Retro Review: Black Panther Vol. 3 #50-62 By Priest, Lucas, Zircher, Calafiore & Others For Marvel Comics

Black Panther Vol. 3 #50-62 (December 2002 – September 2003)

Written by Christopher Priest (#50-56, 59-62), J. Torres (#57-58)

Pencils by Dan Fraga (#50), Jorge Lucas (#51-54), Jim Calafiore (#55-56, 61-62), Ryan Bodenheim (#57-58), Patrick Zircher (#59-60)

Inks by Larry Stucker (#50), Jorge Lucas (#51-54), Mark McKenna (#55-56), Walden Wong (#57-58), Norm Rapmund (#59-62)

Coloured by Jennifer Schellinger (#50-62)

Spoilers (from thirteen to fourteen years ago)

Black Panther took a very big turn with its fiftieth issue.  The star of the book, King T’Challa of Wakanda, didn’t appear in that issue at all, and instead, NYPD drug squad officer Kevin “Kasper” Cole became the main character for eleven issues.  T’Challa eventually appeared, but in a very small supporting role, as we got a complicated story of Kasper’s fight against dirty cops and the 66 Bridges gang that owned them.

Let’s take a look at who was in this series:

Villains

  • Bernie Scruggs (dirty cop; #50, 52)
  • Dre (gangster, 66 Bridges; #50-53)
  • Lt. Sal Anthony (dirty cop; #51-56)
  • Triage (66 Bridges PR man; #54-56, 60)
  • Kibuka (66 Bridges leader; #54-55)

Guest Stars

  • Captain America (#59)
  • The Falcon (#59)

Supporting Characters

  • Ruth Cole (Kasper’s mother; #50, 52, 54-56, 61-62)
  • Gwen (Kasper’s pregnant girlfriend; #50-56, 61-62)
  • Hunter, the White Wolf (#50-51, 53, 55-56, 59)
  • Hatut Zeraze (Dogs of War; exiled Wakandan Secret Police; #50, 56)
  • Sergeant Tork (NYPD; #50-54; 61-62)
  • “Black” Jack Cole (Kasper’s incarcerated father; #50, 53-56)
  • Okoye (Dora Milaje; #52, 54, 59-62)
  • T’Challa (former Black Panther; #52-62)
  • Captain Franklin (Delay) de LaGuardia (IAB; #55-56)
  • Taku (Communications; #57)
  • Everett K. Ross (State Department; #57-58, 62)
  • Mama (T’Challa’s trainer; #60)
  • Omoro (Wakandan Consulate; #60-61)
  • Eric Killmonger (#60-61)
  • Sgt. Sal Anthony (now under Kasper’s thumb; #61-62)
  • Monica Lynne (#62)
  • Queen Divine Justice (Chanté Giovanni Brown, Dora Milaje; #62)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • Issue fifty marks the beginning of the Black or White arc, which takes place some months after the last issue.  A traphouse where some gangsters, including one named Dre, are meeting with a pair of crooked cops, including one named Scruggs, is attacked by the Black Panther, who’s taken to using guns, and wearing pants and a trenchcoat over his habit.  The Panther tosses one cop out the window after pinning a note on him declaring him a ‘dirty cop’.  He shoves a wad of bills into Scrugg’s mouth before escaping through the window, and driving off with a police car, taking Dre with him.  He has the gangster dig his own grave, and then makes it clear to him that he will let him live, but only if he serves him.  He steals his car keys, and then drives his very expensive vehicle around, to make it clear to everyone that he’s ‘putting out his shingle’.  Through the first-person narration, we learn that this is not T’Challa.  The Panther is actually Kevin ‘Kasper’ Cole, a police officer on a five-day suspension.  He lives with his mother and pregnant girlfriend, and has forgotten to pay his electricity bill.  He gets grief at home, and heads to a bodega, where he is confronted by Hunter, the White Wolf, who demands to know who he is.  Kasper tells the Wolf, and the cloaked Hatut Zeraze that surround him, about how he found the Panther’s habit in an alley, and started wearing it under his clothes on the job, which, after he was assaulted during a drug bust, which led to his suspension.  Hunter offers to help him, but Kasper turns him down.  Kasper then goes to visit Sgt. Tork, who we haven’t seen in a long while, who fills him in on who Hunter is, and mentions that T’Challa has been missing for months.  He also reveals that Kasper stole the costume from him, and suggests that if he gets caught going after dirty cops, his whole family will likely get killed.  Kasper visits his father, ‘Black’ Jack Cole, a former police, in prison.  He tells his father that Lieutenant Sal Anthony tried to get Kasper to run an errand for him, which led to his crew being attacked, and his dad tells him to apologize for whatever he did to annoy the Lieutenant.  This part’s a little unclear.
  • Kasper thinks about going to IAB to report Lieutenant Sal, but instead decides to deal with it on his own, because he’s not ‘a rat’.  He stakes out the Lieutenant, and thinks about blowing him away, and remembers how the Lt. sent him to pick up his wife’s clock for him, which was a very odd thing.  Later, Kasper and three other cops (not including Tork) were attacked when going into a house; it was only the Panther’s boots and vibranium-weave habit that saved him.  Kasper goes into a mansion owned by 66 Bridges, and grabs Dre in the bathroom, telling him to go to Scruggs and demand better protection from the NYPD.  Hunter shows up, and tells Kasper he’s left him a gift outside his home, which Kasper rejects.  The gang busts in the bathroom, Hunter disappears, and Kasper has to fight his way out.  He goes to see Tork, who tells him to stay away from Anthony, IAB, and Hunter.  Kasper goes to get fried chicken for his girlfriend, and is again met by Hunter, who has Anthony under surveillance for him.  He gives him a lift home, and Kasper finds that the car he stole from Dre now has Wakandan diplomatic plates, and a file on Anthony in it.  He torches the car and walks away.
  • Sal Anthony visits the 66 Bridges mansion that Kasper attacked last issue, and chats with the cops looking into what happened (who know the score when it comes to this powerful gang).  Dre gets brought out, and Sal figures out that he’s being set up.  He finds a recording device on Dre, left by the Panther, and begins to wonder about the cheapness of the recorder and the use of riot bullets on the scene.  Kasper is woken up at home by Sgt. Tork, who brings him back his gun and badge, now that his suspension is up.  Tork finds the Panther suit lying on the end of the bed, where Gwen could see it.  They engage in a bit of foolishness to hide this from her, and learn that the suit, and the Lexus, which were burnt last issue, have been returned in pristine condition, thanks to Hunter.  Kasper doesn’t really know what to do, and Tork is not much help.  He takes the car to get it away from Kasper’s home, and our hero returns to work, to find that Anthony has busted him down to walking a beat for a while.  We get a montage of Kasper being miserable, as he has sightings of an Avengers Quinjet, and Spider-Man.  Finally, he puts the Panther suit back on, and goes to the housing project where T’Challa had set up shop.  He is attacked by Okoye (who is poorly coloured), and while he fights her off, a voice apologizes for her zealousness.  We see that T’Challa, with a nappy fro growing, is sitting in the empty apartment.
  • Anthony and Scruggs take Dre to the place where Kasper threatened to kill him, and kill him.  Anthony goes to get Tork and takes him out to ask him about Kasper.  Tork vouches for him, not knowing that while they are talking, Scruggs is going through his apartment, finding the rubber bullets and gel bullets that the Panther has been using.  Kasper remembers when he was a kid, and got beaten up on the block, and how his father went to find the leader of the local gang, and threatened him to keep his son safe.  Kasper talks to T’Challa, accusing him of setting up the problems he’s had for some reason, as Hunter believes, but T’Challa denies all this.  T’Challa takes off across the rooftops (barefoot and in a housecoat), while Kasper speaks to his girlfriend, who tells him that something has happened to his father.  Looking for T’Challa now, Kasper instead finds Hunter, who tries to train him.  Kasper asks him how T’Challa would deal with this issue with his dad.  Kasper takes his new Lexus to the prison, remembering the girl he was in love with in high school (who he thinks Okoye looks like), and also remembers when Black Jack was set up and arrested.  As he sneaks into the prison, using equipment he got from Hunter, we see how Black Jack was beaten by prison guards on the take.  When Kasper gets to the cell in the hole where he believes Black Jack is being held, he instead finds T’Challa waiting for him.  They talk for a bit, and Kasper realizes that he can’t bust his father out of prison.  T’Challa’s presence is still mysterious in all of this, especially since the colourist is making all of the usually very dark-skinned characters look very light, and I can’t understand why.  I wouldn’t even guess that T’Challa is black from the way he’s portrayed here.  It’s weird.
  • Kasper visits his father in the prison hospital, seeing that his eye is gone, and then joins T’Challa and Okoye in his car.  Kasper realizes he is getting feelings for Okoye, thinks about how he doesn’t want to be with Gwen, and gets annoyed by how despondent T’Challa seems to be.  Lt. Anthony goes to visit Triage, the regional leader of 66 Bridges, who makes it clear that he owns the dirty cop.  Anthony claims that he believes the Panther to be Sgt. Tork, and asks that Triage consult Kibuka, the leader of 66 Bridges, but Triage claims that he is just a fictional piece of PR.  Kasper captures one of the prison guards, who tells him that it was Scruggs who put out the hit on Black Jack.  Kasper goes to Anthony’s home, where the Lt. confronts him, and makes him think that Anthony knows who he is, although he is assured that the Panther is Tork now.  Kasper goes to see Tork, who tries to get him to drop everything; after Kasper leaves, Tork is shot in the head with a riot bullet by Anthony.  Kasper goes to childbirth class with his girlfriend, and begins to worry about his unborn child, which spurs him on to embrace the Panther identity.  Tork is kidnapped by some cops who beat on him, before revealing that they think him the Panther.  In a bid to protect Kasper, Tork takes responsibility, and has a blade held to his neck by the suddenly arrived Kibuka.
  • Jim Calafiore takes over with issue fifty-four, and the art starts to better match the script, although the colouring is still very washed out, and the African characters shown as very light-skinned.  Kasper, in his Panther guise, has gone to the 66 Bridges office, and is trying to break into Triage’s computer when he arrives and challenges the Panther to a fight, making it obvious that he knows Tork is not in the suit.  T’Challa begins to speak to Kasper through his cowl, although Kasper mostly ignores his advice.  Things get intense, especially when a Blackhawk helicopter shows up, and Kasper ends up falling sixty stories to the street.  He’s met by Captain Franklin de LaGuardia of IAB, who lays out all of the facts of this story, and tells Kasper to let go of Anthony and let IAB catch him.  He also tells him that his father was a dirty cop, and that Sgt. Tork is dead.  Kasper goes to the place where he had Dre dig a grave, and digging it up, finds Tork.  Later, in Tork’s locker, he finds Hunter’s file on Anthony.  He goes to see the Lieutenant, and offers to work with him provided he not dirty Tork’s name (the stuff in the file is all fake, and was used to test Kasper).  Later, he goes to visit his father, and riding the bus back to the city, talks to Hunter about how he’s being played still.  We learn that the bug he planted on Triage’s computer has been useless, except that it turned up a conversation in Luganda between Triage and Kibuka, who is likely to be Triage’s father.  We see that, back in the prison, Black Jack gets out of his wheelchair (whatever facial injuries he had before are completely gone) and starts typing on a computer, proving that he’s Kibuka, which seems a little suspect, really.
  • As Black and White concludes, Kasper employs Hunter to help him solve all of his problems in a complicated plan.  Kasper goes to pick up the woman Anthony wants him to drive somewhere, but is instead found by his mother and girlfriend, who want him to come home (despite the fact that he’s a cop and he’s working – this part doesn’t really work).  Delay puts more pressure on Kasper, and he engages in a strange transaction with a Pakistani-American cab driver, who takes his family home, while Kasper uses his cab to complete his mission.  He picks up the woman and her shopping cart, , surprised to find that the girl is just a kid, and doesn’t check to see what he’s transporting, knowing that even if it isn’t drugs, he’s done enough to be charged with intent.  Anthony’s other cops begin to pursue him, so he rams a squad car.  He’s surrounded by police, including Anthony, and pulls a gun on him.  T’Challa shows up on scene, informing the cops that they are surrounded by Hatut Zeraze, and bluffing that the woman in the cab is a US Marshall.  Kasper puts Anthony in the cab, and they drive off OJ Simpson style, pursued at slow speeds by tons of cops, and Kasper figures out that 66 Bridges has kidnapped Anthony’s son and hurt his daughter as a way of controlling him.  He bluffs that he’s found his son, and promises that if he lets him go, Anthony will help the Panther take down Kibuka; he drives the car off a bridge while holding a gun to his own head.  Later, we learn that he shot himself in the head, and that Delay brought in his IAB crowd to pick up most of the corrupt cops.  Anthony was demoted to Sergeant again, and is Kasper’s boss.  T’Challa, now clean-shaven, bald, and back in a proper suit, comes to offer Kasper relocation at the Wakandan consulate’s expense, but Kasper refuses.  We see that he’s at the prison when Black Jack shows up (T’Challa just vanishes), and he hits Kasper, accusing him of crewing up with Anthony, and tells him he isn’t his son anymore.  Then we watch as Black Jack goes back into the prison, gets out of his wheelchair, and starts messaging Triage, his other son.  Finally, Kasper cuddles up with Gwen at home, and we learn that he’s a detective now.
  • Issues fifty-seven and fifty-eight were inventory issues, set some time before the Panther abdicated his throne and disappeared, and I suspect, some time before the Panther’s future self was found.  Anyway, the story is told by J. Torres and Ryan Bodenheim, who work hard to capture the lightness of Priest’s earliest issues.  Everett Ross is assigned to accompany the Royal Family of the nation of Dakenia.  King Akaje is the uncle and stepfather of the rightful ruler, Crown Prince Jamal, who is not yet of age to assume the throne.  They are in America to attend a museum exhibition of their country’s treasures, but while they were en route, a coup back home ousted and exiled them.  When Ross takes them to their secured hotel suites, they find the Panther taking care of an assassin who was waiting for them.  We get a sense of their familial strife, and see that T’Challa is genuinely interested in helping his fellow monarch.  The family insists on still attending the exhibition, where they give odd gifts to some reporters who are there to interview them, when a taxidermied lion and elephant come to life and create pandemonium.
  • As the various animals come to life and attack the people in the museum, the Panther fights them, while Prince Jamal decides to just punch the witch doctor controlling them in the stomach, which causes the creatures to crumble to dust.  The same happens to the witch doctor, and the royal retinue decides to continue their tour, going to see Hamlet on Broadway.  Torres makes it very clear that Jamal’s life is very similar to Hamlet’s, what with his poisoned king father, and his uncle/stepfather.  Panther stops another assassination attempt, and the family retreats to their hotel.  King Akaje slips one of the reporters into his room, for a romantic assignation, and shortly after that, Ross figures out that she’s an imposter.  The Panther rushes to the King’s room, but finds him dead.  We learn that it’s actually Queen Najita who killed her husband (both of them), and that Jamal is actually Akaje’s son.  I have no idea why Marvel felt this story needed to be told, and interrupt Priest’s story, especially when he’d moved it into such different territory.  It’s nice to see that Ryan Bodenheim started his career so strongly, but I prefer his later work with Jonathan Hickman.
  • Priest returns for issue fifty-nine, the beginning of the four-part Ascension arc, and the last arc of the series.  He’s joined by Patrick Zircher, who is a capable artist for this kind of book.  Kasper Cole also returns to his role as the title’s new lead.  When it opens, he’s at work, talking to Hunter on the phone about how he wants to track down Sgt. Anthony’s son for him, and to use him to put down the 66 Bridges gang.  Hunter doesn’t want to help, now that T’Challa has returned to being a king (despite still being in NYC).  Kasper attends Tork’s funeral, where we learn that the man was very close to Sam Wilson, the Falcon (he was a supporting character in Priest’s Falcon miniseries, which I’ve never read).  Kasper talks to his cop crew, who are all out of the hospital, is given the cold shoulder by Wilson, and gets scowled at by Okoye.  Later, he goes to Tork’s apartment to collect his Panther stuff, and finds Wilson and Redwing there.  They don’t see things the same way, but when Kasper explains that he’s trying to find Anthony’s son, and wants to use T’Challa’s resources to do it, Falcon decides to go with him.  T’Challa reluctantly allows them access to his computers, which they use to find a doctor with ties to the gang, assuming he would be the child’s doctor (they also assume that the gang stashed the kid somewhere).  They abduct the doctor, who leads them to a house in Staten Island.  While casing the house in the vibranium car, they are attacked by an attack helicopter.  While Kasper tries to stop it, Falcon goes for the kid.  Kasper has to be rescued by Falcon, and they see that the kid was not at the house.  Back at T’Challa’s digs, Falcon and Kasper argue again, and Kasper insists that T’Challa let him go through the Rite of Ascension, so he can get some of the abilities of the Black Panther.
  • Kasper is attacked at home by Mama, the woman T’Challa sent to get him ready for the rite of ascension.  He does not do well in the fight, and she maneuvers him outside, where it looks like he’s trying to beat a woman, attracting a crowd.  T’Challa’s limo, driven by Okoye, pulls up, and they get in.  He is taken to the Wakandan consulate, where Omoro gives him a large number of books to study from before he is questioned by the tribal council.  In Wakanda, Killmonger wakes up from his coma, and reminds his attendants that he is still the chieftain.  Omoro collects Kasper to meet with Triage, who has shown up at the consulate.  He feels Kasper, who is in his Panther gear, out about what he would be willing to trade for the return of Sal Anthony’s son.  T’Challa comes after Triage leaves, telling Kasper that something has happened in Wakanda that requires the council’s attention, and that the rites are canceled.  He gives him an energy dagger and kimoyo card, but Kasper insists that the rites continue.  The council makes him wait for over six hours in a big empty room, before appearing holographically in front of him.  They tell him that they will quiz him on Wakandan history while he completes the trials.  He has to fight two guards in Stark-built battle armor while they ask him questions.  He receives some help via the Kimoyo card and defeats them.  Next, Okoye fights him, and when he has her on the ropes, he kisses her, causing her great shame as a Dora Milaje.  Kasper learns that the person helping him on the kimoyo card is Killmonger, who tells him that now they have to fight and that Killmonger has to kill him.
  • Kasper’s mother and girlfriend are worried because he hasn’t been home for a few days.  His cop squad lie for him.  We see that he’s been recreating a very Brooklyn version of the Panther’s vision quest, and is lying atop the Brooklyn Bridge, faint and hungry after three days of fasting and gathering hidden memory sticks.  He hallucinates a conversation with Tork, and then has a real one with T’Challa, who encourages him to give up his quest, and lets him know that Killmonger has retaken his role as Chieftain of the Panther Cult.  Kasper figures out that the memory sticks are leading him to the Botanical Gardens, where he expects to find the heart-shaped herb.  Instead, he finds Killmonger.  They fight briefly, and then take a break.  Killmonger offers Kasper a synthetic version of the heart-shaped herb that is not likely to kill him or put him in a coma, in exchange for Kasper becoming an acolyte of the Panther cult, a White Tiger, and owing him a favour.  To sweeten things, Killmonger also offers to get him Max Anthony.  Kasper goes to the Wakandan Consulate, where Okoye starts to make out with him.  Later, Kasper has a dream wherein Tork gives him a hard time for his choices.  Kasper wakes from his dream at home, and learns that he’s blind.
  • Kasper’s mom and girlfriend take him to the emergency room, where he continues to feel very sick from the synthetic heart-shaped herb.  He again imagines that he sees Tork (his vision begins to return), who tries to convince him to avoid owing Killmonger, and that he needs help from someone.  Kasper suits up and collects Everett K. Ross.  Together they go see Monica Lynne, who suggests that they use Kasper’s growing senses to track the kid.  Next they go to Sal Anthony’s home to pick up the kid’s scent, and then to the safe house where he’d been stashed.  That leads them to a nearby trap house, where Queen Divine Justice shows up when things get violent.  She flies them towards Chicago, where they discern the location of a 66 Bridges safehouse that likely has Anthony’s son.  Upon arriving there, they find the boy with T’Challa, Okoye, and Tork, who is not actually dead.  He’s been working with the DEA to take down 66 Bridges, and needed to be ‘dead’ for a while.  T’Challa comments that he’s learned that Kasper’s father is Ugandan, which makes it more acceptable for Kasper to be accepted by the Wakandan council (which is hella racist of him), but also says that Kasper is to never wear the habit again.  Later, we see Kasper reunite the boy with his father, and when he leaves, Okoye approaches him.  She makes it clear that his actions towards her were part of the test he was undergoing.  She gives him a package, and he returns home to his girlfriend, promising his unborn son that he won’t ever leave him.  He opens the package, and we are given a nice pinup of him in his new White Tiger gear, jumping off a rooftop next to the Black Panther.

And that was the rather ignoble end to a very celebrated title and run (although it is much more celebrated after the fact, as sales prove that it was never a big hit with the fans).  It was a strange choice to dump the main characters of the book in favour of a new character, but one which has been explained.  Apparently sales were so poor on this title that Marvel wanted to try something new, thinking that a more street-level approach would bring in new readers.  His editors promised Priest a big-name Image style artist, but Dan Fraga only lasted one issue.

Needless to say, sales did not rebound, and so the book was cancelled with issue 62, although the end of that book advertises the upcoming new series The Crew (which will be the subject of my next column).  It’s odd that Marvel didn’t see this as an opportunity to relaunch the title; in today’s market, you can be sure that they would have done this, which would have given it a bit of a sales bump at least for the first couple of issues.  It might be because of decisions like this that Marvel has arrived at their current policies…

I liked these comics, but a lot of stuff was left unresolved in them.  Kasper never learned that his incarcerated hero cop father was actually running 66 Bridges, or that Triage was his half-brother (unless this got picked up in The Crew – I don’t actually remember).  Adding to that, the issues of T’Challa’s brain aneurysm, Killmonger’s leadership of the Panther Cult, and the mending of T’Challa’s relationship with Queen Divine Justice are never addressed.  I know that Reginald Hudlin never touched on this stuff either.

Priest’s rather sideways approach to plotting worked fine with Kasper’s story in the first arc, and the subsequent one became a lot more linear.  The character work on this guy was great, and I think it’s a shame that he’s become a largely forgotten character in the Marvel stables.  

The art on this book was a mess.  Jorge Lucas’s issues were stiff, and either a regularly wonderful artist like Jim Calafiore produced pages that looked rushed and beneath his usual high quality.  The biggest problem was with the colouring, which radically shifted the complexions of the African characters towards a much lighter-skinned look.  There are many pages, when he was in his housecoat and had grown out his hair, that I would never have been able to recognize T’Challa from the art alone.  Sure, his physical appearance looked different, but he was also shown as the same shade as Kasper, who is mixed.  It made some already confusing issues much more so.

I don’t have much more to say about this run.  I’m eager to get into The Crew, which was tragically cancelled before the first issue even hit the stands, and which I fondly remember as being full of characters I really liked (including Kasper, Jim Rhodes, Isaiah Bradley, and Danny Vincent).  Until next time…

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, including my previous Black Panther columns, click here.

These issues, and the ones that make up The Crew, have been collected here:
Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Vol. 4

 

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