• Rand Bellavia

More Watchmen Than Watchmen

2019 was a big year for Watchmen, but while everyone was asking Who's Watching the Watchmen (or Who's Reading Doomsday Clock), Dynamite quietly released the most Watchmen media of the year. Kieron Gillen and Caspar Wijngaard's Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt (which will be released in a hardcover collection this week) is a five-issue meditation on Watchmen's influence on the history of comics, with nearly every page containing at least one visual or verbal allusion to the original comic.

We open with a clear reference to the climax of Watchmen. Note the famous Watchmen blood splatter, as well. (This appears more than once, most obviously with an overhead shot of a smear of raspberries on a round yellow table.) I won't point out the many visual and verbal references to Watchmen, as part of the fun is finding them yourself.

Okay, just this one: the villain (an alternate-reality version of Peter Cannon) declares himself "a messiah who uses a raft of corpses to carry all humanity to paradise."

The story involves a lot of universe-hopping. Most of the action takes place after Peter Cannon crosses over to his villainous counterpart's universe. Then -- to make things more confusing (and more meta) -- an entire issue is devoted to Peter Cannon traveling to a universe very much like ours, where he meets a third version of himself. He also discusses the Kitty Genovese murders with Alan Moore.

The art and lettering here is inspired by the autobiographical work of Eddie Campbell, who is probably most famous for illustrating Moore's From Hell.

The story is engaging and rather entertaining, but the main attraction here is the meta-narrative. Here Peter Cannon practically begs us to see that he is talking to us as much as he is his doppelganger.

And the comic uses Watchmen's familiar nine-panel grid as so much more than a story-telling technique. Peter Cannon travels between dimensions riding a nine-panel grid, and the evil Peter Cannon is defeated when he is sliced into pieces by a nine-panel grid.

His death is summarized as "the dangers of unrelenting deconstruction."

Earlier in the book, we get a brief nod to Grant Morrison's Animal Man:

Then, toward the end, Cannon breaks the fourth wall once again.

That would be a great place to end, but Gillen knows that...

In the final panels the lettering changes -- signifying a shift back to the "real" world -- with a final reminder that Watchmen's genius resides not in its story but rather in its storytelling, and an admonition that we should honor Watchmen not by copying it but by telling new stories, and finding new ways to tell them.

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