Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Volume 1
This is my first time actually sitting down and reading some of Christopher Priest's Black Panther run, so it's a little early for me to say for sure, but i'm fairly confident that this will go down as one of my favorite comic book runs in history. What you get from the series here is just that good. I've been aware of the Black Panther during most of my time reading comics and have even done an extensive amount of research into him in order to understand his character and more recent appearances he has made. I'm familiar with Priest and the impact he had on the character, but never found the time to pick up any of the older volumes featuring his Black Panther work. So this new volume, and the ones that come after it, seemed like the perfect chance for me to fill a gap in my comic collection. I think it's safe to say that Priest is the man that put Black Panther on the map and that were it not for this run the character probably wouldn't be getting a film next year. The fact that he is getting a film next year is then probably why Marvel chose to start reprinting Priest's work, so that new and old fans could have a treat to munch on before the main course.
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.