Black Panther Vol. 3 #1-12 (November 1998 – October 1999)
Written by Christopher Priest (#1-12)
Storytelling (does this mean scripting or layouts?) by Joe Quesada (#1-4)
Art by Mark Texeira (#1-4), Vince Evans (#5), Joe Jusko (#6)
Pencils by Joe Jusko (#7-8) , Amanda Connor (#8), Mike Manley (#9-10), Mark Bright (#11-12)
Inks by Jimmy Palmiotti (#7-8), Vince Evans (#8), Mike Manley (#9-10), Nelson DeCastro (#11-12)
Background Assists by Alitha Martinez (#1-4)
Washes by Vince Evans (#7-8)
Coloured by Brian Haberlin (#1, 3-5, 8), Avalon Studios (#2, 6), Drew (#7) , Matt Yackey (#7), Chris Sotomayor (#9-12)
Spoilers (from seventeen to eighteen years ago)
I think my lingering disappointment in the 1988 and 1991 Panther miniseries are the main reasons why I didn’t pick up Christopher Priest’s run when it began. I was still a little apprehensive about the Marvel Knights line (remember, this was running concurrently with the Punisher miniseries where he became an angel or something), and didn’t have a lot of time or money to devote to comics.
As the series progressed, I heard more and more about it, but it wasn’t until the comic reached the early 20s that I started reading it, and that was largely because of a Moon Knight guest appearance followed by the Maximum Security crossover event.
I immediately recognized that not reading this series was a mistake, as it was incredible. Priest (who I’ve long been a fan of) wrote complicated stories, and made amazing use of T’Challa and his world. I started reading the title from that point on, but it wasn’t until this last year, and the news that the Panther was coming back in the hands of the gifted writer Ta-Nehisi Coates that I decided it was time to pick up the earlier issues and give this series (and the incredible follow-up title, The Crew) a full and proper read through.
Now, these issues were not easy to find. I did get the original Marvel Knights trade paperbacks, and that’s what this column is based on, although I did also get a couple of the original comics (which I much prefer, for the context of ads and letters pages to remind me of what was going on in the rest of the Marvel Universe at the same time). Priest immediately set about building on Wakanda, and growing the supporting cast, who become very important in this book. He also decided to narrate the book through the point of view of Everett K. Ross, a white American, which allowed him to better relate to the majority of Marvel’s readership, and to keep T’Challa’s inner thoughts to himself, preserving the mystique of the character.
Let’s take a look at who was in this series:
- Manuel Ramos (#1-2, 7)
- Mephisto (#1-5)
- Reverend Dr. Michael Ibn al-hajj Achebe (#3-5, 8-12)
- Ulysses Klaw (seen in flashback; #3, 5)
- Kraven the Hunter (#6-7)
- Baron Zemo I (#8)
- Dzhokhar Gapon (Russian mafia; #9)
- Jack Taylor (CEO of Spectrum Dynamics Corp; #9)
- Bill Clinton (#6-7, 10)
- Iron Man (#7-9)
- Scarlet Witch (#7-9)
- Vision (#7-8)
- Wonder Man (#7-8)
- Firestar (#7-8)
- Thor (#7-9)
- Captain America (#8-9, 12)
- Agent 13/Sharon Carter (#8)
- Everett K. Ross (State Department; #1-12)
- Zuri (advisor; #1-9, 11-12)
- Nikki Adams (Ross’s boss; #1-8, 10)
- Okoye (Dora Milaje; #1-3, 6, 9-12)
- Nakia (Dora Milaje; #1-3, 6, 9-12)
- Ramonda (T’Challa’s step-mother; #1-2, 5, 9-10, 12)
- Sergeant Tork (NYPD; #2, 4-5, 8-12)
- T’Chaka (T’Challa’s father; seen in flashback; #3, 5, 10)
- Hatut Zeraze (Dogs of War; ex-Wakandan Secret Police; #3-4, 9-12)
- Hunter, the White Wolf (#4-5, 7, 9-12)
- Monica Lynne (#6, 8-11)
- Senator Kamal Rakim (#6, 8)
- Danny Vincent (NSA, LCL; #9-10)
- Ma (Danny Vincent’s robot drone; #10)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
- Everett K. Ross, from the Office of the Chief of Protocol at the US State Department narrates this series, but we learn very quickly that he is not the most reliable, or linear, of narrators, and so recapping the comic is often pretty difficult. For this issue, Ross is explaining to Nikki (no last name yet), his boss, and his lover, how things went wrong when T’Challa brought a delegation of Wakandans to New York to investigate the death of a little girl which is in some way connected to the financial mismanagement of a fund for aiding needy children in New York. The book opens with Ross in a washroom in a public housing building, without pants, preparing to shoot a rat while listening to Zuri lecture about Wakandan history. Previously, T’Challa, accompanied by Okoye and Nakia, members of the Dora Milaje, the female-only group who protect him, confronted Manuel Ramos, a drug dealer. He tells Ramos that he is going to have to help T’Challa discover who killed the child at the Tomorrow Fund. He marks Ramos so that Kimoyo, his computer system, can always find him. We learn that there are tensions in Wakanda because T’Challa has allowed large numbers of refugees to settle in the country’s borders, which has led to clashes between the tribal, rural Wakandans, urban Wakandans, and the refugees themselves. This is not a good time for T’Challa to leave the country, which is what Ramonda, his stepmother tells him. Jumping around again, we end up back with pantsless Ross in the projects, who, when he hears knocking on the door, discovers Mephisto coming to call on him.
- The second issue continues the time-jumping narrative, although things become much clearer. We see Ross and Mephisto sitting and waiting for the Panther to return to the housing projects in Brooklyn. We see that T’Challa was terrorising and recruiting more drug dealers to join his new information network, as were his Dora Milaje. Mephisto gives Ross some pants, and he worries that he has sold his soul to the devil. Backing up to when T’Challa arrived in New York, we see that upon his arrival, he learned that someone named Achebe has instituted a coup back in Wakanda. Ramonda recommends T’Challa complete his work in New York before returning home, and Zuri trashes the VIP lounge at the airport. Not wanting to offend Ross, T’Challa, the Dora Milaje, and the gigantic Zuri pile into his two-seater sports car and head to the New Lots projects, where he announces they will be staying. They stop for takeout Chinese food, and T’Challa demonstrates his facility with Cantonese and Tagalog. Outside the restaurant, Ross and the Dora Milaje are harassed by the drug dealer Manuel Ramos. Ross is about to fight him when Sergeant Tork of the NYPD breaks things up by firing his shotgun into the air. After Ramos leaves, Ross realizes that he stole his ID. Ross ditches the Panther and his entourage to track Ramos to a bar where women mud wrestle. Ross gets tossed into the mud pit, and beaten on by the women there (losing his pants in the process), but is rescued by Zuri while the Panther and the Dora Milaje watch. Tork and the NYPD bust up this scene too, and everyone gets arrested. In the middle present, the Panther sneaks into the prison where Marion Vicar, who had been the director of the Tomorrow Fund, is incarcerated. He learns that it was Achebe who convinced Vicar to turn the fund into a front for money laundering, all to lure the Panther to America.
- Ross tells Nikki the story of Achebe, who is from Ghudaza, a country neighbouring Wakanda. Rebels from a third neighbouring country came to his land, where he helped them, and in return one of them took his wife’s heart and stabbed Achebe thirty-two times. In retaliation, he killed everyone his wife had ever known before ending up in a refugee camp in Wakanda, where he helped sow chaos and discord. In the middle past, Mephisto made Ross relive the time that a girl pulled down his pants at school. The Panther tracked down the person who actually killed that little girl, and many others, and making him fear for his life, delivered him to the girl’s mother instead of killing him. Driving back in his stretch Lexus, the Panther remembers being a child, listening to Zuri’s stories of battle, and meeting Ulysses Klaw, who would go on to kill his father T’Chaka. This time around, T’Challa has some control over his memories, and ends up travelling through various memories of battles, lovers, and allies like the Fantastic Four and Avengers, who speak to him with what is conceivably Mephisto’s voice. When he comes to, he’s making out with Nakia, which is problematic. The Dora Milaje (Beloved Ones) are ceremoniously meant to be betrothed to him, but were he to engage in any sort of behaviour with either one, it would mean he is selecting her as a wife, which would in turn alienate the other. Each represents either rural or urban Wakanda, and that could lead to a civil war. The Panther leaves the car and climbs to the rooftop, and we see he is being pursued by two men in white panther-like outfits, who were previously cloaked.
- The Panther is pursued by the Hatut Zeraze, the ‘Dogs of War.’ These formerly played a role similar to the secret police in Wakanda, but the Panther dissolved their group when he became King. As they fight, we see a broadcast from Wakanda of Achebe taking control of the country, and feigning reluctance to step into that role. The Panther fights five Hatut Zeraze, taking down most of a city block, before their leader, Hunter, the White Wolf, (who is a white man) appears. It’s clear that there is some history between him and T’Challa, and he offers help if he is allowed to return home to Wakanda. T’Challa refuses his help, and before disappearing, Hunter tells him that Mephisto is waiting in his flat. He also brings up Monica Lynne, the Panther’s old lover. Sergeant Tork is interrupted at home by the murderer of that little girl showing up at his door to confess. We see the Panther’s limo driving off. In the present, Ross tries to stop narrating his story to Nikki, offering sex instead. When pushed, he returns to the point in the story where he is waiting with Mephisto, who makes him relive his unhappy childhood as overweight, picked-on Kenny. Just as Mephisto was beginning to turn Ross, the Panther appears and knocks the demon down with one punch. We learn that his retinue had been monitoring the situation, and placed a forcefield around Mephisto, cutting him off from his realm, and his power. The Panther cuts out his heart, and begins to ask about his arrangement with Achebe. Mephisto teleports the Panther and Ross to Hell.
- Mark Texeira left the book with issue four, taking with him background assistant Alitha Martinez, and apparently Joe Quesada. I still can’t figure out if Quesada’s ‘storytelling’ credit refers to scripting, which seems unlikely because the whole series feels and sounds like Christopher Priest’s writing, or layouts, which seems unlikely because the trade paperback shows Texeira’s own layouts for some pages. Maybe Quesada was just heavily involved in things? Anyway, the book opens in Hell, or just outside its gates, to be more accurate. Achebe, or Mephisto, taking Achebe’s shape, appears and begins shooting at the Panther, while Ross deals with a huge stack of rats. Tork shows up in the projects, waking up Zuri, who starts munching on Mephisto’s heart, which Ross left in a jar of pickles. In Wakanda, Achebe walks the streets and makes a broadcast that becomes comical when he is attacked by a wasp. In Hell, having climbed over the gate, T’Challa is forced to relive scenes from his childhood, and we see him discover the Hatut Zeraze torturing a man, rejecting Hunter’s approach to rule, and we see the evil geologist Ulysses Klaw attack T’Chaka and his people in order to gain control of the Great Mound. T’Challa ends up shooting Klaw’s hand off with his own sound-based weapon after his father is killed, and we see him become King. He talks to Mephisto, who has been assuming his dead father’s image, and Mephisto agrees to withdraw his power from Achebe in return for access to the Panther’s soul. The thing is, after completing his trials, and partaking of the heart-shaped herb, the Panther’s soul is merged with that of the Panther God. When Mephisto begins to feed on the souls of various Panther spirits, it becomes too much for him. T’Challa threatens to overfeed him to the point of dissolution, and so Mephisto releases T’Challa from his claim. They are returned to the projects, Ross loses his pants again, and Mephisto reclaims his heart from Zuri. Afterwards, Ramonda lets T’Challa know that the Wakandan Parliament has decided that, so long as T’Challa remains in exile, Achebe can share power with Ramonda. T’Challa accepts this for now, and we learn that it has been Ramonda who has been manipulating events, and Achebe, all along. This ends the first story arc.
- The second story arcs begins with Nikki arriving at an office that I think is supposed to be the Oval Office. Ross is inside, wearing roller blades after being picked up by the Secret Service while riding in the park, to explain something that has happened concerning ‘the client’, T’Challa. A person who I believe is supposed to be Bill Clinton, but looks nothing like him, chases Ross, who begins recounting yet another story. He opens with a long fight between the Black Panther and Kraven the Hunter, in the kitchen of a Washington hotel. After pages of fighting, Kraven gets the drop on the Panther. Digressing, Ross talks about a gala dinner celebrating T’Challa, despite the fact that he had recently been deposed. It’s suggested that the dinner was held to shore up Clinton’s support among the African-American community, although none had been invited. Ross called up Spike Lee’s casting agent to fix this. T’Challa is dancing with Nakia, the Dora Milaje he made out with while confused by Mephisto. We see a flashback that explains how she was selected to become promised to the Panther. We learn that T’Challa is still hung up on Monica Lynne, and that Nikki, Ross’s boss, also once had a relationship with T’Challa while in college, and that another man, named Kamal, challenged him. When they fought, T’Challa defeated him, and he and Zuri discussed America’s hangups on race, and how T’Challa’s father would not have approved of him dating an American. Kamal is now a Senator, and at the party. He’s arranged for a large number of black people to gather outside the hotel to see the Panther. This freaks out Ross, who calls in his department. As T’Challa addresses the crowd, Ross’s fake SWAT team arrives to make it look like they are securing the scene. They even bring a decoy, who is obese. T’Challa spots Monica in the crowd just as Kraven arrives on the scene, trapping the decoy in a net, and then catching the real Panther the same way.
- Still being chased around the White House by Bill Clinton (this is confirmed in issue seven), Ross continues to narrate the story of what happened with Kraven the Hunter. He and the Panther had been captured and delivered to Manuel Ramos and some of the other drug lords that the Panther had been terrorizing since coming to America. They have the Panther bolted to the floor with gigantic manacles, and Ross tied up. They douse the tenement they have them in with gasoline, light it, and fire their assault rifles at T’Challa, who is unfazed thanks to the vibranium mesh in his vestments. T’Challa is able to escape and pulls Ross to safety just as Zuri and the Dora Milaje arrive on the scene. The Panther beats and humiliates Ramos, and learns how the men were able to hire Kraven to capture him, and leaves Ross with his entourage. He goes to confront Hunter, the White Wolf, who is behind all of this. Hunter is trying to get T’Challa to send him and the Hatut Zeraze back to Wakanda to remove Achebe from power, but T’Challa refuses. Hunter tries to get T’Challa to get in touch with Monica Lynne. Leaving, T’Challa is attacked by Kraven again. Ross watches the Dora Milaje change their clothes, while Nakia insists to Okoye that T’Challa loves her, because of the whole Mephisto delusion thing. In the present, Clinton catches up to Ross, and gives him twenty-four hours to get T’Challa to retract whatever statement he’s made. Continuing his narration, Ross describes the Panther’s fight with Kraven, wherein Kraven requests that T’Challa train him to be like him. T’Challa lets his wild side out, and is giving Kraven a beat-down when he is stopped by Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers, who claim they want answers about something…
- Issue eight begins with a flashback to Captain America #100, when T’Challa and Cap, with the help of Agent 13, who had gone undercover as Irma Kruhl, stopped the first Baron Zemo from using a hidden bunker in Wakanda to control an orbiting death ray. Ross explains what happened to Nikki, including how this mission became the impetus for Cap recommending that the Panther fill in for him on the Avengers when he went on a leave of absence. Ross raises the issue that this was strange, seeing as the Panther was not a superhero, nor as king of an African nation, it doesn’t make sense for him to move to New York to hang out with superheroes. In the closer present, Captain America takes the Panther back to the large crowd waiting to see him that has gathered outside the hotel from earlier. The Mayor of New York (I assume this would be Giuliani? If it isn’t he shares his decision making process) has called out the NYPD out of fear of a large gathering of black folk, even if they are being peaceful (this sounds familiar). Cap wants the Panther to speak to them all, but he insists that Cap do it and walks away, after a small argument with Senator Rakim. Ross, walking through the crowd, literally bumps into Thor and the other Avengers. While Cap tries to get the crowd to calmly disperse, the Panther stalks a sniper that his Kimoyo card has detected. When he confronts the sniper, he is surprised to learn that it is Monica Lynne, who is under the control of Achebe. Lynne fires into the crowd, hitting Thor in the forehead, and sending the crowd and the NYPD into a panic. As the Avengers deal with their own ineffectiveness, Achebe taunts T’Challa, and tells him that Monica and a random person in the crowd are wired with explosives. The Panther and the Avengers coordinate, and while they work to stop the bomb, Achebe asks the Panther why he ever joined the Avengers. He admits that while they are his friends, he thought that joining them was a prudent way to assess their capabilities and goals. Firestar overhears this conversation, and then locates the explosive civilian and makes the radio signal from Achebe go away, making it possible to defuse the bombs. Monica asks T’Challa about the Dora Milaje and then walks away, having promised to never speak to him again. Thor recovers but almost gets into a fight with Zuri. Firestar asks Panther if he really did join the Avengers to investigate them, and he admits this is so, walking away from them.
- Issue nine, which features a very jarring change in art thanks to the arrival of Mike Manley, opens with Ross at a frozen outpost in Iceland, which had been where Clinton threatened to send him if he didn’t get the Panther to retract the statement we still haven’t seen him make. Backing up to where the story left off, the Panther and the Dora Milaje attack an ice cream truck that is outfitted with surveillance devices that Kimoyo identified as being around the mob scene last issue. The Russians driving the truck were working for Achebe, through the Russian mafia. Achebe contacts the Panther during the fight, mostly to boast, but Ramonda shuts him up. After the communication ends, Ramonda scolds Achebe, who we know is her puppet, but the Panther doesn’t. Monica Lynne is interviewed/interrogated by the NYPD to learn how she ended up being used by Achebe. A man named Danny Vincent, who claims to work for the NSA is in the meeting. Monica maintains that she has no contact with T’Challa. The Panther shoots up the deli belonging to Dzhokhar Gapon, a Russian mob boss, to try to learn who is pulling the strings behind everything that is going on. The story starts to get complicated here. Walking home from the NYPD in the rain, Monica is stopped by Hunter and the Hatut Zeraze. She wants to know who Vincent is, and wants to be taken to T’Challa. The Panther attacks a man named Jack Vincent, the CEO of Spectrum Dynamics Corp, and likely a CIA spook, in his home by tossing the ice cream van through his window. The Panther makes clear that, because Achebe overstepped, he knows that Spectrum Dynamics has been behind the coup in Wakanda, in an attempt to gain the kingdom’s technology and vibranium, likely for the US government. After Layton presumably spills his guts off panel (he is being dangled off a bridge), the Panther takes a circuit board from the ice cream van to Captain America, who makes it clear that the US government keeps things from him because they know he won’t approve. Cap offers the help of the Avengers, but T’Challa refuses it. At Avengers Mansion, Thor is arm wrestling Zuri. The Panther tells the Avengers that the US has committed acts of war against his country, and basically quits the team, saying he has to walk alone (despite walking out with Zuri and Ross).
- We see further proof that Achebe is unstable, as he argues with his hand puppet and figures out that Ramonda is probably the person who knows the access codes to Wakanda’s defenses. The Panther pays a visit to Danny Vincent, who we learn is part of the LCL, the secret service for the nation of Volcan Domuyan. He informs Vincent that the computer chips he has been working to attain are flawed, and wants him to plant some misinformation for the NSA. We learn that the ‘mother’ Vincent lives with is actually a robotic drone that speaks to him in Spanish. Through a flashback, we learn that Hunter was, as an infant, the only survivor of a plane that crashed in Wakanda, and was taken and raised by king T’Chaka. When T’Challa was born, Hunter began to feel left out. Early on, he bonded with Ramonda, who as South African and as T’Chaka’s second wife after T’Challa’s mother’s death, also felt like an outsider in the closed nation. In the middle-present, Hunter and Monica Lynne talk about why T’Challa broke off his engagement to her. It was around this time that T’Challa, speaking to the UN Security Council, reveals the US’s complicity in the coup in Wakanda, and Ross gets picked up by the Secret Service, and, in the narrative present, is exiled to Iceland. On a plane flying to ‘rein T’Challa in’, Ross tries to get Nikki to take over the file, but remembering her relationship with T’Challa, she refuses. Leaving the UN, T’Challa finds himself in the company of the Hatut Zeraze. In Wakanda, a tired Ramonda is attacked by Achebe, who bludgeons her and searches for her access codes. Hunter again offers assistance to T’Challa. When they are fired on by snipers from a helicopter (it’s not clear who these people are, but at this point, a lot of people want T’Challa dead), the Panther heads into battle with the White Wolf and the Hatut Zeraze at his side. Ross arrives on the scene and ends up in a limo with the Dora Milaje and Sergeant Tork, getting fired on by some guys in a van. In Wakanda, Achebe inputs the codes and turns on the Prowlers, large panther-robot death things.
- Issue eleven welcomes artist Mark Bright to the show, and things are very chaotic. Ross provides a clear recap, as the Prowlers attack the Wakandan central city at Achebe’s command, and as the Panther’s entourage of Ross, Tork, Zuri, Monica, and the Dora Milaje come under attack in New York from the Russian mafia (or perhaps some skating coaches). The Panther’s limo ends up in the East River, with the crew swimming away from it. The Panther, Hunter, and the Hatut Zeraze are similarly under attack by helicopters, and they too end up in the river, where we discover that the Panther had hidden the N’Yami, a large attack craft staffed by Wakandan special forces. It’s at this point that Ross realizes that T’Challa has been prepared for everything that has happened so far, and has been playing a role in a larger drama. The Panther knocks out Hunter and his men, and checks on Monica and Ross. The Dora Milaje argue, and Nakia continues to insist that T’Challa loves her. There is a flashback to when the girls were younger and spying on T’Challa in the bath, and when Monica appears, Nakia pretends to fall into the bath and drown, so that T’Challa will perform mouth-to-mouth on her. T’Challa and Monica argue, and then everyone pairs off and gets into some Talon fighters. The N’Yama arrives in Wakanda and the fighters engage the Prowlers. Nakia has Monica with her, but when the older woman puts her in her place, Nakia ejects her into the battlefield. T’Challa and Ross enter the ‘technological jungle’, which is now maybe underground (really, Bright’s storytelling could have been clearer here), and they fight their way through Ghudazian loyalists working for Achebe into the palace. They are met by the rest of their group, Zuri, Tork, and the Dora Milaje. When T’Challa asks Nakia where Monica is, the girl says she was killed, but T’Challa knows she is lying. They see that Achebe has attached himself to a large quantity of explosives, and that his hand puppet is holding the detonator.
- Issue twelve was the last to carry the Marvel Knights trade dress, and therefore the last for this column. The issue opens on a flashback to when T’Challa rescued Ramonda from her captivity in South Africa, as narrated by Ross. It is here that Ross explains that T’Chaka married Ramonda while T’Challa was still an infant, thereby explaining why she was referred to as his mother in earlier appearances. Priest retcons in Hunter’s presence to young T’Challa’s life, and shows the bond he shared with Ramonda, and the complexity of Hunter’s feelings after T’Chaka’s death. In the middle present, the Panther appears to bust out of the royal palace, declaring that the war has ended. He sends all of his security forces elsewhere, claiming that Klaw has returned. Captain America arrives, already being in Wakanda in his own book, and the two heroes engage in some banter while swinging through the city. Cap punches the Panther, causing Tork to hold a gun on him, until it’s revealed that the person in the Panther regalia is Achebe, who gives them a choice between rescuing T’Challa and Ross, or detaining him. The hero and Tork run back to the palace, where we see that a naked T’Challa is tied to a clothed Ross (much is made of this in the form of juvenile homophobic jokes), in a gigantic prop toy ball dispenser filled with explosives and acid; a death trap out of the Batman TV show. T’Challa sends Cap and Tork to evacuate the palace, and works his way free. Immediately upon freeing themselves, they are fired on by Hunter. The Hatut Zeraze attack the others (which now includes Zuri), while the Panther gets dressed and starts to fight his adopted brother, who claims that Ramonda is dead. Their differences play out as they fight. From outside, we see that palace explode, and Ross uncharacteristically runs into the ruin to look for the Panther. Hunter gets the Panther against a wall, holding an energy dagger to his chest, claiming that if T’Challa were to just command him as his King, allowing him to return to Wakanda, he would surrender. The Panther refuses, and Ross jumps on Hunter. Hunter is about to kill him when he passes out, because T’Challa had triggered a variety of nerve clusters on him during their fighting, which ended up knocking him out. The rest of the palace explodes, and between panels T’Challa revives Hunter and lets him escape. The Panther tells Ross that he won’t recant his statement to the UN, but he will work in New York to clarify things. The Panther’s entourage, including Cap, suppose the Panther is dead, but learn he isn’t. Later, we see T’Challa revive Ramonda, and learn that she had acted the role of traitor as a way of exposing Wakanda’s enemies, and that she was only in suspended animation. In the narrative present, we learn that Ross has been telling this story to penguins (because someone at Marvel in 1999 thought that Iceland had penguins), when Zuri and the Dora Milaje arrive to pick him up and return him to T’Challa.
The first twelve issues of this series are impressive, but they pale in comparison to my memories of where this book went later on. Priest does a very good job of establishing that T’Challa is always many steps ahead of anyone, and always the smartest person in the room, but the complexity of his storytelling, with its fast cuts to different points along the storyline, makes this a confusing read. I can’t imagine how anyone would have been able to keep the story straight across an entire year of monthly comics.
Priest adds a number of fascinating elements to Wakandan culture. The inclusion of the Dora Milaje, teenage intended brides/concubines who serve as bodyguards, driver, and secretary, adds a great deal to the Panther’s station as king, and makes Wakanda exotic and practical (since the two represent opposed factions in the culture). Likewise, retconning Hunter, a white adopted son of the country with a complicated relationship to his adoptive brother, his adoptive father, and the ideals of the nation, into the story provides very rich ground for future tales. The Hatut Zeraze do the same, and look cool as hell.
I think it’s interesting that the only other Wakandans to gain any real screen time at this point are Zuri, who I believe was a new character, and Ramonda, who was retconnned into not being a blood relative. None of the characters from McGregor’s runs are included, although Achebe refers to W’Kabi at one point.
The biggest new character to this series is Ross, who works well as a narrator for reasons I mentioned before, but who also makes reading some of these issues cringe-worthy. Ross’s constant references to nineties pop culture, which I doubt I would have found very funny at the time, make this feel dated and out of touch, and that’s without examining his homophobia. I think Ross would have worked well for a white audience that wasn’t all that interested in reading about an African king, but there are elements of him that just would never work today.
The art on these first twelve issues is problematic to say the least. I’ve never been a big fan of Mark Texeira or Joe Jusko, and found their work here to be very inconsistent, but much better at suiting the tone of the comics than that of Mike Manley, whose cartoonish and blockish work really threw me out of the story. Mark Bright showing up should have been a bright spot (sorry, couldn’t avoid it), but instead, some of his designs, like that of Ross’s pilot suit, were just terrible and incongruent with the general look of the book.
After these first twelve issues, the art stabilized around Sal Velluto (although there were still a large number of guest artists), and the comic moved from the Marvel Knights stable to the Marvel offices proper. It also became more intertwined with the Marvel Universe, bringing in a number of guest appearances from Marvel’s files of little-used but very cool characters. By the end of these twelve issues, Priest had wrapped up his story nicely, but for the status of Monica Lynne, and the ongoing issues with the Dora Milaje. I imagine these are the first things he tackles once Velluto comes on board. We’ll look at that long run in the next column.
My earlier column on the Black Panther, covering two miniseries and the first issue of Jack Kirby’s run, can be found here.
If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.
If you’d like to read the stories I talk about here, they have been collected in this trade paperback:
Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Volume 1
Tags: Black Panther, Retro Reviews