I haven’t had a chance to go see the Black Panther movie yet due to circumstances beyond my control — such as weekend company and my continued recuperation from a serious arm injury — but I’m hopeful I’ll get a chance to visit Wakanda in the next day or two.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about the leadup to the movie is the mainstream media exposure of the many creators will help to shape the character over the decades. Writer Don McGregor, for example, has received a fair bit of attention for his contributions to Black Panther lore and how they’ve made their way onto the silver screen and into the minds of a much wider audience.
Personally, I’m most thrilled that writer Christopher Priest has also enjoyed a bolstered profile, both in the comics industry and beyond, for his contributions to the Panther mythos, many of which are also reflected in director Ryan Coogler’s screen adaptation. That got me thinking about how I came to be familiar with Priest’s unconventional and challenging writing, thanks to encounters with him on Usenet (look it up, younger readers) in the 1990s and recommendations from online friends. I started writing comics reviews on Usenet in the mid ‘90s, and that actually led to me earning a living for a couple of years writing about comics from 1999-2001.
The blend of Black Panther mania and my memories of those early times writing about comics prompted me to delve into some of those past reviews posted to Usenet. Lo and behold, I happened upon my review of the first issue of the Priest run on BP (from September 1998), and I decided to reproduce it here (with minor edits).
Black Panther #1
Writer: Christopher Priest
Artists: Mark Texeria, Joe Quesada & Alitha Martinez
Colors: Brian Haberlin
Cover artists: Texeria (regular)/Quesada (variant)
Editors: Quesada & Jimmy Palmiotti
Publisher: Marvel Comics/Marvel Knights imprint
Price: $2.50 US/$3.50 CAN
Ah… I’ve been waiting for this for a couple of months: Priest’s return to writing a monthly title. The same qualities that made Quantum and Woody, Xer0 and Steel such fascinating, complex and fun comics are to be found in Black Panther. The humor, the culture and the characterization… they all make for a riveting book. The only problem: Priest clings to his sometimes confusing way of telling a story, but on the plus side, he pokes a little fun at his penchant for doing so.
While his kingdom of Wakanda teeters on the brink of civil war, T’Challa — better known as the Black Panther — comes to America to get to the bottom of the death of a child who had benefitted from a charity he established in America. Everett K. Ross, a representative from the U.S. State Department, gets more than he bargained for when he hosts T’Challa and his entourage (two lovely but deadly young women and a tribal associate of the Panther’s father).
Priest has a reputation for telling stories out of chronological order, which can be quite dizzying at times for readers. He continues that tradition here, but at the same time, he makes fun of himself for doing so. The narrator is Ross, who is constantly berated for his non-chronological telling of his adventures with the Black Panther. Even though it can be a mite confusing at times, nobody tells a non-chronological story better than Priest. All the key information is there, and it’s rather fun to pluck it from the constantly shifting scenes. One of the things I loved about the media res approach is the fact that Priest gives the cliffhanger away on Page 3, and I was still struck by the final scene’s impact.
The reason I picked this book up (as if you haven’t figured that out yet) was for Priest’s ideas and dialogue. Imagine my delight to find some incredible art, the best stuff I’ve ever seen from Texeria. Is this painted? It certainly looks it. I would like to know what Quesada’s artistic contribution to this book is, though, as the credits are quite vague about it. Actually, Texeria is listed as one of the comic’s “scribes,” a term I equate with “writers.” The credits as a whole could use from clarification.
Anyhoo, back to the art. Texeria has always specialized in grit and darkness, and he brings that to this book. However, this time around, he also brings a strong sense of reality with this detailed, painted look. My only concern is his portrayal of Ross, who looks like he’s a
teenager at times.
“They took my pants.” Heh heh.
I think my favorite aspect of this comic was the sophistication Priest instils in the character of the Black Panther. T’Challa’s status as king and his African lineage play heavily (and appropriately) in Priest’s interpretation, but so does his more primal, vengeful side. Priest has brought some complex politics to the world of Wakanda as well, and I can’t wait to see how he develops both the country and the man who leads it.
At the time, I wasn’t assigning numerical values or assessments of the comics I was reviewing, but after rereading this review and the original comic itself, I can safely say it would have run in an easy 9/10.
Kudos to Priest and the many other contributors to the various Black Panther comics over the decades. The immense success of the new movie is due in no small part to your creativity. In a perfect world, you would reap the financial benefits of that success, but I hope the appreciation of new and old fans alike serves as an adequate substitute.