Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt #1 Under Review
From Dynamite comes Kieron Gillen and Casper Wijingaard take on Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt!
Several writers have written the character. Each with their own take. Gillen’s Thunderbolt feels like a modern pulp. Packed with engaging ideas, the story is a mix of Peter Cannon’s history and Alan Moore’s Watchmen. In fact, you might consider it an alternative sequel to Watchmen, Kieron style! That might sound a little odd, but sit back and get ready, there is a story behind this!
There is an backstory to Peter Canon, Thunderbolt. It is as interesting as it is complex. A back story that reminds me of Russian Matryoshka dolls. Instead of a doll inside a doll inside a doll, it’s a story inside a story, inside a story. Taken as a whole, each of these stories exist independently of each other, yet feed into each other.
Matryoshka doll 1
Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt was released by Charlton Comics in 1966 (11 years before Gillan was even alive!). Creator, writer, artist Pete Morisi created Peter Cannon. Thunderbolt might even be most his creators most memorable characters. Morisi was part of the military and when he was creating comics, Morisi was a police officer. As a comic creator Morisi was simply known by his initials, PAM.
Peter Cannon didn’t even start out as Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. Morisi wanted to bring the golden age Daredevil to Charlton. This wasn’t the Daredevil that you have read at Marvel Comics or seen on TV. Lev Gleason published the golden age Daredevil during the 30s-40s. This was decades before Marvels hero. Jack Binder created the golden age Daredevil. Charles Biro revamped the character after his first appearance.
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Gleason agreed to letting Morisi take the character over to Charlton. A problem occurred when Biro insisted on fee sharing if the character became popular. Daredevil was a popular character during the golden age. Most would agree that Charles Biro is the principle reason behind that success. As a result Morisi dropped the idea of Daredevil coming to Charlton. He then created Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. One would guess he did so with Daredevil still in mind based on the very similar costumes of the two characters.
Were Morisi’s ideas for Thunderbolt were the same as his Daredevil stories? I would love to know! Morisi’s Thunderbolt took an interesting look at Eastern philosophies. These stories might be the first American comic to treat Eastern ideas with respect. Before Peter Cannon, most American comics distilled Eastern ideas into simple stereotypes. Having a new character in Thunderbolt made these stories more impactful. Using Daredevil would have blunted the delivery of them.
Another curious aspect to Morisi and his creation: Morisi retained certain rights to his Peter Cannon. Morisi was ahead of his time in respects to creator rights. A creator at the time having any rights to a character was rare. Morisi made the right choice when he chose to create Thunderbolt over Daredevil. The golden age Daredevil has since lapsed into the public domain. Morisi and later his estate controls his creation and profit from it as the character continues and is published by different publishers.
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Time passed. Charlton went out of business. In 1983 DC purchased the super hero line that Charlton developed.
The Charlton heroes are the same heroes that inspired Alan Moore to create the Watchmen. This includes Peter Cannon. Moore came up with an idea for a super hero story and started to use the Mighty Crusaders from MLJ Comics. He rethought this and then drew inspiration from the Charlton Action Heroes. The story was then called Who Killed the Peacemaker? DC recently acquired the Charlton properties and said they would pass on the idea. It made no sense to kill of characters that they recently went through the trouble of purchasing. If you know the story of the Watchmen, you know it would have included more than just killing Peacemaker!
Moore decided that he would recreate the story. This time using his own characters to substitute for the Charlton heroes. For example, Ozymandias is Moore’s character that would have been Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt.
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DC finally did something with Peter Cannon in 1992. They released a mini series featuring the hero by writer-penciller Mike Collins. DC did attempt to bring Cannon into the DC Universe. Cannon made a brief and somewhat unintentional appearance in Crisis on Infinite Earths. In Thunderbolts DC series Cannon teamed up with Justice League Europe and Checkmate. He even made enemies with Scorpio, a terrorist organization that dates back to early Challengers of the Unknown.
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Morisi would pass in 2003. Our hero under review would later turn up at Dynamite Entertainment in 2012. The creative team was Alex Ross, Steve Darnall and Jonathan Lau. The team said they would stay true to the original Thunderbolt, bring in the storyverse Morisi created and expand upon it. Dynamite has published a Omnibus of this series for those interested.
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Gillen is a writer from Britain. He is best known for his creator owned comics Phonogram and the Wicked + Divine. You might also know Gillen for his work on Uncanny X-men, Young Avengers and Journey into Mystery. His artist is Caspar Wjingaard. Capster is an artist known for his work on Star Wars, Star Trek, and Dark Souls.
Gillen takes Peter Cannon and mirrors the Watchmen story to a degree. In doing so he is creating his own sequel by using Peter Cannon as a stand in for Watchmens Ozymandias. Which is interesting as Ozymandias is a stand in for Peter Cannon. One level deeper we already know that Thunderbolt was likely a stand in for the golden age Daredevil. This is one warped Matryoshka doll!
So how does this all turn out?
Speaking as a fan of the Morisi penned Thunderbolt, I am not quite sure what I think of the first issue. The story takes a wild turn for its cliff hanger throw to the second issue. This makes it hard to judge exactly what’s going to happen next.
Until more is revealed, I much rather think of the story as an modern pulp in a comic book form. Gillen has stated in interviews as saying the Cannon series is his return to super hero comics. I don’t know if the pulp vibe I got is intentional on Gillens part. I felt a distinct pulp vibe modernized by Gillen’s writing style and flair. It might be intentional. Moore’s Watchmen references the pulps of the past. Wjingaards art does, at times, feel very much in the pulp mode. His art also references Watchmen’s popular 9 panel to a page grid pattern (ala Dave Gibbons).
Our story opens up with the words “A whole city, dead” and in a way Gillen starts where Watchmen left off.
We see a major city in ruins after being attacked by an alien invasion of Lovecraftian creatures. Such creatures that one often finds in pulp stories! The scene changes to a gathering of heroes representing different nations. They are collectively trying to recruit Peter Cannon to help save the city…and the world!
Cannon doesn’t seem to be too interested. Altercations occur between our heroes and settled. Thunderbolt walks away to contemplate and “consult the ancient scrolls (secret writings of past generations of wise men that in part gives Thunderbolt his abilities) “. We are introduced to his friend Tabu who plays host to the gathered international heroes.
The heroes insult Cannon behind his back to Tabu and insult Tabu to his face. Tabu tells them that Cannon is his friend (not his master as they taunt). He also states that they are wrong about their judgment of Cannon.
This is where Gillen starts to play around with pulp conventions. Most pulp heroes have allies, team mates, servants, lovers who help them, and, yes, even friends like Tabu. Their friendship seems different than most pulp stories. Tabu is a character that goes back to the original Charlton comic. Peter and Tabu started out then as friends. The friendship now is more complex and mature. The relation between Cannon and Tabu is a plot line that I hope future issues will explore.
Cannons abrupt leaving allows Tabu to reflect on the past. This reveals to the reader and questioning heroes Cannons origins. A short time later Thunderbolt returns. He has a plan to save the city and defeat the aliens as long as everyone does what he says and when he says it.
The heroes go into action. Action erupts and the battle at hand is won. The Lovecraftian creatures are defeated.
The heroes are jubilant and they want Cannon to lead them to great things, but he knows the worse is yet to come.
That worse feeds back into the story being a sequel to Watchmen. That leads directly into the cliffhanger for this first issue. You’ll have to read to find out. I’m not one to ruin ones enjoyment of reading!
Let’s return to Matryoshka dolls
If you are unaware about the dolls that rest inside the largest doll, you can still enjoy the largest doll on its own. Investigate further and you’ll discover there’s more than what meets the eye. The complexity of the Peter Cannon’s past is not required to understand and enjoy the story. Gillen has purposefully made it so the story can be enjoyed on its own.
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Just for fun….there is another layer that is only a matter of coincidence. Peter Cannon exists in the real world. He might not be Thunderbolt, but he studies something that we see in the Gillen’s first issue. Peter H. Cannon is a Lovecraft scholar and author of Cthulhu mythos fiction and he works as an editor for Publishers weekly.
EXTRA CREDIT MATRYOSHKA DOLL
I can’t help but ask if anyone else saw, when you look at Peter and Tabu do you see a grown up Johnny Quest and Hadji (updating Dr. Quest’s look)?
To you, the reader!
If you can add to the Materyoshka doll number or the story of Morisi or Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, let me know @ email@example.com
Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt is published by Dynamite
Writer: Kieron Gillen : : Art: Caspar Wijingaard
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