Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1
Kieron Gillen (writer), Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (letters), Mary Safro (colorist), Caspar Wungaard (artist)
Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt is a new take on an old character—one you might not know by name but who, if you’re big into superheroes, will sound very familiar once you get to know him.
Created by Pete Morsi, a cop and a comic writer, as part of the Charlton Comics Action Heroes line in 1966, Peter Cannon then moved to DC. He didn’t appear in their pages until Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now owned by the Morsi estate, Peter Cannon was last featured in 2010 with a ten-issue run at Dynamite, co-written by Steve Darnall and Alex Ross with art by Jonathan Lau. (He also happens to be the inspiration for Ozymandias in Watchmen.)
The character Peter Cannon isn’t just familiar because of his publication history. He’s also composed entirely of superhero trends and tropes. His power lies in his mental prowess and discipline, making him the smartest man on Earth. Raised by monks in the Himalayas, he has a backstory both tragic and Orientalist. He’s aloof and extremely wealthy, from the looks of his sprawling estate. And you bet he has a minority friend at his side: his name is Tabu, y’all.
So does his history have much to do with this book? You don’t need it to read this issue, but with Kieron Gillen at the helm, I have to assume the answer is yes. The first issue is kind of like one long elbow nudge regarding the superhero genre, told with an extremely meta character (at least in the year 2019; he beat Iron Fist to his own backstory by about eight years). Reading issue #1, it’s clear there’s a very specific audience for this, one in on the joke—and while I wasn’t familiar with Peter Cannon specifically, I felt like I picked up what the book was putting down in terms of references, allusions, and winks. I had fun with it, but I’m not sure how rewarding this book would have been if I didn’t have a solid background in superheroics (i.e., if I weren’t into navel-gazing into the self-referential multiverse).
Art-wise, Caspar Wungaard has rendered a set of attractive characters with nicely distinct faces. In fact, several are quite handsome—especially Peter’s friend, not assistant, Tabu—and that’s certainly a bonus for any superhero story. There are hints of Chris Sprouse on Tom Strong here: classical shapes and very clean, but bathed in the apocalyptic red light of Mary Safro’s colors. An unease about the art adds to the rather standard story blocks.
The first issue is quite intentionally boilerplate, kicking off with an international team-up of heroes come to beg Peter Cannon to help them save the world from an extraterrestrial threat. Standard stuff. Cannon despairs at the state of humanity, above them and of them at the same time. He broods in a mansion. It’s well-executed and clever, but I can’t quite tell if this story will manage to tread new ground or simply provide a satisfying romp for a select audience. I’m hoping issue #2 proves the former.