A raging wildfire known as “The Beast” forced all of Fort McMurray’s 80,000 residents to flee in 2016 and now comic-book fans are lobbying for a statue of another beast to be built as a tribute to the Alberta city’s resiliency.
Wolverine is a fictional character who according to Marvel Comics lore hails from northern Alberta. He’s a mutant with super-human senses and the power to heal from almost any wound.
“I actually think it’s a really cool idea,” said Ashley Laurenson, manager of Nerdvana Collectible, Comics and Hobby in Fort McMurray.
“He’s as tough as nails, from northern Alberta, and can regenerate after taking massive amounts of damage. He seems like a fitting tribute for sure.”
Laurenson, her boyfriend and their very “distraught cat” were forced to leave when the fire ravaged parts of the city.
She said the comic-book store can’t keep Wolverine comics and graphic novels on the shelf for long.
“Fort McMurray has a lot more of a nerdy base of people than a lot of people realize. We’ve got a lot of closet nerds up here,” Laurenson said.
“Some people might think it’s a silly idea, but I know hundreds of people that I’ve talked to in the town who are super-keen to have a Wolverine statue.”
The idea began as a joke when the city of Edmonton was debating whether to help fund a new arena for the National Hockey League Oilers. Resident Brian LaBelle started a petition calling for a Wolverine statue to be built as a way to revitalize the downtown.
His friend Sameer Singh picked up the torch and has set up an Indiegogo page to raise the $85,000 required to build a bronze statue of Wolverine in Fort McMurray.
“When the wildfires … happened last year it had seemed like putting a statue of Wolverine up there seemed like a good way to give back to the community in a way that was beyond just donating to the Red Cross,” said Singh.
“Fort McMurray is definitely northern Alberta. Wolverines — the actual animals — live in northern Alberta and there’s even a Wolverine Drive in Fort McMurray.
“It just sort of all came together in a vision of let’s do something really cool and unique and give back to a community that could use a helping hand.”
LaBelle said it’s not as if famous mascots are anything new and Wolverine could help draw visitors to the northern city.
“There’s the statue of Captain America in the Brooklyn Zoo, a Hulk statue at the Chicago library and a Robocop statue being built in Detroit,” he said.
“I’m sure if there were people in town coming for the Edmonton comic expo or even the Calgary expo, it might be a fun little side trip and see part of Alberta.”
Alberta’s tourism minister likes the idea.
“It’s not surprising that Wolverine’s hometown is Fort McMurray — they are both tough as nails. The people of the Wood Buffalo region have inspired us with the same indomitable spirit and almost superhuman ability to recover from adversity, that they share with their alter ego,” said Ricardo Miranda.
“I look forward to the community’s decision on the project.”
The campaign came as a surprise to Fort McMurray’s mayor.
“Nobody has told me about a Wolverine statue until now. I thought I’d heard about everything,” said Mayor Don Scott.
“My council colleagues, would be pretty keen on seeing exactly what the plan is. There’s a lot of rules … about what’s on roadways and where things are placed, so I’d have to see the overall plan before I could really comment on it.”
Singh acknowledges getting the statue completed could take a while and he would still need permission from Marvel to display Wolverine.
Neither actor Hugh Jackman, who plays the Wolverine character in the X-Men movies, nor representatives from Marvel responded to a request for comment.
An attempt to have a statue of the comic character Deadpool in Regina last year failed. The character, played by Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds, claimed to be from the Saskatchewan capital during the movie.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press