by Kevin Powers
It’s widely accepted that Action Comics #1 in June 1938 marked the beginning of superheroes as we know them. Following the debut of Superman, comic book publishers created hundreds of superheroes from the patriotic to the downright bizarre. This wave gave us many of our favorites including Batman and Captain America, but it also gave us a wide variety of characters that didn’t quite stand the test of time. Long story short, many characters ended up in the public domain.
While some of these characters have seen revivals and still enjoy a cult status – Dynamite’s Project Superpowers for example – many didn’t make it out of the 1940s. The superheroes of the Golden Age were popular because they could do amazing things, they fought gangsters and Nazis and they generally provided an escape from the still-recovering economy following The Great Depression.
Superheroes eventually fell out of favor after the war and into the 1950s, before DC’s Silver Age revival.
A few years ago, I was starting to put together my superhero comic, ExtraOrdinary. The idea was simple; I wanted to have original heroes immersed in a world alongside legacy revivals of golden age heroes. When researching the Golden Age heroes, I came across The Atomic Thunderbolt.
I was fascinated by the character. The back-story, the power-set – all of it was right there in the 15 pages in which he appeared. That was it. After his initial origin story and his cameo appearance in a humorous short story, The Atomic Thunderbolt was gone.
What really struck me the most about the character though was the year he was created. A lot of the more popular Golden Age characters – The American Crusader, Black Terror, even Superman – were created right before or during World War II. There was an enemy to be fought. In the comics, before the atom bomb, the superheroes were America’s most powerful weapon against the Nazis and Japanese.
The Atomic Thunderbolt was created after the war and the atom bomb – the dawn of The Atomic Age. His powers were fueled by atomic science and his goal was to save mankind from itself and nuclear annihilation. This was and is fascinating to me, as the war had just ended and the Cold War had yet to really begin. Here was this character, powered by the atom – everything seemingly working for him – but he appeared and disappeared in 15 pages. Additionally, the character suffered from PTSD in a time before it was diagnosed.
I love pulpy and comic stories that take place in the late-1930s through World War II like The Rocketeer, Captain America and Indiana Jones. When I discovered The Atomic Thunderbolt, telling his story was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I spent a few days familiarizing myself with the intricacies of the public domain and shortly thereafter I was scripting.
That brings me to today. I run TJ Comics, a small-press comic publisher. Under that banner I’ve won an Independent Book Publisher Award for my graphic novel Patriot-1, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2014. My current project is indeed telling the story of what ever happened to The Atomic Thunderbolt.
The story picks up where the original left off, but I’ve added a bit of a twist. The heroes of World War II have all disappeared, and The Atomic Thunderbolt’s emergence has drawn the attention of the newly-minted CIA. He’s recruited to combat a secret war with remnants of the Axis powers that only a person with his abilities can fight. It’s during his new mission that he begins to discover what happened to the other heroes and the CIA’s true agenda. There are plenty of twists along the way – after all, the story will be able to stand on its own and does serve as a prequel to ExtraOrdinary – but I also wanted to make sure the first issue was a true homage and sequel to the original.
After much debate, I decided to take the project to Kickstarter on an issue-by-issue basis. Making comics, especially at the independent and small press level, is an expensive task. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. So after covering the production costs for the 30-page first issue, I turned to the crowd-funding platform to seek funds for the production (essentially all the art) for the second issue.
The campaign is currently running and aiming to raise $4,000 to cover full production of the second issue, as well as printing of the first and second issues. All of the funds raised will go directly into covering rewards, printing the issues and the brilliant artists working on the book. If the campaign hits goal, we immediately begin production on the second issue and a campaign for the third issue will be prepped.
Matt Gaudio is the line artist. He’s an insanely talented Kubert School grad that I met at Special Edition: NYC 2015. I’m lucky to be working with him now because I really, truly believe he’s got huge things ahead.
Donna Gregory is the colorist. She was my colorist on Patriot-1 and she’s all-around fantastic. Really top-notch at what she does and super-great to work with.
One thing I wanted to do for this campaign was keep the rewards fairly simple. In addition to the first two issues, we’re offering a set of variant covers for the first issue. One is a standard blank sketch cover (an additional reward is available for Matt to draw a custom cover).
The original Atomic Thunderbolt is a hard book to track down, but one of the variants is a re-mastering of the original cover. I also commissioned a cover from Golden Age aficionado Jay Piscopo.
In addition, there’s a variant cover by Lord Mesa, a fantastic artist who is well known to fans of The CW’s Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. I’ve been itching to work with Lord for a long time, and I figured a variant cover for The Atomic Thunderbolt #1 couldn’t be passed up.
Each cover is also available as a 6 x 9 in print. There are also other rewards such as a sketch cover, full commission, become a background character and actually become a speaking character in the book.
I’m fully focused on reaching our current goal, but I do have some stretch goals in the pipeline including variants for the second issue among some other cool stuff.
I do hope you’ll check out the project, it’s a great revival and a great story showcasing some really talented artists. We hope you’ll give us a chance with the first two issues!
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