BHOC: THUNDERBOLT #58

Now this was another comic book that I welcomed–not so much for the lead Thunderbolt story as for the back-up featuring my new obscure favorites, the Sentinels. As with the other issue I had sampled, this one was reissued by Modern Comics in the 1970s. They had contracted to provide and sell 3-Bags of comic books to discount department stores and the like, and pulled their material from Charlton’s back catalog for that purpose. So this issue of THUNDERBOLT was a decade old when I first read it, but I wasn’t yet entirely aware of this or how it all worked. It wasn’t until I eventually came across back issues of THUNDERBOLT and BLUE BEETLE at one of the first back issue places I found that I was able to begin to piece the history of Modern Comics together.

Thunderbolt was the creation of writer/artist Pete Morisi, whose day job was being a New York police officer. He moonlighted drawing comics for Charlton in the evenings for a creative outlet and to bring in some additional revenue (not much, though, as Charlton paid rock-bottom rates far lower than anybody else in the industry.) Morisi had been a fan of the 1940s Daredevil with his divided red-and-blue costume, and he attempted to purchase the rights to do a revival of that character. Failing in this endeavor, he instead channeled his thoughts into a new creation, Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. T-Bolt’s costume was a knowing homage to the earlier character.

Morisi had a very clean, open style, one reminiscent of Alex Toth in a lot of ways. If it had any flaw, it’s that his characters lacked animation–they often seemed to be posed statues rather than living beings. His pages were very open, with relatively few spotted blacks. His work was very distinctive, but always seemed on the cusp of making that leap into something greater–a leap that never happened. Thunderbolt’s whole set-up was that he’d been taught by a hidden tribe in a lost valley in the Himalayas to utilize the full potential of his mind and body through a strong application of will power. In this way, he was kind of the first New Age super hero, who gained not-quite-super-powers from self-actualization. He was also an exceedingly reluctant hero, one who started most every story at a remove from the world, hanging out in his mansion with his buddy and manservant Tabu and reluctant to get involved in the affairs’ of the world. Of course, situations would arise that would demand that Cannot take action–it would be a fairly dull comic book series otherwise.

In this particular issue, Thunderbolt is called into action when he and Tabu learn that Lori Carson has gone missing while exploring the Himalayas in search of her lost father. Cannon knows that Lori’s father was involved in the plane crash that disfigured his perennial foe, the Hooded One, so he’s sure that his nemesis is involved in the girl’s disappearance. Thunderbolt’s search takes him back into the Lost Valley, a sealed off portion of the jungle where prehistoric dinosaurs and animals still live. Cannon had survived one adventure in this lost land previously, but he may not be so luck a second time as he’s swiftly attacked by a pteranodon and a lion. Through force of will, he’s able to overcome the jungle beasts, but when he comes upon a tribe of prehistoric humans, their numbers overwhelm him and he is captured. He is taken to Lori Carson, and the pair are brought before the Hooded One, who has subjugated the tribe.

The Hooded One wants his revenge, of course, and he puts T-Bolt and Lori in an arena with a killer ape. But Cannon is able to defeat the beast, and is thereafter able to make a break for safety with Lori despite the tribesmen standing in his way. They are pursued through the jungle, but make their escape by diving off of a huge clifftop outcropping into the river below and being swept by its waters to safety. At the end of the story, having saved Lori’s life, by the traditions of the area, Peter is responsible for it, and so she is set up to become a regular member of the cast. It’s a nice story, though somewhat sedate, and never quite as exciting as even this write-up.

Much more exciting to me, even if it was ultimately a pretty derivative strip, was the Sentinels back-up series. This was clearly an attempt to ape the look, the feel and the style of the Marvel books of that era, particular FANTASTIC FOUR. And it came close enough in its efforts for me to have a real soft spot for it. As with the earlier story of the group I had read, this one was illustrated by Sam Grainger, who had an appealing if somewhat cartoony art style. And it was dialogued by Denny O’Neil, using his Sergius O’Shaunessy pseudonym for the job. If nothing else, Denny’s involvement meant that the script crackled a bit more than usual–he had spent several months working at Marvel and so he understood the style very well. it also helped that this outing was lettered by a human being and not Charlton’s typesetting machine as the Thunderbolt story had been.

Last time, the Sentinels were being arrested by Charlton’s secret agent-in-residence, Sarge Steel. But as they’re taken away, Mentalia discovers that Steel has been mesmerized by their foe the Mind-Bender and intends to kill them. But Cindy is able to mentally zap Steel, and then the Brute takes out another rolling death drap and the tiro is free to get Rick Strong some much needed medical help. The following day, the Sentinels perform in their civilian identities as the masked folk group The Protestors (yes, this is a team that wore masks in their civilian identities) when the crowd suddenly rushes the stage, ensorcelled by Mind-Bender. Without their super-weapons, Cindy and Crunch Wilson are almost killed, but Helio makes it back from the hospital in time to use his power of flight to carry the others to safety. That evening, Rick gets a call from Crunch asking him to meet in a remote location. This turns out to be a trap, of course–Mind-Bender has taken over the Brute’s mind and used him to lure the other two to their doom. As the installment closes, Crunch is only second from pressing the button that will electrocute Rick and Cindy. To Be Continued! it literally took me two decades to find out how this cliffhanger resolved itself, as this was the final issue of THUNDERBOLT that Modern reissued.

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