This was another reprint of a classic Charlton comic book from the 1960s that was reissued under the Modern Comics imprint and sold in plastic 3-Bags through low-end discount department stores such as the Two Guys my family frequented. And it made an impact on me, not for the lead story especially, which I found forgettable, but rather the back-up. Plus, I was simply enamored of finding out about all of these other super heroes that had existed of which I was unaware. There was a strange mystique about these books, like a relic of some far-gone time. Having read as much about the Golden Age of Comics as I could up to that point, I was thoroughly interested in comic book history in general.

PETER CANNON–THUNDERBOLT was the creation of cartoonist Pete Morisi. By day, he was a New York beat cop, but at night he moonlighted by writing and illustrating stories for Charlton. Because the Force prohibited moonlighting, he routinely signed his work as P.A.M., his initials. He had been a big fan growing up of the Lev Gleason character Daredevil–so much so that he attempted to buy the rights to the character in order to stage a comeback. Failing in that endeavor, Morisi instead incorporated many of his ideas for the revived Daredevil into a new character–one whose abilities wouldn’t be so much superhuman as a reflection of the will power and study and training that he’d undertaken. Unlike most other super heroes, Peter Cannon wasn’t granted special powers, he worked to develop those abilities within himself.

All of which is really just backstory here, as P.A.M. had to skip this issue of THUNDERBOLT for scheduling reasons. (Editor Dick Giordano informs readers of this in a memo paper clipped to the splash page. I wonder if there might have been something going on at Morisi’s day job that prevented him from working on comic book pages for a few weeks.) Filling in for him was Pat Boyette, another Charlton mainstay whose style was a bit more commercial in the period. Boyette didn’t get to do a whole lot of super hero work, so his action sequences were a hair off. But his sense of design and composition and mood were great, and he crafted some very attractive pages.

The philosophies underlying THUNDERBOLT were controversial to the group of fans who paid attention to the series. In almost every issue, the pacifistic Peter Cannon prefers to remain in seclusion and refrain from taking any action despite his hard-earned abilities. It’s only once his friend Tabu has prompted him unrelentingly that he eventually gives in and suits up as Thunderbolt to combat the menace of the issue. This ambivalence wasn’t to the liking of all readers, nor was Cannon’s overt philosophy of non-violence. It was, however, very much of its time, an indication that Morisi was absorbing something from any young hippies he might have been encountering during the day. The series also falls into the typically cliched white-man-trained-in-ancient-Eastern knowledge-to-become-a-hero that was prevalent everywhere in pop culture at the time. It’s very much of its era.

The story in this issue is pretty straightforward. Peter Cannon and Tabu are lured back to the Himalayas by an envoy seeking their aid. There’s a new Warlord in the region who wears a dragon’s mask and who claims supernatural powers. The troops of this interloper are venturing near to the Valley of the Lamas, where Cannon grew up and who gave him his knowledge. Journeying across the world, Cannon and Tabu are captured virtually as soon as they alight in the area. The Living Dragon intends to kill them, but first he wants to make sure that they are not the vanguard of some Western counter-force that will disrupt his plans to accrue power. Cannon assures him that there is no army coming, but warns the Dragon that he will stop his efforts himself.

To do so, Thunderbolt suddenly manifests a power he has never evidenced before. In this story, Cannon claims that the scrolls he studied give him a power he has never dared to manifest previously. Through intense concentration, Thunderbolt materializes an actual dragon, which decimates the aggressors before returning to non-existence. It’s not much of a story, to be honest, and I was underwhelmed by it as a kid as well. There wasn’t really any peril, any jeopardy, even any heightened state of emotion. The whole adventure was remarkably even-keeled, which made it difficult to get excited about.

The back-up story was much more to my liking, and is a sentimental favorite even now. This was the Sentinels, Charlton’s attempt to mimic the Marvel style of storytelling. And for all its crudity, it was a pretty credible attempt. The Sentinels were a trio of young people each gifted with a high-tech device that granted them super-powers, so that they could stop the mysterious criminal mastermind Mind-Bender. The leader, Helio, could fly, Mentalia possessed the ability to read minds (and eventually developed some telekinesis when that proved too limiting) and the Brute was just plain ol’ strong. Oh, and they were also a band of folk singers as well, believe it or not. They were a smudged xerox copy of the Fantastic Four, and so I liked them even despite their derivativeness (or quite possibly because of it.) I wrote about the series a bit more extensively here.

In this particular installment, with Helio suffering a concussion from their last battle and thus out of action, Mentalia and the Brute must work together to defeat and destroy the Titan, a massive android sent by Mind-Bender to destroy them. There’s also a bit of cross-continuity as Sarge Steel, a character who had his own series elsewhere in the line, shows up Nick Fury style to take the Sentinels into custody at the end. The artwork by Sam Grainger is cartoony but appealing, and even the fact that, for some reason, the entire strip was relettered using Charlton’s in-house typesetting system rather than the original hand lettering that had obviously been done (the original balloon shapes were maintained, meaning that often there were small blocks of text in weirdly-shaped outlines.) The strip ran for something like six installments and has been almost entirely forgotten today. I’d buy a collection of these stories in a red-hot second.

The Modern Comics reissue of this book dropped the original letters page, but this was the month when Charlton ran their necessary Statements of Ownership, giving a snapshot as to how well their titles were doing. Or possibly not. Asked about it years later, Charlton editor Dick Giordano confessed that he just made up the numbers on those Statements. But just as a measure of completeness, the numbers listed in this issue indicate that THUNDERBOLT was selling 123,382 copies on a print run of 235,200, giving it an efficiency of about 52 1/2%. Which is a hell of a good number for the period, assuming there’s any truth to it.

5 thoughts on “BHOC: THUNDERBOLT #57

  1. PAM was actually Pete Morisi, not Pat Masulli, as I’m sure you know really, Tom.
    Otherwise, cool post. I only knew Sam Grainger as a Marvel inker before this. Thanks!


  2. I enjoyed the Sentinels. Not being a Marvel reader I didn’t see them as any sort of an FF knockoff back then. Obvious now. But they’re a better copy than Sarge Steel as a Fury clone.
    Thunderbolt’s moping about using his powers turned me off, though i did enjoy his 1990s revival at DC (before they realized they didn’t own the character).


  3. Prior to reading this, I had never come across the name D. C. Glanzman. A quick search reveals he was the younger brother of the great Sam Glanzman, writer, artist, inker and creator of the “USS Stevens” series.
    You learn something new every day.


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