With 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 cover four the hard wayWriter: Reginald Hudlin

Artist: Francis Portela

Issues: Black Panther (2005) #26-34

The young but resolute Wakandian king went through a flurry of activity in the previous two volumes: a largely publicized but loving marriage to Storm of the X-Men, joining with Captain America and the anti-SRA rebels in the Civil War, and going on a globe-trotting political world tour to several major powers and factions.

Unfortunately these next two volumes illustrate that nobody really knows what to do with Black Panther when there’s not a major crossover event happening for him to join and lend his incredible resources. Reginald Hudlin puts T’Challa and his new temporary team of half the Fantastic Four in increasingly insane scenarios and situations that range from crazy stupid to crazy fun.

In “Four the Hard Way” (#26-30) T’Challa and Ororo join the Fantastic Four as the new husband-wife replacements for Reed and Sue (who are taking a little vacation after their spat during the Civil War). I don’t read Fantastic Four, and issue #27 takes place after an arc in FF that leaves the group with these weird golden teleporting frogs. A monstrous insect figure breaks out of Stark’s Negative Zone prison and terrorizes the Baxter Building, and the team gets teleported away during the fight.

black panther #26

They land on a skrull planet in the crazy alternate Marvel Zombies Universe. I don’t mind zombies but there’s a weird disconnect with the gore-less Marvel. Also the zombies were far more verbose than I had assumed they would be, making it more silly and dumb than anything. For my first foray into the Marvel Zombies, it was not great, and we spend far too much time with them as they eat all the poor skrulls.

“Little Green Men” (#31-34) starts with the tiresome mind-fuck villain of Psycho Man that gets into T’Challa’s head, but his love for Storm is too strong to turn them against each other. Cheesy, sure, but I do appreciate their genuinely solid relationship.

black panther #32The story picks up considerably as the frogs teleport them again – this time to the correct universe but a different planet. A skrull planet that has modeled itself after 30s era gangsters on one half, and 60 eras Civil Rights movement on the other.

Apparently the Fantastic Four have been here before, and Thing fought in the gladiatorial battles. Just to recap – alien world with anachronistic prohibition era gangsters in flying cars with alien gladiators. Most of the team is captured save for Storm, who joins up with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to lead the revolution. It’s completely insane and wacky, but at least a lot more fun and interesting than the zombie thing.

Francis Portela’s style isn’t bad but it’s mostly forgettable. The bright colors and lack of shading fit the tone of the light-hearted silliness of their alternate world/universe adventures, though it also exacerbates the problem with the Avenger Zombies. The action sequences are a lot of fun though, particuarly T’Challa fighting in the alien arena, and the team fighting the skrull (and later skrull-zombified) Fantastic Four. Storm is also given several opportunities to unleash the awesome destructive potential of her powers, and it’s pretty damn satisfying.

Both volumes are incredibly forgettable and pretty dumb. It’s a disappointing follow-up to what I thought was an increase in Black Panther becoming more of a major character in the wider Marvel Universe. Joining the Fantastic Four is an interesting move, but immediately puts them in situations that remind me why I don’t read FF – silly plots (even for comic standards) involving alternate universes and golden teleporting frogs that may or may not be malevolent. As far as solo series go, Black Panther is becoming increasingly skippable. This whole series would only last another six issues, ending during the 2008 crossover event Secret Invasion.