Writer: Christopher Priest
Artist: Jorge Lucas
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with the discovery that the cast of this book are not the only Marvel characters who have found themselves cast into the Old West. We then see the Black Panther cast try to make themselves inconspicuous, but the fact that Everett K. Ross bears an uncanny resemblance to a wanted outlaw makes this difficult. As Ross is dragged off to jail by the town marshal, we see the rest of the cast work to free him without causing irreparable damage to the time line. With Henry Peter Gyrich taking a leadership role, we see he is able to set himself up as a roving lawman, while the rest become a travelling sideshow act. However, when Ross is sprung from jail by the real outlaw, we see any arguments about his innocence go out the window. Meanwhile, the Silver Age version of the Black Panther has decided it would be a grand adventure if he could join the posse heading out after Ross, but when he goes to offer up his services he runs afoul with a time travelling villain (and no it's not Kang). We also see Western heroes Kid Colt, the Two-Gun Kid & Rawhide Kid arrive on the scene to offer their help.
Black Panther in the Old West is certainly a bizarre merging of two very different genres, as this book's shifting alliances & plans within plans almost seems to be at odds with the black & white morality plays that most Westerns offer up. Now this isn't to say that it's a complete mismatch, as Christopher Priest still manages to weave a fairly complex plot in this Western setting, as almost every character who was cast back into the past finds themselves embroiled in a different crisis. There's also a parade of guest-stars to keep it exciting, from the standard Western stars of the Marvel Universe (Kid Colt, the Rawhide Kid & Two-Gun Kid), to a pair of unexpected guests from the future. In fact, thanks to a nice nod of the head to present day continuity in another Marvel title, this issue ends with a wonderful cliffhanger, that is sure to make a royal mess of the Marvel timeline, as a hero's greatest enemy has gotten their hands on knowledge from the future that we know he shouldn't have. In fact this final page makes it clear this visit to Marvel's Western era is going to be one heck of a story.
The nice thing about this book is that Christopher Priest piles more material into a single issue that most titles offer up over an entire year. Now sure this may make the book quite difficult for new readers to jump aboard, as there are times when even I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of this book's plot threads. We have Everett K. Ross' identity mix-up, the time travelling guest-stars from another Marvel title, T'Challa's encounter with the town bigots, the arrival of Marvel's Western heroes, and Henry Peter Gyrich also gets a chance to show that when pressed into action he can be pretty darn useful. There's also the question of how they'll get back home, T'Challa's deteriorating health, and the tension between Monica & T'Challa when she discusses their relationship. Sure it sounds like this book was designed to scare off new readers, but if one is willing to stick with the book for a few issues, it becomes quite clear why this book is a critical darling among comic reviewers, as it's one of the few titles out there that's offering up a diverse & interesting collection of ideas in every single issue.
Jorge Lucas' art seems tailor made to delivering a Western adventure, and while the work of the regular art team is much missed, the work we do get is very strong. What's more the art has the added advantage of being able to deliver the complex plots that are a staple of this series. From the opening double-page shot of our cast making their rather hard to miss arrival in Alberdene, Texas, to the wonderfully silly sequence where Everett K. Ross attempts to convince the town Marshall that he's got the wrong man by presenting his business card, this issue is a visual delight. We also get a smile inducing sequence where the Looney Tunes version of the Black Panther ricochets around the barn interior like a kid on Christmas morning. However, the art is also quite good at delivering the more serious moments, as the final page does a fantastic job revealing to the reader who the mystery villain of this arc will be. The arrival shot of this book's Western stars also does a nice job building a sense of excitement, as we're introduced to the trio. The cover to this issue is also quite impressive, with the coloring work being particularly nice.
The Black Panther takes it's show on the road, as Christopher Priest pretty much packs up his entire cast and tosses them into the Old West, and just to show that this is a typical Black Panther adventure, we see even this rather simple time-travel premise is complicated by the addition of a trio of time-lost characters from another title, and a nice case of identity confusion as we now have two versions of Ross to counterbalance the two Black Panthers. Still even without the political intrigue, and mental chess that are normally mainstays of this series, this issue is a solid opening adventure in what looks to be a memorable trip to Marvel's Wild West. We also get a fairly solid selection of visitors, as in addition to the regular heroes from this period in Marvel continuity, there's also a secondary plot that has key information fall into the hands of a dastardly villain long before they're suppose to know. The art is also a nice match for the period that this story is set.
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