The two-toned adventurer codenamed Thunderbolt, Peter Cannon started as a part of Charlton Comics' 1960s Action Heroes line. Alongside the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and Peacemaker, Cannon left his mark on the readers of the day, but unlike those others, his perpetual rights were not bought by DC Comics. Instead, they returned to Peter Morisi -- a writer and retired New York City police officer.
This September, Dynamite Entertainment relaunches the hero in "Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt" under the watch of painter Alex Ross, writer Steve Darnall and artist Jonathan Lau. To hear Ross tell it, the challenge for the creative team is to take Morisi's creation out of its historical oddity context and give it new depth for the modern era. "There's curiosity of the fact that he just existed. He was zanily a part of the DC Universe when it was all being united in 'Crisis On Infinite Earths.' I saw him there and thought, 'Who the heck is that guy?' Of course, if you only see him in that one series, he has one sole moment as a speedster because George Perez didn't know what his power set was and just threw him in there. You'd just have this misleading notion of what this character is all about.
"He was part of this unique universe that was not pure analogue characters for Superman and Batman," the artist noted of the draw to Thunderbolt. "They were a very unique set with the Question, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom. He wasn't a part of some company mindset that said, 'Let's have these kinds of characters.' They just happened to be that way and belonged to something of the eccentricity that was Charlton Comics -- and eventually what that would get turned into in the hands of Alan Moore."
Of course, Ross there refers to the fact that Thunderbolt served as the initial inspiration for "Watchmen's" Ozymandias, and the artist and his writer have made no secret of the impact Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic series have had on their new "Peter Cannon" series. "We take a lot of inspiration from what the Peter Cannon legacy is, and of course part of that is how much his legacy affects the most famous graphic novel in comics," Ross said. "His having been recast by Alan Moore has a sizable impact on this drama, and people taking an interest in reading this project will find out how that interest took hold."
But the particulars of this world will be all Thunderbolt, as Ross and Darnall reread all the original issues to help build their modern world. "It is the original publishing stuff that shaped this for sure, and one of the key ideas came from one of the '60s issues," Ross explained. "The bad part of that is that one of my key ideas came from a fill-in issue by Pat Boyette -- one of Charlton's stable artists of the day. He drew 'Peacemaker,' and I guess for a few months when Pete couldn't do the book, Pat filled in. I thought, 'What if I take this idea and exaggerate it?'" The artist noted that the idea spins out of Thunderbolt's abilities changing the shape of society, though he opted to keep mum on the particulars of that before the first issue is released. "It's nothing new to have the superhero become the celebrity of their world, but to have an effect like the kind he's living with will hopefully be unique to our story."
Despite the property ending up in entirely new hands at Dynamite, Morisi's touch will be all over the series, particularly in the other faces fans will meet. "We'll be drawing on characters created by Morisi. This won't be a world populated with entirely new people. He'll be facing off against some of the elements and challengers that had initially been placed against him by Pete Morisi. And we're playing with some other fantastic characters in his world that could be of aid or could potentially be enemies," the painter told CBR News.
The real world origins of this collection of ideas and characters came from Ross' frequent work with Dynamite's releases. "My involvement is at least three years working on this whole thing. Nick [Barruci]'s first question for me was 'Would you do a cover?' And in trying to plan a cover for it, I started to conceive a curious idea for a dilemma to give the character that could drive a story. Then [I thought of] other sideline characters who could fill out the world of Peter Cannon. That started to take root and inspire me. It then took a great deal of time to figure who I would collaborate with on the story and the art as well."
Morisi's own real world inspirations from his career in law enforcement and as a writer of his times impacted Ross' take on the title. "What Thunderbolt really grows from is the growing understanding in the '60s of martial arts. There's the idea that that was a new landscape where one would have mastery over key fighting arts but also one's body. Of course, Thunderbolt was always going through this constant Steve Ditko Spider-Man moment where he's struggling with the weight of the world on his back going, 'I can do it... I must do it!'"
After a year an a half of looking, Ross and Dynamite found Darnall to be the right match for their ideas as a writer. "Steve has always talked about comics with me over the last 15 years since we did 'Uncle Sam.' It always seemed like a perfectly fine fit. This project needed someone to helm it, and Steve's interest can go into some pretty weird areas. Sometimes the right level of thinking from outside the mainstream needs to be injected into publishing these days. It can't be like everything else being written right now."
As with so much of his work for Dynamite, Ross' "Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt" will come with a facelift for the hero under the painter's photo-realistic eye. The original Morisi design of Peter Cannon's Thunderbolt costume came partially inspired by the 1940s hero Daredevil, whom Ross also redesigned for Dynamite's "Project Superpowers" line. That similarity in blue and red costuming was not lost on the painter this time around, though it didn't drive his new take on Cannon. "The impossible thing to keep in today's modern comic storytelling is heroes wearing short pants," Ross laughed. "It's like the Robin syndrome. Morisi designed a character in the '60s with long sleeves and boots, but no pants. The first outfit Flash Gordon wore had no legs on it -- so it was commonplace then to think it was non-farcical.
"The '90s DC 'Thunderbolt' costume did pretty much a full Daredevil costume riff with it, with the red and blue going all the way down. My goal here was to keep that only on the top of the body and the torso, but the rest of his legs [have] a protective insulation suit that really appears closest to the art style of Bryan Hitch and his Ultimates designs. I'm just riffing on the modern sensibility of how one designs a comic book today."
Dynamite's "Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt" relaunch hits in September.