Monday, August 27, 2007

Black Panther #30

This month’s Black Panther may as well have carried the subhead “…and Friends,” because for all intents and purposes this is a straight-up Fantastic Four story. T’Challa, a recent appointee to the team, has led the four into a parallel dimension, where they’ve inadvertently stumbled upon the Marvel Zombies.

The whole story reads like a bad dream sequence – the new Fantastic Four (The Black Panther, Storm, The Human Torch and Thing) jump between alternate realities and random locations by holding a statue of a golden frog and wishing for it to be so. While writer Reginald Hudlin has a few very creative takes on the idea of undead superhumans and zombified aliens, he often pushes the envelope beyond the point of good taste. The overlying rule of the day is disorder, and while that’s a lot of fun for the first few lawless pages, it wears thin by the middle of the book. The concept of a zombie Hulk repeatedly shouting about his hunger pangs is highly entertaining until it’s stretched over the course of a multi-part storyline and overstays its welcome.

I haven’t really been keeping up with the whole Marvel Zombies phenomenon, so there’s a lot taken for granted in this story that I didn’t quite follow. The zombies can evidently think for themselves, as they’re routinely huddling up and discussing their plans, and that just serves to slow down an already-disjointed story. I think I’d have much preferred a balls-out brawl between the new F4 and a horde of hungry flesh-eaters to this.

For a group calling themselves the Fantastic Four, these guys really don’t work together all that well. The Panther’s relationship with Storm is acknowledged and comes into the proceedings nicely, but the rest of the team functions like a gathering of individuals, not a cohesive unit with years of experience together. Johnny comes off like a wide-eyed moron, the Thing vanishes from the battlefield altogether until it’s convenient to reintroduce him and Storm just floats around and randomly sprinkles rain and / or lightning on stuff. They’re familiar characters, but in name and appearance only.

Aside from a few unique perspectives, (I loved the “in the zombie’s mouth” angle) Francis Portela’s artwork is dull and unsatisfying. He displays some real problems with the lead characters, who come off as more soulless than the zombies they’re facing. Several of his pages are almost laughably bad, specifically the page and a half the team spends running full-speed into the desert. Each of his zombified characters look the same, with the exception of their costumes – dark, underdetailed faces, piercing eyes and bright white teeth that glisten in the absence of lips. At least they have a passion for what they’re doing, their faces constantly painted with a blend of fury and confusion.

The heroes often appear almost disinterested in their own adventures. When the Thing smashes a zombie Skrull with a giant stone early in the issue, he looks like he’s ready to take a nap. Sure, these guys have probably done this kind of stuff every day for the last thirty years, but it’s hard to get emotionally involved when the main characters are so sullen and stuffy.

I couldn’t get into this issue. The writing is substandard, never answering any questions or providing any sort of closure, which is odd for the third chapter in a three-part storyline. It comes off as a cheap way to tie a main universe book into the Zombies continuity, and ultimately feels really forced and unnatural. The artwork also leaves a lot to be desired, draining the life from four explosive characters. If you’re heavily into the zombie thing, this might be just what you’re looking for. I’m not, though, so I’m recommending you skip this and continue your search for greener pastures.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2

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