The fact that I’ve got “Thunderstruck” stuck in my head means that there are spoilers ahead for…
“The continued existence of people is the only hope for something other than your culture.”
I don’t recall a time in my life in which I saw comics published by Charlton being sold individually on store shelves or spinner racks.
DC, Marvel, Archie, Harvey, even some Gold Key; all were available for purchase as new comics. But Charlton? They were, for me, solely in the in realm of the mystery packages of damaged, unsold comics that made up so much of my comic collection as a kid.
Even then, the Charlton titles that would occasionally pop up were almost entirely horror comics.
However, as anyone who has a “thing” – some defining characteristic that is easily-identifiable – can attest, inevitably, you begin acquiring items related to that “thing” from other sources.
My ex-wife’s thing was cows. She liked cows. Thus, our apartment was filled with cow-related items, some of which were self-selected, but most of which were given as gifts, whether for a specific occasion, or as the result one of those “I saw this and thought of you” spur-of-the-moment purchases by some friend or family member.
My “thing,” of course, was comics, and I got a lot of my comics through a similar set of circumstances, the most notable of which was when my parents went out of town for something and in one of the stores my mom found a big bundle ‘o comics. (Of course, in that case there was an additional, financial motivation, in that it was a lot cheaper to buy a big bundle of random-ass comics than individual issues that cost $.50 – 1.00.)
Said bundle contained a bunch of Charlton comics, and it served as my first exposure to their line of super-hero comics, introducing me to characters such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and Judomaster.
A few years later, I would meet those characters – and more – again when they popped up in Crisis on Infinite Earths, as Charlton had gone out of business and much of their intellectual property had been acquired by DC.
It was in Crisis that I first encountered Peter Cannon AKA Thunderbolt, a man who had, as the result of training by a secret group of monks, unlocked his full potential, becoming stronger, faster, smarter, and just plain better than even the finest athletes and scholars.
In the ’90s, he got his own short-lived series at DC, but my only familiarity with it was via DC house ads and the poster in Darlene’s bedroom on Roseanne.
I don’t know the full story behind it, but at some point the rights to the character reverted to the estate of his creator, Pete Morisi.
I did check out the brief series that Dynamite published several years ago – which also featured some characters who were very clearly Captain Atom and Nightshade with the serial numbers filed off – and learned a bit more about the character, but then I kind of forgot about him until seeing the announcement of this new series written by WicDiv scribe Kieron Gillen, which was enough to catch my attention, and which we, finally, will start talking about.
One of the most notable aspects of all of the Charlton characters is that in his initial pitch for Watchmen, Alan Moore had planned to use the recently-acquired Charlton characters. However, the late Dick Giordano, who had worked at Charlton, convinced him to use original creations instead, as the story Moore intended to tell would have, in Giordano’s mind, destroyed DC’s ability to use the characters in other contexts. And so, Moore created new characters, though they remained analogous to the Charlton characters that inspired them.
In that original pitch, Peter Cannon filled the role that later went to Ozymandias.
Here, Gillen leans into that bit of comic book history in the story he tells, which opens with a group of international heroes appealing to Peter Cannon for assistance. The Earth, it seems, has been invaded by aliens, aliens who have already destroyed an entire city.
The appeal isn’t going well, as Cannon seems to have no interest in saving the world. However, he is interested in saving people, and so he relents and invites the heroes to make themselves comfortable while he consults the sacred scrolls containing all of the accumulated wisdom of the monks who bequeathed them to him, and which are the source of his amazing abilities.
With Cannon’s assistance, the heroes make short work of the invading aliens, and while the loss of an entire city is tragic, the silver lining to this very dark cloud is that it has united the nations of the world who now see that there are some things larger than our petty ideological and political differences, and that we must all come together in the face of a common enemy.
While Watchmen probably isn’t included in Cannon’s sacred texts – though it is included in mine – it sounds familiar to him, too. After the invasion is dealt with, Cannon reveals to Tabu that the whole thing is a hoax, a trick designed to unite a divided world.
Further, Cannon realizes that there’s only one person who could pull off such a monumental – and monstrous – prank: Peter Cannon. However, given that he didn’t do it, the obvious conclusion is that some other Peter Cannon, from another dimension, did.
We cut to a fortress in some frozen location where a mysterious figure is watching, and musing that it was inevitable that someone would figure it out…
I have been…allergic to the follow-up work that DC has done with Watchmen, as I feel that it’s a singular work that stands alone and it serves no purpose – no creative purpose; obviously it serves a financial purpose – to keep going back and trying to build on what it accomplished. I know others disagree, and I understand their perspective. I simply don’t share that perspective, and, frankly, I see no point in arguing about it, because no one is going to convince anyone of anything through some fruitless debate. (I’m also not particularly interested in having a conversation about the critical reevaluation of Moore and his work, or about his general grumpiness.)
I have no objection to others doing their own thing with the basic themes and ideas presented in the book, and using a character who served as the original springboard for the idea is a clever twist.
There’s no reason it shouldn’t – and a lot of reasons why it should – be viewed as a source of creative inspiration, but where I do object is with simply rehashing the same themes, and reusing the characters, and diving into unnecessary backstory as part of a shameless cash grab.
This is not that.
There is a fine line between “homage” and “rip-off,” and this first issue walks it pretty well, dropping in some knowing winks – such as the opening caption accompanying the scenes of devastation that tells us that this takes place “35 minutes in the future” and noting that “our heroes are impotent” – but very much managing to be its own original work. Gillen pulls off the trick of giving us something familiar as a means of introducing us to something new.
Even when using the visual language of Watchmen, the book adds its own accent and idioms, as with this scene:
It’s a nine-panel grid that recalls the layout of Watchmen, and presents an action sequence that is similar to some famous sequences contained therein, but does so in a way that is not derivative, mixing in both classic elements of graphic storytelling that the original eschewed – the “action” lines – while also utilizing more modern elements in terms of overall style and composition, such as the gradient backgrounds and the modern coloring techniques.
It’s worth noting that the previous series from Dynamite also leaned into the Cannon/Ozymandias connection. There, Cannon was using his mental abilities to project the illusion of an enormous dragon that appeared at random, and then jumping in to fight it off, building up a reputation as a hero as a means to establishing a reputation and a level of celebrity that would allow him try to sell the world on his vision of how life should be lived. (Perhaps that Peter Cannon is the antagonist here?)
I’m not familiar with Caspar Wijingaard, but I like what I see here; there are echoes of Gillen’s frequent collaborator Jamie McKelvie, but also – particularly in the battle scenes with the aliens – hints of Bryan Hitch’s work on The Ultimates. As with the overall Watchmen homages in the book, though, the art has its own unique identity despite the familiarity.
It’s an interesting and auspicious beginning for a new series, with a lot happening in a single issue, and I look forward to seeing where it goes, and hopefully learning a bit more about some of the other heroes whom we meet very briefly.
That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back next week to see what it shines upon.