Graphic Novel Review: Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?
Collecting: Black Panther #1-6
Original Release Date: 2005-2006
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Character: The Black Panther/T’Challa
Writer: Reginald Hudlin
Art: John Romita Jr. (The Amazing Spiderman, Uncanny X-Men)
SCORECARD:Storyline – 8 Art – 7 Captivity and Length – 9 Identity – 8 Use of Medium – 6 Depth – 8 Fluidity – 8 Intrigue/Originality – 9 The Little Things – 7 Overall Awesomeness – 8
In honor of Black history month Hush comics is bringing you another entry to our All Black Everything graphic novel review series. What graphic novel better represents this theme than the one starring Marvel’s first mainstream black superhero, The Black Panther?! Before I dive into the greatness of Who is the Black Panther, you may be curious about the ties the Marvel hero has to the African American revolutionary group most active in the 60’s and 70’s. You may find it interesting that Stan Lee’s and Jack Kirby’s idea for a prominent superhero of dark skin predates the party’s founding. Lee and Kirby state that, at the time, they recognized a lack of balance and representation throughout the panels. In an effort to bring that balance the two of them created T’Challa, the man behind the mask, and the legacy of The Black Panther. Premiering in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966), The Black Panther makes a lasting impression as he trounces the famous superhero team when they visit The Panther’s home village, deep in the heart of Africa. The rest is history… black history that is. The Black Panther laid the path for other black superheroes to hit the scene: Luke Cage, Storm, DC’s John Stewart Green Lantern and several others all pay homage to The Black Panther as the father black superheroes.
The Black Panther made a powerful splash in the late 60’s and into the next decades, but the impact of that initial splash was lost on my generation. That is until Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr. teamed up to reboot the series in 2005 with Who is the Black Panther?, the subject of this review. The series opens with a brief trip to the past, 5th century A.D. A warring African tribe is making an attempt on the never before breached borders of Wakanda where the infamous Black Panther rules and protects his people and village. In a show of force beyond what any of these rival warriors have witnessed, the boarders remain unbreached. Jump ahead to the 19th century. South African apartheid is in full swing and the Boers are determined to bring down Wakandan walls and reap the untold fortunes within the mysterious village. Yet again the attempt is easily thwarted thanks to The Black Panther and his automated defense system that is light-years ahead of its time. This aspect is one of the elements that makes this story great. The notion that a peaceful and tribal African society can also develop gadgets and gizmos that would make Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking scratch their head in wonder is fascinating. Throughout the issue we see time and time again the technological superiority of The Black Panther and the Wakandan people. My personal favorite was the Skybike. What I would give to be able to ride that thing to work every morning!
More impressive than their technological advancements is their spiritual advancements. Like every good superhero, one must act and strive towards an ideal above the self and for the greater good. The Black Panther is not just a protector and warrior, but also the leader of a nation. While defending threats on the front line The Panther must also approve municipal sewage plant measures and discuss stately manners with the likes of Nelson Mandela (R.I.P.) and the United Nations. Since The Black Panther title warrants such respect and responsibility it is no simple matter of dawning a cowl and cape in the name of saving the day. It’s a title that must be earned. In Who is the Black Panther we are witness to T’Challa earning the mantle. I have a lot of appreciation for Hudlin and his attention to the events experience by The Black Panther while out of costume. For several of us comic book fans, we search for deeper meaning in the panels all the time. We look for things that inspire and motivate us. On this aspect particularly, I hold Who is the Black Panther? in high esteem.
Now, I stated earlier that The Black Panther predates the Black Panther Party (BPP) movement. While this is true, it is not to say that we do not see any comparisons in this 2005 reboot. The struggle of the BPP is most exemplified in this graphic novel through its super-villains. Most of whom hail from Western and European regions that were involved in 18th century slave trade (America, France, Great Britain) and subsequent civil rights perversions. As a direct descendant of African American heritage, it gave me a sense of pride to watch The Panther courageously and resolutely stand up to evil and hatred.
Who is the Black Panther falls somewhat short in the art and use of medium categories. With opportunities abundant, I wish there would have been move half and full page panels to emphasize truly awesome moments. Some elements of the plot were very unnecessary, distracting and (in some instances) in bad taste. “Recycled” US cyborg soldiers didn’t feel all that right in context. All that aside, Who is the Black Panther? is a solid read. It carries all the essential elements of a hero’s tale. The true treasures of this graphic novel are in its morals more-so than the ink on the page. For that (and the kick-ass Skybike) Hush is proud to have Who is the Black Panther? featured for our All Black Everything theme in honor of Black History Month.
Written by Taylor Lowe