A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 2: John Byrne’s Hatred for Pierre Trudeau
Face front, true believers!
Welcome back to People’s History of the Marvel Universe, where I explore how real-world politics (and weird bits of pop culture) was presented in some of my favorite bits of classic Marvel comics.
Today, I’ll be exploring how real-world politics intersected with Chris Claremont’s classic run on X-Men. Now, Claremont X-Men is some of the richest source material imaginable, given the way that the mutant metaphor has been used to address contemporary social issues facing different minority groups.
So what ripped-from-the-headlines issue will be looking at this week? Canadian politics from the 70s!
As many Marvel fans know, long-time X-Men artist John Byrne was a huge Wolverine fan who lobbied to keep him in the X-Men because he wanted to keep a Canadian superhero in the group, and who created Alpha Flight, Canada’s own superhero team.
What you might not know is that John Byrne really did not like Pierre Trudeau, who served as Prime Minister of Canada from 1968-1979 and 1980-1984. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that, judging from his artwork in X-Men #120 from April of 1979, he hates the man:
Start with the visuals – from the orange leisure suit/striped open-collar shirt combination (while Mr. Trudeau was a bit more of a “swinging young bachelor” than your average Canadian prime minister, I’ve yet to find any images of him in that ugly of a suit) to the rapidly-retreating hairline to the fearsome conk, the suggestion of the buck tooth and the Hapsburgian jaw, this is less the somewhat naturalistic Marvel house style (especially when contrasted against the Marvel house styled Guardian to his left) than a political caricature.
But let’s move on to the text, where the Prime Minister of Canada, a country that abolished slavery in 1833, is arguing that (because Wolverine’s adamantium-laced skeleton was funded by the Canadian government, or the US and Canadian governments) Logan should not be allowed to resign a commission in the Canadian military (even though James MacDonald Hudson’s response suggests that he should be able to). Following his orders, Alpha Flight basically kidnaps a commercial aircraft transiting between Alaska and the continental U.S, assaults a number of foreign nationals in the middle of Calgary International Airport and downtown Calgary, all to put Wolverine into a literal cage (X-Men #120-121).
So why is Canada so evil that John Byrne depicts Canadian military backing up Alpha Flight in the same uniforms as the Death Star technicians? If I had to guess, I’d say that John Byrne was among those who objected to Pierre Trudeau’s decision to invoke the War Measures Act during the October Crisis in 1970, where Canadian military were put on the streets of Montreal and almost 500 people were arrested and held without charge.