Writer: J. Torres
Artists: Ryan Bodenheim (p), Walden Wong (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens shortly after Everett K. Ross' first adventure with the Black Panther, as we see Ross is called upon to act as the official escort for another African king. However, as luck would have this assignment is also fraught with danger & intrigue, as in his absence this king's nation was overthrown by a group of rebels, and one of their first acts was to order the royal family's deaths. However, this disposed king does have an ally in the form of the Black Panther, and after T'Challa deals with the assassin who was lurking in their hotel suite, we see he agrees to help Ross protected this king & his family. We then learn that the royal family is a bit mixed up, as the king is really the brother of the true king who had died years before, and the man is really only keeping the throne warm for a young prince who will become the nation's rightful king when he turns fifteen. To this end we see the young prince isn't exactly pleased that they aren't on the next plane back home to reclaim his kingdom. However, we do see this royal family isn't about to go into hiding, as they continue on to a public exhibition at the museum, and it is there that a second, decidedly more unusual attack is launched that may very well prove to be too much for T'Challa to handle.
What's this? An issue of Black Panther that isn't written by Christopher Priest! This fact combined with the idea that this creative switch also comes during the same month that the price jumps up, and there are times where I can't help but feel that Marvel wants to give this book the ax. I mean I'm sure I'm not the only fan who is buying this book almost entirely based upon the fact the Christopher Priest is the writer, as in the wake of Sal Velluto & Bob Almond's departure, and the shift away from T'Challa as the book's lead character, I've come to realize that it is Christopher Priest's work that has kept me happy to see this book in my weekly stack of comics each month. Now I will say that J. Torres does a pretty fair job on what I expect (and hope) is only a two issue guest stint, as he shifts his attention back to T'Challa & the much missed Everett K. Ross. However, even with the return of these characters the decision to set this story in-between issues from this title's first year is a bit of a creative miscue, as we know nothing of real importance can play out. T'Challa & Ross' relationship continues on for roughly three more years worth of stories, and while the book has introduced a handful of seemingly disposable characters whose lives can be impacted, we know whatever plays out won't really affect our two leads.
The basic plot of this issue is T'Challa showing up to help Everett K. Ross protect the leader of a neighboring African nation during his visit to America, as this king's country has been overthrown, and his death has been ordered by the rebels who have siege control. Now the issue does a pretty fair job of setting up this scenario, and while Ross' narration is pretty much devoid of the humor that made the character such a welcome narrative device during Christopher Priest's run, having Ross detailing the action is a perfectly reasonable storytelling crutch that J. Torres can employ to simplify what could've been a fairly complex plot. If nothing else this issue does deserve marks for playing in the same sandbox that earned this series its fan base, as we do have some interesting political intrigue, and one does get the sense that T'Challa is playing this game from a position of power. I also have to credit this issue for its final pages, as the method the killers employ in their bid to kill the king & his family is so downright bizarre that it earns marks for sheer originality. One also has to wonder how they pulled off this little trick, as it's not like one can train these animals to stand perfectly still, until it's time to make the attempted assassination.
In addition to the guest-writing we also get a new art team (though Jennifer Schellinger remains on colors), and I have to say that Ryan Bodenheim turns in a fairly solid effort. Now his facial work could be a little more expressive, and his version of Everett K. Ross looks nothing like the character we've seen in previous issues. However, his take on the Black Panther is nice & imposing, and while he doesn't really receive much to show off his ability to deliver exciting action sequences, the final page looks quite promising. I'll also give the art credit for a fairly impressive double page spread of the rebel army overtaking the palace, and there's also some interesting panel design work employed in this issue, and the panels do manage to break free of the conventional square grid patterns. The art also deserves credit for its ability to clearly detail the action, as I was never confused by what was playing out on the page, and there's some fairly solid transition scenes as well, with the champagne bubbles shot being my personal favorite. I'd also like to make mention of the cover, as while it doesn't really reflect the story we get inside, it is a fairly striking shot of the Black Panther nonetheless, and if nothing else this visual made me want to read this issue.
As far as guest issues go this one isn't all that bad, as it does earn some brownie points for bringing back Everett K. Ross, and the basic plot is fairly solid, as we see Ross has managed to hook up with another African king who brings a high degree of danger into his life. The issue also places T'Challa into a more central role in the story, and at this stage of the game it's rather fun to see Ross adjusting to the more fantastic elements that enter his life when T'Challa's around. On the other hand by setting this book in the past, it's a little difficult to get overly concerned that anything major is going occur, as we know both Ross & T'Challa survive this adventure, and nothing of real importance can occur to the people they are trying to protect, as this adventure appears to have made no real impact in the relationship that was still forming at this stage of the game between Ross & T'Challa. Still one has to love the sheer oddity factor of this issue's final pages.
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