Reinterpretations and expansions of Watchmen are all the rage right now, as DC Comics integrates Watchmen characters into its main superhero universe in Doomsday Clock and HBO prepares a new Watchmen TV series that promises a fresh take on the grim and gritty superhero story. Dynamite Comics is offering its own unique reimagining in the pages of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, a series about the character who served as the inspiration for Watchmen antagonist Ozymandias. Peter Cannon is a paragon of physical and intellectual perfection, but after an alien attack destroys an entire city, he finds himself faced with the one opponent who can truly challenge him: an alternate reality version of himself.
Written by Kieron Gillen with art by Caspar Wijngaard, colorist Mary Safro, and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt is full of cheeky allusions to Watchmen; despite the grave subject matter, the creative team maintains a sense of humor that gives the series a satirical edge. This exclusive preview of this week’s Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #2 highlights both the darkness and light of this story, beginning with an exchange between Peter Cannon and his butler/former lover, Tabu that establishes the high stakes and the emotional connection between the two men. Wijngaard’s layout and composition reinforces Peter’s focus on his work and how that distances him from Tabu, and Safro’s coloring enhances the tension with the contrast of warm yellow and cool blue.
The following scene is when this preview gets especially audacious, as Gillen delves into the nature of “watching” before commenting on the potentially alienating aspects of strict formalism. “This level of formalism is dangerous,” Peter says as his fellow heroes lie down in a six-panel grid. “We could lose some people.” Peter is referring to a potentially fatal interdimensional voyage, but his lines can also be interpreted as Gillen commenting on how creators’ adherence to a rigid grid layout can push potential readers away. The lettering for “Next: The Crossover” is very similar to the font used for Watchmen’s issue title, but the light smudging on the letters reflects the looser approach of this series as it plays around with established structural elements. Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt is an exceptionally clever examination of Watchmen’s enduring impact on superhero comics, and by not taking itself too seriously, the story is all the more compelling.