Tinker, Tailor, Avenger, Spy: Reviewing ‘Black Panther’ #1
by Scott Redmond
It’s a bold new day in Wakanda as the latest Black Panther series dives deep into political and social realms while diving deeply into the shadowy realms of spy stories. The oversized debut issue has a lot to say wrapped up in a truly gorgeous and cinematic-like presentation that is worth the price of admission alone.
Any time one chooses to engage with any form of art/entertainment there is the chance that said art/entertainment will be something that changes your life or sticks with you forever or becomes an instant favorite to be revisited for all times. There are other times where this art/entertainment will be something that either turns you off or feels wrong or angers you or maybe just something you shrug at and move on.
Then there are the pieces of art/entertainment that are perfectly fine but leave you not really feeling too much in either direction. There is nothing wrong with these pieces, not all things are the best or the worst, just being something entertaining is often all that we need from things.
Somewhere in this middle space is where the first issue of the new Black Panther series falls.
T’Challa and all of Wakanda’s star is soaring pretty high these days as the characters and country have hit the big and small screen in various ways and have reached a point where tons more people are aware of how awesome they are. In the comics realm, the character just came out of an almost five-year overhauling defining type run from Ta-Nehisi Coates and a bevy of artistic collaborators. With a sequel film on the way, a Disney Plus + show (as well as character guest spots in other shows), and more it was a given that Marvel’s publishing side would keep the printed adventures going with a new team.
Announced earlier this year (then delayed a few months), the new volume comes from screenwriter John Ridley, who made the leap into comics over at the distinguished competition recently, artist Juann Cabal, colorist Federico Blee, and letterer Joe Sabino.
Let me be clear here, I’m very much leaning more towards the side of liking this book and seeing that it has a lot of potential for where it can go. The longer page count is not wasted, as every page is filled because this book just keeps throwing thing after thing after thing (a lot of conversations, many of them very interesting) at the reader. If one is coming into this book hoping for wall-to-wall superhero action, they have chosen the wrong book.
There is action here, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of this book is very much about social and political aspects. There are many conversations about what the role of a leader is, the pros and cons of Democracy vs Monarchy/Dictatorships, issues with the world, threats to places like Wakanda, and much more. This is right in Ridley’s wheelhouse if one considers some of the films/stories he’s written and the work he’s currently doing with the new Batman stories over at DC Comics currently.
Cabal and Blee are a perfect team, as the book is just gorgeous from beginning to end, no questions asked. Whether it’s the action scenes that kick stuff off or the various talking head style pages it all just looks great and has a lot of energy to it. There is a lot of brightness with Blee’s colors, and it really makes things pop and stand out especially with the way that Cabal handles paneling, going for shifting panel sizes with stark black borders in some cases than bright white ones in others.
In many ways, the shifting of the panels both in size and shape as well as number almost feels cinematic in a sense. Like zooming in and doing close-ups and establishing shots. It especially resonates since at its heart this is being billed as a political thriller spy story. Quickly have to say that when an artist breaks the borders of a panel entirely and has things exist outside the box, I love it instantly.
Not only is it gorgeous and cinematic, but the pages are so detailed and capture all of the emotion so vividly. The body language and facial expressions are nailed each and every single time, while making sure that the surroundings are clear and filled in, to the smallest details. There are many reasons that Cabal is one of the artists being promoted and highlighted in Marvel’s Stormbreakers program.
Part of the visual appeal is how solidly Sabino handles the lettering here, making sure that it dances and flows around the pages to match the style of these shifting panels. Caption boxes hug the sides of panels, as the dialogue bubbles find the right spaces to flirt between parts of the art while not taking away from any particular bit of art.
There is a sparse amount of SFX compared to other books, but when it’s used its effective. While the SFX all have their own energy and style, one of them taking up the entire background of a striking panel, there is some uniformity to some of the SFX which actually works well while a few others are doing their own thing.
This series has a pretty solid foundation that it’s being built upon, and the stuff teased at the end looks to be really fun. There is a ton of potential to the book as a whole, and the graphic side is already nailing it. It would delight me greatly if in an issue or two I could start off by totally knocking down my intro paragraphs here, laughing at my past self. I have faith in this creative team to reach that point.
Black Panther #1 is now on sale in print and digitally from Marvel Comics.