Monday, June 23, 2008

Black Panther #37

Life is never simple when you’re a former Avenger, an opponent of the registration act and both the costumed champion and ruler of an entire nation. Since concluding their adventures with the Fantastic Four, the Black Panther and Storm have left the United States in protest of Tony Stark’s Initiative, proudly returning to Wakanda. But once there the couple was troubled to discover that an old enemy, Erik Killmonger, had overthrown a neighboring government and begun taking hostages, including the Panther’s sister and former Avenger Monica Rambeau. Naturally unsettled by these actions, T’Challa has launched an assault of his own on this forgotten nemesis.

In returning the character to his roots, Reginald Hudlin has brought a much-needed sense of identity to the title. OK, so a great deal of the Black Panther’s time has always been spent bouncing around with the Avengers, throwing down with supervillains and straight-up adventuring. The problem is, I can buy one of two dozen books that follow that same premise and do so with more appealing, interesting, recognizable characters. Last time I checked, T’Challa was still the only Marvel hero in charge of his own African nation, and by ignoring that facet of his personality for so long, the series had lost its way.

That’s not to say it’s out of the woods yet. Hudlin still has a few issues with relatable dialog and pacing, but he’s at least making progress. He’s given the book a legitimate direction and personality for the first time I can remember, and along the way he’s concocted a villain that’s a fine fit for the tone of this story.

Killmonger makes for a curious foil to the Panther’s more straightforward political persona. He fancies himself a revolutionary, not a plain-brained gym monkey, hungry for a fight. When he calls T’Challa out, he does so in a public place, surrounded by his country’s loyal population. Killmonger talks the Panther into a corner, ensuring that no matter the outcome, he’ll be seen as the righteous leader and T’Challa the asshole. He’s a fine character, both a physical and political superior to his rival. After almost a year adventuring with the Fantastic Four in alternate universes, the return to familiar territory and the shift in storytelling it represents makes for quite a change of pace for Black Panther, and a welcome one at that.

Artist Francis Portela still has a few wrinkles left to iron out. His work is nicely textured, but often stiff and strangely postured. In one panel, three characters run through a hallway together, striking virtually the exact same pose. It reminded me of the canned animations Hanna-Barbara would use in Scooby Doo when it was time for the crew to run away from something, and once I made that connection it was tough to remain objective. Portela is much more at-ease with individuals wearing everyday clothing than he is with spandex, and while he’s afforded that luxury for most of the issue, his take on the Panther needs a lot of work.

Although it’s taking steps in the right direction, Black Panther still hasn’t decided what kind of stories it wants to tell. It’s at the stage in its development where it’s throwing everything it can fathom at the wall and keeping an eye on what sticks. It’s a political / action / adventure / sci-fi / espionage tale, and that’s a whole heck of a lot to expect a reader to swallow. This series will probably be in a better place after this arc is over, but for the time being it’s still in the midst of a painful series of growing pains. Flip through it, but don’t pay it any serious attention.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.5

2 comments:

David said...

Very thorough analysis my brother.

Though, can't say I enjoy the stiff art and ho hum story.

Excited about Jason Aaron of Scalped writing for this?

drqshadow said...

How long have you read Black Panther? I think maybe I was somewhat forgiving because I'd read several previous issues and recognized some improvement. It's still not close to anything I'd put on my pull list, but IMO it is making subtle improvements.

I've actually never read Scalped, but new blood can do nothing but good for this series. It's been in purgatory for ages.