One of the many blog projects I started for myself but never finished was going to be a book-by-book review of Reginald Hudlin’s Black Panther book for Marvel, explaining why I thought it was awesome. If you’re curious, you can check out my reviews of volume one and two. As I explained in the first one–which, damn, I wrote two years ago–I started reading the book three or four arcs into it’s run, got hooked and then went back and collected the trades. I really enjoyed how Hudlin utilized the Marvel Universe from the history of Wakanda to putting a team of villains together that included the Rhino and Batroc the Leaper. It reminded me of how I used to play with my toys as a kid. I didn’t care what line or movie they originally came from, they all got thrown into the box and pulled out as needed. “I need a ninja! I choose you, Karate Kid ninja!”
Hudlin continued this spirit into T’Challa’s search for a mate, his wedding to Storm, his stance throughout Civil War and his eventual joining of the Fantastic Four–along with Storm–when Reed and Sue took off to repair their awful marriage after CW. However, and I can’t remember specifically why, it was around this time that the book started to lose me. It might have had something to do with the fact that Black Panther and Storm were only in about one arc of FF, but they hopped around the universe with Johnny and Ben for twice that many in Black Panther. Or maybe I just wasn’t enjoying the toys Hudlin decided to pull out of the box like a planet of Skrulls who think they’re actually 50s gangsters and a golden frog that can traverse time and space.
Whatever it was, it didn’t carry over into my reading of these issues, thankfully. I don’t have the volume before this one in my collection, but I remember that it involved them going to the Marvel Zombies universe. They now find themselves on the aforementioned Skrull planet, which apparently the Thing spent some time on as a gladiator. They don’t seem to have learned their lesson and have a similar set up in their version of NYC, but this time, there’s a new group up in Harlem: Skrulls who have taken on the look of that area from the Civil Rights Era, including Skrull Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. I’m not sure whether I like this story idea or not, but I did find it interesting that Storm found herself talking to Skrull versions of the characters that Professor X and Magneto have been modeled after.
Anyway, it’s a fun little story with some interesting call backs that I wasn’t familiar with going in (and actually wish there were some editor notes to explain, like when Ben was on this planet). Also, even though three artists drew four issues, there’s an iconic, bold look to the book. That’s not to say the style is completely uniform, I actually like Francis Portella best of the bunch because he threw in a lot more detail. I found myself comparing Things from the different issues and his looked the craggiest.
BLACK PANTHER: BACK TO AFRICA (Marvel)
Written by Reginald Hudlin, drawn by Francis Portella, Carlos Rodriguez, Kevin Sharpe, Andrea Divito, Cafu, Larry Stroman & Ken Lashley
Collects Black Panther #35-38 and Annual #1
Thankfully, Portella winds up being the main artist in the next collection which not only brought Black Panther and Storm back to Earth, but also got at least T’Challa back home (Storm had to go deal with Messiah Complex stuff). Things aren’t all hunky dory in Wakanda, though. His sister has been captured, some of his people think he’s been neglecting his kingly duties and the man he has never beaten in battle Killmonger has taken over a neighboring country and declared war.
The continue my metaphor from above, Hudlin pulled out some fun toys that I enjoyed with this arc. I wasn’t as familiar with Killmonger, but the point was made pretty quickly. Another set of villains is also brilliantly included and there’s even callbacks to previous issues of this series with items and characters returning and being utilized when T’Challa needs help the most.
I just realized while writing this, that in addition to playing with continuity and existing characters and doing fun things with them, the real reason I like Black Panther so much is because he’s such a strong character. He’s what Superman should be, but maybe a little more arrogant. T’Challa never doubts his skills or the ability of his people to overcome whatever threat they might face. He knows that he and they are warriors of a class the world has never seen. He might be more political than Superman, but he always does the right thing and never feels bad about it. He’s also got some Batman thrown in because he always has a trick up his sleeve to take out an enemy and, let’s be honest, you tweak like three things on his costume and he’s wearing Batman’s duds.
Anyway, this collection ends with an annual that takes a look far in the future of the Marvel U. T’Challa and Storm’s son is marrying Luke Cage’s daughter and we get to see the festivities while also learning what has happened to the heroes in the time that has passed. I read this book a little while back and don’t really remember anything about this particular comic except what I already mentioned, but I’m glad it’s in the collection for completest sake. I should also mention that this collection brings Hudlin’s run on Black Panther to an end, which is something I didn’t realize until just now. It actually makes a very fitting book end to the first trade thematically and set-up-wise. After this, Jason Aaron came on and did one of the better Secret Invasion tie-ins. I’m not sure what happened after that. I know his sister took over for a while and he’s currently doing his best to keep Hell’s Kitchen safe, but I’ve only read issues here and there for those runs.