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Peter Cannon Thunderbolt Mending The Pieces

Peter Cannon Thunderbolt: Watch
Kieron Gillen Writer
Caspar Wyjngaard Artist
Mary Safro Colorist
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou Letterer
Dynamite Entertainment
$29.99 146 pages

Kintsukuroi is a Japanese term meaning “to repair with gold”, alluding to a technique used to put back together broken pottery with a gold alloy, thus highlighting its scars. It is the understanding that things can be rendered more beautiful for having been broken and then repaired. But can all things be fixed?

That is one of the many questions posed by the collected volumes of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, out this month. Peter Cannon is originally a character published in the 60’s by Charlton Comics and, following a short stint on DC Comics, has been largely unseen. This collected series breathes new life into a character that seems to perfectly capture our zeitgeist.

Peter is the world’s most intelligent man, having learned the teachings and powers from a series of ancient scrolls (think of a grimmer Iron Fist), but is very reluctant to take up his calling as Thunderbolt. As usual in this sort of medium, his reticence is put to the test when an invasion decimates an entire city, with aliens that bring to mind a cross between Alien’s Xenomorphs, War of the Worlds and the CGI wonders of Final Fantasy: Spirits Within.

Peter, however, does not admire or feel affection towards the world he is supposed to save (doing it at the insistence of other members of his group) and suspects something strange is afoot. The impending attack seems to generate much delayed peace talks between the major world powers (US, China and Russia, grounding us in reality, and making us wonder if that time will ever truly come), thus increasing the chance for a more harmonious world in the aftermath. But should we celebrate a positive outcome stemming from such a terrible tragedy? What if that tragedy was faked or generated? Is it still valuable to celebrate peace after such unnecessary death?

I don’t want to spoil the major plot points here, as the book would lose some of its impact if I had known them before hand. But suffice it to say that there are a lot of nods to science and scientific experimentation. There is mention of the observer effect, i.e., how an experimenter by mere use of his instruments (natural or otherwise) can alter the outcome of the experiment. What is left unsaid, but is pondered over throughout the book (and more so in the fourth issue) is how the experiment changes the observer. Also, in an important passage of the book there are a couple of dialogs that could allude to the ethics of experimentation. How many tries with minor tweaks are necessary until we conclude that a successful result is improbable? If we stop in time, are we responsible for all the losses with the failed attempts? Or are we cowards for not pushing forward? Such is the dilemma that permeates anyone who has tried a nearly impossible project, an unclimbable hill. Are the heroes the ones that push forward, knowing there’s a slim chance of success, or the ones that admit defeat and try another strategy?

An interesting musing on free will vs. determinism is also a key part of this collection. Are we bound to follow a series of paths and behaviors because of our genetic makeup or are we given a series of tools to build whatever we decide suits our future best? The book teases us with another character with a very similar story to Peter Cannon, and access to the same sources he has (interestingly enough, he is a historian; in today’s world he would probably have to battle against fake news and revisionists). His development is, however, much different from, but infused with much more heart than, our title character, again proving it’s our relations to our experiences that shape us.

There’s also a chance to relive some experiences twice in a lifetime (and maybe another in another lifetime ?). It is revealed early on that Peter Cannon and Tabu (what a name!), his male companion, were once in a relationship, doomed to fail due to his reluctance in becoming vulnerable (it is, after all, easier being super powered than being a human who shows emotion). After the entire experience, there is a chance to repair what once was, but like so many things it is only possible if one gives up something ( in this case, control and that impenetrable [fourth] wall that keeps Peter from making connections).
Touching upon that, the book also leaves some room for an interesting reflection on our current situation. In a society that seems to be more self-centered than past generations, in which our personal lives are under constant scrutiny and in which our data is captured and processed, sometimes without our knowledge, showing yourself to be vulnerable is an act of courage. And like the proverbial characters in Wizard of Oz, in this book the heart, courage and brain were inside all along.

It is also, in more ways than one, a love letter to comic books. There are many references to Watchmen, itself a meta-linguistic ode to superheroes, which is an interesting nod since Ozymandias in that book was actually based on the original Peter Cannon. There is also a play on the aesthetics of comic books, drawing styles and panel division. One of my favorite nods is the disposition of the main characters in the first issue when they take a trip. It is both an homage to the rules, as well as breaking them.

I did feel that some of the supporting characters deserved a bit more of fleshing out, but I understand they might have been sacrificed (in one case, literally, after a bit of comic relief) in lieu of advancing the plot and the personal journey of the title character.

In the end, whatever is lost seems to be permanent, as highlighted by one of the last panels in the last issue mirroring a similar one in the first, but whatever is broken, mostly personal relationships, seems to be fixable. The scars are there, highlighted in gold like the Japanese pottery.
As mentioned before, it is not the things we have access to (be them people who love us or ancient scrolls) that determine our earthly experience, but how we relate to them and in turn, allow them to change us. This collected issue leaves a lot to ponder on, and readers might come out better at the end, willing to invest in those broken fixable things and to let experiences, such as reading it, change them.

Julio De Carvalho Ponce is a 35 year-old Brazilian crime scene analyst who’s really into languages, Eurovision, wine and travelling. Has lived in both the US and Norway, but wishes Mars was available for an exchange program. Has been a fan of comics ever since Spider-Man first got married to MJ. Has been heartbroken, in real life and when MJ and Peter broke up. Will sing if there’s karaoke. Heck, will sing even if there isn’t any. Thinks the world is in dire need of more love and more art.

January 8, 2020
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