Jan 19, 2015

Black Panther, Part 4: Girls, Draculas, and Dr. Doom, Oh My

Black Panther 
Part 4: Girls, Draculas, and Dr. Doom, Oh My
Ben Smith

With the announcement of the Black Panther movie, I decided to do an extended look at the comic book history of the character. You can read all about this in the previous parts. Let's get started.

The most recent Black Panther series, primarily by Reginald Hudlin and Ken Lashley, introduced T'Challa's younger sister Shuri as the new Black Panther. It wasn't a series I was expecting to enjoy, but it ended up being one of my favorites in the history of the character. It's not hard to figure out why, it's mostly about Dr. Doom launching a full scale economic, agricultural, and political attack on Wakanda.

The series begins with Dr. Doom almost killing T'Challa, before he can escape in his quinjet back to Wakanda. While Storm uses magical means to try and save T'Challa from death, Shuri is nominated to become the new Black Panther, and face the Panther God. At the same time, Morlun (groan) is steadily making his way toward Wakanda so he can feed on the panther totems, and has thus far proved to be unstoppable.

After Storm saves T'Challa, he distances himself from her and the rest of the royal family, obsessed with restoring his former glory and preparing for the rematch with Doom. Shuri is making the rounds globally as the new political head of Wakanda, while trying to figure out who attacked her brother, something he has kept secret from everyone. Her investigation leads her to The Broker, Walter Declun. Declun and Doom were working together, and planted false information implicating Namor, so Shuri foolishly fought Namor head-on.

Reed Richards was able to intervene in time before Namor could kill her, and explain how they had been tricked. All the while, a political group called the Desturi had overthrown the royal family back in Wakanda and taken over. The Desturi is a Swahili word for "tradition" and the group claimed to be upset with the way the royal family had not kept them isolated from the rest of the world. Thanks to the failing economy, the absence of Shuri and T'Challa, and some media manipulation, the people supported the coup. Storm had been been made the scapegoat for the failing agriculture, manipulated into attacking a citizen, and put on trial. T'Challa finally shows up to reveal that Doom is behind the Desturi, the attack on his life, and pretty much everything else.

This all led into the 6-part mini-event, Doomwar. The mini started out promisingly, with Doom making his play for the Vibranium in Wakanda, and the Panthers enlisting the help of the X-Men. Apparently, the vibrational properties of the rare metal, when combined with magical powers, would make Doom the most powerful being on Earth.

In a truly badass scene, T'Challa and Shuri have Nightcrawler teleport them inside Wakanda, where they snap the necks of the Desturi, and begin their fight to take back the nation.

Reed has a moment of clarity, when he realizes Doom isn't his own personal nemesis, but a far bigger threat to the world. (Something long time readers will know is an approach I've always wanted for Doom. For the most part Marvel has done a pretty good job of not relegating him to the Fantastic Four books. He's a much more natural enemy of characters like Black Panther, with them both being relative peers as heads of entire nations. In all my Black Panther reading, I've enjoyed the Doom interactions the most.)

In an intriguing bit, Dr. Doom is able to pass the Panther God and enter the vibranium chamber by explaining that the only future of the human race that doesn't end in extinction is with him as ruler. Doom claims to have traveled to the future many times, and it always ends in disaster. The one time it doesn't, is under his rule.

Doom takes control of the Vibranium, and the rest of the series devolves into The Panthers, Fantastic Four, and X-Men futilely fighting to stop him. It all gets a little too convoluted, especially when Deadpool shows up as T'Challa's "x-factor" for no apparent reason. T'Challa eventually ends the threat by using a magic button to destroy all the unrefined Vibranium on Earth. A massive status quo change for the Panther corner of the Marvel universe.

Which brings me to the final series in my long and winding journey through the back issues of the Black Panther. Following the events of Shadowland, Matt Murdock needed some time to himself to rediscover himself. He asks T'Challa, who needs some time for self discovery himself, to watch over Hell's Kitchen for him. Starting with Black Panther: Man Without Fear #513, by David Liss and Francesco Francavilla, T'Challa establishes a new identity and a new life in New York, taking the place of Daredevil.

T'Challa has taken over management of a diner, and moved into a nearby apartment building to be near the people. In the power vacuum created by the removal of the Kingpin, a new crime boss is on the rise, Vlad Dinu, a Romanian that goes by the name of Vlad the Impaler. As a result of super soldier experiments in Romania as a child, Vlad has super strength, and the ability to convert matter to energy.

After Panther breaks up a couple of Vlad's operations, Vlad lures him into a confrontation, and ends up killing a cop and the busboy at T'Challa's diner, Brian.

T'Challa, stripped of his powers and vibranium, uses his smarts to build himself some new weaponry, to combat Vlad's considerable energy powers. He finds a crime fighting assistant in one of his waitresses, Sofija, a Serbian with a sordid past. (I really liked Sofija, too bad she's probably destined to disappear.) Vlad's son Nicolae, wanting some super powers for himself, is going to test the new formula that he's devised, based on blood samples secretly taken from his father, on the not-quite-dead-after-all Brian.

I wasn't the biggest fan of Francavilla's art the first time I saw it, but it didn't take long for him to win me over. (Strangely enough, I think it was Afterlife With Archie that made me a disciple.) His noir style is perfect for this series, and I absolutely love it here (and everywhere else). He tweaked the Black Panther design towards urban commando, and it's a great look. (If you removed the ears and added a visor, he'd look like Snake Eyes.) It matches the tone and style of the series. (I've never been one to critique coloring, but I think his coloring might actually be better than his drawing. It all works together to create a mood and energy that I'm not smart enough to explain.)

A serial killer with mysterious ties to T'Challa, kills Vlad's wife, and Black Panther is of course mistaken for the killer. T'Challa must find the real killer, stop Vlad, and save Brian.

After that, Kraven the Hunter and Storm stop by for a two-parter, with art by Jefte Palo. It is... not as good. Francavilla returns for the Fear Itself tie-ins, with a new Hate Monger causing trouble for Black Panther in Hell's Kitchen.

Then there's an adventure in Spider-Island.

Then Shawn Martinbrough takes over on art, for a tale about the Kingpin trying to take control of the board of directors of the Wakandan bank. Lady Bullseye and Typhoid Mary are around to help. It's a good story and the art is decent, but not as good as Francavilla, which shouldn't be an insult. (It doesn't help that Francavilla was doing amazing covers for the issues.)

I've said the same about the two previous series, but this one ended up being my favorite of them all. Not a bad place to end my extended look.

Black Panther has had a long and storied comic book history, full of many interesting and engaging stories. He's rarely been one of the more prominent members of the Marvel universe, so it's easy to overlook what a great read most of his series have been. Hopefully I've helped point you in some good directions if you're interested in trying some for yourself. As usual, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Next time, something different.

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