Thunderbolt Claps Back at Watchmen in Final Issue

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Peter Cannon Thunderbolt 5

PETER CANNON, THUNDERBOLT wraps up its story arc with this fifth issue, whereupon the titular character takes on the titular character. It's Peter Cannon vs. Peter Cannon, but really it's more Charleston Thunderbolt takes on Watchmen's Ozymandias. But there's more going on here than simple homage from Kieron Gilen and Caspar Wijngaard.

Years ago (when the Earth's crust was just beginning to cool and the last dinosaur was breathing a final gutteral rasp), a friend of mine told me his idea about a comic book character who knew he was a comic book character. It was his personal Hell, but he used that knowledge the best he could, taking advantage of the unique physics that let him do impossible things inside -- and outside -- of the story. I'm reminded of that in this fourth-wall-bending approach with PETER CANNON. There are direct messages in here to the evil Peter that hearken back to the original WATCHMEN series, such as evil Cannon being told "You did it thirty years ago" (a callback to Ozymandias's "I did it thirty minutes ago" response at the climax of issue #11. There are beats where Peter Cannon sets up Watchmen lines and waits to see if anyone gets it.

And it's all, apparently, in the end (end? nothing ever ends...) a statement about comics and superhero deconstruction, even as it's a lesson for our main Peter Cannon to become more human and embrace his relationship with his lover, Tabu. (And with as much purpose as Gillen puts into the script, we have to wonder if naming Peter's gay lover "taboo" was done with intent.)

A more sly reference slipped in here, perhaps because it's the only Thunderbolt reference that is not a Watchmen one is the phrase, "So cool." If only Gillen could have followed that up with a "Say you," all the Thunderbolt bases would have been covered.

Be warned: PETER CANNON, THUNDERBOLT is a very cerebral read, which takes the audience from superhero comics to indie autobiographical comics to the world of formalism and the metatextual. It's one you read, and then re-read to see if you missed something or to go in with an informed perspective the second go-round. On one level, it's blatant, and on others it's understated, and that makes it a standout gem of a comic in a market that repeatedly fails to deliver entertainment.

4.0 / 5.0