Alex: So, over the past month, I’ve started playing with something new on Twitter. Each week, I pick a comics issue that caught my eye and do an illustrated thread of little observations and stuff I enjoyed about it. There are a lot of problems with Twitter as a platform, though, so I thought I’d try collating those thoughts into blog posts. This is all very much in the experimental stages, so let us know what you think.
This time out, it’s Kieron Gillen/Caspar Wijngaard/Mary Safro/Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s PETER CANNON: THUNDERBOLT #1. Spoilers follow after the cut. In the case of this particular comic, pretty enormous spoilers.
Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt is Dynamite Comics’ latest revamp of Peter Cannon, a ’60s superhero best known as the inspiration for Ozymandias, when Moore/Gibbons adapted the Charlton characters for Watchmen. This will become very important in what follows.
On that note: this issue only really came together for me on a second read, once I knew the last-page reveal. On first read, the obvious reference point was Ellis/Hitch’s The Authority: page-filling destruction on a city scale, stacks of those famous widescreen panels, hyper-violence and neologistically overblown action-hero dialogue.
But then I hit the big reveal: the city-destroying alien invasion was actually a hoax, perpetrated by an alt-universe Peter Cannon, complete with Arctic base, wall of TV screens and ridiculous armour. All he’s missing is the genetically-engineered cat.
Do you know what else opens on a string of full-page splashes showing the destruction of a city? Why, it’s Watchmen #12, another comic about an alien invasion which is faked to unite the nations of the earth against a common threat.
Once I had that realisation, it clicked: this issue is essentially a retelling of the events of Watchmen #12 in a post-Authority superhero universe. That is precisely my kind of clever-clever comics nonsense.
I love seeing these two seminal superhero comics, published 15 years apart, connected through their signature panel layouts: because of course triple-stacked widescreen panels are just an incarnation of the nine-panel grid.
(And, as pointed out by our very own Tim Maytom, the issue’s title – “Watch” – is the perfect halfway point between its two main influences. “Stormwatch” and “Watchmen”, colling in an Ellis-esque single-word title.)
There are some really cool uses of the nine-panel grid this issue, and not all to do with the Watchmen connection. Taking the idea of the grid as the moment-to-moment beat of comics, to show the speed of Cannon’s reactions, is probably my favourite. (Note the dialogue.)
I also love the panels-as-TV-screens, with AU Cannon – the external observer – positioned outside of the grid.
Special-effect speech bubbles can be hit and miss for me, but… man, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou is killing it with the lettering on this book.
Hass’ greatest flex this issue has to be his mimicking of Gibbons’ wobbly-edged speech balloons for the AU Cannon.
This issue also introduces five new superheroes, or at least super-powered agents… And they might all be analogues for the Watchmen heroes? From left-right: Pyrophorus (Nite Owl), The Test (Rorschach – note the pun), Baba Yaga (Silk Spectre), Nucleon (Dr Manhattan), Supreme Justice (Comedian).
As with WicDiv’s gods, though, these characters aren’t just analogues for one thing. Just as the Comedian is also, in a sense, Charlton’s Peacemaker, Supreme Justice is also Captain America – in particular the one from Millar/Hitch’s (heavily Authority-influenced) Ultimates – and every other patriotic-bordering-on-nationalist, arguably fascist military hero.
Judged on their own merits, though, Nucleon was the one that stood out most, for the visuals alone. There’s more than a touch of Marvel’s Radioactive Man to her aesthetic, but the hazmat suit being torn to shreds as she turns into vapour is such a look. As is the sports bra.
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