Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Idea Of The Post-Hero Era and Its Religious Symbolism As Demonstrated by Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1

What Is A Hero In A World That Doesn't Need Them?

I've just recently read, "Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1," from Dynamite comics. I quite liked it, and while it has gotten some positive press it also has received some utterly scathing reviews. I'll admit it definitely has flaws, the bad guys come off as way too over-the-top evil, the dialogue at times is a bit stilted, and the art varies from being pretty to kind of ugly--but enough of the comic is enjoyable and especially fascinating that I would say this is worth a read. It also made me think about why there aren't more stories about the logical end-game of when heroes show up and save the day.

You know what I mean, the big bad guy is defeated, the world is safe, now what? Few comics have explored this. Avengers Versus X-Men hinted at the idea with some folk pointing out in the story that the Avengers were maybe just afraid of the Phoenix-powered X-Men because a world was being made that didn't need heroes such as the Avengers. This kind of fell to the wayside in favor of it being clear the super-powered Phoenix Five were slowly going--as I believe the clinical term to be--batshit insane.
"We rule the world, and we're utterly bonkers."
Alan Moore has explored this idea of a post-hero era at least twice. There is Marvelman/Miracleman which has a bit of the idea of a hero who has saved the world going to the logical end of taking over it. Then there is of course Watchmen--which for those not in the know is actually in a way quite linked to this.

History Lesson Time
Okay, many know the story of how Alan Moore was going to use Charlton-comic's characters that DC had acquired for an epic story but instead he created characters loosely based on the brand for his story. This gave birth to Watchmen. The Rorschach grew out of The Question, Dr. Manhattan was born from Captain Atom, and Ozymandias? Yeah, he came from Peter Cannon, Mr. Thunderbolt himself.

Now, you may be asking if Peter Cannon was part of the Charlton comics that were acquired by DC, how can he appearing in a comic published by Dynamite? Well, his creator, Pete Morisi was quite the forward-thinker and actually owned rights to the character, letting Charlton use him. If you want more details Mark Waid himself talks about the interesting history of the character in some of the books back-matter, but doesn't go into the whole Ozymandias-link.

There certainly is a resemblance between the characters and this version of Peter Cannon arguably draws as much from Ozymandias as it does from the hero's original incarnation for reasons I will go into toward the end of the article--first let us get back to that question of what happens in a world with heroes when they've already done what they were needed for.

The Idea Of A Post-Hero Era 
I wasn't necessarily going to read, "Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt," at first. That cover by Jae Lee (the best of the various ones they made) was really pretty, but solicits for the story didn't get my heart beating. I'd never heard of Steve Darnall. I had heard of his co-writer Alex Ross but Ross's art is an acquired taste, and I don't usually love it too much--plus Ross was just co-writing instead of even contributing art, so...okay? Then I saw the interior artist was Jonathan Lau and I had faint memories of maybe seeing his stuff before and not being horrified--but lacking in being at all impressed. Yeah, there wasn't much selling this book to me. Then I read a short review of it on Bleeding Cool.

In one of it's short capsule reviews with a bunch of others, Bleeding Cool pointed out how this was about a world already saved by a hero, and all that comes after. That got my attention.

Basically the story is that as nations kept testing their nuclear weapons some kind of mythical dragon appeared in the aftermath--much to everyone's amazement. In this world that I think is modern day and which lacks much in the way of superpowers something as magical as a dragon was big news story. Then the day came that it attacked the UN and he showed up, the mysterious Thunderbolt.
He saved the day, scared off the dragon, revealed his true identity as Peter Cannon, and two years later is a big celebrity spreading his teachings of martial-arts and otherwise wanting to be low-key but now is obsessed over by a society that has those who both practically worship him and others who fear him.
Those in power hate the idea of less military power, or less press from the world falling apart, so a plan is hatched to take him down, and it seems someone in Japan who appears to be a friend of Cannon will later be revealed to in fact be far from that. The whole bad-guys-hate-the-hero thing isn't of much interest to me in this though, no it's the fascinating way how a man is lifted to something of an idol.

The Religious Symbolism Of The "Ultimate Hero"
In our world someone who saved the planet would most likely be thought of as something of a savior to society, a near-religious icon. To say that, "Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt," is exploring this idea is not reading too much into the comic. This is an idea which this comic is not shying away from as one of the covers to   the later-coming-out issue #3 illustrates:
Ignore the bad-guy slicing the poster, just observe the idea it imparts.
The reluctant Messiah is nothing new to literature, be it religious or secular. Moses didn't necessarily want to be a hero and Harry Potter just wanted to be a normal boy but due to his natural gifts couldn't be. Hell, if Superman could do it without feeling guilty for sitting around ignoring his powers ol' Clark Kent probably would have just stayed on the farm with his adopted mother and father enjoying their company and otherwise relaxing instead of fighting Lex Luthor and scolding Batman.

This comic has a world not unlike ours where someone who actually had superpowers and saved the day would be viewed as if a God (Jesus showed some super-powers and now there is a whole religion based around the guy). The sad thing we see about Peter Cannon, is that he actually just wants to live a somewhat-normal life, further researching the ancient texts that give him his power and otherwise not being a mega-celebrity. He himself says how he just revealed his real identity after that day he fought the dragon so the people being hounded because they were suspected of being The Thunderbolt would be left alone. Now he's miserable with the never-ending attention.
The thing that sets other heroes apart from Peter Cannon is that this is a story where the hero's job has already been done. We don't get that with Moses because he dies right before the Jews reach the promised land. Harry Potter gives us a brief epilogue at the end of book seven to let us know how things went after Harry turned Voldermort into a bunny (I only read up through the fourth book and skimmed the rest, so that may be a bit wrong). Superman will never truly save the day because there will always be new challenges--if for no reason other than DC editorial demands it so we keep buying their monthly books. Plus the Christian bible probably wouldn't read the same if Christ hadn't died and been reborn, instead living to a ripe old age and opening a coffee shop or something for other people to come and discuss philosophical ideas.

I'm going to digress a lot here, but wouldn't the idea of a coffee shop run be Jesus make for a great story? Imagine that as a television show, where every episode we have a special guest, like the aforementioned Moses, one of the Hindu Gods like Vishnu, Budda could show up, and maybe Mohammed could stop by. Actually, some people might be pissed if that last one happens, riot, and cause murders like some religious-nuts currently are doing, but you follow my idea. Someone needs to get on this and pay me royalties for the idea. Anyways, back to the main idea of a post-hero era and the religious imagery within it.

A story that continues to explore what happens to our hero him or herself after they save the day is not common--also in great rarity are stories that start at that usual end point. Plus, in the ultimate twist what if the savior and the evil monster were one being? You know, what if Peter Cannon were actually the very evil he fought to save the day? Yeah, have a final-page reveal all up in your face:
The Hero As Ruler
I mentioned earlier how this comic seemed to be drawing from the character of Ozymandias as much as the original Peter Cannon. I say this because just as at the end of, "Watchmen," when Ozymandias tricks the world into uniting against an evil alien force that doesn't even really exist, Peter Cannon has the world agreeing to nuclear disarmament talks in the hopes of stopping an evil dragon...that he actually controls/is.

This is Alan Moore's hero as the (benevolent?) ruler. Making society a better place through trickery and subterfuge. Whilst Marvelman/Miracleman ruled by force, Ozymandias fooled everyone and thought his means justified the ends of a safer and happier world. Peter Cannon has something of a mixture of these two methods going on. It's hinted he will be using violence in this comic against future threats to defend his perfect world--something Ozymandia's wouldn't need to do in the newly-united planet. Marvelman/Miracleman didn't have to tell a lie to rule people, he just had unfathomable power, whereas Cannon will be working to keep his trickery going. That's why I think of this new Peter Cannon as being a mixture of inspired by Moore's work, and of course drawing from the original Peter Cannon for his powers (with another piece of back-matter in the comic illustrating how the ability to have a dragon appear is nothing new to Peter Cannon's power-set).

So, Where Does This All Lead?
The hero is also the villian in a way, with his lying being in humanity's best interest. The messiah is both a prophet and a false idol, too. If the stories I've read (and read about) that do talk about a hero in a post-hero era are anything to go by, this can only end badly. There will undoubtedly be blood spilled in an effort to keep Cannon's lie going, and before this is over his secret of being the dragon may very well get out and more lives will be lost than he ever saved with his lies.

We shall see--because I know I'm continuing to pick this book up if the genuinely great stuff continues to over-ride the somewhat annoying and sub-par bits. Yes, we shall see where things go.

No comments:

Post a Comment