Marvel’s Next Superhero is from Nunavut

Marvel Comics’ ‘Champions’ #20

by Marc Lanteigne

In April this year, Marvel Comics’ Champions series introduced a new superhero into its growing pantheon, namely Amka Aliyak, aka Snowguard. She hails from Pangnirtung, (ᐸᖕᓂᖅᑑᖅ) a real-life town, often nicknamed ‘Pang’ and located in Qikiqtaaluk, Baffin Island in Nunavut. The Inuk teenager is first featured in the middle of her investigation into a mysterious building in the outskirts of her hometown which seemingly appeared overnight. In this week’s issue, Champions #20, she encounters not only a sinister plot which threatens the entire Arctic, but also a captive Inuit spirit and life force named Sila. In later issues, the hero will become Snowguard, with abilities which include shape-shifting and taking on the capabilities of different animals.

Ms Aliyak’s supernatural capabilities are a nod to traditional Inuit legends involving Ijiraat (ᐃᔨᕋᐃᑦ), magical beings who could take on any form. She also appears set to join a group of junior superheroes, known as the ‘Champions’, which include Ironheart, Ms Marvel, Spider-Man and a younger version of the Hulk.

Canada is hardly new to the Marvel universe. In addition to the venerable team of Canadian superheroes known as Alpha Flight, in September 2016 billionaire Tony Stark, (better known as Iron Man), got into an infamous boxing match with real-life Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the pages of the comics series Civil War II: Choosing Sides. The first-ever Canadian superhero to appear in the comics world, Nelvana [In French], was also of Inuit background, with her stories orginally being published in 1941 via the Triumph-Adventure Comics editions. Snowguard, however, is the first Marvel superhero to hail from the Canadian north and be based on Inuit history and mythology.

This story arc is being written by Toronto-based Marvel author Jim Zub, in consultation with Nyla Innuksuk, founder of the Canadian virtual reality firm Mixtape VR and of Inuit background and having grown up in Nunavut. The new character has the potential to educate a wider audience about daily life in the Canadian North as well as current social and environmental issues in that part of the Arctic.

Nunavut continues to face considerable socio-economic challenges on a variety of fronts. Last month, Nunavut’s health minister, Pat Angnakak, made a statement warning that several communities in the territory, including Pangnirtung, were facing ‘crisis’ conditions in the wake of social problems and a lack of infrastructure and housing. The mayor of another Nunavut community, Gjoa Haven, also warned that his town was also facing a mental health emergency which was especially endangering the town’s youth. Nunavut’s most recent budget, unveiled late last month, included funding to combat health dangers and addictions, and to address crime prevention.

Snowguard’s emerging story appears on the heels of many other new youth-oriented media based on Arctic locations and ideas, including the animated series ‘Molly of Denali’, which takes place in the Alaskan north, and the Iqaluit-based children’s show ‘Anaana’s Tent’ which features segments in English and Inuktitut. It was also announced this week that new author Aviaq Johnston, from Igloolik, Nunavut, received an Indigenous Voices Award for her 2017 young adult book, Those Who Run in the Sky.