Should Form Be Slave To Function? We Review Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #5

by Olly MacNamee

And so the curtain comes down on the meta-narrative exploration of Watchmen and the medium itself as we say goodbye to our eponymous hero (and arch-enemy too) in Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #5 from Kieron Gillen, Caspar Wijngaard, Mary Safro and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.
And, as Watchmen started, Peter Cannon ends, but with a difference.
Where once we stared down from The Comedian’s loft apartment, here on the first page of the last issue, Cannon stares up at a blank skyscraper comprised of blank comic book panels. Turn the page and, just as Rorschach before him, Cannon is seen climbing through a smashed ‘window’ and into his doppelgänger’s lair and an almost shot-for-shot replay of the book that has meant so much to Gillen and to the comic book readers for so long. But, should we still be clinging to this as a Holy Grail of comics any more? I mean, the poem from which Moore’s Ozymandias takes his name is one chosen carefully for a reason. Its a sonnet that revels to us the universal truth that nothing last forever, regardless of our human arrogance. Indeed, that’s the ending of Watchmen that I read and certainly the same can be said of Geoff Johns’s own reading of it, as we’ve seen in the earlier issues of Doomsday Clock, in which Veidt’s precious peace hasn’t even last a decade. The sand of time erode empires and destroy our “mighty works”, whoever we are.

And, it’s a sentiment echoed by ‘evil’ Peter Cannon too. Watchmen will fade from our collective memories one day as contemporary creators age and are replaced. Why hang onto the accomplishments of the past when there are more stories to still be told? Stories that may well be elevated, one day, to a similar status than that of Watchmen. Arguably, there are so many intelligent and mature-minded comics out there that it’s sometimes easy to forget that when Watchmen was published, while there were many, many titles out there suddenly aimed at an older, more educated readership (American Flagg! anyone?), there wasn’t as many as there are today. Not that level of quality, month in, month out. Gillen own magnum opus, The Wicked + The Divine, I am sure, will be long remembered and cherished for years to come, with many a creator-in-the-wings probably citing this seminal series in decades to come, just as this generation’s creators cite Moore and Miller’s work today.
As our Peter Cannon states, there are, “so many scrolls yet to be written.” Moore may well have been “better” than many but what about the future? Are all writers forever to be compared with a creator who, I’m sorry to break it to you, hasn’t really been relevant for a good while now? Even as our Cannon is pummelling ‘evil’ Cannon he’s still referencing Watchmen: ‘You did it thirty years ago… Please, let’s try something else.” The ending, if read through this particular lens, can be read as a challenge. A challenge to comic book creators old new or yet to be discovered. We are being asked to push the boundaries of what comics can be capable of. Whether that is in storytelling, representation or the very nuts and bolts of comic book’s formalism. We saw Gillen achieve this with Jamie McKelvie in Young Avengers and we’ve seen it here again. I mean, even in this issue we see very little violence ‘on camera’ and this is, arguably, a superhero comic that thrives on such conflict. The gauntlet has well and truly been thrown down. Now who’s up for the challenge?

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #5 is out now from Dynamite.

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