Writer: Christopher Priest
Artist: Jorge Lucas
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Kasper caught up in a web of self-doubt, as he's not sure if the attack upon his father was an actual murder attempt, or if it was only meant to look like one to drive him into doing something incredibly foolish (e.g. accepting the White Wolf's offer of help). As he attempts to get some answers from T'Challa he finds the man to be completely disinterested not only in his problem, but also in the rest of the world around him, as T'Challa looks to be mired in a severe depression. Meanwhile the corrupt NYPD Lieutenant Sal Anthony has put most of the pieces together regarding the identity of the Black Panther who has been gunning for him, but his interpretation of the clues has him pointing the finger at Sergeant Tork, instead of Kasper, and we see Tork is paid a visit by Sal Anthony's goons. As Tork is taken hostage, we see Kasper is busy trying to decide whether dressing up in a costume is actually the most effective means of bringing down Sal Anthony, and the answer comes from a rather unusual source, as his unborn child's kick has Kasper thinking ahead to when his son grows up, and what this child is going to think of his dad. As the issue ends we look in on Tork, who in a bid to protect Kasper & his family, has admitted to being the Black Panther.
It's always nice to see a writer latch onto an idea that hasn't really been examined in previous stories, as the only other title that springs to mind is James Robinson's "Starman", when it comes to exploring the idea of a lead character being thrust into the life of a costumed hero without having any real underlying motivation for doing so. I mean yes to a certain extent he's wearing the costume to build a case against a corrupt cop, but when it starts to become apparent that this plan is completely falling apart, we are left with a lead character who has next to no reason to want to continue to play dress-up. Now Christopher Priest does get around to building a motivation, as we see Kasper eventually comes to latch on to the idea that this may be the one & only chance he has of proving himself to his unborn son, and while this isn't the strongest of reasons to become a costumed hero, it does make for a nice starting point. One also gets the sense that Kasper's own struggles to come to an understanding of why he needs to continue to wear the costume, effective mirrors the current struggles of T'Challa who looks to have lost the desire to live his life in a productive manner, let along continue to be the Black Panther.
I also enjoy the idea that villains can make mistakes, as this issue has the main villain of the arc coming to the conclusion that Sergeant Tork is the new Black Panther, and while all the evidence would seem to confirm his theory, the simple fact of the matter is that this idea is wrong, and we don't often see villains hitching their wagon to the wrong horse. I mean yes there's the issues that are done largely for comedic effect as we see a third-string villain comes up with a goofy theory that J. Jonah Jameson is Spider-Man, or something equally unlikely. However, most times when a villain decides to move against their costumed adversary, they manage to have all their ducks in a row, which is why both Daredevil & Spider-Man each have about half-a-dozen villains in their respective rogues galleries, who are in the know when it comes to their secret identities. Now by painting the bullseye on Sergeant Tork, Christopher Priest has effectively created a reason for T'Challa to step in, as unless the kidnapping is part of some big test, then I can't see T'Challa sitting on his hands while a close friend pays the price for actions taken by another. This could also be a chance for Kasper to finally prove his worth to T'Challa.
Jorge Lucas continues to offer up some impressive work on this title, as first of all the work has little trouble delivering the fairly complex elements that the script calls for, such as the various flashbacks designed to give us more insight into Kasper Cole, or the key moment of the issue where we see all the advice he's been given comes together, and he comes to realize why he has to continue to wear the costume. The art also manages to nicely convey the various emotional states of its cast, as one can see the burning hatred on the face of Okoye's face as Kasper looks at her, or the abject terror on the one man's face as he faced with the jury-rigged device that Kasper put together to give him a good scare. There's also the look on Tork's face in the final panel after we see him decide to take the fall, as the art perfectly captures the idea that he's made a decision that is quite likely to end his life. There's also a great looking shot of Kasper in full costume, as the new look of the Black Panther is actually quite effective, when it's cast against an urban backdrop. It's also great to see Andy Kubert looks to be this book's regular cover artist, as it pretty much guarantees an eye-catching cover, such as this month's rain soaked visual.
Another solid chapter in what is turning out to be some of the best crime-fiction to ever come out of Marvel. There's a reason why this book has held a pretty consistent spot on my top five list, and I must confess I was a little concerned when the new direction hit this title, but as we near the end of this opening arc, I have to say that my concerns have been completely done away with. The low level adventures of Kasper Cole are more than equal to most of T'Challa's more memorable global spanning arcs, as just because the problems are smaller in scope, doesn't mean they are any less entertaining. In fact the one advantage that Kasper Cole brings to the book is that as a character he's far more accessible, as T'Challa's entire gimmick is that the reader is never quite sure what is going on in his head. The T'Challa we're getting in this arc is also quite a surprise, as it would appear he's given up on life, and it's going to take something major to get him back on his feet.
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