Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"I believe hate is wasted potential." Black Panther Annual #1 (2018) review

As a fan of Christopher Priest's writing, these last few years have been kind of funny - like, the comic book industry not only remembered he was in their rolodex but, oh yeah, also one of the best plotters & scripters in the medium! It all began with Q2: The Return of Quantum & Woody; then DC Comics brought him in on Deathstroke, to which he brought the same dizzying complex plots his Black Panther consisted of; Marvel Comics then put him on Inhumans: Once and Future Kings and DC even handed him the Justice League, the sort of prestige assignment he had always been denied in the past.

Last week Marvel Comics published Black Panther Annual #1 to profit from the release of Ryan Coogler's Black Panther movie. While Ta-Nehisi Coates continues to write the ongoing Black Panther series, this annual features three short tales by three previous series scribes.

First up is Christopher Priest himself with "Back in Black." Unfortunately, Priest was not reunited with his old art team (despite Sal Velluto & Bob Almond's continued love for the series), but was instead partnered with the exceptional Mike Perkins. Perkins' heavy lines and photorealism bring to mind the art by Mark Texeira which began Priest's Black Panther, rendering Perkins an excellent choice. The story is narrated by Everett K. Ross, Priest's narrator from his stories. It concerns a Wakandan courier being killed in New York and Ross being pursued by Malice & White Wolf (two classic Priest baddies) who each assume Ross must be guarding the courier's delivery. Little do they know, Ross is no longer as close to T'Challa as he once was.

I feel there were many missed opportunities when Marvel went ahead with Black Panther comics without Priest, but at the top of my list was how Everett K. Ross was slighted, mostly ignored and mischaracterized by subsequent authors. Ross was such an integral part of Priest's Panther, not only in the humour he offered but in his gradual character development. Priest makes Ross' absence a virtue here, as his disconnect from T'Challa's world in recent years renders him vulnerable. The story even opens with a non-linear narration in the spirit of Priest & Texeira's first issue!

Dang it, Taku, now I'm weepy

The second star writer is Don McGregor, here paired with Daniel Acuña for "Panther's Heart." McGregor was the Black Panther's first solo feature author back in the 1970s and he dedicated this story to his "Panther's Rage" collaborators Rich Buckler & Billy Graham (but overlooked the also-deceased Gil Kane, plus Gene Colan of "Panther's Quest," which is also referenced in his story). The tale seems to be set in the present-day continuity of the series as T'Challa's girlfriend Monica Lynne dies of cancer while T'Challa grieves for her. For some reason, the credits page claims this story takes place in "an alternate past." Perhaps Marvel didn't want Monica killed off? Or someone noticed W'Kabi was in this story, despite dying in Hudlin's run? Anyway, it's a heartfelt story and it's particularly touching to see McGregor write Taku again; I really felt for Taku's gentle spirit back in "Panther's Rage."

Finally, Reginald Hudlin & Ken Lashley of the post-Priest Black Panther tell the shortest story (half the length of the other two) "Back to the Future Part II" as Hudlin basically tells a coda to his own Panther stories. Set in the future, it see T'Challa still married to Storm (an event from Hudlin's stories) and creating a brotherhood with mutants and Atlanteans while having killed major villains such as Dr. Doom & Magneto. I never responded to Hudlin's earlier stories and this tale likewise does nothing for me; I felt Hudlin made T'Challa too arrogant and this new tale follows that trend.

Anyway, this was a fine celebration of Black Panther's publishing history, particularly for Priest & McGregor fans. Check it out!

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