Based on the character that would inspire Watchmen antagonist Ozymandias, writer Kieron Gillen, artist Caspar Wjingaard, and colorist Mary Safro revive Charlton-turned-DC-turned Dynamite superhero Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. They use this character, who I hadn’t heard of until the title was solicited, to play around with all kinds of superhero tropes and tricks using him and the other superheroes of his universes as tabula rasae.
That’s not necessarily true as the spectre of Watchmen and Adrian Veidt haunts almost every panel of Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt . There’s the “alien invasion” that concludes Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ beloved series and begins this comic to the white Ubermensch raiding indigenous cultures to gain “mystical” power a la Ozymandias and his trip around the globe. There’s also formal and visual things like nine panel grids and Wjingaard’s poses of a lonely genius standing aloof about to hatch a master plan.
However, Gillen and Wjingaard are more clever than that and lay out superhero tropes that were used by Watchmen, various Warren Ellis comics, and even Joss Whedon’s Avengers film and pick them apart, distort, and occasionally play them straight in an entertaining manner. There’s the Superman/Captain America analogue Supreme Justice, who thinks he has power because he is the embodiment of the United States Constitution and then cuts loose like he’s a character in the Authority in a neoliberal approach to American foreign policy and an originalist reading of the Constitution. But with punching.
On the more cynical side, the big action scene where Peter Cannon successfully masterminds a defeat of an alien invasion and unites disparate superheroes from the United States, Russia, and the corporate world shows the hollowness and repetitiveness of the bicker, fight, and team up against a greater, external foe formula. Peter doesn’t have a complex plan; it just involves hitting aliens in the right place with the right amount of force like a miniboss battle although these aliens wiped out the population of an entire city. And this force is depicted is some widescreen Bryan Hitch meets the disciplined grid of Dave Gibbons or Mitch Gerads by Caspar Wjingaard. Mary Safro’s palette for the aliens is stomach churning queasy in contrast with most of the heroes’ strong profiles. (Mountain dew vodka chugging and two week living The Test is a notable exception.
Peter Cannon’s “teammates” spout platitudes about avenging and banding together, but he sees the bigger picture. His mystic scrolls are superhero texts, and he knows that especially in modern comics (The works of Bendis, Hickman, and Johns spring to mind, for better or worse.), there’s a bigger, secret force pulling the strings. Villain of the month is dead, long live villain of the six issue story arc that feeds into the summer crossover or a multi-year run. With the exception of the crossover part, Kieron Gillen does do this with his plotting and gives Peter Cannon #1 an intriguing, if purposefully derivative antagonist that should elucidate more of our protagonist’s actions and moral compass. And isn’t that what any good supervillain can be expected to do?
For all its deconstructive tendencies, Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt #1 is a fine work of pop superhero storytelling from Gillen, Wijingaard, Safro, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou,whose letters give both Peter and Supreme Justice a layer of self-assurance. It introduces an ensemble cast in an economic fashion, gives more details about the title character’s background and motivation, is self-aware without going fully edgelord, has a pair of potent action sequences, and a classic, if damn fine cliffhanger. Wijingaard’s art is clean, easy to follow, and not afraid to get a little grotesque if the story calls for it.
If you like punching and feeling smart because you read Watchmen that one time, Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt #1 is the comic for you. Or maybe it despises you for playing devil’s advocate in the class discussion about Ozymandias or Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ portrayal of women.
Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Caspar Wijingaard
Colors: Mary Safro Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Story: 8.0 Art 9.0 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy
Dynamite Entertainment provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review