Johnny Thunder and Thunderbolt on the cover of All-American Comics #1 (May 1999)
|First appearance||Flash Comics #1 (January 1940)|
|Alter ego||John "Johnny" L. Thunder|
Justice Society of America|
United States Navy
|Notable aliases||Johnny Thunderbolt|
Johnny Thunder is the name of three fictional characters in comics published by DC Comics. A fourth character has the variant name Jonni Thunder. The first, second, and fourth characters are superheroes, while the third character is a supervillain.
Fictional character biography
John L. Thunder is the seventh son of a seventh son, born at 7 a.m. on Saturday, July 7, the seventh day of the week, the seventh day of the seventh month in 1917. This causes him to be kidnapped and sold to a group of men from the fictional country of Badhnesia who had been looking for someone born at this time on this day. As an infant, Johnny is given possession of the genie-like "Thunderbolt" named Yz during a mystic ritual on his seventh birthday, which was intended to allow the Badhnesians to use Johnny to rule the world. However, the plan is soon aborted after an attack from a neighboring country. Johnny eventually returns to the United States and lives an ordinary life until one day, while washing windows, he inadvertently summons the Thunderbolt with the magic words cei-u (pronounced "say you") when he calls for someone to throw him a sponge, which he accidentally uses to become a successful boxer. Johnny underwent several adventures (each time inadvertently summoning the Thunderbolt via the use of "say, you" in his day-to-day conversation, never realizing the Thunderbolt was responsible for the extraordinary events that befell him) before finally learning of the Thunderbolt's existence. In the first few issues of Flash Comics the title of the feature was Johnny Thunderbolt.
Johnny's appearances with the Justice Society and in his own solo adventures tended to be quite comedic, as Johnny's main personality trait was being fairly dim-witted, which prompts his much-smarter Thunderbolt to possess a sarcastic (if patient) attitude toward his "boss." He accidentally joined, when saying he felt the Justice Society should have let him join, and was then taken to their meeting. Despite recurring impatience with his stupidity, his fellow JSAers genuinely valued Johnny's good-heartedness and dedication and considered him a friend. Furthermore, the Thunderbolt's vast power may have contributed to Johnny's continued JSA membership, his frequent blunders notwithstanding, since the more competent heroes doubtlessly thought it wise to keep an eye on the pair whenever possible. he finally became a member after the Flash left and the group told him to capture Mister X, which he succeeded in accidentally. Like most of the JSA members, he had his aging factor greatly slowed during an encounter with the villain Ian Karkull.
Johnny's adventures ceased in the late 1940s when he was replaced in the Justice Society stories by a heroine he had begun teaming up with, the Black Canary. The reason for his leaving the Justice Society is eventually explained to be that his control over his Thunderbolt is weakening, thanks to a spell cast by renegade Badhnesian priests. In the early 1950s, Johnny is kidnapped again by agents from Badhnesia, with the intention of executing their original world conquest plan. Johnny manages to summon Superman, and the would-be conquerors' plans are defeated. Johnny spent some time in Badhnesia afterwards, teaching the native citizens about democracy. He returns home after the country elects its first President. Johnny joins the Justice Society on various adventures.
Crisis on Infinite Earths & Ragnorok
Following the maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths was the one-shot Last Days of the Justice Society of America Special (1986). This book depicted the sacrifice of Johnny and his JSA teammates as they left the 'new' post-Crisis world and entered into a limbo dimension. Caused by the actions of Adolf Hitler in April 1945, a wave of destruction appears over Earth even as it is settling down from the Crisis. In order to stop a literal Ragnarök, the heroes enter into an eternal battle, and so leave the world.
The absence of the JSA and of Johnny Thunder did not last long. In 1992 DC published Armageddon: Inferno, the mini-series which brought the JSA out of limbo and into the post-Crisis world. This was followed by Justice Society of America (1992–1993). This series showed how the heroes were adjusting to a 'normal' life. Johnny is depicted as an overweight man, not as old as his friends, but nostalgic for the past. It is explained that before he had entered into limbo he had lent his foster daughter a few thousand dollars and during his time fighting for the universe, she had created Peachy's Frozen Yogurt, a very successful chain of which Johnny is half owner and now very wealthy. Of greater import to Johnny is his discovery that the Bahdnesians have all but disappeared. A visit to the island of Bahdnesia (now under the ownership of Pol St. Germain) proves that no Bahdnesians are left there. In issue #7 Johnny states: "There were never very many of them... and the island magic had worn out. T-Bolt was all that was left, and he was with me in limbo. They had to leave or starve to death." This series also introduced the young Kiku, according to the Thunderbolt, the last remaining Bahdnesian.
After this Johnny is depicted as suffering from symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. At one point he loses track of a pen in which the Thunderbolt is being stored. The pen eventually ends up in the ownership of a young African American boy named Jakeem Williams, who takes up the name Johnny Jakeem Thunder or Jakeem Thunder.
In a later battle with Solomon Grundy, Jakeem unwittingly cures Johnny Thunder of Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, Johnny immediately falls prey to the Ultra-Humanite, who takes over Johnny's body in order to command the Thunderbolt's powers. In the "Stealing Thunder" storyline, Jakeem is one of several heroes left free from Ultra-Humanite's control. Eventually Jakeem wrests control of the Thunderbolt back from Ultra-Humanite, but Johnny Thunder loses his life. Jakeem then wishes that the Thunderbolt could save Johnny somehow, so the genie chooses to merge with Johnny, creating a new being with the memories of both. He later assumes the name Johnny Thunderbolt.
Johnny Thunderbolt bears Johnny's likeness, though it is not clear how the personalities of Johnny and the two genies interact, and whether any one personality is dominant. Johnny's family is informed of his death and a funeral is held at Valhalla, a cemetery for superheroes. The family does not know that he lives on as the Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt eventually stops displaying Johnny's likeness while still speaking as him.
When Wally West was looking for someone to tether him to the universe again, he comes to a retirement home where a now elderly Johnny Thunder tries to reconnect to the Justice Society, who has been lost since McCarthy had him reveal his secret and lost Thunderbolt in the periods since. He tried to tell others who he was, but many think he is crazy. When Wally comes to him to find the Justice Society, he disappears. Believing he was his old ally, Johnny tearfully calls out to him, apologizing for 'throwing (him) away' in the past.
Johnny Thunder of Earth-One
Prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths retcons, an alternate version of Johnny Thunder existed on Earth-One. This version was a simple petty criminal with no Thunderbolt. Upon meeting the Earth-Two Thunder (who had traveled to Earth-One out of curiosity), the criminal Johnny Thunder knocked his counterpart out and seized control of the Thunderbolt. He uses it to temporarily reshape Earth-One such that several heroes, such as Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern, retroactively cease to exist. The criminal exploits the fact that Thunderbolt is 'keyed' to simply obey Johnny Thunder, without any distinction made between alternate versions, leaving Thunderbolt obligated to obey whichever Johnny is conscious despite his own morality; however, Thunderbolt often tries to work in loopholes to give the heroes an advantage, such as informing the criminal that the Justice Society- who had come to Earth-1 to find out what had happened to their friends in the Justice League- had disappeared when they had in fact disguised themselves as the Justice League to try and provoke Johnny into revealing what had happened to their version, or making a barrier which keeps cops out, but not superheroes. The Earth-2 Johnny is apparently placed in a coma by the Thunderbolt's magic, though this is not actually shown.
The alternate version of Earth-One that Johnny creates is sometimes referred to as Earth-A (Earth Alternate), which Johnny thinks up himself. Thunder's 'Lawless League' of evil people with powers like the Justice League heroes, which are made up of Johnny's fellow criminals who were given powers of Justice League members, are defeated by the visiting Justice Society of Earth-Two, who had originally disguised themselves as the JLA, after learning of Johnny's disappearance, the Society's greater experience allowing them to easily defeat their criminal counterparts. They subsequently face off against Johnny Thunder on the moon, and the three creatures the Thunderbolt creates, Medusa-man (Who turns people into wood), Absorbo-man (Who can absorb the powers of others), and Repello-man (Who throws attacks back at their origins). All the members are defeated except for Doctor Fate. He creates a golden mask over Medusa-Man's face, and sends the wooden Mr. Terrific and Atom at Absorbo-Man, who had absorbed Green Lantern's power, meaning he is vulnerable to wood and is destroyed. He uses repello-magic on Repello-man, which is repelled and destroys him. When the fight comes down to a struggle between Doctor Fate and the Thunderbolt, Johnny Thunder is so battered about by the combatting magic wielders - whose powers fail to do any actual damage to each other - that he finally gives up his attempts to use the Thunderbolt and wishes that none of these events had taken place. The two Earths and their respective heroes are restored, with the Justice League mentioning their world's Johnny Thunder as a small-time criminal at their meeting. The Johnny Thunder of Earth-One would return as a threat in Justice League of America #219 and #220.
The second Johnny Thunder, completely unrelated to the original, first appeared in All-American Comics #100 in 1948. His name was John Stuart Mill Tane and he lives in the Mormon settlement of Mesa City, Arizona. The son of a sheriff and a schoolteacher, Johnny's mother makes him promise never to use guns and to instead follow in her footsteps. Johnny became a schoolteacher, but he soon found himself in a situation where violence was required. In order to keep his vow, Johnny created the identity of Johnny Thunder by changing clothes and darkening his hair to black. Thus, "Thunder" is not the character's genuine surname, making it unlikely that any familial connection exists between the two Johnnys.
Johnny Thunder would go on to be a member of the group the Rough Bunch.
In Impulse Annual #2 (1997), a backup story revealed that, at the time of his mother's death, Johnny Tane is inspired to create a secret identity by Max Mercury. The young Johnny is briefly under the impression Max is a genie, in a reference to the later Johnny Thunder. As revealed in DC Comics Presents #28 (1980), Johnny eventually retired from action, marrying the similarly-retired outlaw (and another All-Star Western feature) Madame .44 (Jeanne Walker), and the couple bore a daughter, Rebecca, and a son, Chuck. This was an intentional nod by writer Mike Tiefenbacher to Chuck Taine (with an I) which is the real name of Bouncing Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes, but it has never been suggested in-canon that the latter is a descendant of the former.
This incarnation of Johnny Thunder is the one that electro-rock band Judge Rock wrote about in their 2012 song Westerner : "The first paleface wore red and blue, went by the moniker of one Johnny Thunder. He was the youngest of the crew." The track describes the pages 20 to 23 of Crisis on Infinite Earths, issue #3, when the DC western-related characters, namely Jonah Hex, Scalphunter, Bat Lash, Nighthawk and him, investigate a machine which has appeared in an abandoned mine.
Jonni Thunder is a female private detective who first appeared in a four issue miniseries from 1985 named Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt, written by Roy Thomas. A small gold statue gives her the power to turn into a human thunderbolt, while leaving her body behind. In later issues of Infinity, Inc., the thunderbolt is revealed to be a hostile alien energy-being, who is defeated by being re-imprisoned in the statue, leaving Jonni without powers. Since she was created by Golden Age expert Roy Thomas and appeared with the descendants of the original JSA in Infinity Inc., a potential connection to Johnny Thunder seemed likely but was never expounded upon. Jonni existed on Earth-Two before Crisis and is briefly seen on the merged Earth resulting from the Crisis, attending a detectives convention.
In the Kingdom Come continuity, she and Black Lightning have a child who becomes the anti-hero known as "Lightning", possessing the electricity-based powers of both of her parents. However, in the contemporary DC Universe, Black Lightning's daughter Lightning, who recently joined the JSA, is identified as the daughter of Black Lightning and his ex-wife Lynn Stewart.
- The New 52
In The New 52, a reboot of the DC Universe, the history of characters related to the Golden Age of comics has been drastically altered. A new version of Jonni Thunder is introduced on the parallel world of Earth 2, appearing in the miniseries Earth 2: Worlds End. This Jonni is seemingly possessed by the Thunderbolt, which grants her electrical abilities and a multi-armed appearance similar to a Hindu goddess. She is part of a team of heroes recruited by the mage John Constantine in his attempt to return to his own world. Thus far, Jonni is the only Thunderbolt character to appear in the rebooted reality, as there have been no appearances by the original Johnny Thunder.
Son of Johnny Thunder (Will Power of Primal Force)
William Twotrees is the illegitimate son of 1940s hero Johnny Thunder and a Jicarilla Apache woman. Afraid of prejudices against mixed marriages, Johnny abandoned his son, something he later regretted deeply. However, it seems as if Johnny's partner, the magic Thunderbolt named Yz, left his mark on young William, who developed astonishing thunderbolt powers later in his life. As Will Power, William joined the supernatural/meta-human team of heroes called the Leymen (a.k.a. Primal Force) until it was disbanded. He was last seen searching for his father, touring with a rock band as a "human light show".
Twotrees has neither reappeared since the cancellation of the Primal Force series nor been referenced in any way in the later Justice Society of America titles.
In other media
- Johnny Thunder and Thunderbolt appear in three non-speaking roles in the animated series Justice League Unlimited. Johnny himself only appears in the first episode, "Initiation." Thunderbolt goes on to appear in two more episodes by himself. Thunderbolt appears in "Initiation", "The Greatest Story Never Told", and the series finale "Destroyer." In "Initiation", he is seen with Johnny during Superman's speech. In "The Greatest Story Never Told", he is seen helping the Justice League in the battle against Mordru without Johnny. In the series finale "Destroyer" he is seen at the end as the League walks down the stairs, also without Johnny. It's possible that this incarnation is Johnny Thunderbolt.
- The name Johnny Thunder appears in two songs by The Kinks: "Johnny Thunder" from the album The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society and the same character as an older man in "One of the Survivors" on Preservation Act 1. It appears to be a nickname for the songs' English character, based on the comic book action hero.
- Flash Comics 8: 32 (August, 1940), All-American Publications
- Flash Comics 1: 34-35 (January 1940), All-American Publications
- Flash Comics 2: 35 (February, 1940), All-American Publications
- All Star Comics 42 (), All-American Publications
- E. Nelson Bridwell (w), Kurt Schaffenberger (p), Frank Chiaramonte (i). "The Rescue of His Majesty, Johnny Thunder" Superman Family 204 (November/December, 1980), DC Comics
- JLA #26
- JSA #46
- Blackest Night #4
- Justice League of America #37 (August 1965)
- Wells, John (May 2013). "Flashback: Whatever Happened to...?". Back Issue!. TwoMorrows Publishing (64): 51–61.
- Infinity, Inc. #41
- Crisis on Infinite Earths #11
- "The Unofficial Will Power Biography". Dcuguide.com. Retrieved 2011-04-02.
- Johnny Thunder (1939) and Johnny Thunder (1948) at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived (1939) and Archived (1948) from the respective originals.
- Earth-2 Johnny Thunder Index
- JSA Fact File: Johnny Thunder
- DCU Guide: Johnny Thunder I (Western)
- DCU Guide: Johnny Thunder II (JSA)
- DCU Guide: Jonni Thunder
- Index of Johnny Thunder (John Tane) appearances