Writer Fred Van Lente Discusses `Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt: Destroyer Of Death’
by Tom Smithyman
Peter Cannon, the Lightning Vessel of the Awakened from the shuttered Charlton Comics, is back in a new origin story from Dynamite on November 16, 2022. In an interview with Comicon.com, series writer Fred Van Lente discusses the character’s connections to The Watchmen’s Ozymandias and why he didn’t want to write yet another white-guy-gets-Asian-powers story.
Tom Smithyman: Peter Cannon is not the most well-known character in comic-dom. What attracted you to his story?
Fred Van Lente: Well, he’s pretty well known to me, as I used him in Die!namite, the zombie saga we do over here it Dynamite, and got a big kick out of him – pun intended! I love martial arts comics and movies, it’s a favorite genre. The Question is possibly my all-time favorite comics title and I’ve written Iron Fist and Archer & Armstrong and a few other kung fu comics before.
Smithyman: What kind of research did you do on the character? Did you go back and read any of his old issues from Charlton Comics?
Van Lente: I did. Dynamite got them for me when I started work on Die!namite. They are tons and fun and hard to believe Peter Morisi drew them on his off-hours from being a New York City cop. How can you not love any comic where the first issue alone the hero fights a lion, a T-Rex, gangsters and a hooded guru? What’s not to love?
Smithyman: Why re-tell his origin? Was it to reintroduce Peter to today’s audience or do you have something bigger in mind?
Van Lente: We see Batman’s origin 1,200 times a year across various media, I feel like we can do Peter Cannon’s more than once!
Smithyman: Your version of Peter Cannon focuses on his martial arts abilities. What inspired you to make that important decision?
Van Lente: I kind of felt like recent interpretations of Peter was wrapped too much in Watchmen’s Ozymandias, a character he inspired. There’s a reason Ozymandias is the bad guy of Watchmen – he’s a rich dick. And I wanted Peter to start from more humble beginnings. He grew up in (in our versions, the remains of) a monastery, comes to New York without a penny to his name and a mission to find his childhood best friend and sweetheart then rescue her from his murderous former teacher and cult leader.
Now there are 100% less T-Rexes in this version, which I regret, but it’s just not that kind of comic.
Smithyman: Your story is set in a 21st century that sounds like it could be ripped from the headlines with its would-be messiahs, crazed conspiracists and apocalypse cults. Is the tale part social commentary or is it just old-fashioned fisticuffs?
Van Lente: I had been doing a lot of reading about cults, and I was following the HBO documentary series The Vow which is about a cult not too far from me in upstate New York, and I thought it’d be interesting to move Peter from being in the Himalayas and make him more of an American fringe religious tradition. Partly it was because I’m tired of white-guy-gets-Asian-powers, but more because approximately 8 million superhero characters, from The Shadow to Dr. Strange, have the same origin, and I wanted to change it up a bit.
Smithyman: You mentioned Peter Cannon’s connection to Ozymandias and his similar origins to Marvel’s Iron Fist. Which of the three of them would win in a battle royale?
Van Lente: Now that’s a good question. You’ve picked three pretty evenly matched combatants, there. But you know what? Peter Cannon has a move called The Destroyer the Death, and for that reason I think he’s gonna win.
What is the Destroyer of Death, you might ask? Well, you’ll just have to pick up our series to find out…
Smithyman: That sounds like a plan. Thanks so much for the time.