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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Wait, this is all coming back to me now. I think I thought Mephisto was phony, because I didn't believe he could be beaten physically (per Silver Surfer #4). And then I waited for a reveal that didn't happen, or something. Also, I didn't care for another white guy in the cast, even as a villain. Seemed like pandering. Also, I really wanted Panther to be awesome, and being (temporarily) outfoxed by a white guy wasn't awesome. 

To be fair, that's a complaint I have with most comics, in that the hero seems to be in a life-or-death situation every issue. If that were the case, he or she would only have to have one unlucky day and they're kaput. I need more scenes in ALL superhero comics where they demonstrate, even if for only a panel or two, that they spend 90 percent of their time handily defeating bad guys with little effort and no personal danger. That we're only seeing the big stories in full. Because month after month of the hero just barely surviving makes him/her look incompetent.

Black Panther #5 - "Lord of the Damned"

Published: March 1999

Writer: Christopher Priest

Artist: Vince Evans

 

After transporting Ross and T'Challa to hell, Mephisto has a fight with Achebe (or is it Mephisto?). T'Challa tells him that he cannot force anyone into his realm and that as long as part of him was separated his power would weaken. Ross then remembers that Mephisto's heart is back in the apartment at the housing projects.

 

Back in Harlem, Zuri wakes up from sleeping to answer the door. It's Sergeant Tork, looking for T'Challa. Zuri informs him that the Black Panther is not there. Tork turns on the television while Zuri goes to find something to eat, selecting Mephisto's heart.

 

In Wakanda, Achebe is touring the city surrounded by armed guards when he's attacked by a wasp.

 

We switch back to Nikki and Ross, as Ross is still explaining what's going on, including Zuri eating Mephisto's heart. Ross wants to stop for the day, but Nikki prods him forward.

 

Back in hell, T'Challa pursues Mephisto through the gates of hell, telling Ross to stay put and that he'll be safe. Ross is worried that T'Challa will not be able to return.

 

There's another flashback to T'Challa's childhood, as he watches the Hatut Zeraze torture a prisoner. The White Wolf approaches and tells him that the man was caught smuggling Vibranium to white Ivory hunters and that they mean to find out the truth from him. T'Challa tells him that if his father knew they were torturing the man that he would be quite angry. Hunter replies that there were lots of things going on in Wakanda that T'Chaka didn't want to know about and that's why he existed.

 

T'Challa runs to tell T'Chaka what's going on. T'Chaka sees him approaching and tells Zuri to protect the prince. At this point Klaw points his sound blaster at the king, killing T'Chaka while Zuri rescues T'Challa. Afterwards there was a massacre of the Wakandans present.

 

After the battle, T'Challa seizes the sound blaster and uses it on Klaw, destroying his hand. The blaster exploded uselessly afterwards, and Klaw's men were routed.

 

We then discover that all of this is one of Mephisto's illusions. T'Challa asks Mephisto why he's doing this, and Mephisto tells him that he's simply reminding him of what the stakes are. T'Challa then tells him that if he wants his soul, he can have it. They negotiate, and Mephisto agrees to leave Wakanda alone and remove his support from Achebe. During these negotiations, there's a physical altercation going on between the two of them, and Mephisto doesn't realize that he's been transported now. T'Challa tells him that he's bound to the Panther god and must take all of him. Mephisto scoffs at the idea of a Panther god, but T'Challa tells him of his ordeal to become king. He tells Mephisto that if he wants his soul, he has to take all of the souls.

 

Mephisto begins absorbing the souls, enjoying it immensely at first, then wanting to stop when he's had his fill, but T'Challa insists that he take them all or none of them. There's too much for Mephisto to handle, but T'Challa tells him that a deal is a deal. Mephisto begs him to release him from his oath, and T'Challa names his price.

 

Ross is sent back to the apartment, sans pants. Mephisto then shows up to reclaim his heart. Mephisto leaves.

 

Later, T'Challa is talking to Ramonda. She tells him that without Mephisto's support, Achebe's troops are no longer able to overpower the Wakandans, but now there's a stalemate. She tells T'Challa that if he stays away from the country, Achebe has agreeed to share ruling Wakanda with her. T'Challa agrees and signs off. We then see that Ramonda is working with Achebe.

 

My rating: 7/10

 

So this wraps up the first arc of Black Panther. To be honest, I really wasn't terribly happy with the ending. I'm not sure how else it could have gone, but it just seemed a little murky to me.

 

The art was better this issue, although still a little darker in places. Not entirely my cup of tea, but an improvement.

 

I have to wonder why Reginald Hudlin felt the need to rewrite the Black Panther's origin, as this one is perfectly acceptable, and I did enjoy the extra touches that Priest throws in.

Is this the first series to use that logo? It's my favorite.

Which logo are you referring to? The lettering of the title, or the black/white icon in the upper left?

Captain Comics said:

Is this the first series to use that logo? It's my favorite.

Black Panther #6 - "Hunted"

Published: April 1999

Writer: Christopher Priest

Artist: Joe Jusko

 

As we open, Nikki is rushing to the office of the President. Ross is already inside, and you can hear him smarting off to the President about how it's not his fault what's happening or that his political numbers are wavering all because of something T'Challa has done. Ross comes crashing out of the office, pursued by the President carrying a hockey stick. As Ross skates away (he had been rollerblading in the park when the Secret Service grabbed him), he attempts to bring Nikki up to speed over what's been happening. He recounts the events of a ball a few nights ago at the Hilton, where somehow the Black Panther ended up in a fight with Kraven the Hunter. Kraven wins the fight (there's a wordless 4-5 pages showing a fairly unexciting and difficult to follow fight) and drags T'Challa away.

 

Further back in time, Ross explains the event was the White House reception for T'Challa. Ross notes that the invitee list was missing anyone of color outside of T'Challa and his party. Ross notes that T'Challa mostly spent the night in the company of Nakia, one of the Dora Milaje, and the one he had kissed previously when under the influence of Mephisto. There's a flashback of how Nakia became one of the Dora Milaje, and also a reminiscence of T'Challa's romance with Monica Lynne, who he had once announced as his betrothed. Meanwhile, Nikki is there as well, and in a flashback that I really didn't like, we find out that she and T'Challa used to be lovers in college. She remembers an encounter at the time with another Black student named Kamal, who gets into a fight with T'Challa over the fact that he's dating a white woman. T'Challa wins the fight, but decides to return to Wakanda and break things off with Nikki, as he's disgusted by the racial politics.

 

Back in the current day, T'Challa meets Senator Rakim--also known as Kamal Rakim. Kamal apologizes to him for the ugliness in years past, and mentions that Nikki is there at the reception as well. He then leads T'Challa to a window and shows him that the streets outside are packed with Black people hoping to see him that the Senator invited to the party since the White House didn't invite any.

 

T'Challa puts on his Black Panther costume and goes out to address the people. He asks why they are there, and they tell him it's to see him. When he tells them that he's always been there for them, they respond with the implication that he's only there for the white people.

 

As they are arguing, Ross is attempting to ensure that everything runs smoothly and to avoid a riot. He's called in a SWAT team to make an appearance and put on a show for the crowd, but they also dress someone up in a Black Panther costume to address the crowd. However, the man they chose for the decoy doesn't look like T'Challa in any way (unless T'Challa spent a few months eating nothing but Krispy Kreme doughnuts). He attempts to pacify the crowd when a net drops over his head and he and Ross are taken away. During this time, T'Challa is distracted when he sees Monica Lynne in the crowd. He attacks the SWAT team around him to save their lives as knives appear where they were. Then he's attacked by Kraven.

 

My rating: 5/10

 

First, the big negative: the art. Different artist, same muddy, greasy hard to look at and overly inked artwork. Not sure who is to blame here, as the penciller and inker are the same person in this case. The fight with Kraven was pretty mediocre (it was screaming for Kirby or Ditko or someone who knows how to draw an exciting fight), and there was a lot of confusion towards the end with the Black Panther decoy as to what was happening and which Black Panther was doing what. I think I have to lay that at the feet of Joe Jusko.

 

There are some other things that bother me as well. I do not like the idea of Nikki having had a former relationship with T'Challa, primarily because I just think it's too neat. It's the same idea as the one where the Joker was the killer of Bruce Wayne's parents--it's just too pat and incestuous that it strains credibility. There are also some logical inconsistencies in the story, as I'm trying to figure out how tens of thousands of people were able to surround a hotel anywhere without people noticing well in advance.

 

It certainly wasn't all bad; Zuri was hilarious as always in his brief cameo, I liked the idea of Kamal as an ally/adversary for T'Challa (I wish more had been done with him in the series), and the story was pretty decent despite the drawbacks. That being said, very little really happened here, as this issue was primarily set-up for the issues to follow.

There are some other things that bother me as well. I do not like the idea of Nikki having had a former relationship with T'Challa, primarily because I just think it's too neat. It's the same idea as the one where the Joker was the killer of Bruce Wayne's parents--it's just too pat and incestuous that it strains credibility. There are also some logical inconsistencies in the story, as I'm trying to figure out how tens of thousands of people were able to surround a hotel anywhere without people noticing well in advance.

We share this disdain, Randy. Life isn't tidy, but writers are. So when a story is too tidy, it feels artificial -- because you sense the little man behind the curtain.

The first Hush story -- and the character itself -- was ruined for me because Bruce Wayne, a character who's been in existence for more than 70 years and that I've been reading about for more than 50 -- suddenly had a llfelong best friend never mentioned before. 

Oddly, at the same time Hush was introduced somebody was pulling the same trick over in Iron Man. Tellingly. I don't even remember the name of the "lifelong best friend" who turned up there and -- gasp! -- betrayed the hero.

Anyway, I also didn't care for the neat "coincidence" of Nikki and T'Challa's previous relationship -- a trick Chris Claremont repeated by having T'Challa and Ororo Munroe having had a previous relationship. I didn't care for it there, either.

And it misses a chance to have another major character reveal their take on T'Challa. Part of the joy of the Panther' coming-out party was the various flavors of WTF it inspired among (white) Western leaders and people. It would have been fun to see a State Department veteran like Nikki come around to understanding just what was in her "In" box, but that was cast away for a writer's crutch.

And wouldn't it have been more fun to see T'Challa and Ororo fall in love as competent, accomplished adults, rather than hormone-addled teens? It would have been a longer, better and more convincing story.

Also, what are the odds that the only two people with super-powers in Africa bump into each other on respective walkabouts? Oh, that's right, all black people know each other, right?

I was reading Iron Man at the time, and I want to say his name was Tiberius Stone. Yup, Google tells me I'm right.

Yeah, that ruined Hush for me as well. I've occasionally seen it work, but not with well established characters (the best example I can think of was the introduction of Barney Barton, because there were plenty of reasons why Hawkeye might never have mentioned him, plus there weren't--at that time--years and years of continuity for the character).

Captain Comics said:

Oddly, at the same time Hush was introduced somebody was pulling the same trick over in Iron Man. Tellingly. I don't even remember the name of the "lifelong best friend" who turned up there and -- gasp! -- betrayed the hero.

Who names their kid "Tiberius"? Tiberius Caesar was a violent, possibly demented, sadistic child rapist and killer. I wondered about that with Kirk, too.

"Who names their kid 'Tiberius'?"

Someone who served aboard a ship named Tiberius.

(That's the explanation I always liked best, anyway.)

Black Panther #7 - "Caged"

Published: May 1999

Writer: Christopher Priest

Artist: Joe Jusko

 

In a respite in his attempted escape from the President, Ross attempts to bring Nikki up to speed. He recounts that he and T'Challa had just been kidnapped by Kraven the Hunter. As he comes to, he and T'Challa are tied up on a roof held at gunpoint by Manuel Ramos at gunpoint. Despite being manacled to the roof of the tenement, T'Challa tells him and his men to surrender, and they will not be harmed.

 

Ramos reveals that he and the other gangs hired Kraven to capture him, and that they plan to take retribution for all of the trouble he's caused them lately. He then sets the roof afire, planning on burning T'Challa and Ross to death. T'Challa tells him that this is his final warning. The entire gang opens fire on T'Challa, emptying their magazines. However, T'Challa is unhurt, as his Vibranium lined costume stopped the bullets. Ramos and the other gang members decide to run away and let the fire do the job.

 

After they're gone, T'Challa breaks the shackles holding him to the roof. Downstairs, Ramos and the others attempt to run away but are intercepted by Zuri. They attempt to reload but are interrupted by a flaming shackle. T'Challa descends, carrying Ross, who is still tied up. He tosses Ross to Zuri and then turning his attention to Ramos and his men. Add in the Dora Milaje, and it's a pretty quick fight.

 

Afterwards, T'Challa tells Ramos that he owns him now for breaking their agreement and Ramos agrees. He then asks how the gangs were able to hire Kraven, as he wants to know who arranged it. He gets a name and leaves.

 

As it turns out, his adversary in this instance is Hunter, the White Wolf. He accuses Hunter of arranging the hiring of Kraven, and Hunter admits it. He then tells him that Wakanda needs him and the Hatut Zeraze. Before he leaves, he suggest T'Challa check up on Monica Lynne. Then Kraven attacks again.

 

Meanwhile, back in the limo, Ross is squirming while the Dora Milaje change clothes in front of him. They talk as they change, as Nakia tells Okoye that the King loves her, he kissed her to prove it, and that she loves him back.

 

Back at the White House, the President has cornered Ross. Ross tells him that he doesn't want to cause Ross any harm. He convinces the President that he's the only man who can get the Black Panther to change his mind. The President gives him 24 hours. After the President leaves, Nikki asks Ross if he can get T'Challa to change his mind, but Ross says there's no chance. He then begins to explain himself further.

 

Kraven and T'Challa are tussling, with Kraven pleased that he has a worthy foe. Each time he wounds Kraven, Kraven seems to enjoy it more. He defeats Kraven but is stopped from beating him really badly by the arrival of the Avengers.

 

My rating: 8/10

 

This was pretty good. I enjoyed the way the Panther extricated himself from the death trap he'd been put into, and much of the running commentary from Ross was entertaining as well. Always nice to see Zuri too.

 

The thing that hurts this, unfortunately, is once again, the art work. I'm sure there are people who love this style, but I still have to call it muddy and greasy. I'm not sure if the inks are too thick or if it's the coloring or what, but I just don't enjoy looking at it. Thankfully we're not far away from another artist switch.

Black Panther #8 - "That Business With the Avengers!"
Published: June 1999
Writer: Christopher Priest
Artist: Joe Jusko and Amanda Connor

There's a recap of the events of Tales of Suspense #99 where Captain America and the Black Panther--with the help of Agent 13--defeated Baron Zemo, or at least the guy who was pretending to be him. Afterwards, Captain America suggests that T'Challa take his place in the Avengers, and T'Challa agrees.

Back in the present, Cap and T'Challa arrive at T'Challa's hotel, where a large number of citizens are thronging the streets, hoping to see and hear from T'Challa. However, the police are afraid to let T'Challa speak, fearing a riot. T'Challa accuses Senator Rakim of creating this situation (which he did), angering T'Challa. However, before T'Challa lays a beatdown on an American Senator, the police get a call from the White House telling them to cooperate. Cap then asks T'Challa what to do about the people on the streets, and T'Challa tells him that he will speak to them.

Meanwhile, Ross is attempting to get through the crowd when he bumps (literally) into the Avengers. As he waits, he ponders why T'Challa joined the Avengers in the first place (Ross is of the mind that superheroes are a bad thing for the most part because they're untrained and unregulated). Meanwhile, there's a sniper on a rooftop looking through a telescopic sight at the Avengers.

Captain America addresses the crowd, hoping to get them to disperse peacefully. Meanwhile, T'Challa approaches the sniper and tries to find out who he's working for. The voice of Achebe comes from underneath his hood. T'Challa lifts the hood only to find that the person underneath is a gagged Monica Lynne. Before he can stop her, she shoots into the crowd. The bullet strikes Thor in the forehead, felling him. This prompts the riot police surrounding the crowd to attack. The Avengers attempt to deal with the situation.

Up on the rooftop, T'Challa is carefully fighting Monica, not wanting to hurt her, as Achebe continues prattling (Monica is also wearing an exo-skeleton which is controlling her movements). She's also strapped to a large amount of C4, and Achebe then informs T'Challa that there's a random person in the crowd also wearing a bomb.

Shifting back to the Avengers, we see that they're not so well equipped to deal with a large crowd of panicky, stampeding people, as they're concerned about hurting them. Panther breaks into their communications to tell them about the bomb. The bomb is being triggered by a microwave frequency--luckily Firestar is on hand.

T'Challa is still fighting Monica as Achebe monologues, although now it's over an open Avengers radio channel. Achebe begins pondering why T'Challa joined the Avengers as well. T'Challa responds that joining the Avengers seemed like a good idea as he wanted to see if they posed a threat to Wakanda. The Avengers overhear this and wonder about it, but first they have to locate and dispose of the bomb. They do so, and T'Challa frees Monica. Her first question is as to who the girls (the Dora Milaje) are, then she leaves T'Challa in a fit of pique, annoyed about getting caught up in craziness again.

Back in the streets, when Thor was shot, he toppled over on top of Ross, who hasn't been able to move since. Suddenly Thor gets up swinging wildly wondering aobut the sneak attack. At this time, Zuri shows up and the brawl is on...well, not much of one really, as although Zuri is pretty strong for a human, he's nowhere near Thor's level(we're not shown this fight).

Cap and the Avengers address the crowd, then T'Challa asks them to go home, which they do. Firestar congratulates T'Challa on his bluff of Achebe, telling him that he joined the Avengers to spy on them, but T'Challa tells them all it was the truth.

My rating: 8/10

Some very good things to like here. I think the reaction of the NYPD here was both understandable and overkill at the same time. How are the police supposed to react when there's a sudden gathering of a huge mass of citizens like that--yet at the same time it could have been handled better.

The idea that T'Challa joined the Avengers initially to investigate them is one that works for me. He's the King of a powerful African nation, so he needs to know about any threats to his kingdom and people. Rather than simply go out of his way to antagonize the Avengers, he joins them to see what they're about so he can make better judgments about them in the future.

Something I don't think Priest gets enough credit for is actually attempting to utilize (pseudo)science in explaining how his characters solve a problem, in this case locating the bomb. That was a nice touch.

One other thing I enjoyed was Amanda Connor's artwork here. She perfectly nails Kirby's style in the parts she draws--which is a shame because the rest of the issue is drawn by Joe Jusko, and it's the same muddy mess as before. Both a high and low point of this issue.

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