November ended up being a bit of a time warp. Tania and I caught RSV at Hal-Con and spent a couple of weeks recovering, only to get infected with Covid for the first time in the middle of the month. As a result, we were unable to vend at all of the events we had signed up for. I am still dealing with the aftereffects of both illnesses. I hadn’t been sick for nearly four years, so in some ways this was inevitable. The double-whammy of RSV and Covid certainly has affected my productivity lately.

I had been noodling around doing something a bit more substantive this month, but my body and brain just haven’t been where they need to be to take on a larger project. Instead, I am going to use this month’s column to highlight an old favourite of mine that few Canadian comic enthusiasts seem to be aware of: Paradax!

Cover of 1985’s Strange Days # 1 featuring Paradax! Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image sourced from eBay.

In 1987, Vortex hired English duo Brendan McCarthy and Peter Milligan for a two-issue run of Paradax! The character had previously featured in an anthology that Milligan and McCarthy had created with Brett Ewins for Eclipse called Strange Days. The Eclipse series debuted in 1984 and ended in 1985 after three issues. Paradax! debuted in the first issue of the series, appears in all three comics and features on the cover of issue # 3. Strange Days, however, is probably best known for debuting another character, Johnny Nemo, who was prominent in Ewins’ long running titled Deadline in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Cover of Paradax! # 1. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image from my personal collection.

Something worth mentioning about Paradax! is that the only thing that makes the comic “Canadian” is that Vortex published it. The creators (as well as Ewins, who was not involved here) had all cut their teeth working on the seminal British series 2000 AD (best known for “Judge Dredd”). As such, it is somewhat unusual to find this series being published by a Canadian company, especially since Eclipse released a three issue Johnny Nemo series after Strange Days ended.

In “The Insane People,” a scientist’s machine designed to cure him of schizophrenia which he calls the “insanity convector” has the unintended consequence of turning the doctor’s mental illness into a physical entity. When the machine is stolen by the villain Stammer Two, several deranged entities are unleashed on the city. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy and Tony Riot. Image from my personal collection.

Paradax! is Al Cooper, a former cabbie who gains powers from a magic suit and becomes the world’s greatest superhero. His power is that he can phase through solid objects. However, he is more interested in fame and fortune (as well as getting intoxicated and having sex) than he is with fighting crime and saving the world. The character is as much a clout chaser and fame seeker as he is a hero, and governments have to make monetary arrangements with his manager before he takes on a job to save the world. Al Cooper really feels like he would easily fit into our 21st century world of social media influencers.

The situation is serious enough that President Reagan threatens to nuke New York City, much to the chagrin on Mayor Clint Eastwood. As such, the solution is to hire Paradax! to handle the situation. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy and Tony Riot. Image from my personal collection.

In Paradax! # 1, the title character features in the story “The Insane People,” where a scientist has created a machine called the “insanity convector” that cures mental illness by turning personality disorders into physical entities. After the machine is stolen, several entities are set loose on New York and President Reagan threatens to nuke the city in three hours unless the situation is dealt with. Mayor Clint Eastwood hires Paradax! to deal with the problem. In the end, Paradax! fails and the city is nuked. However, the nuclear blast ends up soaking up the madness created by the insanity convector and the city is saved.

Paradax fights Stammer Two as time runs out. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy and Tony Riot. Image from my personal collection.

Like issues of Strange Days, the first issue of Paradax! is actually an anthology comic and the title character only stars in the first story. There are two other stories in the comic. The next one is called “Roaring’s Rantin’s.” In this story, which is narrated by a character referred to as Captain Roaring, two old eccentrics named Rudcliff and Williams are invited to a party being hosted by the extremely wealthy Bunny Fortesque at the palatial Fortesque Towers. At the party, Williams encounters his old flame, Constance, who is now married to Bunny Fortesque. The encounter opens up old wounds. Rudcliff and Williams proceed to get drunk prior to the party’s main dinner. At the dinner, Fortesque reveals that he had invited Rollo Forbes-Smythe to the party. Some of the patrons seem confused by the announcement. All of a sudden Fortesque is murdered as Forbes-Smythe (an apparent pirate) appears with his goons. Rudcliff and Williams manage to escape.

Rudcliff and Williams escape from the party in this page from “Roaring’s Rantin’s.” Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image from my personal collection.

The final story in Paradax! # 1 is called “The Importance of Being Mirkin” and stars a character named Mirkin the Mystic. Mirkin is a handsome blue skinned man who has the ability to travel across various realms. He is affiliated with a group of elites who refer to themselves as “Le Cercle Pervers,” which is led by the hermaphrodite Harriet D’Ashrod. The group is based around debauchery. By this point, Mirkin has resigned from the group and has taken a vow of chastity, much to the chagrin of D’Ashrod and the other members. As Mirkin complains to his “monther” about how he has become tired of Le Cercle Pervers, he is summoned by D’Ashrod and enters their realm. Here it is revealed that the group has been infected by a plague of boils that seems like an STI. D’Ashrod thinks that they have figured out who has infected them: a person named Hallward who was denied entry into the group.

Members of Le Cercle Pervers have been infected with a plague of boils in “The Importance of Being Mirkin.” Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image from my personal collection.

Mirkin deduces that Hallward is Basil Hallward, the fictional painter of the picture of Dorian Gray. Mirkin tracks down the living, magical skull of Oscar Wilde and then enters the realm of fictional characters where they confront Hallward. The villain admits that he is responsible for the plague of boils, having used the manuscript of The Picture of Dorian Gray to infuse his paintings with magic and infect his victims. Mirkin and the skull of Oscar Wilde kill Hallward and disrupt the spell, saving the members of Le Cercle Pervers. D’Ashrod invites Mirkin to rejoin the group, which he declines as the story comes to an end.

Mirkin and Oscar Wilde’s animated skull come face to face with Basil Hallward. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image from my personal collection.

While the first issue of Paradax! is an anthology that feels like an homage to Heavy Metal or 2000 AD, the second (and final) issue from the Vortex run contains only stories featuring the title character. However, the three stories included in issue # 2 are not new works. Instead, they reprint the stories that appeared in Strange Days # 1-3.

Cover of Paradax! # 2 from August, 1987. This cover actually reprints a splash page from Strange Days # 2. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image from my personal collection.

In some ways, the fact that Paradax! # 2 reprints the Strange Days stories makes this issue quite appealing. This is, perhaps, not true from a collectibility perspective. That said, having the original stories reprinted in one issue makes it so that someone interested in the series does not have to track down the original Strange Days issues. All three stories in Paradax! # 2 are told in retrospect through a talk show hosted by Andy Warhol. Warhol interviews Paradax! in the pre-taped television program, which Cooper and his girlfriend, Kopper Keen, watch together in bed.

Al Cooper’s narcissism comes to the fore as he tries on the Paradax! suit for the first time. Things quickly go sideways when he reaches for his beer. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image from my personal collection.

The first story reprinted here offers the origin story of how Al Cooper became Paradax! As we learn, Cooper is a taxi driver. One night he drops off a mysterious customer under a bridge. After he finishes his shift, he realizes that the fare had left a gold-coloured hardcover book in his cab. When he takes the book home, he opens it to find that it is actually concealing the Paradax! suit. Cooper tries on the suit, not realizing that it will grant him powers. Ultimately, the suit enables Cooper to phase through solid objects.

A confused Al Cooper flails around his apartment as his girlfriend, Kopper Keen, arrives in this scene from Paradax! # 2. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image from my personal collection.

In the second story, we learn that once Cooper figures out how to use the suit (and after considering becoming a super villain) he decides to become a hero in order to achieve fame and fortune. In order to pursue his goals, he hires his boss at the taxi company, Mr. Chow, to act as his manager (though he admits that, in hindsight, this was probably a mistake). After gaining a name for himself as a hero he gets tangled up with his first real super villain, a character named V.2. Pinhead who is described as a “righto-leftist.”

This page from Paradax! # 2 explains how Cooper hired Mr. Chow to be his manager, while also introducing us to the super villain V.2. Pinhead. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image from my personal collection.

As the story unfolds, we learn that V.2 Pinhead is planning to destroy the United Nations peace talks happening in the city in order to bring about global nuclear war. In part three, Paradax! tracks down the villain after Mr. Chow makes arrangements for them to have a showdown and receives a large amount of remuneration for his efforts. Chow is a cartoon stereotype, depicted as a greedy Asian immigrant who speaks broken English and only cares about money. In most stories he would be portrayed as a villain, but here he is comic relief.

Mr. Chow arranges for Paradax! and V.2. Pinhead to have a showdown on live television and is paid handsomely for his efforts. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image from my personal collection.

The fledgling superhero struggles to use his powers in what is his first real confrontation with a super villain and V.2. Pinhead beats Paradax! up for several pages before the hero gains the upper hand. Desperate, V.2. Pinhead releases his secret weapon on the hero. Earlier in the comic the villain broke into a government lab and stole an experimental powder that, when sprayed with water, grows an army of mindless military drones called the Minute Men. The villain releases the makeshift military onto Paradax! who faces defeat. At the last minute, the hero forces V.2. Pinhead to swallow the powder, which reacts with his blood and causes the Minute Men to burst out of his body, killing him in the process.

The Minute Men burst out of V.2. Pinhead’s body, killing the villain in the process. Artwork by Brendan McCarthy. Image from my personal collection.

The comic’s epilogue involves Cooper and Keen meeting Chow at a bar where he tries to get out of his contract. Chow refuses, but when one of the bar patrons recognizes Cooper as Paradax! and intervenes, Chow abandons the contract and flees. Cooper and Keen rip up the contract as the comic comes to an end.

Paradax! is barely a Canadian comic series. There is nothing connecting the series to Canada in any way. The creators were English and the story takes place in New York City. The fact that issue # 2 reprints stories from Strange Days (which was itself published by the American company Eclipse) puts the “Canadianness” of the entire series in doubt. The only thing that makes this Canadian is that it was published by Vortex.

This is not unique in the Canadian Silver Age. For example, other than Cerebus, most of Aardvark-Vanaheim’s early output came from international creators before Dave Sim and Deni Loubert went their separate ways (with the later moving to the USA and bringing the roster of creators with her to her new company, Renegade Press, in the process). Vortex was at the forefront of giving international creators a platform in Canada. Examples include early issues of Mister X, which were written by the Hernandez brothers (of Love and Rockets fame) and Matt Howarth’s Savage Henry. Perhaps the most famous of these comics, however, is Howard Chaykin’s series Black Kiss, but that’s a story for another day.

Although Paradax! was short-lived at Vortex, it is a really fun comic. It’s also inexpensive on the secondary market, often found lingering in dollar bins. McCarthy’s artwork is bonkers and Milligan’s storytelling is compelling enough that I would happily read more. After this, both Milligan and McCarthy would have long careers in the creative arts. Milligan has had a very successful career in comics in both America and the UK. His best-known work is arguably the retooled Shade, the Changing Man for DC in the 1990s that McCarthy also worked on, but usually featured artwork by Chris Bachalo. In the decades since, Milligan has worked on various A-list titles such as Batman and X-Men.

McCarthy also continued to dabble in comics, but transitioned to working as a production designer for film and television. In the 1990s, McCarthy would become known for his work on one of the greatest Canadian animated series of all time, ReBoot. That said, today he is probably best remembered for his work on the film Mad Max: Fury Road, which he co-wrote with George Miller and Nico Lathouris.

Well, that’s it for this month folks. I hope you have a great holiday season regardless of what holiday(s) you are celebrating. I will be back in January with another new column. Have a wonderful New You and see you in 2024!

brian Campbell
brian Campbell

Dr. brian Campbell is an Anthropologist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. His PhD research focused on the used-goods trade in Halifax. Dr. Campbell is co-owner of East Coast Toys and Games, one of Atlantic Canada's largest eBay stores specializing in pop culture collectibles. Dr. Campbell left academia in 2019 to focus on his business. During his spare time, he researches Canadian comics that were released between 1960-1990.

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5 months ago

Hi brian. I’ve considered going to a convention in Nova Scotia one of these days but I’ve had few chances to go there at a time of my choosing. My mothers family is from there I was there this summer but its a time of choosing that matches the few of her 18 other siblings that are there.
This last Aug I had to pick up a few as taxi driver for a small family reunion and passed through Halifax but couldn’t stay. I’m going next Aug and I’m determined to hit the road and visit places I want to go to next time and not just be a taxi driver.

Back to the subject: Canadian Comics.

Do you think there is a market for an updated Annual Canadian Comics Price Guide , like the WECA Comic Price Guide, and including French languages and Ages that you research and track?

It would be nice to see a project that yearly or biennially, gets updated with new pricing data, new discoveries and rich commentary the way you do here and the Overstreet Price Guide does on an annual basis.