I always pick up any new #1 of Black Panther. I just can’t help myself because part of me is always hoping that they’ll do the character right. The quintessential interpretation of the Black Panther was Christopher Priest’s classic run on the book. In it, we saw a king ten steps ahead of anyone else, who had different character motivations, and who was a complex yet driven character. Reginald Hudlin generally continued in this vein, though to a much more hit and miss extent.
From the cover, we’re promised a female Black Panther. Unfortunately, this is the age of stories written for eventual collection into trade paperbacks, meaning that the initial storyline is 4-6 issues long and issue number one, with few exceptions, plays like an extended prologue. In other words, the promised female Black Panther doesn’t make an appearance in this issue.
However, the story picks up against the back drop of Marvel’s company-wide “Dark Reign” storyline (which boils down to Norman Osborn having been given the keys to the Marvel kingdom). The story unfolds in a fractured style, bouncing between past and present, taking a page from the Christopher Priest brand of storytelling. We have royalty (in the form of Prince Namor) seeking out an audience with T’Challa, with eventually another fallen monarch, Dr. Doom, making an appearance.
“They follow his every move. To say they worship him is not a figure of speech.”
The Black Panther is a book about a king protecting his kingdom. What I appreciate most about these characters is that it’s easy to forget that he and Namor aren’t typical of the spandex set. They are monarchs, with different agendas and kingdoms to protect and guide. The Black Panther, along with his new bride, Storm, is practically worshiped by his people.
The natural spiritual connection that stems from this is the idea of the “kingdom of God”. After all, Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand. But what does it mean? Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi, in his book Kingdom Come, defines it this way: “the kingdom of God is about the dynamic of God’s kingship being applied”. That is, God reigns and when that reign becomes specific one can say the kingdom of God is here. Jesus announces the near-arrival of the kingdom, this continuity between our here and now and a future heaven. His call was simply that all those who wanted to enter this kingdom simply had to repent and believe his gospel message. And we’re all invited into this kingdom.
Too much about the book reeks of hype, from the re-launch as a new number one (making this essentially volume 5 of the Black Panther) to the extension of the “Dark Reign” metanarrative to the promised female Black Panther to paying for a double-sized issue and only getting the standard length comic plus some filler, er, bonus material. Not exactly the best way to deliver on the hype.