The Black Panther is one of the great untapped Marvel characters. There is literally no type of story that you can’t tell with him: Straight forward superhero, sci-fi, magic, politics, espionage, noir, you name it. You can do anything with him, but he’s never had what you could call a successful series, though Marvel has given it a shot a few times, to their credit. The two latest attempts both never really took off from a sales perspective, but one of them actually got quite a bit of critical acclaim. The Panther’s story is this: He’s the hereditary king of Wakanda, a tiny African nation that possesses technology miles beyond anything else on earth, primarily due to the fact that it has one of the very few stockpiles of Vibranium, a near-mystical metal with supernatural properties. Oh, and he dresses in a black cat suit and takes drugs to get his superpowers. Oh, the 60’s.
Black Panther – Black Panther, Enemy Of The State
These two trades collect the first 12 issues of what I consider to be not only the greatest Black Panther story of all time, but actually one of the very best Marvel series of the late 90’s. Christopher Priest somehow convinced Marvel to let him take the Panther on a wild ride of geopolitics, Satanism, comedy, and urban blight. And it works. It really, really works. The story is so perfectly crafted, so expertly planned, that it boggles the mind that Priest isn’t writing a superhero book for one of the two major companies. And since the actual character of the Panther is by nature slightly inscrutable, Priest creates a great supporting characters in Everett Ross, who essentially is there to look into the camera and comment on all the craziness. And things are crazy. And great. Priest’s Panther is the baddest bad-ass in the Marvel Universe. He’s a genius, a brilliant tactician, and one of the toughest hand-to-hand combatants on the planet. He’s basically Batman, minus the crippling guilt, but with the added responsibility that comes with ruling a small country. The only bad thing I can say about these trades is that they were the perfect launching point to a series that never really realized it’s potential. After these, Marvel removed the titles from its edgier “Marvel Knights” line, and it became just another superhero book. A decent one, but one that had the wind knocked out of its sails. Note to Marvel: If you’re not going to collect the rest of this great series in trade, can you at least do a new printing of the first 2 trades in a hardcover format? Like most of the trades from this time period, mine are falling apart.
Black Panther – Who Is The Black Panther, Civil War, The Bride
So far, I’ve managed to do most of this project without being overtly mean. I’ve taken pot shots here and there, but most of the time I’ve tried to see the positives of each story I’ve read, and usually if I malign a writer in one post, I make up for it in another (Chuck Dixon, Jeph Loeb, Grant Morrison). Until now.
When Marvel relaunched the Black Panther, I gave it a try (actually several tries), mostly because of my fondness for Priest’s run. And while it quickly soured on me, I would still try to go back every now and then, to see if things had improved. They never did. After rereading these, I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve read a worse modern age Marvel comic book. This comic book is terrible.
I don’t mean the creative choices, although whomever decided to marry the Black Panther and Storm together should be fired. It’s one thing to disagree with a creator’s character choices. That’s always going to happen. But when the product is executed so poorly, with so little respect to reason or continuity, that’s when I get pissed.
Reggie Hudlin is a tremendously talented TV producer and writer, but that skill does not translate to writing comic books. The pacing here is poor. Hudlin often forgets that this is a visual medium, and has no concept of how to let the artist do the job of communicating information to the reader. And so it’s often very difficult to tell what is happening from panel to panel, as Hudlin seems to view the artist’s role as mere adornment.
Continuity is a big problem here. Not just the regular “This story clearly conflicts with issue 289 of Fantastic Four where it’s stated that Black Panther prefers Ego waffles to Cheerios” kind of continuity. It’s the most important continuity that’s at stake here, that of character. For Hudlin’s Panther, all men want to be him, and all women want to fuck him. And so you get characters that have been written for decades as strong, confident men and women being reduced to giggling caricatures of themselves whenever they get near the Wakandan king. Part of the problem is that while the Panther is a great character, he doesn’t interact that well with the rest of the Marvel Universe, and it takes a good writer to straddle the line between realistic stories, and epic superhero adventures. Reggie Hudlin is not that writer. I think that one of these days someone is going to pitch a hell of a Black Panther Max (Marvel’s adult line). But it’s not going to be Hudlin. He doesn’t have the chops. Even the inclusion of the great John Romita, Jr on pencils for the first arc wasn’t enough to save this stinker.
Next up: Captain America!