I’ve gained a bit of a reputation around the hallowed halls of Wizard as the dude who LOVES Reggie Hudlin’s Black Panther comic. I came into it a bit late in the game (somewhere around the early teens I think), went back, got caught up and have been reading ever since. And, while I think the book got a bit weak in the over-long Fantastic Four issues (I might get to those eventually), I still think it’s a pretty great series overall both because it made me care about a character I didn’t really have any feelings toward one way or another (I never read the previous series’) and because it felt like Reggie was really utilizing the vast resources of the Marvel Universe without getting too bogged down in said history.
So, in this semi-recurring feature called Black Panther Is Awesome, I’ll be taking a trade by trade look at why this book rocks my world. So here we go with the first trade, Who Is The Black Panther?
BLACK PANTHER: WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER?
Written by Reginald Hudlin & drawn by John Romita Jr.
Collecting Black Panther 1-6
Okay, right off the bat, I’ve got to say that this is one of the few cases in which I’ve really liked John Romita Jr.’s art. Usually it’s a little too boxy for my tastes, but for some reason it really works on this book.
Anyway, the crazy thing about the first issue is that it doesn’t even feature T’Challa, the current black panther, but instead focuses on three different Black Panthers from times past repelling foreign invasions, including a pretty rad fight between T’Challa’s pops and Captain America back in World War II that looks even more vintage thanks to Romita’s pencils (not sure how that works, but it does!). We’re made aware of these past battles thanks to a small group of American politicians and military dudes trying to figure out if Wakanda poses a threat. We’re also treated to a few small scenes of bad guys talking to each other, one of which turns out to be the Klaw, who, even I know, is the guy that killed T’Challa’s dad back in the day. I do have one complaint about these flashback scenes, though. The dialogue seems way to modern at times. It’s not a huge deal, but it is the kind of thing that could pull someone out of the story.
All of this sets up a few interesting scenarios. Who’s the bad guy recruiting Klaw? What will the U.S. government try and pull? And most of all, who is the current Black Panther? We’ve seen these past ones, so what’s T’Challa like? We’ll get the answers plus more questions as things move on.
Also of interest, the footage we’ve seen of the Black Panther cartoon, which will be on BET, looks like they just animated this first issue like those old motion comic cartoons from the 70s. As you can probably guess, I’m pretty excited about that series whenever it comes out.
You know what’s crazy about the second issue? Still no T’Challa as Black Panther. We get to see T’Challa challenge his uncle for the title of Black Panther and win which is pretty rad. Along with the scenes we also get some background about Wakanda where we find out that the Panther is the god of the people and also rules them as a king. We also get treated to some more pretty cool and sometimes brutal fight scenes between T’Challa’s uncle and the challengers.
There’s also an interesting set-up in the character of Shuri, T’Challa’s sister who also wanted to try out to become the Black Panther, but was stopped by a falling opponent of her uncle’s just as T’Challa jumped into the fray. There’s some more U.S. government stuff that gets a bit old as the series moves on, but it’s still pretty interesting here. Plus, Klaw recruits a bad guy/girl named Cannibal who seems to take over bodes based on physical contact. The seeds are planted.
The third issue is kind of an origin issue with some more team building on the bad guy’s side. It seems as though Rhino and Batroq the Leaper (minus the silly costume, but still sporting the accent) have joined Klaw’s cadre of evil somewhere in Africa. It turns out that Klaw is related to one of the dudes who we saw trying to invade Wakanda and getting killed. Klaw became an assassin hired to kill T’Challa’s dad, killed him and T’Challa’s brother only to get shot by a young T’Challa. Klaw went back to Belgium where they turned him into a cyborg killing machine. We also get a glimpse of what fueled T’Challa to become the badass dude we will eventually see in the book and got a glimpse of when facing off against his uncle.
The issue is capped with a few more additions to the villain crew in the form of the Vatican’s Black Knight, who even sports an ebony blade and a ruler of a neighbor of Wakanda who is on Klaw’s side. I’m not exactly sure how this fits into the actual Black Knight’s continuity, but they did a call out to it in the most recent issue of Captain Britain (a really great book, highly recommended to all).
Finally, in issue four we get to see T’Challa in his Black Panther gear as the bad guys finally begin the assault. I don’t want to get in too many of the details because they’re pretty cool, but we get a great look at how the population of Wakanda looks up to T’Challa and how he, in turn, respects them. We also get treated to an example of the Rhino’s toughness and an aerial dog fight with the Black Knight, plus the reveal that Radioactive Man is also on Klaw’s Crew.
Issues five and six really display the throw down between BP and his people and Klaw’s Crew (I like that name, they should get uniforms made up). The U.S. government even gets involved by deploying a group of cyborg soldiers that seem to have an awful lot in common with Deathlok, though the connection isn’t made on the page. Oh, the Panther also has a freaking flight cycle. Awesome!
In the end, Panther faces off against Klaw, while his sister takes on Radioactive Man and Cannibal takes over his cousin in America (he’s a diplomat of some kind). So, even though the good guys (and girls) prevail in their own way, there’s still some lingering trouble.
So, what do I like about this book (aside from what I already mentioned)? Well, I’m pretty fascinated by Wakanda as a setting and Hudlin sets things up really well. You get to see both its technologically advanced side but also it’s older, warrior and honor based culture. It’s a really cool setting that really serves T’Challa later on and shows how he truly is a product of his environment.
I also really like this collection of somewhat classic Marvel villains. You’ve got Rhino, Klaw, Batroq the Leaper and Radiative Man all teaming up in a way that doesn’t seem forced at all. Plus, I didn’t even realize it until just now how little Black Panther is in the series and I was still really really into it. It’s pretty cool.
Okay, this was a really long post, but I had to get in why I think BP is so awesome. Look for more installments later as I’ve read the first four Black Panther trades, but haven’t read the X-Men/Black Panther trade in a while (I might just skip that one to save some time).