadian history is a little less overt. Fans of the X-Men series know that the Marvel antihero was born in Cold Lake, Alberta as James Howlett, later known as Logan. The character first appeared in The Incredible Hulk in 1974 as the antagonist. He was created by writer Len Wein and Marvel art director John Romita Sr. (assisted by editor Roy Thomas) and was first drawn for publication by Herb Trimpe. Aside from being a part of the mutant X-Men squad, he’s also joined forces with Alpha Flight and The Avengers. He’s known for being a badass, having super-healing powers and retractable claws, and is one of Marvel’s most popular characters of all time. It also doesn’t hurt that actor Hugh Jackman’s rendition of him may have been the best part of the earlier X-Men movies. 

7. DEADPOOL

While Deadpool’s Canadian origins aren’t immediately known, Marvel has listed his birthplace as “unrevealed location in Canada.” The character first appeared in The New Mutants #98 in 1990, and his alter ego is Wade Wilson, a mercenary assassin created by artist/writer Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza. Like Wolverine, Deadpool has the superhuman powers to regenerate any damaged or destroyed cellular tissue. The comic character doesn’t do much to acknowledge his Canadian roots, but in the movie, he claims to be from “Regina, Saskatchewan,” the city “that rhymes with fun.” It’s an old joke that didn’t amuse the mayor of the town, who immediately rebuked a proposal to build a Deadpool statue in his honor. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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May 23, 2017
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