Writer: Christopher Priest
Artist: Jorge Lucas
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with the villains of this arc putting together the pieces, and we see they are able to ferret out Kevin "Kasper" Cole's connection to the new Black Panther who is dogging their heels. We then join Kasper as he discovers that T'Challa does not approve of his wearing the ceremonial grab of the Black Panther, nor does he believe that Kasper's intentions are noble enough to justify his use of the suit. We then jump back to when Kasper was just a young child, as we see his father was a respected police officer who managed to hold his own against the gangs that operated in his neighborhood, but when Blackjack refused to play along with a group of corrupt cops, he was setup on a drug possession charge & sent to prison. We then return to the present where we see Kasper learns that he father has been the victim of a brutal beating at the hands of the prison guards, and believing his father's life is in danger, we see Kasper uses the Black Panther suit to break into the prison & rescue his father. However, while Kasper is able to make it inside and he stands ready to set his father free, he makes a rather unsettling discovery that has him leaving the prison empty-handed.
With the recently announced jump in price, I have to say I'm not holding out much hope for this book's continued survival, but if Christopher Priest continues to deliver work of this quality then I'm going to stick with this book no matter how high the price goes, and here's hoping most of the other regular readers of this book feel the same way. Now I'll concede that I was a bit concerned by this book's recent shift to a more urban-crime genre, but I have to say that after this issue I'm now a firm believer that as long as Christopher Priest is at the helm, this book will be a must read every month. This issue does a wonderful job of developing a relationship between the new Black Panther and T'Challa, and it's not the student/mentor setup that one would expect it to be, as it's clear that T'Challa has some serious reservations about the new kid, and one has to be a little disturbed by the test that T'Challa arranged to test Kasper's resolve. If nothing else this issue grabbed my attention by allowing Kasper to recognize the idea that he's basically a chess piece being maneuvered around the board by some fairly powerful players, but he's also unable to do anything to change this situation.
While this book remains incredibly complex from a storytelling sense, I also have to credit it as one of the most intelligently scripted titles on the stands. In a single issue Christopher Priest not only managed to developed Kevin "Kasper" Cole into a exceptionally well realized character, but the flashback material does an equally impressive job of making his father into far more than a simple background figure whose tough as nails approach acted as a guiding post for Kasper's current choices. The threats that "Blackjack" Cole makes to the gang leader is a wonderful exchange, and when the man is viciously beaten by the prison guards I was surprised by how relieved I was to learn that this attack didn't kill him, and how disturbed I was when I learned who had arranged this attack. I also like the idea that this book also offers up intelligent villains, as by the end of this issue Kasper's double life has been exposed by the very people he's been looking to bring down, and this in turn makes his end goal appear even farther out of reach. The issue also offers up a wonderful character defining moment, as T'Challa's final line in this issue speaks volumes about the character's current mindset.
Jorge Lucas is a name that I had took note of a couple times before he arrived on this title, but I have to say that it's his work on this title that has made me a fan. His highly detailed work is certainly impressive, as his backgrounds are a key part of this book's newfound adherence to a more down-to-earth feel, and his figure work is also quite strong. The action sequences also worth a mention, as "Blackjack" Cole's lesson to the gang members in his neighborhood does a great job of conveying the idea that he's not a man one should mess with, and the fight in the prison is a genuinely harrowing display of violence, with that closing panel being particularly effective. Now I have to say that his version of T'Challa looks like he's given up the fight, and there's something incredibly wrong with the idea of T'Challa lounging around in his pajamas & bathrobe. However, since I'm guessing this is the image that Christopher Priest wanted to send, I can't fault the art for doing such a good job in presenting it to us. The art also does some nice work of simply showing us the toys that Kapser uses to break into the prison, with the use of the Antarctic Vibranium being particularly impressive.
While I wouldn't suggest this issue as an ideal jumping on point for new readers, this issue is going to stand up as the one that convinced me that Christopher Priest's new direction is going to be just as good, if not better than what we had been getting before the book underwent its fairly radical shift in direction. This issue does a wonderful job of developing its lead character, by establishing a fairly surprising relationship with T'Challa that one could almost classify as openly hostile. The book also does some nice work when it comes to developing "Blackjack" Cole into a character that one is eager to see again, and be concerned for when it becomes clear that he is targeted. I also like the idea that Kasper is not the smartest character in these pages, and that there are elements that are playing out that he looks completely unprepared to face. This is a wonderful issue, and I'm sorry I ever doubted this new direction.
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