Thursday, December 27, 2012

Web Series Review: Heroes of the North

Status: One Season with 19 episodes completed so far
Credits: Larry Vinette (The Canadian), Edith Labelle (Fleur-de-Lys), Anderson Bradshaw (8-Ball), Vanessa Blouin (Nordik), John Fallon (The Black Terror), Brad Carmichael (Major Pearson)

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

Synopsis:  This web series follows a Canadian superhero group known as Heroes of the North which consists of The Canadian (powers: super-strength and stamina, electrostatic shield), Fleur-de-Lys (powers: electricity generating gauntlets), 8 Ball (powers: skilled martial artist, 8 ball grenades and other weapons) , Nordik (powers: bracelets with paralyzing neurotoxin, immunity to cold), and The Black Terror (powers: nanotechnologically enhanced strength).  They are recruited together as a team by Major Pearson who needs them to help with mounting threats against Canada (and the world) such as the sinister Madame Doom, the criminal organization Medusa, and the pro-Quebec terrorist organization the New FLQ.

Review/Commentary: I stumbled upon this web series when I noticed the release of the Season 1 DVD just a couple of weeks ago.  I hadn’t heard about the series previously, so I decided to check it out online and found myself oddly drawn into it despite its less-than-stellar productions values.  The series has produced nineteen episodes so far (the twentieth is on the way) and several comic books that elaborate on the story chronicled across the webisodes.  The show’s website also offers extensive profiles on all the principal characters which provide some good insights into their backstories and motivations.  The series starts out by introducing us to the five main characters of this Canadian Justice League of sorts, then it takes a step back and gives us a glimpse of the first superhero of the north, the Canadian Shield (consider him a Canuck Captain America).  Then it launches into several story threads each dealing with the multiple threats that the Heroes of the North must contend with.

There’s actually a heck of a good concept within this web series with a rich universe of characters and interesting enough inter-twining storylines.  You just have to overlook its subpar production values which fall below the level of a poor B-Movie and very much fit the perception that many people have of web series as cheap and amateurish.  Basically, think of what you would get if you rounded up a group of cosplayers from your local comic con and tried to put together your own superhero TV series.  But then the entire crew approaches the whole thing with such conviction, that more often than not the series rises above its limitations.  And to me, classifying something as a cheap B-Movie doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad.  I can enjoy cheesy if it’s got heart.  Hey, I was a big fan of classic Doctor Who and it doesn’t get much cheesier than that!  And Heroes of the North definitely has an addicting quality about it and it just seemed to click with me.  Maybe it was the eye candy of the female characters (they’ve recruited some seriously hot actresses and clad them in some rather complementary skin-tight duds).  Maybe it just seemed like there was more here beneath the surface than what their budget could adequately portray.  Or maybe it's because I've always had an inexplicable draw to Canadian superheroes since the days of the Captain Canuck comic book (and I loved the original Alpha Flight as well).  But I can definitely say that I liked it.

The series borrows heavily from many of the expected superhero tropes, but it does it well enough that it doesn’t just feel like a complete rip off of what has come before it.  And one of the things I like the most about it is that these aren’t namby-pamby superheroes whose motto is that they won’t kill no matter what.  Nope, they acknowledge that the bad guys are a pretty dangerous lot and there’s bullets flying and heads a’cracking left and right and plenty of people biting the dust.  Not that it’s some sort of far right wing let’s-just-kill-all-the-criminals tale, the series just doesn’t pull any punches.  I also really liked the retro episodes where we see the exploits of the Canadian Shield back in WWII.  That, in my opinion, could work as its own stand-alone series.

And the comic book expansion on the web series isn’t just some half-hearted attempt to link it to the medium that inspired it.  These deliver some pretty good stories (what I’ve read so far) and some damn fine artwork and they can stand on their own.  You can view them from the website as web comics, though I found that rather clunky.  You can also download them in pdf format at a nominal charge and they have several print edition omnibuses of the comics available as well (at a reasonable price, though the shipping costs are a bit hefty).  It’s a shame that the comics haven’t received more notice here stateside, because they measure up well to the books the major publishers currently crowd the stands with.

They have the makings of a potential franchise with Heroes of the North, and I believe that it has developed a bit of a following in its home country.  It would be really nice to see this one catch on so that they could get some more funding and improve the production values.  Or perhaps the Space channel in Canada would be interested in picking it up as a series.  And I’d like to see the comics keep coming out as well.  Consider the web series a guilty pleasure and the comics a gem that has flown under the radar so far.  Both are definitely worth checking out, just understand that the web series is a rather cheesy affair and rather rough around the edges.

Links/More Info:  As mentioned, you can get a fair amount of back story on the characters at the show’s website, and you can watch all of the episodes and read several of the web comics.  You can also go to the store from there to buy the comics.  The episodes are all available on the show’s YouTube channel as well.  The first season also came out on DVD just recently, though it’s already out of stock at Amazon and the show’s website.  I assume that it just sold out pretty quickly and they will replenish inventory as soon as possible. 

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