The Appeal of the Black Panther
By Erwin Rafael
Hi. My name is Erwin Rafael and I have an appeal to make. I am a 23 year-old university professor here in the Philippines, and American comic books have been pretty much a part of my life for over a decade now. Like most comic book fans, I have always wanted to make a difference in this industry that I love. I even aspired to become a writer of one of these comic books, but it just turned out not to be my cup of tea. Still, I was able to find a way to make my voice heard by serving as a regular reviewer for the X-FAN website. This gig led to my discovery of one of the best mainstream books around - precisely the subject of my appeal - Marvel's BLACK PANTHER.
BLACK PANTHER is an ongoing monthly title that details the adventures of T'challa - the king of the African techno-jungle nation called Wakanda. It has been one of the best-reviewed mainstream comic books in recent time. Browse through the reviews section of many comic book fan sites, and chances are you'd find nothing but praises for this title. It is a fact not lost to Marvel Comics who, in its recent June solicitations, described the book as "Marvel's best reviewed title". Sadly, despite the overwhelming critical acclaim BLACK PANTHER receives, it has always been threatened by the cloud of cancellation. Currently, it is Marvel's lowest selling ongoing mainstream title.
I started reading BLACK PANTHER around the time when Marvel announced that the book (along with other low selling books, Captain Marvel and Spidergirl) would have a 25-cent increase to guarantee another year of survival. I have been meaning to pick up Black Panther for years precisely because of the positive word I have been reading about the title, but I just can not find the right "push" to put my thoughts into action. The "guilt" I felt, however, after the announcement of the price increase and the threat of cancellation gave me sufficient incentive to try the title out. Coupled with the fact that BLACK PANTHER was put up for review in X-FAN because of an upcoming Wolverine appearance, I took the opportunity to see what the BLACK PANTHER hoopla was all about.
It's an understatement to say that I was not disappointed. Writer Christopher Priest, whose previous works I was not really familiar with, broke all my preconceptions of the Panther as a Tarzan-like superhero. Instead, Priest emphasized the monarchial character of the Black Panther. As a head of a technologically advanced state, which is the envy of other nations, Priest rightfully characterized the Panther as a more "cerebral" hero - relying more on mind games and extensive planning to accomplish his goals. For instance, in the recent "Enemy of the State II" story arc, T'challa was able to "take down" Tony Stark, the Iron Man, by manipulating the global economy, which enabled him to take over Stark Enterprises. Panther's unique methods in solving things, which usually involve very complex and brilliant behind-the-scene manipulations, add a high level of unpredictability and intelligence to its stories.
That's not to say that the title does not have its own share of traditional superhero fisticuffs. While the testosterone content is considerably less than the usual superhero comic book, Priest still whips out exciting fight scenes, which has been a staple in this genre. From a John Woo-inspired kung fu fighting sequence against Iron Fist to an exciting underwater chase scene with Iron Man and Wolverine, this title delivers a lot of action along with the smarts.
Priest complements the cerebral nature of the Panther character with what could best be called "intelligent" writing. The writing in this series assumes a certain degree of intelligence from its readers, as it usually asks for one's understanding of several areas of knowledge, like economics and political science. For example, the current story-arc, "Enemy of the State II", involves corporate takeovers, political coups, quantum physics and some discussion of the intricacies of the Iron Man armor. Priest does not present such issues in a "dumbed-down" manner, although I personally believe that his presentation is not too "high-brow" either. Definitely, this book is not escapist in nature, but if one is looking for a more "fulfilling" reading experience, I would definitely recommend this title.
While the concept of a book having "intelligent writing" and a "cerebral character" considerably lends a level of seriousness to this book, Priest manages to ground it with one of the book's best elements - the humor. Most of the humor comes from BLACK PANTHER's wonderful supporting cast, foremost of which is the POV person of the book, Agent Everett Ross. The humor is smart, witty and ridiculous at the same time. For example, seeing President George Bush dancing to house music while debating educational reform is a joy to watch. The humor plays off nicely against T'challa's overly serious character and this unusual mix brings a very unique flavor to this title.
BLACK PANTHER is also blessed with wonderful art from the underrated regular team of penciller Sal Velluto, inker Bob Almond and colorist Jennifer Schellinger. While not heavy-hitters or "fan-faves", the Velluto-Almond-Schellinger art team delivers every month one of the most beautiful and fundamentally sound sequential art in mainstream comics. The art can capture a lot of themes, whether it be the lush and organic "tribal" setting or the highly detailed technological aspect of Wakanda. A lot of stories are imparted through the words, specially the humor that comes off beautifully in the facial expressions of the characters.
The question, though, is "Why is BLACK PANTHER such a low selling title?" Does the complexity of Priest's stories "scare" a lot of readers? Is it the non-mainstream approach to this mainstream book? Is it because the creators are not big names that can attract reader attention? Is it because few people care about the Black Panther character? Maybe it's a combination of all these reasons. Personally speaking, these were all the reasons why I did not pick up BLACK PANTHER earlier despite the critical acclaim. I guess this book is something that one needs to actually read to appreciate.
And thus, here is where my appeal comes in. I am appealing to all of you to try BLACK PANTHER, at least for a couple of issues. It is a good book that deserves a wider audience, and I hope you would at least give this book a chance to "prove its worth".
Now for a jump-on point, coming up is the two-part "Saddles Ablaze" storyline, which involves Black Panther and crew's wild time-travelling foray to the Wild West. It starts with issue #46, which comes out June 26. Now why should you try "Saddles Ablaze"? I'll give you these reasons:
1. It's a short two-issue story, which would only cost you $5.00 total. That's just the cost of one Big Mac meal.
2. While just spanning two issues, it's a complete storyline in itself. And BLACK PANTHER stories can be appreciated best by reading full storylines.
3. There's a Thor guest appearance. And then there's the Two-Gun Kid and Rawhide Kid and all those Marvel western superstars. (Well, guest appearances should count for something!!!)
4. This short story would focus more on the humorous aspects. Priest calls it as "a rapid change of pace from the complexity of Enemy of the State II into almost sheer farce". Thus, you would be spared from headaches in your first foray to this title while still getting a taste of the "flavor" of this book.
5. This is the lead-in story to the big three part "Death of Black Panther" storyline which spans issues 48-50.
6. Black Panther is going to be part of Geoff Johns' AVENGERS lineup, and this short story is a nice introduction to the character.
7. This is also a fun tribute to the late great John Buscema, to whom the story is dedicated. The story "crosses over" with an old Thor issue drawn by John, and guest artist, Jorge Lucas, strived hard to recreate faithfully scenes from that issue.
8. By reading "Saddles Ablaze", I am giving you a chance to become the lucky winner of a year's worth of BLACK PANTHER back issues, the BLACK PANTHER: THE CLIENT TPB, a signed BLACK PANTHER: ENEMY OF THE STATE TPB, and a bonus BLAZE OF GLORY TPB. All you have to do is answer two questions, which can only be answered by reading "Saddles Ablaze". Full details of contest mechanics, terms and conditions can be found here: http://www.geocities.com/saveblackpanther .
9. And the ultimate reason to try out "Saddles Ablaze". BLACK PANTHER is just THAT good. Give it a chance to convince you.
Take note that the retailer order cutoff dates for BLACK PANTHER #46 and #47 are on June 6 and June 20, respectively, so PREORDER your issues #46-47 of BLACK PANTHER now!!!
Thank you for listening. Help save this wonderful but sadly unnoticed title. Help save the BLACK PANTHER.
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