With her v-shaped face tattoos and traditional parka, Marvel Comics newest superhero could only hail from one place – Canada’s Arctic.
Amka Aliyak – also known as Snowguard – calls Pangnirtung, Nunavut home.
“I took over this series called Champions, which is these young, idealistic teen heroes at Marvel,” said writer Jim Zub from Toronto.
“And I just thought wouldn’t it be great to have a new kind of Canadian, Indigenous hero.”
Zub says Aliyak is a permanent member of the Champions team, along with young Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel and the Hulk.
“You’re getting a team super hero from Canada, from Nunavut, that’s going to join the team and become an ongoing part of their story.”
Submitted by Jim Zub, line art by Sean Izaakse, colours by Marcio Manyz/Marvel
But Zub has never been to Nunavut and knew little about its people and culture.
So he turned to Nyla Innuksuk for help.
The Toronto entrepreneur grew up in Igloolik and Iqaluit and was able to advise Zub on everything from Inuit clothing – like Snowguard’s aumati – to its legends and mythology.
“When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made Thor, they took kind of Norse mythology and mucked with it and made a superhero out of Thor,” explained Zub.
“I thought, well, what if we took a different culture’s mythology and used that as sort of the impetus for super powers and something people maybe haven’t seen before.”
Along with suggesting Aliyak come from Pang where her nephews live, Innuksuk introduced Zub to “Sila,” an Inuit spirit-force.
“She has magical ability known as ‘Sila’,” said Zub. “It permeates the land, and the air, the sky and the water. She uses it to change herself to take on these different traits to enhance her strength or speed or senses.”
In short, Snowguard can shape-shift and take on animal traits. It’s something her grandparents and great-grandparents told her about but she didn’t necessarily believe in, added Zub.
“She’s very much a modern teen girl who now has to ratify this traditional mystic power that she’s carrying.”
Turns out this force comes in pretty handy during Aliyak’s first adventure where she investigates a mysterious factory that springs up overnight near her home.
The three-part story runs in Champions #19 to #21 with a book to follow, said Zub, who’s been writing for Marvel for four years.
There are, of course, some adult Canadian heroes but Zub said they don’t get a lot of ink. He hopes to change that with this Inuk superhero, noting she’ll be a frontline member of the Champions team as long as he’s writing the series.
“What’s great about this is we get a toe-hold here and we’re able to share something really different, and show that there’s interest,” said Zub.
“I just want this character to be part of the broader Marvel universe.”