As the title suggests, I'll be reading Christopher Priest's groundbreaking run on Marvel's Black Panther. I'll be specifically reading Black Panther vol. 3 issues 1-54.

Yes, I'm well aware that the comic lasted 62 issues and then was more or less spun off into The Crew, but starting with issue #55 the focus of Black Panther was shifted away from Ross and T'Challa and onto a new character that never appealed to me. The Crew realy wasn't much better except for the introduction of Josiah X, who has since been relegated to limbo essentially.

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Black Panther #1 - "The Client

Published: November 1998

Writer: Christopher Priest

Artist: Mark Teixera, Joe Quesada, Alitha Martinez

 

We open on the image of Everett K. Ross, crouched atop a toilet in a housing project, pointing a gun at, presumably, a rat. He has no pants (more on this later). Meanwhile, someone is telling an oral history of the country of Wakanda. Ross contemplates that his college education hadn't prepared him for this, and that he expected there to be singing in the ghetto, as that's how television and movies had always portrayed it.

 

We're then introduced to Zuri, an elder Wakandan warrior and the one telling the oral history of Wakanda. Ross describes him as a longtime friend of T'Chaka, King of Wakanda prior to T'Challa and T'Challa's father. We're also told that Zuri doesn't stop talking until the devil shows up.

 

We flash forward to Ross describing all of this to his boss Nikki. He's apparently giving her a debriefing, and she's incredulous at Ross's report. He explains that things can get a little weird when a chief of state likes to dress up in a kitty-cat costume and crawl out of windows.

 

We flash back to earlier in the evening that Ross is describing where he, the Black Panther, Zuri and the Dora Milaje were arrested. Before that, there was a ruckus at a mud wrestling event, and before that a showdown with a street gang.

 

Nikki is unhappy, as none of this seems to be leading anywhere. Ross then explains that things started getting odd when the client wanted to go for a drive. As they'd chosen to stay in the housing projects, they were accosted by one Manuel Ramos, a local drug dealer and gang leader. Ramos yells insults at T'Challa from his car when T'Challa uses a device that basically tazes all of the occupants. He then carries away Ramos and instructs the Dora Milaje to take care of Ramos' men without killing them. As T'Challa takes Ramos away, the Dora Milaje beat the crap out of Ramos' men. Ross describes the two of them--Nakia and Okoye--and their roles. Essentially, they were the King's concomitants who only served the King and only spoke to the King in a language called Hausa that was apparently pretty rare. They were also supposedly wives in waiting for the King, but there seemed little interest in his part of utilizing them in that fashion.

 

Back to T'Challa and Ramos. Ramos issues threats while T'Challa puts on his Black Panther costume. Ramos attempts to attack T'Challa, but his knife breaks on his Vibranium costume. The Panther then grabs Ramos by his hair and hauls him up the side of a building to the rooftop. He then tells Ramos that the two of them will have an agreement. T'Challa is there in America because of the death of a child at the Tomorrow Fund, and he's there to find the killer. He is doing this at a time when he really needs to be in Wakanda, and he enlists Ramos' help in gathering information. Using an energy dagger, he marks Ramos and shows him the Kimoyo card, which will allow him to track Ramos anywhere.

 

Ross then explains how he lost his pants after they went for Chinese takeout. Nikki deamands that he begin at the beginning.

 

Ross recounts a few weeks back where a newspaper article had been published about the Black Panther and the Tomorrow Fund. Apparently funds had been mismanaged and there was a lot of embezzling going on. Worse, the little girl that had posed with the Panther for a promotional photo had been murdered. T'Challa is coming to America, and Nikki assigns Ross to be his attaché. We also find out that Nikki is not just his boss, but his lover as well. Ross speaks glibly of the Black Panther, assuming he'll be easy to handle, and tells Nikki he's got everything handled.

 

However, there was also an explosive situation going on in Wakanda.  T'Challa had offered asylum to a number of refugees--however, those refugees were now fighting with each other, and the Wakandan people were unhappy with the entire situation. We then get a little background on King T'Challa himself.

 

Prior to his visit to America to investigate the Tomorrow Fund scandal, Zuri had advised him not to leave as things were pretty volatile in Wakanda.  T'Challa assures him that if need be he could be back in Wakanda in the matter of a couple of hours. He's leaving his step=mother Ramonda in charge in his absence. We see he has a strong bond with Ramonda.

 

Back in America, Ross is still glib. He goes to pick up T'Challa in his two seat roadster only to discover that T'Challa's traveling part is well over fifty people.

 

Nikki asks Ross to skip forward to the part where the Devil showed up. Ross tells her it was after he'd left the bathroom in the projects. Someone knocked on the door, and it turns out to be Mephisto. Ross closes the door and tells Zuri it's for him.

 

My rating: 8/10

 

In starting this run, Priest redefines exactly who the Black Panther is. There had been this perception for a long time that T'Challa was a third-rate acrobat of little consequence. This is reflected in Ross' attitude towards the assignment--he thinks of the Black Panther as an Avengers hanger on, and compares him to Batroc the Leaper at one point. He's surprised to discover that there's much more to T'Challa, that he's an actual King and that his words and actions carry tremendous weight.

 

The other really smart thing that Priest did was giving us Ross as the point of view character. He's fun and brings a perspective to the comic that just wouldn't be there if the primary character was actually T'Challa. There's a fair amount of humor in this comic, including from the titular character, and that makes this a fun and easy read despite the constant jumping around in time.

 

If there is something that hurts this comic, it's the art. I don't know if it's Teixera's style, meddling from Joe Quesada or what, but it all looks very muddy and greasy. There's also what I would call a fair amount of inconsistency in the way certain characters are drawn, and that I have to lay at the feet of Teixera.

Timely, Mr. Jackson! This should be good!

I have to say I love Texeira's rendering, but he does overlook some fundamentals. Faces, especially, seemed inconsistent.

I read volume 1 of the first trade which covers issues 1-17 last weekend. I had never read the series before but have heard a lot about it over the years. I loved it. Can’t wait to read more!

Cap’s Black Panther discussion prompted me to assess my Black Panther (Vol, 3) collection last night. Unfortunately, I have only four issues.

Issue #1

Issue #28 – (Recommended by Captain Comics on the board a couple of years ago)

Issue #30 – (WWII Captain America appearance)

Issue #41 – (Recommended by someone on this board a while ago, I think it may have been you, Randy)

I didn’t care for #1, specifically because of those little scene headers Priest added… just as he had done in Quantum & Woody. Also, I didn’t care for the art. Those were my main objections. I’ll read it over the weekend and report back here next week. I’ll continue to read the rest of the discussion with an open mind to see if I become convinced to collect the series in tpb.

To be fair, Priest pretty much always uses the scene headers, so that's going to be pretty pervasive. However, new artists do come on board later in the run.

I came late to the Black Panther solo party having liked him enough in the Avengers but feeling probably like many readers that his story had been written already.

This Priest stuff annoyed a little as it was kind of over-slick and I found Ross really annoying rather than my-entry persona...

But...

....as the collections went on I became quite hooked!

As I skimmed these issue last night I thought to myself, "I ought to be able to ignore those headers," so that's what I'm going to do. Not to get ahead of the discussion, but I really liked the art on #41 (inked by Bob Almond, who used to participate in this forum on a semi-regular basis).

"If there is something that hurts this comic, it's the art."

I agree with that assessment. "Muddy and greasy" is a good description. The first issue is still not exactly my cup of tea, but I now appreciate the groundwork being laid here more than I did in 1998 (has it realy been 20 years?!) knowing what's to come. (I think your summary is clearer than the storytelling, actually.) I'll continue reading this discussion with an open mind, and I plan to discuss the first six issues of the 2005 Hudlin/Romita series soon in "What Comics Have You Read today?"

Black Panther #2 - "Invasion!"

Published: December 1998

Writer: Christopher Priest

Artist: Mark Teixera, Joe Quesada, Alitha Martinez

 

Mephisto takes a seat with Ross in the housing project, waiting for T'Challa. Ross attempts to make small talk but to no avail.

 

Meanwhile, the Black Panther is recruiting another gang member for intelligence, as he still wants to find out what happened to the child who's murder he's investigating. As he's doing this, he's also in contact with the Dora Milaje, making sure they carry out his wishes without killing his adversaries.

 

Back at the housing project, Mephisto gives Ross a new pair of pants. Ross is relieved until he realizes that he may have just sold his soul for a pair of pants. At this point, Nikki admonishes Ross for telling the story in such a jumbled fashion. They backtrack to the meat of the story, and specifically why T'Challa is in the USA. We're then reintroduced to the characters from the previous issue.

 

Going back to when Ross picked him up at the airport, T'Challa has been quietly fuming, and we find out why. As he left Wakanda, a coup occurred, led by one Reverend Micheal Achebe. He wants to return immediately but Ramonda tells him not to do so as that's exactly what Achebe wants--along with T'Challa's head. Ross then introduces himself to T'Challa, who insists on riding to the city with him in his Miata(Ross has arranged transport for the others). T'Challa also informs Ross that all of them will be staying in New Lots, the housing project in Brooklyn.

 

Afterwards, Ross and Zuri go to get Chinese food for the party. Ross attempts to speak Mandarin Chinese to the man behind the counter, but as it turns out he's not Chinese and doesn't understand him (apparently he's Filipino). T'Challa intervenes. The man behind the counter tells him they don't take credit cards.

 

Meanwhile, outside Ramos and his goons have spotted the Dora Milaje and decided to flirt with them. Ross attempts to intervene but cannot intimidate Ramos and his crew who begin to give Ross a beating. A shotgun blast is heard, and one Sgt. Tork, NYPD shows up(previously seen in the Falcon mini-series that Priest had written before). He chases Ramos away, but Ross discovers that Ramos still has his ID. With the help of Sergeant Tork, Ross tracks Ramos down and attempts to get his ID back, Ramos laughs at him and tosses the ID to some girls who are mud wrestling. Ramos then tosses Ross into the mudpit as well, where the girls start beating him. At this point Zuri bursts in to help Ross and all hell breaks loose. T'Challa attempts to quiet things down but it's out of control and Ross loses his pants during the melee. Then Tork and some other police come and arrest them. After Ross gets them out using diplomatic immunity, we're more or less caught up and he's waiting with Mephisto.

 

Meanwhile, the Black Panther has continued his investigations into the girl's death. He visits the former director of the Tomorrow Fund in her jail cell to interrogate her. He has the Dora Milaje torture her until she tells him the name of the man who corrupted her--Achebe.

 

My rating: 8/10

 

Lots of fun moments here, and a number of puzzling ones too.

 

Talking about the good, the interactions between Ross and Ramos are a lot of fun. Add in Zuri--who makes almost any scene hilarious--and this was a lot of fun. I also really enjoyed how Priest identifies T'Challa's main strength--his ability to be one step ahead of the other guy. It makes him a heavy hitter in the Marvel Universe despite his seeming lack of powers (except for the tracking abilities he has that have almost been forgotten). I also liked the idea that he was willing to allow the Dora Milaje to torture someone for information--it shows a certain desperation in someone who normally seems extremely placid and in control.

 

On the other hand, the art isn't better--in fact, in many ways it seems worse this issue. I know the scenes are supposed to be set at night, but they're really dark and murky. Also, I'm not a fan of the re-design of Mephisto. I know it's supposed to be intimidating and it's reasonably effective at that, but it just feels so far away from what I'm used to.

 

One other thing I found puzzling was how the Wakandans immediately seem to anoint Ross as one of their own. I didn't really see anything he'd done to deserve such an honor--if anything, his cavalier attitude would have made me think things should of gone the other way. Of course, it could also be that Zuri simply wanted a fight.

Black Panther #3 - "Original Sin!"

Published: January 1999

Writer: Christopher Priest

Artist: Mark Teixera, Joe Quesada, Alitha Martinez

 

Ross begins by giving some background on Michael Achebe, a farmer who'd been wronged by some leftist guerrillas during a war. In retribution, he had hunted all of them and their families down and killed them all--at least, that's how the legend goes. Anyway, Achebe had been stationed with all of the other refugees and had managed to effect a coup. As Nikki puts it "we're talking about nutty, evil Bishop Tutu".

 

Back at the housing project, Ross attempts to remove the pants given to him by Mephisto. However, as soon as he takes them off, another pair appear on his legs. He then tells Nikki of a flashback that he experienced then, losing a fistfight to a girl when he was 13, and having her pants him at the end. He claims it was the work of Mephisto.

 

Getting back to the Black Panther, he's learned that Achebe was behind everything--the murder of the child, the corruption of the Tomorrow Fund and the coup in Wakanda. Deciding to deal with the issue at hand, he tracks down the killer, one Delroy Richmond, whom he sets afire in his bed. Apparently Richmond was also involved in child pornography. T'Challa realizes that Achebe must have made a deal with the devil--in this case Mephisto. He kidnaps Richmond and takes him to the little girls mother. She decides to forgive him, figuring his fellow inmates would be punishment enough.

 

There's a flashback of young T'Challa having a conversation with Zuri before his father T'Chaka calls for him. As T'Challa enters the throne room, he sees a white man seated next to the king--it's Ulysses Klaw. T'Challa immediately senses that Klaw is evil and lunges at him with a dagger before Klaw transforms into a visage of Jamie Robbins (the little girl that was murdered). He begins seeing other scenes from his life--his father's funeral, his college years, his first encounter with the Fantastic Four, etc. and finally romancing Monica Lynne. However, it's understood that these are hallucinations from Mephisto, and he comes out of his spell to find himself making out with Nakia, one of the Dora Milaje (and something he would never have done otherwise). He has Okome stop the limousine and he takes to the rooftops, pursued by someone wearing a white version of the Black Panther costume.

 

My rating: 7/10

 

One thing I've noticed that hurts many stories is the need for exposition. While it has to happen, in my opinion it's best done by giving information in small amounts--a little background here, a small explanation there, etc. Unfortunately, that's not always the way things work out, and sometimes you end up with a massive infodump that the reader has to slog through. I guess this is the best way one could handle this idea, but that doesn't make it a fun read.

 

Not a lot really happens this issue, other than T'Challa kissing Nakia, which will become a much bigger issue down the line. The art is--well, it's dark and murky with too many shadows and too many lines and I guess I'm going to be complaining about it until a new artist comes along.

 

One thing I did enjoy in this issue--and let me make this clear, I didn't think this was bad, just not terribly enjoyable--was seeing T'Challa's treatment of Richmond. He is swift and brutal in his retribution, and it's explained that if this had been Wakanda and not the USA that Richmond would have been slain on the spot. It's one of the rare times one gets to see T'Challa's rage during this series, and it's interesting to see.

Yes, it was Mephisto behind all that bullying in elementary school. That's how I remember it, anyway.

Black Panther #4 - "The Price"

Published: February 1999

Writer: Christopher Priest

Artist: Mark Teixera, Joe Quesada, Alitha Martinez

 

We see the Black Panther, having left his limo after kissing Nakia, being pursued by two white-suited men in panther costumes.

 

Meanwhile, Achebe is addressing the Wakandan people. He holds up a dog that somehow survived the fighting.

 

At the same time, T'Challa is avoiding gunfire from the men pursuing him. As it turns out, the men are part of a group called the Hatut Zeraze, or the Wakandan Secret Police--take your pick. Apparently, when T'Challa had become king, he'd fired the Hatut Zeraze. This particular attack is meant to be a summons. T'Challa is able to defeat the Hatut Zeraze. He questions one of the men, asking him where is his master, but the man won't give him the information. He then yells out to a man named Hunter to show himself, which he does. A tall, thin Caucasian man dressed all in white. He refers to himself as the White Wolf, and says he is only there to serve Wakanda. They argue while Achebe shows himself to be somewhat...unhinged. Hunter seems to transform into his uniform and departs, telling T'Challa that a demon is waiting for him at his apartment, and reminds him that he hasn't seen Miss Lynne yet.

 

In Harlem, the Dora Milaje deliver Richmond to the apartment of Sergeant Tork. Richmond waives his right to counsel and confesses to killing Jamie Robbins.

 

We switch back to Ross and Nikki at (presumably) Ross's apartment. She sees he's trying to avoid the subject of what happened next, and presses him for details.

 

We flashback to the apartment in the housing project. Ross is waiting there with Zuri and Mephisto. Mephisto asks Ross why he fears him so much. Mephisto tells him je just looks like the Devil, and that he is the sole occupant of a realm that is only shared by other lost souls. Ross suggests that he leave (the realm, not the apartment). Mephisto tells him that acquiring souls is an obsession for him. He then calls Ross by his first name, Kenny, which causes Ross to flashback to a time in his youth where he nearly drowned and was derided by his friends for being a fat loser. We then discover that his mother is fairly disinterested in him, using him primarily as an unpaid laborer. Ross tells Mephisto that no one has called him Kenny for years, and Mephisto tells him the exact date when it happened and what he was wearing. Ross accuses him of reading his mind, but Mephisto says he was there and that he felt Ross's pain.

 

T'Challa bursts into the room and attacks Mephisto, knocking him out with one punch. Ross then explains that the large entourage that the Panther had brought with him were mostly tech types who were able to isolate the source of Mephisto's power and blocking it. T'Challa then proceeded to rip Mephisto's heart out of his body. He hands the heart to Ross, who then deposits it in a pickle jar and puts it in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, the Black Panther interrogates Mephisto, trying to get him to admit to being behind Achebe and the coup of Wakanda. Mephisto tells him that the Wakandan coup is of his own doing. Then all three are transported to Hell.

 

My rating: 7/10

 

There are some good things to like here, and some other things I'm not so fond of. Let's start with the good.

I enjoy the way that T'Challa outfoxed Mephisto, or at least seemed to. It helped lay the groundwork for the idea that T'Challa is the most prepared hero in comics (or something to that effect), and being able to anticipate Mephisto's moves and block his power source was really a nice moment.

 

On the other hand, I was never a fan of the Hatut Zeraze, if for no other reason than the whole thing just seemed to fizzle out in an unsatisfying manner. I've also never been a fan of the "historical implant" that character who just shows up one day and he's known the protagonist for most of his life.

 

Do I have to say anything about the art? It doesn't look good, but that's about as much news as the fact that water is wet.

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