Forget Imitators, Here’s The Real Deal In Gillen & Wijngaard’s Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1

by Olly MacNamee

A lot has already been written about Dynamite’s new book Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 ahead of it’s release this week, and so this review might seem somewhat familiar as I, and any other comic book reviewer looking through this new book by Kieron Gillen and Caspar Wijngaard, make the inevitable mentions of Watchmen and a certain brain box known as Ozymandias. How could we not, given that Gillen himself expects it of us, as he riffs on the aforementioned series, blending these notes into his own narrative and his own turn.
What Gillen gives us, if there was any doubt to Cannon being his own man, is an antithesis to Ozymandias in his version of Peter Cannon. He couldn’t be further removed from this imposter. This Cannon doesn’t like what he sees around him. Recognising the would-be alien invasion to be nothing but a ruse, like that perpetuated by Adrain Veidt in Watchmen, and any world peace that came about as a result of this ruse would be fleeting at best. He may come off as a meta-critic of Watchmen’s conclusion, but he ain’t wrong is he? I mean, even reading the book back in the 80’s and the period it reflected – before 9/11 and the rise of new enemies from new countries, with new ideologies – the ending is far from concrete. Hell, it’s the very same thought process fuelling DC’s Doomsday Clock too. Peace never lasts. Not while we’re here.

It’s this lust for violence and war that disgusts Cannon. Why should he come to the rescue of a species he would rather cause to disappear? Cannon’s best friend, Tabu, wants him to be the superhero that he could be, while Cannon – being raised in a somewhat isolated, spiritual environment – would rather be left alone with his scrolls in peace and tranquillity. After a lifetime hidden form Western civilisation and populations, he’d rather contemplate his navel than have to worry about other people’s navels.
Yes, this issue apes the 9 panel grid of Watchmen, but I suspect this may well dissipate in later issues as the white elephant in the room has been dealt with and Cannon can evolve into his own character with his own story. What with the original Charlton run, and the 1992 DC run, plus Dynamite’s own recent series, his whole history boils down to about 30 issue in total. Something that Gillen is more than aware of, too. I imagine there are characters in the public domain who appear in more comics that Peter Cannon. So Gillen really has something of a blank canvas to play with. And with another dimensional threat raising its head, while we may not yet be finished with Moore and Gibbons’s seminal series, it’s an interesting inclusion of Cannon’s illegitimate half-brother.

It’s a great first issue, and Wijngaard makes what could well have been a self-restricting, but necessary narrative choice of the 9 panel page to great effect, mapping out dynamic compositions that are merely criss-crossed by the obtrusive panel layout, rather than it’s prisoner. But it’s not all 9 panel grids. But the sporadic use of this layout and its payoff on the penultimate page is very smart. The gargantuan opening, depicting the destruction wrought on Earth by alien invaders, is a series of splash pages that has you gasping while reflecting on Watchmen’s own ‘alien invasion’. The minute the 9 panels kick in, it’s at its most Watchmen moment. A slo-mo scene akin to Ozymandias’s own fake assassination attempt in Moore and Gibbons’s graphic novel.
The cast of characters Gillen and Wijngaard have created are as lame as you’d expect, when compared to Cannon, that is. Easily outwitted and outstepped every time by the greater mind of Peter. But, they’re a great addition to the fledgling Cannon canon and a point of departure from Watchmen, given that these are not simply Watchmen/Charlton Comics reimaginings.

We get a peek into all of their characters in a short amount of time and I’m already growing to like them. Another sign of this series forging its own destiny. I can’t wait to see where Gillen takes us next issue now and what future awaits for Peter and Tabu.
Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 is out now from Dynamite.

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