The writer-artist who created the Charlton comics “action hero” Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt was, ironically, a secret crime-fighter himself.
But first, some history. Thunderbolt was also, in a way, the brain-grandchild of the celebrated artist Bill Everett.
In 1939, every comic book publisher wanted creators to come up with knock-offs of the new sensation Superman. Everett was one of the few who managed the difficult feat of an original take on the much-imitated Übermensch template – not once, but twice.
For what would be Marvel Comics, Everett created the amoral, arrogant Sub-Mariner, an anti-superhero who murdered people in fits of pique and helped others in manic spasms, wrecking Manhattan infrastructure like King Kong.
And for Centaur Publications, Everett created Amazing-Man, another champion of justice given to occasional derangement. An orphan raised by the presumably Buddhist monks in the Council of Seven, John Aman was yet another character who acquired uncanny abilities in Tibet, the country that seems to be the central headquarters for super powers in popular fiction (The crime-fighting magicians Chandu and Mandrake and the Shadow had already been empowered there).
In 1966, a New York City police officer who moonlighted as a comic book artist, Pete Morisi, was inspired by his childhood memories of Amazing-Man to create his own variation on the theme, Thunderbolt — “a thoughtful superhero comic that contained some of the earliest respectful invocations of Eastern mysticism in American pop culture,” Wikipedia notes.
Morisi, who disguised his identity under the nom de plume PAM, wrote, “Peter Cannon, orphaned son of an American medical team, was raised in a Himalayan lamasery, where his parents had sacrificed their lives combating the dreaded Black Plague! After attaining the highest degree of mental and physical perfection, he was entrusted with the knowledge of the ancient scrolls that bore the secret writings of past generations of wise men! From them he learned concentration, mind over matter, the art of activating and the harnessing the unused portions of the brain, that made seemingly fantastic feats possible!”
Both Amazing-Man and Thunderbolt had mysterious super-powered enemies back at their temples (the Great Question for Amazing-Man, and the Hooded One for Cannon).
Two more superheroes sprang from that same source — Marvel’s Iron Fist, who was a 1974 version of Amazing-Man, and DC’s Ozymandias, a 1986 iteration of Thunderbolt who appeared in the graphic novel Watchmen.
Although Morisi’s art was a bit static for my taste, I had to admire the realistic veneer he had worked out for his character. Thunderbolt’s will-based powers were relatively restrained by comic book standards, and his costume was really a monastic training outfit with an added mask.
Cannon didn’t want to fight crime, having an enlightened contempt for the greed and corruption of a western culture that remained alien to him. He just wanted to be left alone so he could write.
Cannon had to be prodded into action against various menaces by his socially conscious companion Tabu. If the blond hero and his turbaned Tibetan sidekick seemed naggingly familiar, maybe that was because they bore such a weird resemblance to a grown-up Jonny Quest and Hadji.