Sunday Slugfest - Black Panther #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Michael Deeley, Kelvin Green, Shawn Hill, Rob Irwin, Shaun Manning, Jason Sacks, Dave Wallace
“Who is Black Panther?” Part One

Michael Deeley

The history of failed attempts to conquer the Black Panther’s home of Wakanda are briefly recounted. It’s clearly shown that Wakanda was always technologically superior to every other nation, and its protector, the Black Panther, greater than any soldier. None of this deters the U.S. Government from its own plans on Wakanda. These plans seem to involve Klaw, the current Black Panther’s worst enemy.

First off, you should know the Black Panther does not appear in this book. His father and ancestor do, but T’Challa does not. That doesn’t strike me as a good idea for a character’s first issue. It’s possible that they’re focusing on the history and legacy of the Black Panther for this story arc, but it’s too soon to tell.

Second, this is clearly the first chapter of a larger story. It does not stand well on its own. Although we get a couple of violent battles, I came away with the feeling that very little actually happened. Everything we see is a prelude to something else.

Finally, while I can appreciate writer Reginald Hudlin having African natives speak in common, modern English rather than a stilted dramatic English dialect, I can’t help thinking the natives sound like soldiers in wartime. Was there a 5th Century counterpart to “stay cool,” or “kiss my butt”?

John Romita’s art is as good as ever, if not better. His figures are life-like and their actions are exciting. The “rain of spears” scene very nicely conveys the menace and fear of inescapable death.

Overall, this is a quiet beginning. It’s too soon to tell where the story is going, or what direction the book will take. Frankly, the first issue of a new series should establish that. But since this is clearly being written for trade collection, I’ll treat the first six issues as a “first issue.” Suppose we’ll have to get used to that in the future.

Kelvin Green

Okay, this is the frustrating bit. This book’s place in continuity is rather slippery. It strongly implies that the outside world knows nothing of Wakanda and the Black Panther, and that we’re about to see an origin tale for T’Challa, yet it also implies that this is set in the modern day, and as such, thirty years of Marvel continuity (specifically Avengers continuity) is on shaky ground. But to add even more confusion, it’s not entirely clear that this is a new continuity. Nothing definitively claims that we’re dealing with a new Black Panther and all that we knew is wrong. All of this could be worked into existing continuity with no problems, although it does make the American governmental types in the book’s second half look a bit thick.

But I’m going to let it go, partly because I don’t want to out myself as continuity-obssessive (what was Quasar doing at Avengers Mansion in the recent “Chaos” storyline? He shouldn’t even be able to set foot on Earth at all! Ahem…), but mostly because this is really quite good.

This is a very interesting comic. The mysterious and deadly nature of the Wakandans is well conveyed, and the Panther really comes across as a double-hard bastard, and not the uninspired Batman-clone he was when I last saw him (in Geoff Johns’s run on The Avengers). The juxtaposition of traditional African imagery with high technology, to the point of having the Wakandan gunnery robot wear tribal markings, is excellently done, and the contrast adds immeasurably to the general air of mystery and even spookiness surrounding Wakanda. In one issue here, the creative team has done more to characterise the nation than thirty years of previous Marvel stories, and that in itself is a great achievement. I really felt that Wakanda was a special, if dangerous, place, and although it’s a phrase often overused in criticism, I really got the impression that the nation was as much a lead character as the chap with the corduroy gloves on the cover. All in all, the art and writing mesh remarkably well together. I’ve not seen such synergy between the two halves of the creative process in a very long time, and it’s a large part of this comic’s success.

I’m less convinced, however, by the equation of modern American foreign policy and 19th century colonial exploitation, which comes across as somewhat heavy-handed. While there’s certainly a great deal of truth to the idea, I would have preferred it to be conveyed with more of the subtlety on show elsewhere. I would have also liked more characterisation of the central character himself, but this issue is essentially one long introductory trawl through the history of Wakanda and its national hero, and as such, it would be churlish to ask for a focus on a single character at such an early stage, even if it is the main character. Perhaps I’d be happier with something a bit less linear, with an introduction to the Panther himself in this first issue, followed by the history in later issues, but since the technique of the flashbacks segueing into the modern-day briefings works so well, and so much about Wakanda is imparted in them, I again have trouble being too critical.

This is a very impressive start to the series, and it’s certainly got me interested in seeing where things go from here. As someone who has never found the Panther to be a very compelling character, that’s some achievement on the part of the creative team. Thoroughly recommended.

Shawn Hill

Plot: A few glimpses back at Wakanda’s military prowess over the centuries, from the perspective of the unfortunate invaders. Meanwhile, the American government doesn’t seem to like unallied sovereign nations.

Comments: Well, the art is brilliant. I’m enjoying JRJr. here much more than
In Wolverine already. There are some truly impressive shots of (a) Panther, and witty creations for the ever-evolving Wakandan technology. It’s great to find Janson on a monthly book again. He complements Romita with experience and skill. The story, while solid, is a bit less impressive.

At first it’s completely decompressed. This is a very slow buildup. What do we learn this issue? That Wakanda has never been conquered or annexed by any other nation (which we see in attempts by other tribes, mercenaries and the good old U.S. of A). That the U.S. military-government-industrial complex is still fairly in the dark about what goes on there. That Everett Ross is still mostly talking to deaf ears. And that an old enemy is willing to do his worst even at government behest.

The lack of departure from the established formula is what’s a surprise here. Wakanda the supreme power where normal rules aren’t allowed to apply was pretty much the same world that Priest explored so fully. He also trotted out old familiar villains and an array of new heroes and supporting characters, including the same sworn enemy seen here. While his plots may have been Byzantine and complex, he certainly never shied away from the established tropes of the character, aside from making him more defensive and secretive. Vibranium hasn’t been mentioned in this issue. Wakanda’s trademark metal is sure to play a part in these stories set in Africa as well. So, what’s the big difference from Black Panther volume 1?

Well, for one thing, there’s no Panther at all in this story. His ancestors are featured, but T’Challa doesn’t even make one appearance. Rather than an adventure of the current king, we’re getting an outsiders look at the culture itself. To an extent, I don’t mind this, as Wakanda rates as one of the Marvel Universe’s most fascinating places (alongside Atlantis and Atillan and the Blue Area of the Moon and the Shi’Ar throneworld and Kree-Lar and other geographies of the mythology). I’d love to get to know it better. Hudlin’s scene at the White House was potentially more interesting than the history lesson, as he playfully comes up with “Dondi Reese” and a host of other cabinet-members who apparently have never heard of Wakanda and immediately want it. This is an implicit parallel to those other invaders, I suppose, but the sequence is a bit rushed and confusing (and for a title where race would seem to be significantly fore-grounded, skin-tone and features don’t always match). The reasons he gives for American interest (and ignorance) aren’t convincing, despite the clichéd bluster of one blow-hard general quickly dismissed by Ms. Reece.

This isn’t a bad start, but I’ll need something really fresh and new to keep my interest in this series, some spin beyond another round of Panther vs. the big white hunter.

Rob Irwin

Oh dear, this is very ordinary. Very ordinary indeed. From the opening scenes where traditional African tribesmen are telling each other to “stay cool” (what on Earth is that about?!?), to some surprisingly ordinary artwork from John Romita Jr., to basically the whole premise of this new series I’ve got to say that I’m not sold at all.

I freely admit that I’m partly feeling this way because Black Panther isn’t a title I’m going to be personally interested in. However, even when I step outside my own likes and dislikes and try to look at this objectively... I’m just not getting it. Good dialogue is scarce (although the gag about the Wakandans making the Vietnamese look like the French in terms of their toughness and tenacity raised a giggle from me), and the cheesy Condi Rice rip-off, referred to as 'Dondi' and given a few different attributes presumably to stop Marvel from getting it’s butt sued is just... well, juevenile.

The best I can say is that there seems to be a story struggling to get out here, and as future issues roll on, things might improve. Maybe this first issue should have been a double edition, just to give the reader a better taste of where the series might be going beyond the introduction. Still, that’s academic at this stage - and the best I can give this issue is . Approach with caution.

Shaun Manning

Black Panther returns in a new series written by screenwriter Reggie Hudlin and illustrated by John Romita, Jr. Throughout history, the African nation of Wakanda has defended itself from outside threats. It has thwarted rival tribes and beaten back the imperialistic forces of France and Great Britain; Wakanda has never been conquered. Led by a series of protectors called the Black Panther, the Wakandans cultivated a reputation as fierce warriors... and a culture more advanced than anything found in Europe. Now, eager to capitalize on the tiny nation’s untapped resources, the United States has employed covert superpowered agents to “bring freedom” to Wakanda.

Not appearing in this issue: Black Panther.

Hudlin and Romita are off to an even if not inspiring start with their take on Black Panther. The historical perspective is welcome, as it paints a nice portrait of what the title of Black Panther means and the background of such a character. It might have been nice to see even one scene of the current incarnation of the title character in this issue, but lacking that the 19th century Panther is a thrill to see.

There is some funny, if entirely too obvious, social commentary in the modern framing sequence. United States diplomats quiz each other on how to handle a nation that wants “a no-fly zone over their thatched huts” and refuses to make use of their vast oil reserves. While names like “Dondi Reese” are sure to evoke a groan in all but the most self-congratulatory liberal, Hudlin touches on some very relevant political issues here that should serve well in developing a poignant and important critical work.

Romita’s art is pretty much what people have come to expect from him, so his fans will like it and his detractors won’t. The heroes look powerful, the comical villains look robustly themselves, but the “real” or traditional villains tend to look constipated, which is somehow less than menacing.

Given Marvel’s pride in “decompression” and “cinematic” storytelling, it’s actually refreshing how much Hudlin manages to get into this first issue. There are three extended flashbacks, two or three villainous interludes, and the amusing episode of the American diplomats. The only thing not in this issue, as has already been mentioned, is the titular hero. The series should still be approached with trepidation, however, since this is going to be a six-issue origin story, and most of these get really boring around issue three. Still, the first issue is solid, which is a lot more than can be said for many “cinematic” comics.

Jason Sacks

The Black Panther is a character that has almost always been treated right, in my opinion. He was created in Fantastic Four and managed by Stan 'n' Jack, then moved over to Avengers and the capable hands of Roy Thomas and John Buscema. When the Panther finally received his own solo series in the pages of Jungle Action in the mid-'70s, writer Don McGregor wrote one of the first true graphic novels in comics form, the brilliant Panther’s Rage. After three years, McGregor was dropped from the book in favor of Jack Kirby, who created his own amazing spin on the character. After a few years’ guest-shots, Christopher Priest wrote a wonderful revival of the character in the ‘90s. And the Panther had a really sensational guest appearance in Cable during the ‘90s, in which Joe Casey and the sublime Jose Ladronn brought the Panther back to his roots while also re-establishing the base of the character.

In other words, the history of the Panther in comics is deep and lasting. There may have been a higher percentage of good stories written about the Black Panther than almost any other character in the Marvel stable.

Which just raises the bar for the latest revival of the character, this time in the hands of filmmaker Reginald Hudlin and artist John Romita Jr. They do a fine job with this first issue, but it’s a classic first issue from current-day Marvel: the book is so obviously the first part of something longer that it’s hard to know where the series is going to go.

The first issue spends most of its time looking at the history of Wakanda, the Panther’s African kingdom. We learn about the kingdom’s long history of technology, how the kingdom escaped colonization in the 1800s, meet at least one of the Panther’s ancestors, and get a good overall view of the extremely unique country. Finally we met the son of the Black Panther’s greatest enemy, in a very cool moment.

Hudlin and Romita keep the story interesting - it’s written and drawn in a way that makes me want to come back for more. That’s good, because we get precious little in this first issue beyond set-up. In a way this made me long for the first issue of Panther’s Rage, where Don McGregor was so excited about his plot that the speech and caption balloons sometimes overwhelmed the art. I wanted the book to move on a little more quickly, but the same could be said of most current Marvel series. Still, Hudlin and Romita do such a good job that the book is intriguing. This might be a good series to wait for the trade, but you also might be hooked after you read the first issue. I know I’m hooked.

Dave Wallace

This new series looks to be a new start, a new character, and a new take on the now decidedly old-fashioned concept of the Black Panther. As such, a lot of this first issue focuses on making the character as impressive and intriguing as possible, without really giving too much away. In fact, the story barely develops beyond a series of flashbacks which show the history of the nation of Wakanda from the 5th century all the way up to today – and demonstrate just how consistently the mysterious figure of the Black Panther has successfully defended the country with a technology way ahead of its time.

Catching up to the present day shows us a U.S. defence committee frustrated by Wakanda’s enforcement of a no-fly zone over its territory. It’s an interesting David-and-Goliath story idea which I’m keen to see develop – not least because it paints the bombastic arrogance of the U.S. military in a fairly unflattering light. However, the majority of this story concerns itself with establishing just how much of a badass this new Black Panther seems to be – and it doesn’t fall down in this regard. A fantastic double-splash page by master artist Romita shows a past encounter between the Panther and Captain America where the indefatigable super-soldier actually lost a fight. It may be a simplistic way to do it, but it instantly illustrates just how accomplished a fighter this Black Panther can be, and further allusions to his defeat of the Fantastic Four and other great heroes only serve to reinforce this notion.

A lot of the power of the Black Panther in his various historical guises comes from the excellent drawings of John Romita Jr, finished to a tee by his longstanding collaborator Klaus Janson. Romita seems just as at home depicting a 5th century tribal invasion (with gruesome consequences) as a group of 19th century conquering settlers, or even a modern day Whitehouse defence conference, and it’s this supreme adaptability which makes him such a safe bet as an artist. He’s certainly a great asset for a new series like this, which doesn’t have the luxury of a big-name Marvel character as a selling point to lure readers in. It seems that his work on this series will be another career success for him, as his consistent quality produces another couple of standout moments here: in the aforementioned Captain America splash, and with the earlier shower-of-spears sequence which – through a combination of great perspective and panel layout – carries a real power.

Whilst the final page cliffhanger leaves me cold, and appears to drag the story towards a more clichéd and straightforward superhero/villain formula, the rest of the issue sets up a powerful, mysterious central character, an interesting political subplot, and the mystery of Wakanda’s amazing technological advancement. I probably wouldn’t have picked this up if it wasn’t currently being offered as an online preview, but having read it I have to say my interest is piqued. And that’s probably the best you can expect from a first issue from Marvel’s decompression-obsessed house of ideas at the moment.

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