Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Black Panther (2005), Vol. 4-5

T’Challa and his new temporary team of half the Fantastic Four are dropped into increasingly insane scenarios and situations that range from crazy stupid to crazy fun.

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.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Black Panther (2005), Vol. 3-4

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 BrideWriter: Reginald Hudlin

Artists: Scott Eaton, Manuel Garcia, Koi Turn bull

Issues: Black Panther (2005) #14-25

 

When I first heard that Storm had wed Black Panther I rolled my eyes. It all seemed just a bit too convenient – the only two notable African superheroes in Marveldom fall in love and get married? I’m glad I started reading Black Panther (2005) and noticed a steady improvement in the dozen issues I’d read so far, otherwise I might not have experienced one of the most touching and poignant stories of a love rekindled I’d ever read.

The impetus for Black Panther’s previous arc was to go out and find a wife (which is, uh, also the plot hook of The Santa Clause 2), and in “Bride of the Panther” he realizes his heart never left Storm’s. Their past is detailed further in a harmless retcon exploring the exploits of young lovers T’Challa and Ororo in the six-issue Storm (2006) mini-series, but even without the extra reading Reginald Hudlin does an excellent job conveying their complicated past and their feelings for each other (Storm’s adventures in Africa are detailed in Uncanny X-Men Annual #1, which is like Black Hawk Down with X-Men – awesome). I am a bit bummed that this effectively writes Storm out of the X-Men, but she’s been generally absent anyway, and frankly seems above many of the petty squabbles those teams find themselves embroiled in.

The five issue story lovingly takes its time rekindling their relationship. They fight about when they were young and dumb and Ororo’s answer to The Question is interrupted by some silly and fun comic book fights. Storm’s past relationships with Wolverine and Forge are acknowledged and addressed and Hudlin seems to have a firm grasp on Marvel continuity. Storm is even reunited with her lost grandparents (and nephew) in another touching moment. Oh and Luke Cage throws a bachelor party with Namor, Logan, The Thing and a bunch of strippers in Rio. T’challa, ever the honorable gentlemen, promptly excuses himself at the beginning to fly back into Ororo’s arms. D’awwww.

Black Panther #15

Eventually Ororo accepts (and Hudlin pulls off an honest-to-god funny mile high club joke) and she’s treated to a whirlwind of activities that’s associated with becoming Queen of a country, including a jealous neighboring African princess, shopping with fellow X-ladies and dealing with the fairly xenophobic, isolationist people of Wakanda. T’Challa and Storm get equal screen time and while there’s no real threat of danger nor villain, it’s a surprisingly fun and sweet storyline.

Unfortunately for our newlyweds, Civil War hits around the same time. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are both invited to the wedding and both leave when they see each other, and the next two story arcs are tied into the ongoing Civil War event.

“World Tour” takes our new power couple to various diplomatic meetings around the world (and beyond) as they visit Dr. Doom in Latveria, Namor in Atlantis and even the Inhumans on the moon. Their last meeting takes them to America where they try and discuss the Superhuman Registration Act, but when they try to make Storm register (as she’s American) things go South and Iron Man and Black Panther end up having a scrape.

Black Panther #21Tensions are diffused when Black Panther ends up saving James Rhodes’ life but T’Challa and Ororo agree to stay in the U.S. to try and deal with the upcoming war. Given how big of an asshole Stark is it takes about two seconds for our heroes to side with Captain America, first unofficially and then getting directly involved and instrumental in helping the rebels in the final battle.

In fact, issue #25 takes place directly during the events of the final issue of Civil War, including a different fight scene from the final battle – Storm vs Thor clone! It ties in nicely to the Civil War continuity by adding some fun extra scenes, but it’s definitely not required reading, and I felt the globe-trotting “World Tour” issues were a bit more fun than the latter “Foreign Affairs” direct Civil War tie-ins.

Hudlin’s improved immensely as a writer and I have a keen grasp on who T’Challa is. Scott Eaton’s artwork is also fantastic (Storm has never looked sexier and T’Challa is chiseled from pure obsidian) but unfortunately he drops out during the Civil War tie-ins in issue #20. Manuel Garcia does a fine job but the art takes a noticeable nose dive with the last two issues as a third artist is brought in.

I’d never thought a storyline about two superheroes getting married and dealing with the political ramifications would become one of my favorites, and I hope that T’Challa’s and Ororo’s loving relationship continues to be highlighted and strengthened throughout their adventures.

Black Panther #25

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Black Panther (2005), Vol. 1-2

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