Taking a little break from reading Brubaker’s Captain America to revisit Christopher Priest’s Black Panther. I’ve read this once before a few years ago and remember really enjoying it. Recently I’ve also read the Don McGregor Black Panther series and am curious how the Priest run will hold up. So far, it is doing just fine.
Black Panther vol.3 #1-5
Writer: Christopher Priest
Artists: Mark Texeira, Vince Evans (Joe Quesada on layouts)
Quick Review: This book does several things that might strike you as odd. First up, the main point of view is not the Black Panther but Everett K. Ross and Ross is not exactly a likable character even if he can be an enjoyable one. That caught me off guard my first read through and I think it hurt the reading experience at the beginning. This time I knew what to expect and found more enjoyment in Ross’ narration. Another thing that would be good to know is that this is not told in linear fashion. The story jumps around. A lot. Like Pulp Fiction a lot. If those two factors turn you off, I understand. But, if you go along for the ride then you will find a great story that combines superhero action, political intrigue and adds to the mythology of both the Black Panther and Wakanda.
Analysis: Priest has stated that he used Ross as a white everyman to both help make the book more palatable to comic readers (an awfully white group) and to express doubts about Black Panther being a viable headline character. I’d love to be able to say that neither were the case and that in 1998 a black man should be able to lead his own comic. But, well, history. And also having a person of color headline a book still seems like a gamble in 2016. For whatever the reason, Ross serving as narrator works delightfully well, especially as he becomes more of a supporter of T’Challa.
And why shouldn’t he be a fan of T’Challa who comes off almost as an undeniable force of nature in these early issues. Black Panther is fast, strong, intelligent and noble. He is a super hero even while lacking “super” powers. In the setting of the United States he is also depicted as a very alien character. He comes off as otherworldly and having a very distinctly separate culture. Words and visuals unite wonderfully in this as Texeira’s depiction certainly adds to the regality and power that T’Challa brings with him whether in the Panther garb or in a modern black business suit.
The plot also feels extremely relevant to modern times dealing with feuding tribes of people and an influx of poorly received refugees. Maybe that is just a coincidence of timing, or perhaps those aspects will always be part of world headlines. Hard to say. But they do add a great deal of realism to the story and shows that the Black Panther is not just a hero who has to worry about the best way to deliver a punch, but that he does have an entire kingdom to be concerned with. This is not just a dressing for flavoring in this series as it does when T’Challa has been featured in team books. That T’Challa is a king plays a major part in the story.
As far as the story goes, these first 5 issues slowly dole it out. The passing feels very deliberate. Not so decompressed that it feels like there is no forward progression. There is certainly progression in every issue. But, with the non-linear story-telling the advancements are happening in many areas at once. Perhaps this gives a feeling of more movement than is actually happening, but it works. Also, none of the issues really wrap up a finished story but leave you wanting to progress into the next issue, which is a pretty nice accomplishments for a comic as wordy as Black Panther vol 3. Normally a comic this wordy ends with a feeling of needing a black and some refreshing lighter fare.
Although, what could be lighter than a comic dealing with refugees, political coups, and child murder? Yeah, that is the plot. Jungle political intrigue with a high-tech cat suit that protects a King/detective. God, I love comic books.
The art is really strong here. Texeira over Quesada’s layouts delivers. Tex leaves a very heavy line giving everything a chunky quality that really works and Quesada’s layouts ensure clear, crisp storytelling. The coloring has an almost painted quality about it. At the time this must have really stood out. I’m not sure if it holds up as well in this time. It looks like the beginning of something great that will get refined as approaches to comic coloring shift. That isn’t to say it is bad, but it might be a victim of being in colorings awkward phase.
Wrap Up: As with Captain America, I think Black Panther is a hero who doesn’t always get the treatment he deserves. The volumes of Black Panther that follow this one, well, I don’t want to be mean but lets say those don’t work as well as this one. So far, for definitive Black Panther this might be the one to give to people. At least until Marvel puts out an omnibus of the Don Mcgregor issues of Jungle Action. Because I would totally buy that.