Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Black Panther coverWriter: Reginald Hudlin

Artist: John Romita Jr., Scott Eaton

Issues: Black Panther (2005) #1-6, #10-13

There are dozens of semi-major and major Marvel characters that I know next to nothing about. They tend to pop up in stories I’m reading as well-respected and powerful, but I’d never really seen them do anything or explore their own stories. Dr. Strange, Ms. Marvel and Namor are all good examples (which I hope to rectify soon).

Then there’s Black Panther. T’Challa is the king of his own technologically advanced country in the middle of Africa (where they mine Vibranium, the metal Cap’s shield is made out of) and his fighting skills, hi-tech gadgets and outfit make him very similar to Batman. He’s always treated as one of the biggest players in the Marvelverse but I’d never read a single one of his comics. With Marvel announcing a new Black Panther movie coming out in a few years, I figure I better add at least one series to my reading list. Given the era I’m currently reading (mid 2000s) I found a newly launched Black Panther series that began in 2005, written by BET president Reginald Hudlin (and later adapted to a six episode motion comic series that aired on BET in 2011).

The first six issues, collected as “Who is the Black Panther,” are written as a psuedo-origin story and introduction to the character. We get lots of background information on Wakanda as a fiercely independent warrior nation that’s never been conquered. The Black Panther is less a man and more of a mantle to be worn by the most powerful Wakandan, though it seems to primarily pass though the same bloodline.

In a flashback T’Challa accompanies his father to a peace summit, where his father (the then Black Panther T’Chaka) is assassinated by Ulysses Klaw. T’Challa’s only a child but picks up his father’s gun and rips off Klaw’s arm, mortally wounding the soon to be supervillain. The revenge background is horribly cliché and to see C-list, dorky villain Klaw used in such a menacing and personal manner is a bit strange.

Klaw’s arm is rebuilt by the Belgium government and he starts putting together a team of villains to invade Wakanda and take down the Black Panther, by enlisting other C-listers like Rhino and Radioactive Man (though not even the same Radioactive Man that was a member of Thunderbolts). Despite all their technology and defenses the villains manage to break through with the assistance of a neighboring African country (everyone is kinda super jealous of Wakanda, including the USA, and constantly looks to exploit them).

Black Panther #4The plot ends predictably as T’Challa rushes back from dealing with the neighbor country and defeats Klaw in his own home. There’s an odd side plot with the US government sending in zombified soldiers to “assist” Wakanda in its defenses but otherwise it’s just these handful of lame villains. It’s fun to see the inner workings of Wakanda, including T’Challa’s cabinet of family and advisers (the highlight being his spunky and strong sister Shuri). T’Challa himself is pretty awesome, a cool and calm hero that has no real weakness or mental hangups. It also makes him a bit boring.

I was bummed that I didn’t enjoy the first arc more. As an introduction it does its job giving us some background information on Black Panther and Wakanda, but as a story it just falls flat with lame villains and not a whole lot going on. Far too much time is spent gathering the villains together and showing us the history; T’Challa doesn’t even really appear in the first issue!

Black Panther #12I was originally going to stop there, but decided to explore just a bit more of this series. I skipped the House of M tie-in as well as the dubiously reviewed X-Men crossover “Wild Kingdom,” and jumped right into Black Panther’s next major story arc, “Two the Hard Way” (also collected in the trade volume Bad Mutha, which I’m going to refer as Volume 2).

In that four issue story Hudlin goes black superhero crazy, teaming T’Challa up with Luke Cage, Falcon, Blade, Brother Vodoo and the former Captain Marvel, and it’s all kinds of awesome. Luke Cage’s everyman street-level superhero status is a great foil to the high and mighty Black Panther, whether they’re talking at a dance club or fighting endless waves of ninjas. Eventually the pair head down to New Orleans to help with the Hurricane Katrina relief effort and run afoul of some newly awakened vampires. I’d never read a Blade comic but as a big fan of the first two movies it was incredibly fun to see Blade kicking vampire ass in his own anti-social way.

I’m glad I didn’t stop with “Who is the Black Panther,” as I found the “Two the Hard Way” arc infinitely more enjoyable (though it wrapped up a bit too quickly). Black Panther seems tricky to write; he’s basically Batman with his own country and zero mental hang-ups or issues. I’d love to see a story where he’s dropped in the middle of nowhere and has to survive/succeed without his near infinite resources and entourage. I look forward to how the big movie adaptation will handle it. For now I’m going to stick with it as T’Challa’s next arc involves marrying Storm of the X-Men before getting all tied up in Civil War.

Black Panther #11