03 February 2005

Review: Black Panther #1

The opening story arc is called "Who is the Black Panther" for a reason, and it is for that reason that T'Challa, the Black Panther most people know, does not appear in this issue. In fact, while writer Reginald Hudlin has said he'd be using elements of Christopher J. Priest's critically-acclaimed, if not overwhelmingly supported, run, it seems that he's looking to make good on his promise that "by the end of the second arc, the character will never be seen the same way again."

So far, so good.

While most comic book fans know the Black Panther by name, relatively few know much about him, never mind the fact that "he" is not a single person, but a position of power and honor that is handed down from generation to generation, the leader of his people. As such, complaints about T'Challa not appearing in the issue miss the point. Wakanda is as much a part of the Black Panther's identity as Uncle Ben is to Spider-Man's, so it makes sense that Hudlin takes the time to explore its history first, offering a stronger context to present the Panther to a new, and hopefully larger, audience. More than makes sense, I'd say it's crucial to the success of his intended elevation into the upper echelon of the Marvel Universe where he belongs.

My favorite scene was the racist General sputtering "BULL!" in response to Everett K. Ross' story of how the Black Panther defeated Captain America during WWII. And how he has to be restrained as Ross adds, "If it makes you feel better, he beat the Fantastic Four..." It reminded me of the internet fanboys getting all up in arms, as if there was some dishonor in Cap being beaten by the Panther. Brought a wry smile to my lips.

Hudlin said he was aiming for "social satire" with this series and that's what he's delivering here, all in the midst of a solid introductory issue. While a bit ham-handed at times, it's not the least bit ineffective.

Call me a dirty liberal but the racist General worked for me, as his "jungle bunnies" comment in front of "Dondi Reese," the Condoleeza Rice analogue, was as much a statement about how people of color in high-ranking positions are often "whitewashed," as it was a reflection of the still prevalent dismissal of the entire continent of Africa as being an uncivilized jungle. Why the idea of a technologically advanced, never colonized African nation like Wakanda offends some fanboys, while places like Latveria and Genosha go unquestioned, confounds me! (Actually, not really, but I dealt with that topic already.)

As for the art, John Romita, Jr. has a new fan. Absolutely amazing! His layouts beautifully evoke the multiple eras depicted, and Janson's inks complement his work perfectly, as does Dean White's coloring.

Also, there's a placeholder for a letters page - a welcome return that is working quite nicely over in the New Avengers - with some more great artwork, presumably scenes from the next issue.

Overall, a promising start to a comic book that will be firmly planted on my regular pull list for at least the next year. So much so, I broke my rule against variant covers and bought that version, too!


Greg said...

I have no interest in buying this, for various reasons, but I can still comment on it! First, I think the idea of Wakanda as an unconquered African country is freakin' fantastic, and if I read that Hudlin is doing some things with its history, I might actually get interested. In my dream world (when I'm writing X-Men) T'Challa plays a big role in international politics. Of course, I love the history of imperialism, and a country like Ethiopia, which successfully resisted European colonization, is neat. Second, I object to the racist general simply because he was so ridiculously over-the-top. I'm sure there are plenty of racists in high command, but to show he's racist by using a stupid term like "jungle-bunny" in front of the Secretary of State (or whatever government position "Reese" occupies) is just silly and below a good writer. The fact that the general can't believe Black Panther beat Captain America shows his racism much more subtly. I would love an examination of racism in this comic (another reason I might pick up the book), but not if Hudlin's going to hit us over the head with it. The only Priest issues I read were the first few (collected in trade) and he made some points about racism much more subtly.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Greg, I see your point, which is why I noted in the review that Hudlin was "a bit ham-handed at times" in this issue. Funny thing about dealing with racism, though, is that there is not a clear-cut way to do it. The very nature of the subject is controversial and for some people, even acknowledging its existence is offensive. While I don't expect Hudlin to "hit us over the head with it," I do suspect it's going to be more than subtext during his run. And in the context he's setting for the series, I'd say deservedly so.

As to the anachronistic dialogue - speaking to the review now, not directly to Greg - Hudlin has been quoted as follows:

"I promised I wasn't going to be the guy who jumps on line to answer every negative comment about the book and I'm not.

But this complaint about modern language needs to be addressed. It's called transliteration, it's properly translating someone's words so they sound like what the person really said. If you've watched a foriegn film and heard the people in the theatre who speak the language laugh while you are stuck with subtitles that don't convey the humor, you know the difference between when a film translation captures the spirit of colloqualisms, and when they don't.

When my first film debuted in Italy, I worked with an American who spoke Italian and a Italian who spoke English to translate black American slang into phrases that would play locally. It was worth the effort.

I know there are readers that are so used to any native characters (African, American Indians, etc.) speak in stilted language ("Him Panther - Big Chief these parts!"), that you can't imagine that those people don't actually speak that way.

Furthermore, certain terms and concepts, like cool and funk (to name two) are African-derived words. Read FLASH OF THE SPIRIT by professor Robert Farris Thompson (of Yale University) for more information."

Ryan Murray said...

I didn't care for the General's slip of tongue for two reasons. First, I don't buy a high ranking military official speaking like that in a meeting, especially one with an African American present. Second, as allegory, it doesn't work for me. That scene is a mock up of the Bush whitehouse. The same whitehouse that just promoted Condaleeza (sp?) Rice to Secratary of State. Hardly indicative of a discriminatory government.

I get what Hudlin was trying to say with that scene, I just think it was the wrong place to do it. There are many more implications when those words are uttered in the whitehouse than say a corporate board room. I just felt like there were a lot more effective places that point could have been made.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

re: General Wallace, I offer Strom Thurmond, head of the Armed Services Committee until 1999, former segregationist Presidential candidate, and the longest tenured Senator in ou history. While he may have softened his views publicly, the man lived and died an outright racist. To think he's but a single bad apple in the otherwise noble realm of US politics is to deny reality.

As for Reese/Rice, I'd venture to guess that Hudlin simply doesn't like or respect her, as many African-Americans do not, and demonstrated that by having the General make such a careless statement - a statement that was very common in his day - in her presence. He says it himself: "They're nothing like you." Her being at that level in the administration, she is no longer seen as being a black woman, similar to the way Clarence Thomas and, to a lesser degree, Colin Powell are perceived. She plays the game and is welcomed on the team. They become separated from their racial heritage and the baggage it brings with it, seen as defying the stereotypes so many people actually believe in, seen as not being "like them." I've been on the receiving end of similar comments so I understand where Hudlin's coming from.

As for the "implications" of such a comment being made in the White House, I think that's exactly what Hudlin was going for. Interestingly, given Marvel Comics' reputation for its characters existing in the real world, I'm curious to see just how far they let Hudlin go with this angle.

Mind you, though, it's ONE character in the scene being represented this way. No one else in the room steps forward to defend him and he is ultimately thrown out of the room. Hudlin's no Louis Farrakhan; I think he'll handle the whole situation just fine. If he doesn't, believe me, I'll be one of the first people to call him on it.

Jim said...

Speaking as a typical aging white-guy comics fan, while the "jungle bunnies" remark jumped out at me as something that Would Not Get Said in such a meeting, I took it in the spirit of satire. It's actually an important marker of the tone of the book, I think. (Coincidentally, I reread John Holbo's big long blog item from last summer about the distinction between "subcreations" and "dreamworks" in comics writing and literature the same day I got BP#1. Point being I think BP#1 works very well as one of Holbo's dreamworks.)

Also, Hudlin may not like Condi Rice any more than many African Americans do, but I thought DONDI REECE came off okay in that scene: she doesn't shrug off the slur but throws it right back in his face. I'll be interested to see what more Hudlin does with the character. And I don't like her much myself.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

[reposted comment for formatting.]
Wow, great article! My head's about to explode and I'm about ready to sell half my collection on eBay! Thanks for pointing it out. (Check it out here.)

And I agree with you on BP being more dreamwork vs. subcreation.