Alex Ross is the popular artist behind such books as Marvels, Kingdom Come, Kirby: Genesis, and more. Steve Darnall is the creator of Empty Love Stories. They collaborated on DC/Vertigo’s Uncle Sam. Now, they’re working together again, this time as co-writers on Dynamite Entertainment’s Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt. Westfield’s Roger Ash contacted Darnall & Ross to learn more about the series.
Westfield: For those who aren’t familiar with him, who is Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt?
Steve Darnall: He’s a writer who years ago was given the opportunity to achieve a rare heightened mental state, through the study of a series of scrolls containing rare and valuable knowledge. This gift was thrust upon him by the brethren of a Tibetan lamasery, as a way of honoring the memory of his parents, who died while saving the lamasery from a plague. This means he has amazing powers and abilities, which he is ostensibly meant to use on behalf of society—only he doesn’t really like society all that much.
Alex Ross: Peter Cannon was also one of the “Action Heroes” published by Charlton Comics in the late ‘60s who would go on to be revived later by DC Comics in their regular line, as well as being adapted into new characters for Watchmen. Much like the Question was a reflection of the artist/writer/creator Steve Ditko, Thunderbolt was the passion project of Pete Morisi.
Westfield: What attracted you to the series?
Darnall: First, of course, there was the chance to work with Alex again. That’s always been a pleasure and it was a pleasure in this case as well. Second, there was the chance to write a fairly straightforward adventure story, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time—and with this series, I could do it using a character who had a lot of curious qualities and traits—and who hadn’t been done to death. On a personal level, I was pleased for the chance to return to the vocabulary of comics. There’s really no other medium like this one and I’m having a wonderful time playing in it again.
Ross: It’s always fun to play with a character that has a place in comics history when you thought they might have been owned by one of the big companies but is in fact independently controlled by the family of the man who created him. Certainly what Peter Cannon has influenced as a character has played a part in inspiration to work on this project.
Westfield: What can readers look forward to in the book?
Darnall: I think it’s a story that draws upon what we know of the character’s history and takes it in a slightly different direction.
Ross: Hopefully we present a new dilemma for a comic character to deal with. The specific challenge he faces is one of his own making, and we are attempting to do what creators have been doing for several years now, which is try and pit real-world challenges and psychology against the superhero archetype.
Westfield: You’re writing the book together. What’s your collaboration like?
Darnall: We are? Will someone tell Alex he needs to type more?
Seriously, I think Alex would agree that he isn’t “writing” in the sense of sitting at the keyboard and creating dialogue, but he’s certainly played a vital part in shaping the scripts—in that respect, it’s like having another editor in the room. He’s able to look at a script and determine pretty quickly if there’s a more effective way to visualize what we’re out to do. In turn, I think we trust each other enough to where no one’s going to stand their ground just for the sake of it: if one of us has a good idea and the other has a great idea, well, you go with the great one. That’s a great way to work and try as one might, it doesn’t always happen that way.
Our collaboration on Thunderbolt reminds me a little of when we worked together on the Human Torch story that appeared in Marvels #0: Alex came to me with an idea, I scripted it out, he tweaked it, and it was off to the races.
Ross: With a lot of my collaborations, I’ve offered up an idea that helped form the basis for the series outline. In a few cases like this one, I actually wrote up an initial first issue treatment that became the basis for the project’s development. When I work closely with somebody, I can just converse over the phone and offer up any ideas. Usually my role has allowed me to help set up whatever the big idea or conflict is and letting the writer command series pacing and full scripting.
Westfield: You’re working with artist Jonathan Lau on Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt. What can you say about his contribution to the book?
Darnall: It occurred to me that this project is the first one where there were actual discussions over who would be drawing it—I mean, I knew well in advance who was going to illustrate Uncle Sam. Having said that, I was really excited when I saw Jonathan’s first pages come in. The artwork has a real energy and dynamism and it’s a great pleasure to see him take these established characters—and the new ones we’ve created for this story—and bring them to life.
Ross: We looked at a lot of different talent for working on this book to make sure that we had a perfect fit, and Jonathan truly is the best realization of what we had hoped for. There’s a kinetic quality that no one handles quite like Jonathan Lau.
Westfield: Any closing comments?
Darnall: I’m really excited to see this story taking form on the page. On a personal level, it’s really a pleasure to be writing comics again. Now that my sleeves are rolled up, I’m really eager to see this story come out—and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.
Ross: There have been years going into the development of this project, and sometimes we weren’t quite sure when it was going to be released, so there’s a great sense of relief for us to finally have this series be launched.