Will the Human-Lizard's date be able to save him from Rabb the Malevolent?
Canada has produced few successful superheroes. Comic fans like to recall Nelvana, but she's better known for the animation studio that bears her name. Captain Canuck resurfaces regularly, but his series rarely last and he remains largely unknown. The most famous super-Canadian is Wolverine, the creation of Marvel Comics and more associated with American and international adventures.
Torontonian Jason Loo tries to rectify the situation by giving North America's fourth most populous city a handful of new super-doers. They all appear in the comic, but his focus is the determined, apologetic, titular Pitiful Human-Lizard. Five issues appeared in 2015, and have been collected as The Pitiful Human-Lizard Volume 1: Far from Legendary. Loo writes and draws, though editor Allison O'Toole provides at least some story input. The first collection also features the earlier "Made in Chinatown" comics about the characters, used as part of Loo's Kickstarter for the project.
The riff: Lucas Barrett, a young cubicle lackey tries to establish himself as a superhero in a Toronto that already boasts the city's champion, Mother Wonder and our hero's friend, the Majestic Rat. The first collection also features a cameo by Captain Canuck, who apparently exists in this reality, and the development of Lady Accident, who really wishes she had chosen a better superhero name.
He faces more than enough villains and monsters, but he gets a boost from an experimental drug that gives him regenerative powers.
We’ve seen many struggling heroes given the tongue-in-cheek treatment, from the Mystery Men to the Freshmen to Kick-ass and all the way back to the original Red Tornado. The early Spider-man embodies the most serious attempt at a struggling super-doer, and Loo does not conceal Spidey's role as inspiration. Nevertheless, this comic provides a few fresh takes on the concept.
The casual ridiculousness of superheroes gets highlighted nicely here, but the inherent silliness of the subject matter and its treatment does not prevent the reader from getting behind Lucas Barrett and his struggles, to establish himself socially and superheroically in Toronto. And Loo serves us actual Toronto, rather than tired jokes about saying "eh" and eating poutine. He's not above obvious gags, of course; the villainous Rabb the Malevolent is a blatant depiction of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. The comic asterisks "ROM" every single time it is mentioned and explains what it means in a footnote.*
Loo manages to outdo Scott Pilgrim for Toronto settings. Casual readers will recognize, say, the CN Tower and Honest Ed's. People who know T-dot will recognize the Queen Street surplus store where our hero buys his goggles** and the tunnels of the TTC where he tracks villains. The setting looks and feels like Toronto, albeit a goofy, comic-book version.
The characters are distinct and recognizable, though not intended to be novel-deep. I like the fact that the Lizard's (very much living) parents, co-workers, and friends form an integral part of the story. And while the comic establishes the hero's Anglo/Chinese ancestry, it never makes this an issue. Lucas is just this guy from Toronto.
Loo mostly eschews the overdone physiques of most comic-book heroes. The Lizard himself leans towards the scrawny. Mother Wonder resembles neither the waif-bodied Supergirl nor the Great Lakes Avengers' Big Bertha; she has the credible figure of a healthy mother of three.
Will we still know the Human-Lizard in another decade? I don't know, but Loo mixes Millennial lifestyle, Toronto backgrounds, and superhero tropes in an entertaining blend. The Pitiful Human-Lizard is a fun read. Your response will depend on your interest in superheroes and the appeal of comic-book silliness.
*Royal Ontario Museum.
**Sadly, after forty+ years of business and shortly after its comic-book debut, the store closed.