Northern Light began as a comical story written by T. Casey Brennan and illustrated by John Allison, but transformed into a superhero serial in the hands of writers James Waley and George Henderson with James Craig doing the visual portion. This was the first feature in Orb Magazine to be coloured.
This character came about when John Allison a graduate of the Ontario College of Art, suggested to T. Casey Brennan a U.S. comic book writer that they collaborate on a story for Orb Magazine. The idea was to rework a script that Brennan had written for the U.S. comic book character “E-Man” but which had never been used. The team named the new character the “Phantom Canadian” but Waley, editor and owner of Orb didn’t like it. Brennan then proposed “White Light”. Waley’s wife countered with “Northern Light” and this is the name that stuck. Northern Light first appeared in Orb Magazine vol. 1, no. 2, July 1974 and continued to vol. 1, no 5, January/February 1976 at which time Orb ceased publication. The final chapter “Conquermind” appeared in the U.S. magazine Power Comics vol.1, no. 4, November 1977.
Over the course of its career “Northern Light” varied drastically as different writers and illustrators applied their visions of him. “The Guardian of Mars” story Part 1 written by Brennan and illustrated by Allison did not live up to the impressive introduction provided by Richard Robertson’s cover illustration. In the story “Northern Light” plays a decidedly peripheral role. . Indeed his role is so minor it could easily have been dispensed with. The story actually revolves around “Dervius” “The Lone Guardian” and his internal conflicts between his love for his girl friend “Lana” and the Council’s demand he abandon her, that plus the conflict between his observation that earthlings don’t deserve to die and the orders of the Council that he must destroy them. The illustrations in Part 1 although competent are tentative. The lines are fine and the colours pastel. They become more forceful, bold lines and strong colours, in Part 2,when Jim Craig and Matt Rust take over the visual duties, but really nothing can save this confused story. The Orb vol. 1, no. 3 cover introducing us to Part 2 was drawn by Payne an experienced Toronto cartoonist who had previously worked on then took over “The Giants” a historical cartoon strip. Like Craig’s work it is forceful but there is a kind of flippant tone which it must be said does reflect the story.
What saves the concept is a major renovation in the presentation of “Northern Light”. This overhaul of the character begins in Orb vol. 1, no. 4, November/December 1975 with “The Origin of Northern Light, Part 1: Today You … Deja-Vu” written by Jim Waley and George Henderson. Jim Craig remains the illustrator for this and the rest of “Northern Light’s existence. The story continues in Orb vol. 1, no. 5, with Part 2, “Dénouement” where the writing team changes to Waley and Matt Rust and is completed in Power Comics where Waley becomes the sole writer.
In this new version, “Northern Light” becomes the central and sole focus of the story. His powers, only implied in “The Guardian of Mars” are now clearly defined, expanded, explained and used. The story follows the revenge motif, that is the hero ultimately destroys the being that destroyed the hero’s family and his peace of mind. The story contains irony. Through the “Conquermind’s” efforts to make him powerful enough to achieve “Conquermind’s” objectives “Northern Light” becomes powerful enough to destroy “Conquermind”. The character is made more complex. Although “Northern Light” destroys his tormentor, that achievement brings no relief to “Northern Light’s inner turmoil. There are inconsistencies in the story. What happened to “Kizmar”? These can be attributed to the changing roster of writers and do not interfere too much with the story line.
Visually the “Northern Light” story changes from colour to black and white. One could say that Craig’s dynamic drawing skills were perhaps better showcased without colour. The illustrations for the last chapter which appeared in Power Comics had been designed originally for an Orb mini comic book in colour and so, were drawn in less detail. Furthermore, zip-tones had to be used when it was published in black and white. None of this detracts much from the last chapter.
Under basically the team of Waley and Craig “Northern Light” became a compelling story that had the potential to be an enduring addition to the adventure cartoon genre. Unfortunately, its creative strength was not matched by the financial and business strength needed to support it.
PERIODICAL GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
Front: Illus., Richard Robertson. Orb,1-2, July 1974.
Front: Illus., Bill Payne. Colo., John Allison. Orb,1-3, Dec.1974.
“The Guardian of Mars Part. 1” Writ., T. Casey Brennan. Illus. & Colo., John Allison. Orb, 1-2, July 1974: 33 – 39.
“The Guardian of Mars Part 2.” Writ., T. Casey Brennan. Illus., Jim Craig. Colo., Matt Rust & Waylee. Orb,1-3, Dec.1974,: 30 – 39.
“The Origin of Northern Light Part 1: To You …Déjà vu.” Writ., J. Whaley & G. Henderson. Illus., Jim Craig. Let., M. Cherkas. Orb, 1-4, Nov./Dec.1975: 46 – 55.
“The Origin of Northern Light Part 2: Dénouement.” Writ., J. Whaley & G. Henderson. Illus., Jim Craig. Let., M. Cherkas. Orb,1-5, Jan./Feb.1976: 35 – 44.
Front: Illus., Jim Craig. Power Comics, 1-4, Nov.1977.
“Conquermind” Writ., Jim Waley. Illus., James Craig. Let., Bill Payne. Power Comics, 1-4, Nov.1977: 3 – 30.
“Northern Light”, Guardians of the North: The National Superhero in Canadian Comic
-Book Art, Ottawa, Writ., John Bell. National Archives of Canada, 1992: 20 – 24. A catalogue for the exhibit of the same name.
“The Great Canadian Superhero.” Writ., Henry Mietkiewicz. Toronto Star, 1 Feb.1992: J1.
Cover Illustrator, Richard Robertson. Orb,1-2, July 1974. This cover probably the best rendition of the character, was in sharp contrast to the humorous story inside.
Cover, Illus., Bill Payne. Colo., John Allison. Orb,1-3, Dec.1974. More in line with what you see inside.
Cover, Illus., Jim Craig. Power Comics, 1-4, Nov.1977.