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Not So Canadian: A few references don’t make a culture in We Stand On Guard

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If the best some of us can clutch at as passport-markers of Canadian identity is un-American-ness, We Stand On Guard rocket-launches that notion into an all-out war on America.

It’s 100 years in the future and an attack on the White House—unclaimed by any group or nation—brings immediate reprisals against Canada, the US soon turning its conquest into control of our water for their citizens. But one young survivor of the first wave of attacks, Ottawa’s Amber Roos, escapes capture, lives in the wilderness, and, one day, north of 60, happens upon the Two-Four, “the only freedom fighters Canada’s got left” . . .

Collecting the six-issue run of Brian K Vaughan and Steve Skroce’s comic, this book has its moments: fighter Les Lepage’s Québécois isn’t translated; a few Easter egg-like references (to Tim Hortons or The Littlest Hobo) are laid; an identity-politics debate between a Syrian-Canadian woman and Cree man rings true; ever heard of our elephantine neighbour’s War Plan Red, from the ’20s? It was a real thing.

But there’s something pretty Yankee aboot this all still. Bits of that may be ’cause of the splatter-fest crudeness of war here: a man’s jugular shredded out, a dying “moosefucker” with his intestines hanging out, an American interrogator’s baseness, the face of a “nuck” exploded over two frames, etc. A scene of gratuitous nudity, too, panders to straight-male readers, while a number of Skroce’s images glorify war-machines and weaponry. There’s also some exposition and educating (e.g., “The guy who first drew Superman—who did all the real work—he was born and raised in Toronto, just like me.”)

But the uneasy patriotic heart of the plot is a gang of Canadians acting, basically, American—going back-to-the-land, fighting down-and-dirty but inventively to save their homeland at all costs (see: Red Dawn, where Coloradan high-schoolers fight invading Commies), and angrily yelling, faces blood-spattered, such commands as “Open fire.” There’s something not so True North about orange-suited detainees on a PEI farm cheering Rambo-like guerillas’ martyrdom-victory, with one declaring, “your sister’s name will go down in history next to Fox, Douglas, the Trudeaus.” If you cringe a little at such grandiose mythologizing, that’s a surer sign of your Maple Leaf-ness. 

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