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Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt 1
"Origin of an Avenger"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND THUNDERBOLT (aka PETER CANNON, THUNDERBOLT) #1; Charlton Comics; Jan. 1966; Pat Masulli, editor; featuring "Special Case Number 0001: Origin of an Avenger", created, written and drawn by Pete Morisi, credited as "PAM".

In memory of Pete Morisi's recent passing, here's a review of the debut issue of his best-known Silver Age creation. The cover is a simple portrait of the new hero leaping into action, against a target-shaped background; clad in a costume red on one side of his chest and arms and blue-black on the other, with the colors reversed on his trunks. The design is reminiscent (deliberately or not, I don't know) of the Golden Age Daredevil (the Lev Gleason/Charles Biro character, no relation to Marvel's Daredevil), though unlike DD, Thunderbolt has bare legs and only a small domino mask on his face. The cover blurb informs us, "All of the mysterious powers of ancient Tibet were granted to PETER CANNON... see his training, his ordeals, his first great test.. THE ORIGIN.... Get Set for a NEW Brand of Reading Excitement!": Vignettes at the side depict the issue's bad guys, "Two of the world's most dangerous villains", "THE HOODED ONE, mysterious, all-powerful" and "Dum-Dum Barnes...vicious, deadly".

The unusual splash page features not a scene of T-Bolt, but an eitor's note from then-Charlton editor Pat Masulli (he would soon be succeeded by Dick Giordano) against a background of scenes of Charlton's *other* costumed heroes of that time, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle (Dan Garret magic scarab version) and Son of Vulcan. "Congratulations! You are about to read a prized first edition, that will one day be a valuable collector's item! [Hmmm... the STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS values this issue in NM at $16.00.} The Charlton Comic Group proudly presents a worthy companion magazine to CAPTAIN ATOM, BLUE BEETLE, and SON OF VULCAN! [Actually they were downgrading T-Bolt... he would prove to be quite a step up from the lame BB and Son of Vulcan.] We waited for the right combination of character, story and art to come along... AND THIS IS IT! We predict that you'll cheer, gasp, shudder and thrill at the amazing adventures of...THUNDERBOLT!"

On pages 2 and 3, Thunderbolt confronts a dinosaur, standing amidst the landscape of a burning, wrecked city, across an exceptional-for-the-era 2 page splash. Panels along the bottom of the pages feature head shots of T-Bolt, the Hooded One, the gangster Dum-Dum Barnes, and the dinosaur, captioned by philosophical ruminations such as, "What madness warps the mind of man, and stirs within it thoughts of foreboding hatred? Perhaps envy, fear or desire make up the mold, but in the end, it is man himself who chooses his destiny!"

High in the Himalayas, "fabled refuge of the mysterious East," a group of monks file into their temple to confront a blond youth, clad in a multicolored costume (minus the mask). "This day a Chosen One will be put to the proof! The power of will and strength of body are to be tested here! ARE YOU READY, PETER CANNON?" Peter nods silently "in willing acceptance", and, as he waits for the first door to open that will decide his fate, reflects on how he came to this point. "He remembers only faintly" his parents, medical missionaries who came with their infant son to the remote Tibetan community and resolved to stay and combat an outbreak of the Black Plague. Their heroic efforts bring the epidemic under control, but "Fate, however, played a final ironic twist! For Dr. Richard Cannon, and his wife, Mary, were the final victims of the plague!" On his deathbed Dr. Cannon receives the promise of the abbot that his orphaned son Peter "will be raised here in the lamasery where the combined cultures of our people will be taught to him! The ancient powers of the East will be his to command!" Not only will young Peter be "trained to the highest degree of mental and physical perfection", but he and only he will receive the ultimate secret knowledge of the "Sacred Scrolls", for the law of the lamasery decress that only one student may study the Scrolls at a time. This decision brings a sharp protest from a student known as the Hooded One, who previously had been the chosen student of the scrolls. But he is turned aside by the abbot, who decrees that "The child's parents gave their lives for our people, and we can offer him nothing less than all we have! Let not your facial disfigurement, caused by civilization, embitter you against all foreigners!" (Yeah, right.....) Peter's studies start early and continue intensely, as he learns the alphabet as an infant in diapers, and as a little boy is ordered to continue his exercises "until twice the time when you can go no further!" But he is given time for fun as well, playing baseball with his young Tibetan friend Tabu; "Go, Tabu, go! Don't dig in! Play it loose and cool!" "Your words elude me, Peter, as does this missile!" As a young man, having excelled in his training, Peter is granted at last the boon of studying the Ancient Scrolls that hold the ultimate secret of harnessing the potential of the nine-tenths of the brain that most humans never use. [The idea that nine-tenths of the brain goes unused is a common belief in real life, though from what I've heard, it's a biological fallacy.] Now he must face three trials, behind three doors, to show how he has mastered the secrets of the scrolls.

For the first trial, Peter is faced by a dozen Himalayan bowmen, in an arena with no place to flee or avoid their deadly arrows. A startled Abbot rebukes the Hooded One, who it seems has been put in charge of setting up the tests. "You dare place the youth's life in mortal danger?" "Our laws give me the right to choose the contents of the first two doors! Only the third one is yours!" Fortunately, Peter finds a way to survive... for, by mentally reciting the mantra, "I can do it....I must do it.... I WILL DO IT!" , he finds the superhuman strength to make a fifteen-foot leap into the air, avoiding the flight of arrows. Next, a tiger emerges from the second door, and Peter must wrestle it into submission barehanded. He succeeds, but not without being mauled and dangerously wounded. But again he resorts to his mantra-phrase, and "THE BLEEDING STOPS, AND THE PAIN CEASES TO BE!" The third door leads to no obvious deadly danger, but only to the outside of the lamasery. The Abbot explains to a puzzled Peter, "The open door is, perhaps, the most dangerous one of all! FOR, IT LEADS TO CIVILIZATION!" Since Peter is born of American parents, he must return to his homeland to live and utilize his talents. "I will do as you say, High Abbot, but I WISH NO PART OF CIVILIZATION, ITS WARS AND HATREDS! I will leave here with regret!" He also leaves, however, with a willing companion-- his old friend Tabu-- and a fortune in diamonds to ease his path in civilization. But not all "hatreds" are to be found in civilization, as the Hooded One, whose deadly tests failed, silently vows, "Go, foreigner, back to your own people! You have robbed me of power and greatness, and for that, you shall soon pay!"

After weeks of travel, Peter and Tabu arrive in New York City, where Peter purchases an old mansion that offers the "seclusion and privacy" he craves, and gets a job as a free-lance writer on "Himalayan culture". (I hope the diamonds hold out, because that doesn't sound like a very profitable gig.) While watching the TV news, Peter gripes to Tabu, "Killing, violence, destruction, man's inhumanity to man! Civilization is nothing more than a jungle, Tabu, and I don't intend to get involved in its problems!" Meanwhile, the staff of a local museum is astonished to receive a mysterious shipment of two dinosaur eggs. Little do they know this is part of the revenge scheme of the Hooded One, who dug the eggs out of a Himalayan ice cave. Using "mental telepathy" skills he learned from his interrupted study of the Sacred Scrolls, the Hooded One influences the mind of Dum-Dum Barnes, a gangster just released from prison. As his nickname suggests, Dum-Dum is not normally a criminal genius, but under the Hooded One's influence he comes up with an elaborate plan to inject the dinosaur eggs in the museum with a secret chemical formula that will hatch the eggs and cause the infant saurians to grow instantly to full size. In the ensuing chaos as the dinosaurs rampage through the city and police are distracted or driven away, Dum-Dum and his gang go on a looting spree.

As chaos descends on New York, Peter Cannon watches from his secluded retreat, until Tabu suggests, "Could not a CHOSEN ONE be of some assistance, friend Peter?" Peter is reluctant, for though he does not want innocent people to die from his inaction, he also doesn't want to give up his precious privacy by becoming a public hero. Tabu has the solution; Peter's old training costume, with a mask attached. Donning the outfit, Peter travels to the scene of the disaster, where he finds the giant dinosaurs beyond even his strength to defeat in hand-to-hand combat. But dynamite sticks found in a construction shack bring down one of the two saurians. This attracts the attention of Dum-Dum Barnes and gang, and Peter's attention is in turn attracted to them. "VULTURES....SCAVENGERS...ROBBERS OF THE DEAD! YOUR MINUTES ARE NUMBERED, KILLER, AND SO ARE THOSE OF YOUR MEN!" Peter whales into the gang and with his enhanced combat skills defeats all of Barnes' henchmen. As Peter approaches Barnes on a rooftop, the gangster threatens our hero with the remaining dynamite, but the remaining dinosaur comes up behind Barnes, and as the deadly fate he caused for others faces him "HIS CRIMINAL BRAIN CAN TAKE NO MORE" and he leaps, or falls, off the roof to his death. "Perhaps it's better this way!" But Peter must still defeat the remaining dinosaur, and he does so by hurling an entire box of dynamite into its gaping mouth, literally blowing its head apart. "Better get going...before the police and newsmen show up..... wouldn't do... for me to be unmasked now..." (And sued by the Sierra Club, no doubt, for killing the last specimens of an extremely endangered species.)

Arriving on the scene just after Peter has made his escape, a policeman and reporter marvel at what the mysterious masked man has accomplished, and the cop comments, "He came on real strong, like a bolt of thunder!", inspiring the newsman to write his headline, "THUNDERBOLT SAVES CITY!" And so our hero acquires his superheroic nom de guerre. While the city is grateful for the deeds of "Thunderbolt", back in his Himalayan cave the Hooded One continues to plot against Peter Cannon and against civilization. And Peter is in no hurry to don the mask of Thunderbolt again; "We'll go on as before! We've got the privacy and seclusion we need! As for Thunderbolt...we'll just have to wait and see!" A final editor's note asks for reader comments; "Although we've only hinted at THUNDERBOLT's vast possibilities, we want to know your reaction!"

Also in the issue is a three page filler feature "The Mercenaries", signed by Ernie Bache... not really a story, but an account of how former soldiers who find they enjoy fighting, sometimes keep on fighting for pay and take part in various world conflicts. (Later, "The Sentinels", a faux-Marvel superhero team, would be introduced as Thunderbolt's backup feature.)

The next issue of THUNDERBOLT would be dated Mar-Apr. 1966, and in one of Charlton's amazing numbering anomalies, would be not issue #2 but issue #51, picking up the numbering of the mercifully defunct SON OF VULCAN (which itself had previously been MYSTERIES OF UNEXPLORED WORLDS). A total of 11 issues of the title, through #60 would be published. Creator Pete Morisi remained with the book through #57, with the last three issues being drawn by Pat Boyette. ( According to recent obituaries, "PAM" left the series because with his dual career of artist and police officer he couldn't keep up with a series with regular, even bi-monthly, deadlines.) The pattern of the series was set as Peter Cannon would remain a shy and semi-pacifist sort, who hated fighting and getting involved in civilization's troubles, but in each story would be chivvied by Tabu into donning mask and costume and doing his heroic part.

Pete Morisi's scripts and art for T-BOLT were somewhat simplistic, but sincere and charming, and the concept of a hero who normally has only well-trained human abillities, but for brief moments can summon up superhuman powers by the "I can do it...I must do it... I will do it" mantra, was well conceived. (A Boyette issue carried it too far by giving Peter the power to conjure up a living dragon from thin air by mental concentration,however.) A distinctive feature of PAM's artwork was that, though he constantly drew his hero running and leaping, he avoided the traditional use of speed lines, making his panels look like snapshots of T-Bolt caught in the midst of action, rather than traditional comic panels. THUNDERBOLT was my personal favorite of the 60's Charlton "action heroes", with the exception of the Ditko-created Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and Question.