Thunderbolt. Artist: Pete Morisi.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Charlton Comics
First Appeared: 1966
Creator: Peter A. Morisi
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Charlton Comics was a late jumper onto the superhero bandwagon, and an early jumper off. But for a …

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… brief time during the middle-to-late 1960s, the spandex brigade made up a prominent part of of the company's output. Peter Cannon … Thunderbolt (the ellipsis […] being part of the title logo but not the official title as indicated by the indicia) was among the few remembered for a reasonable level of quality.

The cartoonist who created Peter Cannon was identified only by his initials, P.A.M. Veteran comic book collectors, however, quickly recognized his style as that of Pete Morisi, who had signed his full name to westerns, horror stories, etc. for Fox, Lev Gleason, Marvel and several other publishers during the 1940s and '50s, and co-created Johnny Dynamite for Comic Media in 1953. Morisi had joined the New York Police Department in the late 1950s, when most comic book work dried up, and used the initials because he didn't want his superiors to know about his moonlighting.

The first issue of Thunderbolt, dated January, 1966, told how Peter Cannon had been raised in a Tibetan monastery following the deaths of his parents, medical professionals who had died while saving most of the inmates from a deadly disease. In gratitude, the head lama decided to make their orphaned son the sole recipient of the order's most precious knowledge and training. This was done against the opposition of a monk known only as "The Hooded One", so called because, like Doctor Doom, his face had been so hideously scarred (in an earlier act of heroism that saved the monastery) that readers never got to see it.

After years of striving for physical and mental perfection, Peter was given his final test — which consisted of being subjected to the horror of returning to civilization to see how well he could cope. He was accompanied by his lifelong friend, Tabu. The Hooded One followed, and made it his business to throw one menace after another at his hated rival. Peter's only desire as a reluctant member of civilization was to live in peaceful seclusion, but he was repeatedly forced to put on his old training outfit (with a mask added by Tabu, to enable him to preserve anonymity), and deal with deadly forces that only he was equipped to handle. That costume was reminiscent of the 1940s Daredevil's, vertically split between red and blue sections. The name "Thunderbolt" was given to him by a newspaper reporter covering his first superheroic exploit.

By the way, this origin story was a virtual duplicate of that of Amazing-Man, a hero Bill Everett (best known for Marvel's Sub-Mariner) created for Centaur Comics (Speed Centaur, The Clock) in 1939 — right down to the hooded adversary (in his case, called The Great Question (no relation)) who hailed from the same monastery.

The second issue of the comic was designated "#51". It had taken over the numbering of a cancelled hero called Son of Vulcan, Charlton's answer to Marvel's Thor, and one of the company's less stellar stars. The title continued until #60 (November, 1967), at which point Charlton pulled the plug on its entire superhero line. Morisi wrote and drew a majority of issues, but the last few were written by Denny O'Neil (Batman, Green Lantern) and illustrated by Pat Boyette (who also drew Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and The Phantom while Charlton licensed them from King Features).

In 1983, Charlton sold its superhero properties to DC Comics, which used them as models for several characters in Alan Moore's 1986 graphic novel, Watchmen. Peter Cannon was the basis for Watchmen's Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias. In 1992 and '93, DC published a 12-issue series titled Peter Cannon — Thunderbolt (note dash, rather than ellipsis). The DC version wasn't as well received as Charlton's had been.

Since then, he's made a couple of appearances with a '90s incarnation of The Justice League. Later on, rights to the character reverted to Morisi, and DC has done nothing with him since.


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Text ©2004-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © estate of Peter A. Morisi.