Advance Review: The Black Panther Annual Is A Purr-fect Combination Of Past, Present And Future

by Oliver MacNamee

With the movie out this weekend, it seemed fitting to shine a light on next week’s Black Panther Annual #1 that brings together some of T’Challa’s most famous scribes as well as three top notch artists too, in three tales that not only set up the next story arc for the regular series, but also a story from an ‘alternate past’ and one from an ‘alternate future’ that surely must be returned back to at a later date, given how intriguing the future looks with Black Panther and Wakanda standing tall as rulers of the world! But, more on this very fascinating story later.

First, the main event, and the only story set in current continuity. Christopher Priest, who’s kicking it on DC’s Deathstroke, brings back a very familiar face to Panther fans in Everett K. Ross (who just happens to make an appearance in the new film as played by Bilbo Baggins), a character Priest himself created and one who, in this opener, sees himself promoted and therefore no longer a kitty sitter. Yet, that still doesn’t stop this wise-cracking Fed getting into trouble and back into a partnership with Panther. He runs across some of Wakanda’s Special Police, led by hard ass, Hunter the White Wolf and ends up trapped and about to be fed to sharks. As you do. Great old-school take down, Priest. But, where were the lasers on their heads?

Mike Perkins’ art, with its swathing and swarthy shadows and menacing mood reminds us that the stakes here are high, even if Ross would rather be anywhere else. After all, as he continually tells us (well, no-one’s listening to him in the story, that’s for sure) he’s been promoted to a C-7; he doesn’t do this kinda thing anymore.

It’s fine line one treads when injecting humour into so much potential deadly drama, but Priest does it easily. And, I imagine Ross will continue to add comedic relief from the forthcoming action as this story unfolds in the next issue. The final splash page, by Perkins, really captures the strength, agility and power of a hero who has rightfully earned his place amongst Marvel’s powerhouses. You can almost feel his thigh muscles tighten as he’s about to pounce. I can forgive him not giving the sharks lasers for this one shot alone.

Meanwhile, in an alternate past, writer Don McGregor and artist Daniel Acuña tell the tale of a younger T’Challa and one of remembrance, acceptance and tragedy that no hero – super, royal, or otherwise – could ever be prepared for, let alone fight, as The Black Panther remembers his past love, Monica Lynne. Its a story made even more poignant with the heartfelt remembrance McGregor places at the start of this clearly personally felt story to Rich Buckler and Billy Graham, with Buckler only lost to us last year. Graham past in 1999, but those of us who have lost loved ones never forget.

Acuña’s art is far more defined than I remember it, with stronger outlines around the figures that pop out against the shadings and almost painted backgrounds. Hats off to Will Moss for placing this as the second story. Its a bit of a weepie and one you wouldn’t want to finish on. Not when the final strip (only 6 pages long!) gives us a vision of an alternate future (aren’t they all alternate?) that is well realised, logically plotted (thanks to Reggie Hudlin) and, in the context of the Marvel Universe, a promising future in which King T’Challa becomes benevolent ruler of the world almost by accident rather than by design.

And, in its race to tell decades worth of untold stories, it will leave any reader wanting more! I must admit, this is part 2, but I haven’t read the first part, nor do you need to, given it was published in 2008’s Black Panther Annual. This is very much a done in one story. For now. But, like a vibranium mine, its too rich, too tantalising a story not to dig into at some future date, I imagine. Just don’t go leaving it another ten years, Reggie, please.

Ken Lashley on art duties packs a lot into these pages, with a future in which Panther and Storm were still married and tried to unite not only the world but Mutant kind, too. Although, like many other wars of the past, at a very human cost. Who needs Old Man Logan when surely Marvel will soon be working on an Old Man T’Challa series once this book drops on February 21st and fans, like myself, will call for more!

So, as you make your way to your local cinema or multiplex this weekend, maybe tell that non-comic-buying friend of yours about this top title. A comic that pays homage to the past, looks to a possible future and kicks off the next high octane fueled adventure in the present too. A purr-fect combination and a great jump on point for anyone wanting more of Wakanda, T’Challa and Black Panther. And, like LL Cool J, you too can walk with a panther!

Black Panther Annual #1 is out Wednesday, the 21st of February from Marvel Comics.