Page 45 Review by Stephen
Christopher Priest is a very funny man.
"With an election a little more than a year away, it was good politics to do something nice for the African-American community. And, had I been in charge of the guest list and not the White House, I might have actually invited some of them. Outside of the king and his entourage, there wasn't another black person at the ball who wasn't carrying a tray."
Fifteen years ago there weren't too many superhero series that sent you scuttling for the nearest dictionary. But just as Jenkins & Jae Lee's INHUMANS graphic novel had been and remains a surprisingly thoughtful and visually stunning Gaiman-like outing for a group of Marvel characters previously displaying all the colour and charisma of a bridge-full of cardboard Star Trek standees left out in the rain and then dumped in a St. Annes communal waste tip, this 2001 BLACK PANTHER book comes in way beyond expectations as a sharply constructed (and visually stunning) action-romp/satire, merrily ripping the piss out of racial stereotyping, tokenism, Marvel icons, the FBI and inveterate ramblers - as in people who go off at a tangent, not those who go out in cagoules.
Like the con-man/crime series THIEF OF THIEVES, it's told to grin-cracking effect in nothing remotely resembling chronological order with a staccato series of ludicrous subheadings, some applying to one panel only, as government agent Everett K. Ross lamely attempts to justify his catastrophic series of diplomatic cock-ups to his girlfriend / boss, all of which begin when he's assigned to watch over the comings and goings on U.S. soil of T'Challa, king of the high-tech African nation Wakanda.
Not such an easy task given the client's devious nature and his propensity for slipping into coal-coloured rubber then jumping out of the nearest window.
Hold on, I've just said 'rubber'. As in spandex, right? Mmmmm. No. No, no, no. Well, yes.
T'Challa is the star of the book only in that he has his name on the title and acts as catalyst for all the misfortunes of fall-guy Everett K. Ross (Chandler from Friends provides the bumbling victim ingredient, James Fox in Spin City gives you a fair example of his status and looks). T'Challa does occasionally perform acts of extraordinary prowess and aggression (but then so would you if you'd been lured from your kingdom in the middle of some severe social upheaval to find the murderer of your personally funded U.S. children's charity poster-girl), but the star is most definitely Everett who struggles to keep up, pick up the pieces and avert several international 'incidents'.
Here's one of Ross and Nikki's attempts to get the story clear. She summarises thus:
"Giant rats. Teenage Amazons. The client tossing drug dealers."
"And Satan. You left out Satan. That's important."
"And then you lost your pants."
"Wrong. First we went out for Chinese take-out. Then I lost my pants."
Satan is supplied in the form of Marvel's Mephisto long before Kieron Gillen employed him to comedic effect in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY (highly recommended).
Interspersed between this nonsense are some enlightening thoughts on African politics, international subterfuge and social mores.
Mark Texeira had long established himself as a top-tier Marvel action artist with his neo-classical figure work and heavy modelling but, as directed by Priest, he here displays a hitherto undisclosed brilliance at dead-pan comedy with po-faced expressions and just the right number to beats between dialogue in the form of silent panels.
The longer the series progresses (this repackaging contains the first seventeen issues), the less Texeira there is, but I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Also recommended by the Reggie Hudlin & John Romita Jr, the later series: BLACK PANTHER: WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER?