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Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Volume 1 Paperback – August 25, 2015
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T'Challa has always been a king, always been a hero, always been honorable and resourceful, but Priest took all of that and presented it on another level. What you get in this volume are the first 17 issues of his run and they are perfectly written to show that T'Challa is one of the big dogs of the Marvel Universe. This is probably the perfect series to read if you're looking to get familar with the character, since so much of his past is covered here. You get information concerning the death of his father, Wakandan traditions and rituals are constantly mentioned, his foster brother, White Wolf, and their tumultous history takes place, alongside one of the main stories, Panther's history with Captain America is mentioned and shown to some extent. You just really get a good deal of information that is balanced out by a healthy amount of action and Marvel Universe politics. It isn't said outright, but it's clear that T'Challa is the equal to other leaders in the Marvel Universe, such as Namor, Magneto, or Dr. Doom. Similar to his recent appearance in Captain America: Civil War, everything T'Challa does is tailored to show you just how awesome he is, from tearing out Mephisto's heart to facing down the Incredible Hulk. A series like this would probably receive a good deal of criticism today for portraying T'Challa as being too perfect, but back when it was originally being written this is exactly what was needed to make people understand that he is a man who has just as many resources as Reed Richards and who is just as intelligent as Tony Stark. There is also a good chance that this is the moment where many fans of DC came to recognize that Black Panther could be looked at as a Batman expy, since he handles so many situations with the same level of calm determination and preparedness that DC's Dark Knight does. For all their similarities however, Priest is very careful to show how the two men are different in terms of their supporting casts, enemies, histories, and demeanors.
Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about this series is the way that everything is connected. The story being told in issue 17 is partially due to the story that was taking place in issue 1. The book starts off with the death of a little girl who had been involved with a Wakandian charity group. While Black Panther heads to America in order to investigate how this horrible turn of events came about, tensions back in his nation reach a boiling point and a bloody civil war begins, which is quickly followed by a coup. Armed with only the weapons and gadgets that he thought to bring with him, his deceased father's trusted friend Zuri, and his favored bodyguards/assassin the Dora Milhje, T'Challa is forced to quickly make his way through the criminal underworld, while also being forced to foray into the battlefield of politics with the United States goverment. U.S. officials place T'Challa in the hands of their agent Everett K. Ross, who is assigned to act as an escort to the visiting monarch, in order to ensure that he stays out of trouble. When Ross took on the assignment he was confident, figuring that he perfectly understood his client and superheroes in general, and that this would be an easy assignment for him. He is quickly proven wrong, as before the end of the 3rd issue he finds his soul belonging to Mephisto and T'Challa nowhere to be found.
This brief summary is just a small taste of the amazing adventure that awaits you within the pages of this book. The story is written in a way that i've never really seen before. Though all of the events in the story are shown to us they are not always shown in chronological order and this has to do with the fact that they are actually being told to us by Agent Ross. For the most part, Ross ends up tagging along with Panther for almost all of his adventures and the ones he doesn't tag along for he ends up being told about later, after which he relays them to his superior officer and the readers. This adds an interesting element to the story, because one of Ross' character tics is that he can't quite manage to tell the story in chronological order, leading to him jumping around all over the place, and endlessly frustrating his superior. Most importantly of all, this makes him a comedic figure. In many ways he is the reader, an average person, with average intellect and skills, that has been thrown into this fantastic situation. He therefore reacts with disbelief at many of the things that are happening around him. He really manages to shine as a supporting character and makes T'Challa shine as a titular character, because they are so different. In show terms, Ross would be the comedic relief and Black Panther would be the straight man. This is taken to new heights with just how serious T'Challa remains throughout the story, making Ross' reactions seem that much more exaggerated, but you realize that they're really not when you step back and think about just how crazy the events of the story would be for an average person.
The non-chronological storytelling might be confusing for some at first, but I think that it is easy to get used to, since you'll start to see when one arc ends and when another is beginning. The previous arcs are also constantly being referenced. My only complaint is the artwork. This series features work by multiple artists, so while everyone is still recognizeable they do noticeably change, as does the world around them, in terms of just how they are drawn. This is simply annoying for me, since I enjoy consistency in my artwork. Can't blame the writer for that however, so i'd still give this work 5 starts. I highly recommend this volume to anyone looking to learn more about Black Panther or to anyone who is just looking for a new comic series to sink their teeth into.
So goes with a quick recap: T'Challa, AKA Black Panther ; King of Wakanda, an African nation with some of the most wealthiest and advanced technology in the world thanks to it being the location of vibranium, one of the most sought after minerals in existence. Black Panther is super hero for the Avengers and leader/monarch figurehead to the Wakandan people. Now that means there have been numerous interpretations of the character throughout the years, but it wasn’t until the character was relaunched in 1998 series under black writer Christopher Priest where he became the modern day version everyone uses now. And yes, it’s a pleasant offering for new and old readers on Black Panther.
Collecting issues #1-17 (, BLACK PANTHER BY CHRISTOPHER PRIEST VOL.1 COMPLETE COLLECTION shows T'Challa comes to America to investigate the kidnapping and murder of a little girl who was affiliated with a Wakandian charity group. Tensions are high for Wakanda having a civil war back home, but T’Challa feels he needs to investigate this himself even with problems in his home land. So T’Challa brings his own entourage of body guards including Zuri, a hulk-like fighter and two teenage assassin’s named the Dora Milhje, with government agent Everett K. Ross is assigned as an escort to assist and keep relations with Wakanda. He figured it would be easy work and just tailed along with the King's entourage. But things go crazy quickly as Black Panther has been setup, his home country been taken over from his absence, and the lord of Hell, Mephisto, has something to do with all of it.
Various versions of Panther existed before Priest took control like the 70’s being very serious and reflective, to Jack Kirby being over the top. Priest reverts Panther more akin to Stan Lee’s original version being able to outsmart the likes of Reed Richards (who is one of the smartest characters in the Marvel Universe) and go toe-to-toe with The Thing, while adding a some of his past versions as to no alter the character’s rich history. This makes Priest work on Panther parts urban vigilante, political thriller, and even satire.
The first twelve issues are one tightly woven story of Black Panther dealing with the kidnapping case and reclaiming Wakanda, while issues #13 through #17 are single/two issue tales of Panther teaming up with various Marvel characters that are quite amusing to see the interaction with. This is made up for the narration of the stories by Everett K. Ross, who speaks through his observations in a highly comical and witty method to his superiors (for example he loses his pants in front of Mephisto and by accidently selling his soul for pants, he just keeps unzipping his pants to have another pair on). He’s a coward and a bit dumb, as well as explains his stories in a non-linear narrative akin to the Quentin Tarantino film, Pulp Fiction (which even his superior mentions this). So while Ross is the comedic relief and narrator, Black Panther or “the Client” as Ross says, is the straight man with very little to say. It’s a great way to counter balance the vibe for readers.
And because Panther is the straight man, Priest makes Panther very much like DC’s Batman in his abilities and gadgets, his overall look, and insane strategist skills in keeping 10-steps ahead of everyone, so much so that he admits to joining the Avengers just so he can keep an eye on them if they were a threat to Wakanda . Even his new villain Achebe, looks and acts an awful lot like DC’s Joker with a large grinning smile and crazy habits. This Batman-esque Black Panther has become the standard for modern day writers to inhabit that makes this a worthwhile read, being more about using his smarts and being open to the world.
The art supplied from the first 5 issues is Mark Texeira, Vince Evans doing the second story arc with Joe Jusko and Mike Manley, with Sal Velluto doing the rest. The art is great that ranges from gritty to comical (like issue #8 having an ode to Stan Lee/Jack Kirby flashback sequence). It’s overall good stuff. With the addition of the Marvel Knights Sketchbook extras that give numerous drawings and interviews to Priest on the character that are worth reading.
Now I know my Amazon rating is 5 stars, but I’m scoring it around 4 ½ stars. The only problems I had were the storytelling method Priest uses like Pulp Fiction is confusing at first. In fact, it’s used predominantly throughout his whole run on Black Panther. It does ease up in later issues, but the shifting story might not jive well with some readers. And the second aspect might be the racism aspect some readers might get. What I mean by this is the dichotomy between Ross and Panther that some sources have pointed out throughout the years. Ross is the bumbling white guy who gets chased down the White House by the Present of the United States while Black Panther is the cool-headed, rich super hero. I personally didn’t get that vibe, as well as Priest himself not portraying dumb ethnicities. He even goes so far as to have a few scenes where black characters try to sway Panther into a symbol for African Americans, which Panther shoots this down and looks at all lives, regardless of skin color, being vital to life. But I just wanted to point that out if any new readers get that feeling. And the notion of Black Panther being a Batman-like clone might gel well either (even if both characters have different upbringings and motives).
Still, I’m glad Marvel decided to reprint these fine stories. They are exciting, funny, and even insightful to still read about and make Black Panther stand out from the other characters. It was ground-breaking stuff back in the day, which you can see why he has become a powerful figure in modern Marvel comics thanks to Priest work on the character. Well with Black Panther making his film debut next year, this is the first collection to be released to lead up to next year. The first two trades (Black Panther Vol. 1: The Client and Black Panther: Enemy Of The State TPB) are out of print and pricey, with much of Priest work uncollected before. So with writing a whopping 62-issues, there is plenty of Black Panther material on the way.