Peter Cannon, Human Centipede: Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 Reviewon September 9, 2012 at 6:36 pm
Here’s one of two things what I knew about the character Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt before I picked up the new Dynamite Comics first issue of his new book: he was the only Charlton superhero that DC Comics didn’t ever even try to give a shot in the DC Universe after they bought the Charlton rights back in the 80s. They even gave fucking Judomaster a shot in the Outsiders book a few years ago, and Judomaster is what you get when someone needs a superhero concept by noon: “He’s a master of judo. Boom! Judomaster. Now give it to some artist to slap a Japanese flag on his chest and fetch me more bourbon.”
The other thing I knew about Peter Cannon was that he was the character upon whom Alan Moore based his Watchmen character, Ozymandias. And Ozymandias was a rich dude with an Alexander The Great fetish who used his smarts to gin up a weird master plan to trick the Great Unwashed into chucking their nuclear weapons to protect themselves from some other-than-natural monster. Of course, the original Thunderbolt couldn’t possibly be like that… and having read the backup story in Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1, written by the character’s creator, Peter Morisi, back in the 80s, he wasn’t.
However, having read the main story, written by Steve Darnall and Alex Ross with art by Jonathan Lau, he apparently is now.
Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt is an origin story of sorts, although the character really sort of appears whole cloth, from out of nowhere. The story begins with a Chinese nuclear test that causes the usual effects of a nuclear explosion: a big mushroom cloud, and a giant fucking dragon. Turns out it’s a dragon that just loves nukes, because he shows up after a rumor of a Russian nuke test, and then overflies New York and the United Nations because, well, apparently that’s what dragons do. Maybe the dragon loves Jersey Boys, who knows? Anyway, Peter Cannon shows up and smites the dragon, telling the world simultaneously that the dragon appeared as a result of humans waging war, and that his name is Peter Cannon and that we should buy his books and attend his schools, or maybe just send him money in a paper bag. Then a bunch of other exposition and setup for future issues happens, and we discover that the dragon was created and controlled by (Dun-dun-duuuunnnnn!) Cannon himself, apparently to trick everyone into world peace.
There’s a lot going on this this issue, but unfortunately, most of it falls to exposition and setup for future issues. We meet a warmongering general and the chief of an obvious Fox News stand-in channel who seem to exist to talk about Cannon so that we can learn about him, and to talk some more about some government-sponsored super soldiers who will clearly antagonize Cannon… at some point in the future. We meet a Japanese businessman who is pretending to open a Cannon school to get himself and his tiger-masked ninjas into killing position… at some point in the future. We see a telephone call from a Cannon employee complaining that a mummy he found has gone missing, which is a story point that should pay off… and some point in the future. We see a robed man come across a flier with Cannon’s face on it that I’m sure will pay – ah, fuck it; you get the idea.
I have mixed feelings about the exposition – and there is a lot of it, from internal dialogue on Cannon’s part, to an interview with Cannon that exists only to allow him to describe himself indirectly to the reader. Part of me thinks it works, if only because I have no background knowledge of the character other than his being the inspiration for Ozymandias. On some level it’s helpful to have things set up where he can explain who he is, because I have no idea. However, introducing the character in this manner comes off as awfully talky and slow; a lot gets said, but nothing happens; beyond a two-page battle with the dragon, almost everything in this book is comprised of talking heads. We learn a lot, but it’s not exactly exciting… and considering a lot of what we learn is going to be shit that happens later, it’s a lot of talk for relatively little payoff.
And two of the things we do learn are, frankly, really Goddamned disappointing: one character notes that Cannon reminds her of Alexander the Great, and the discovery that the dragon was created by Cannon to scare people into disarmament. Now, like I said, I didn’t really know anything about this character before this issue, but it does contain an origin summary story by the character’s creator, and nowhere in there does it say anything about Alexander or any great plans to trick us into playing nice with each other. No, those traits come straight from Ozymandias and Watchmen, and to take that character’s traits and shoehorn them back into Ozymandias’s inspiring character just feels unspeakably lazy to me, at best. I’m sure Ross and Darnall are aware that some number of people will be checking out the book to see how close the character is to Ozymandias, and to take that opportunity to, in many ways, turn him into Ozymandias seems awfully masturbatory. To have Thunderbolt beget Ozymandias beget Thunderbolt is like the Human Centipede of comics; a morbid curiosity, maybe, but not something you’d go out of your way to see more than one of.
Jonathan Lau’s art on the issue, as it was in his work on The Bionic Man, is pretty solidly on the 90s style spectrum, with extremely finely-lined pencils and inks, and enough cross-hatching in his shadows to fill a wicker furniture factory. However, Lau balances the obvious 90s style with some cool-looking motion effects, a mix of realistic-looking figures – yes, we have some fat guys and other people for whom gravity still has an effect – and some pretty realistic faces: if that general isn’t the spitting image of Clint Eastwood, then I’m not George Clooney’s twin brother. No? How about Ernest Borgnine’s fat cousin? Regardless, the art is decent, if on the side of a style I don’t particularly enjoy myself.
If Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 has committed a venial sin, it’s that it tries too hard to tell us who the character is and what he’s going to be doing in the future, while having his show who he is and actually do anything right now. We have a lot more people talking about what Cannon does than we have Cannon actually fucking doing anything. But the book commits a mortal sin as well: it tries to, in ways that really, really matter, to turn Peter Cannon into Ozymandias. Which is a Goddamned shame, like seeing one of those Botoxed whores on Real Housewives of Shitsplat, USA trying to out-hot their teenaged daughters.
I didn’t buy Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt to read about some wanna-be Ozymandias; if I want to read about that guy, the book is already right on my shelf.