ADVANCE REVIEW: Black Panther #39

Writer: Jason Aaron

Artist: Jefte Palo

Colours: Lee Loughridge

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Skrulls. They’re everywhere. It’s almost as if there is an invasion going on or something. Black Panther is the latest title to feature a tie-in to Marvel Comics’ summer blockbuster event, Secret Invasion, as the Skrulls look to overthrow Wakanda to gain access to their valuable vibranium mines.

So far, I have actually been impressed by how self-contained the Invasion storyline has been; yes, to get the full picture, you really do need to be reading New- and Mighty Avengers on top of the 8-issue limited series, which I admit is a lot, but there really is no need to purchase the various other tie-ins that always accompany such an event to get the full story; commendably, the emphasis on the additional tie-in issues is therefore actually more than ever on the quality of the story beyond just the event itself.

Marvel seem to have developed two approaches to these tie-ins – a mini-series outside of the ongoing, or a new creative team on the current title looking to bring a fresh and targeted approach to the tale. In the case of Black Panther, Marvel has gone for the latter, which sees Jason Aaron and Jefte Palo jumping on-board for a three-issue arc. I was a big fan of Christopher Priest’s Black Panther run, but I haven’t read any of Reginald Hudlin’s current volume. I wonder whether Hudlin and Marvel saw this as an opportune time to take a break, or whether he had no real interest in writing a major event tie-in, and I also cannot comment on whether this sort of story would have worked with Hudlin at the helm; however, based on his rapidly rising reputation, it is pretty difficult to argue with the choice of Aaron if you want a high quality war story.

I say reputation as this is actually my first exposure to Aaron’s work, but I’ll say up-front that it certainly doesn’t disappoint. There is little to spoil here in terms of plot – Wakanda has clearly been a long-time strategic target for the Invasion, the Skrulls launch their strike, and the population, led by their king T’Challa, set about repelling the attack. The substance of this issue really is all about the style and panache that the whole creative team bring to the table.

While the main Secret Invasion book is all big widescreen Hollywood blockbuster in its approach, this book is all about the dark and gritty realities of war – well, as far as it can be when alien Super-Skrulls are involved! Aaron captures the pacing just right, with slow, introspective opening scenes giving way to dramatic battle towards the end as the Wakandans and Skrulls face-off on the ground. Aaron works hard to ‘humanise’ both sides of the conflict, with a truly convincing narration by the Skrull commander the highlight. The PoV interchanges regularly between both forces which creates real drama in the way that each side responds to the movements of the other, making this a battle of strategy and wills as much as brute strength. While there may not be a great deal in terms of cliff-hangers, both sides clearly have other plans in reserve, and the construction of the story manages to build its own tension as things progress.

Jefte Palo’s artwork is a perfect fit for this story. His style might not work for everyone; on a technical level, things like anatomy are less important than style, tone and imagery. The art doesn’t always work at a distance, but his rather ‘blocky’ approach still manages to convey emotion, and the epic battle sequences, cast in dark inks, portray just the right mix of scope, action and violence, in keeping with the tone that Aaron has set. His Black Panther looks every inch the warrior king he is supposed to be. While perhaps not yet the finished article, Palo is a really excellent choice for this arc, and if this is anything to go by he has a huge future ahead of him.

This is an intelligent tale brimming with energy and excitement, combining a classic war story with contemporary touches, and effortlessly integrating the grandiose of the Marvel Universe. Further issues will have to deliver more in terms of story progression, but as a gritty tale of war set firmly within current Marvel events, this is going to take some beating.

Rating: 9/10

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