Can A Canadian Prime Minister Be An Action Hero? Marvel Comics Thinks So

Aug 31, 2016
Originally published on August 31, 2016 10:04 am

Justin Trudeau has had a number of careers: schoolteacher, snowboard instructor, and since last year, prime minister of Canada. Now he's an action hero. A new issue of Civil War II from Marvel Comics, being released Aug. 31, has Trudeau facing evil-doers in the halls of Canada's Parliament — and in the boxing ring.

The front cover shows Trudeau sitting in the corner of a boxing ring, elbows resting on the ropes. He's wearing boxing shorts, a tank top emblazoned with a large maple leaf and a smile that's a bit difficult to read.

"I was going for a little bit of, I guess, a little bit of attitude, a little bit of smugness, like you don't know if he's already been boxing for a little bit and he's going back in, or he's just starting out and gearing himself up," says Ramon Perez, the cartoonist behind the depictions of Trudeau.

The Toronto-based Perez says his original drafts showed Trudeau bare-chested, but Marvel thought this might be a little too risque.

"And then about two weeks or three weeks ago, Justin's popping up in media topless, here and there, camping with his family and stuff like that," says Perez, laughing. "And I'm like, there you go, we could have had him topless."

The image of the 44-year-old Trudeau is one of two covers Marvel Comics is using for its latest edition. The company will often produce a regular issue and one with a variant cover, which is usually in greater demand by collectors. The story line remains the same.

The issue with Trudeau on the cover — the variant — features a Canadian superhero squad called Alpha Flight, with members who have access to information about crimes in the future. The main cover only shows members of the Alpha Flight squad.

Comic book author Chip Zdarsky, also based in Toronto, wrote the action story. He's the one who came up with the idea to feature Trudeau, who he thinks is a bit of an action man in real life.

"It kind of just made sense, like this opportunity to have a Canadian-driven story at a time when Trudeau just keeps making headlines as Canada's cool prime minister," he says.

Zdarsky says he wouldn't have been able to do the same thing with Trudeau's predecessor, Stephen Harper, who was seen as more business-like.

"That would have been a little trickier. His only superpower, as far as I know, is awkwardly playing Beatles medleys on piano," Zdarsky says.

When Zdarsky approached Trudeau's office to get the okay, the response was it couldn't approve using Trudeau in the comic, but wouldn't stand in the way, either.

While Marvel Comics, based in New York, rarely features world leaders, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Justin's late father and Canada's former prime minister, did make an appearance back in 1979, as did President Obama in 2009. Marvel Comics editor Will Moss says he's sure this edition with the younger Trudeau will do well.

"I think he's somebody that a lot of Americans are aware of and I know several women here in our office are big fans of Justin Trudeau," he says.

Moss says the story focuses on a character named Ulysses who can see into the future crimes before they happen. The Alpha Flight team is divided over whether to use that information to arrest people for crimes they haven't yet committed. Moss says they turn to Trudeau for guidance.

"It's natural they would want to seek counsel from the leader of their country," he says. "They seek his counsel and then he blows off some steam with Iron Man in the boxing ring."

The creators won't give away any more of the story line. They just hope Trudeau gets a chance to pick up the latest Marvel Comic. As for Trudeau himself, he's maintaining a heroically discreet silence about his superpowers.

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Glen Campbell was honored last night at the Academy of Country Music honors with a career achievement award. He has sold tens of millions of albums in a career that has spanned six decades, hit after hit, especially in the 1960s and '70s.


GLEN CAMPBELL: (Singing) Like a rhinestone cowboy riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.

SIEGEL: Mr. Campbell wasn't at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to receive his award. His wife, Kim, accepted it on his behalf because he is in the late stages of Alzheimer's. He announced his diagnosis about five years ago, and his early struggles with the disease can be seen in a film that came out in October of 2014. That's when I spoke about it with Campbell's wife and the film's director who captured a family seeing a loved one begin to slip away and a man saying goodbye to his career.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'd like you to try to remember four words, OK? I'm going to give you four words. You try to remember them now.

G. CAMPBELL: If, and and but is my big one.


SIEGEL: This is Campbell and his wife Kim at the Mayo Clinic. It's a scene from a new documentary called "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me." It's about his Alzheimer's and the farewell tour of concerts Campbell played with his children even as the disease was advancing.



G. CAMPBELL: Mr. Johnson.


G. CAMPBELL: Charity.


G. CAMPBELL: And tunnel.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK. Can you give those back to me now?

G. CAMPBELL: No. I have no use for it now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK, any of them?

G. CAMPBELL: (Laughter) I just already passed it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They're gone already, OK.

G. CAMPBELL: I can play guitar.


SIEGEL: Director James Keach and Kim Campbell, welcome to the program.

KIM CAMPBELL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: It's a stunning scene where we're witnessing Glen Campbell's loss of memory but not his loss of his sense of humor. That's - what an odd condition he was in at that moment.

K. CAMPBELL: That's just the way he's always been. He's always had just a great sense of humor and...


K. CAMPBELL: ...Loves to laugh.

JAMES KEACH: He was - in fact when we were doing that, he would call it part timers. He made light of it even when he was given the diagnosis.

SIEGEL: James Keach, you have to describe what you filmed here. It's both an intimate documentary about Glen Campbell and his family, his wife, his children and a musician's tour around the country.

KEACH: Yes. It certainly was a tour. My partner Trevor Albert and I set out to try and find a light in a very dark space. And as soon as we met Glen and Kim, the light turned on. I mean, they said Glen has announced he's got Alzheimer's. A few years before, I'd made a movie called "Walk The Line," and they thought, oh, gee, you understand about making musical bios. Well, I don't necessarily know how to make a bio about a guy with Alzheimer's, and we were very reluctant to do it.

And we thought, well, it's five weeks. And then it turned into 151 shows. And the thing that's really cool is that the audience becomes this character in the film that lifts this man up at his most vulnerable. They rally around him. And there's a lot of comedy in it, and that's Glen.


KEACH: You know, Glen's funny.

SIEGEL: Here's a part of the film in which Glen is playing at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. He played a few nights. It was a hugely important stop on the tour. And it starts out with a complete train wreck.


G. CAMPBELL: (Singing) 'Cause it's knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk. And makes me (stuttering). You got a thing going here?

SIEGEL: The teleprompter went out.

KEACH: Yeah.


G. CAMPBELL: Now what is that - the words - you have to have one of those things on me 'cause I've forgot everything I learned.


SIEGEL: And the show goes on. Kim Campbell, were people at that moment thinking, maybe this wasn't such a great idea - this tour?

K. CAMPBELL: Well, you know, Glen took everything in stride and the audience, you know, just pick up on that same attitude. And they didn't care. They were there to cheer him on.

SIEGEL: He needed the teleprompter for the lyrics, but he's playing. I mean he remembers the music. And if the teleprompter said, play solo, Glen, he would then say, play solo, Glen. He would read it off the teleprompter...

KEACH: He did.

SIEGEL: ...During this.

KEACH: He would read, Glen, play solo, and then he'd start doing it. It was awesome.


G. CAMPBELL: I'll play one now (playing guitar).

KEACH: When we started the film, we were focused on, how can this guy go play music with Alzheimer's? And he didn't have shame for having Alzheimer's. When I would say, hey, Glen, how's the Alzheimer's coming along? I'd say it to him - you know, when I first said it people look at me like, what are you doing, man?


KEACH: You don't talk about - the guy's got Alzheimer's. And I said, exactly. Why are we making the movie? So we would ask him things like, so what's it like to forget stuff? And he'd go, it sucks. It sucks. And then he'd joke about it. And by the time he was done with the joking and regaling what he'd forgotten, he felt safe, and everybody else felt safe. And it was an opportunity for the elephant to be in the room and to be OK with it.

SIEGEL: He's playing with his kids. Is it fair to say that he would have had trouble naming his children on stage when he was performing and crediting who the musicians were?

KEACH: I don't think he could have. He'd go, that's my baby girl. He would say that all the time. And he'd look over at Cal, the drummer, and he'd kind of cock his head. He knew - he always knew that they were his children and that they were part of him and that he loved them but not by name.


G. CAMPBELL: My darling...

ASHLEY CAMPBELL: Introduce me, dad.


A. CAMPBELL: Introduce me.

G. CAMPBELL: I have. I got it right here.


G. CAMPBELL: I had to write it down or you would have got it first.

A. CAMPBELL: You're funny.

SIEGEL: Kim Campbell, he has at home with you one - in the movie at least - one full-throated tantrum.


K. CAMPBELL: Here. What you need to do is go to the dentist down the street and have them fix it.

G. CAMPBELL: No. And I ain't going to do it either. I don't want to (unintelligible) there.

SIEGEL: Was that the one tantrum he had during that year and whatever, or was that a much more common occurrence?

K. CAMPBELL: It was a more common occurrence. There were some really dark places, you know, and experiences that we had.


K. CAMPBELL: You just had a knife in your mouth on the bus a few minutes ago.

G. CAMPBELL: I did not.

K. CAMPBELL: Yes, you did.

G. CAMPBELL: (Unintelligible).

K. CAMPBELL: But that's the nature of this disease. They can become very agitated. They can hallucinate. So it's a balancing act that caregivers have to, you know, dance to keep everybody happy and everything even keel and redirect them if they begin to go off into kind of a dark area.

SIEGEL: He's now in a long-term care facility?


SIEGEL: Does he play guitar while he's there?

K. CAMPBELL: Yes. He has two guitars in his room. He still does pick it up every now and then.

KEACH: He tuned - he - last - we went to see him last week, and he picked it up, and he tuned it. And he still plays better than I do.


SIEGEL: Glen Campbell can lose a lot of skill at the guitar and still play a lot better than most people who picked up a guitar.

KEACH: That's right.



G. CAMPBELL: (Singing) And I need you more than want you.

SIEGEL: Kim Campbell and filmmaker James Keach two years ago speaking about the Glen Campbell documentary "I'll Be Me."


G. CAMPBELL: (Singing) And the Wichita lineman is still on the line. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.