“Who Is Black Panther?”
Written by Reginald Hudlin
Art by John Romita Jr.
Inks by Klaus Johnson
Published by Marvel Comics
In 2005, Marvel launched a new Black Panther series, with writer/director Reginald Hudlin as the writer. The volume collects the first story of the new series. Hudlin did a soft reboot of the character, changing some significant parts of the backstory. There’s a framing sequence of a National Security meeting in the White House, discussing the potential threat of Wakanda, and it is through this that we learn some of its history.
Opening centuries ago, we see a primitive African tribe attempting to invade Wakanda, only to easily be defeated via giant traps and a swarm of crossbows, with only one invader left alive to go warn everyone else to stay away from Wakanda. The follow-up scenario takes place a few centuries later as a heavily armed European army marches toward Wakanda, attempting to invade, also being repelled by Wakanda’s vastly superior technology. This sets the stage of Wakanda’s current position as one of, if not THE most advanced nations on the planet.
Over the years, many have tried to conquer Wakanda, but all have failed, leaving Wakanda free to advance scientifically and culturally, lead by their political, spiritual, and military leader, The Black Panther. The previous Black Panther, King T’Chaka, was ambushed and assassinated at a private meeting of National governments by a man named Klaw who escaped, despite being wounded by the King’s young son, T’Challa. T’Chaka’s brother S’yan took over as Black Panther and reigned until he was honorably defeated in ritual combat by a now-adult T’Challa. Others who covet the crown are T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri and his cousin, S’yan’s son, T’shan.
The main plotline of this arc is that, as King, T’Challa is still obsessed with bringing his father’s assassin to justice. As if by coincidence, Klaw, who has been in hiding all these years, has re-emerged to assemble an army of mercenaries, foreign military (from Niganda, a fictional African nation neighboring Wakanda, and run by a corrupt dictator), and super-powered beings such as Rhino, Batroc, The Radioactive Man, a villainous Black Knight, and a body-hopping being known as Cannibal, to arrange an invasion of Wakanda. When the U.S. government learns of the invasion, they send their own army of re-animated and enhanced cybernetic soldiers, resembling the Deathlok character into Wakanda, but the American’s motives are unclear, are they there to help Wakanda or the invaders? So once the invasion proceeds, T’Challa, Shuri, and S’yan all risk their lives to defend their nation.
Overall, I liked this story. I thought it was a good new introduction to the character. But there were some flaws in the writing. I thought the initial confrontation between the Wakandans and Europeans in the past was too long and could have been cut to make room to give us more information on the current characters. In the flashback, we learn that T’Challa had an older brother who was also killed by Klaw during the assassination of T’Chaka, but we never learn his name. T’Challa and Shuri’s mother is also unnamed in this story, and likewise, no information is given of T’shan’s mother who is never seen or named. There is also some question about the history of the lead character, as T’Challa appears to be crowned for the first time in this book, yet we see Everett Ross, from Christopher Priest’s series, and he is referred to as an expert on Wakanda and Black Panther, so did his previous stories happen?
Ross also makes a brief reference to Black Panther defeating The Fantastic Four, which happened in the origin story by Jack Kirby and Black Panther, but that story also had T’Challa facing Klaw for the first time, except this story is supposed to be the first time Klaw returned to Wakanda and Faced T’Challa. So you see how it’s confusing? In the modern-day battle I also thought we didn’t get enough of the Wakandan army in action. The story kept building up how badass the Wakandan military is, yet we mostly just see their fighter jets facing Rhino and Black Knight. We should have got some ground forces facing the Nigandian soldiers, not to mention the American cyborg soldiers. We see Wakanda aware of the cyborgs, but they don’t seem to do anything about it. The army manages to get deep into the heart of Wakanda, and walk right up to T’Challa (so much for security), who promptly tells them to leave, and they do. So that was a bit anti-climactic.
Other than that, I did enjoy it. It did well in establishing the personalities of the characters, especially T’Challa who is seen as honorable and brave, yet also a bit arrogant. Shuri is both in awe of and envious of her brother, and you can see that T’shan is destined to be trouble. The final confrontations between T’Challa and Klaw as well as Shuri vs. The Radioactive Man, not to mention Batroc vs the Dora Milajae (T’Challa’s ceremonial bodyguards, given an updated look here which makes them look more like badass African warriors, as opposed to rap music video vixens like in the preceding series). The story here, with a few tweaks, would be the perfect plot for a live-screen film if that is really in development.
And, to top it off, John Romita Jr. (who, sadly, only drew this opening arc) provides BEAUTIFUL artwork. His pencils are phenomenal, and really fit the tone of this story. His artwork gets an A+, and combined with Hudlin’s writing it’s enough for me to give this story: