Who Is The Black Panther?


Cover art by Todd Nauck and Rachelle Rosenberg

I really enjoy graphic novels. I mean REALLY enjoy graphic novels, like to the extent I'll take out 5-7 at a time from the library to read on my commutes to work or on short trips. I enjoy the panels and the art and creativity that the graphic novel form allows. And the best part about the graphic novel is it allows a complete or mostly complete story to be told in one collected edition.

With that being said, I have to admit that with the sheer volume of both old and new graphic novels I go through my memory of what happened in each volume gets murky. Superhero fans can tell you that some adventures begin to blend together, get repetitive and if you are invested for a long time in a character/series, the continuity will wreck your brain trying to stay organized and current on a character.

Which brings me back to my old love of regular books.

Regular novels give me great joy because they can allow my imagination to wander even further than a graphic novel. The comic book format allows for greater expression than pretty much any other form of visual media. You aren't restricted in comic books as much as you are in television or movies. Your budget for imagery and special effects isn't a limited equation controlled by studios. Exotic galactic explosions, crazy maneuvers by characters, diversity of alien forms- all of these are much easier to achieve in the graphic medium of comic books. A novel is slightly better to me because it takes the graphic novel to the next level. It allows me to use the greatest tool of creativity- my own imagination.

This is very true in this story of T'Challa by Jesse J. Holland.

Becoming the Black Panther by John Romita Jr.
I vaguely remember reading the original graphic novel that this novel was adopted from. That's not a judgment on the simply amazing work of Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr. They crafted a well written visual tale of the Black Panther defending his nation from outside forces. It's a good read that I would recommend if you want to see action and don't have the time to get through a full novel. If you do have the time, read it AND this book.

Holland builds on the framework given to us by Hudlin and Romita, Jr. He takes the character of T'Challa and expands on the history of  his family. Holland gives us more insight to the characters surrounding the Black Panther, like his personal all-female bodyguard force of Dora Milaje, particularly Okoye and Nakia.

This book is about Wakanda and T'Challa specifically trying to decide the fate of the future direction of their nation. Wakanda is the most technologically advanced country on Earth and also an extremely isolationist state. The question that is always asked when Wakandans deal with the outside world is how much of their knowledge and their precious metal vibranium should they share. Wakanda has endured and repelled attacks from other countries and has never been invaded. This is a key factor in the plot and is the basis of how America and the world deals with the Wakandan force.

This book starts with a terrorists attack by white supremacists in America that is thwarted by the Black Panther who is in America on strictly a dignitary purpose. The description of this scene and how he handles it is amazing in written form. It is also a catalyst for the more militaristic parts of our country to try to "affect regime change" in Wakanda which is an absolutely bad idea that is shown in this shared scene in the book and graphic novel.

Serving Captain America.
Everett Ross tells the hostile U.S. General Matigan about our first encounter with Wakanda and a Black Panther. T'Challa's grandfather encounters Captain America trying to pursue Nazis that have fled into Wakanda. They have already been dealt with by beheading but Cap and the American soldiers wanted to "assist" the Wakandan warriors. You can see how that turned out above. This is a great scene but it is even better in written form where it was expanded on and more details were given to craft a greater visual narrative in your mind.

Anyway, Matigan doesn't listen and with the aid of corporate leaders hires the Belgian villain Ulysses Klaue to assemble a team to cause disruptions in Wakanda so the United States and allies can invade...excuse me, "assist" the Wakandans in rebuilding and defending their nation. Klaw has a long history in the comics with the Black Panther and in this version it is even more personal. Klaw's grandfather was killed by Wakandans during an attempted invasion. Later Klaw assassinated T'Challa's father in front of him while they were on a diplomatic mission to the States. (Sidenote- the description of the meeting during this visit is super bad ass. Super bad ass) Klaw was taken out by T'Challa before he could kill the rest of his family. There are other connected repercussions to this event but the backstory between this hitman and the royal family of Wakanda gives more weight to the long running feud they have in the comics that is soon to be explored on the big screen in February 2018.
Sound and fury. Literally.
Klaw is given a lot of money and comes up with a plan to get his revenge and destabilize the nation of Wakanda. He assembles a team including the armies of neighboring nation of Niganda, the Radioactive Man, The Rhino, The Black Knight and the French mercenary Georges Batroc aka Batroc the Leaper. The inclusion of Batroc in this story is what really sells me on the novel format versus the graphic novel format here. I'm very meh on the character of Batroc, even in the Winter Soldier film. He is always portrayed as an accomplished but stereotypical French villain with a pretty silly costume. Batroc is pretty typical villain fodder for Captain America to punch in the face. In this story, he is a mercenary with a code.

Such a terrible mustache.
Batroc has lines he doesn't cross and actions he doesn't approve of being performed by his fellow villains. He still has the silly mustache but thinks The Rhino randomly killing animals is pointless and juvenile if not outright cruel. Batroc also doesn't agree with the Prime Minister of Niganda's treatment of his people who live in poverty while he lives in opulence. The Prime Minister abuses his staff for no real reason and Batroc is not a fan.

This is not to say Batroc is a good guy. He IS a mercenary and has no qualms with wrecking governments and killing people. In fact he sees the potential in Niganda's failure in government as potential for him to get paid in the future. Sure he doesn't like how Prime Minister M'Butu is behaving but he won't pass on an opportunity to profit from his actions down the line. He is about his money.

This book was a fun read and built on what I already hazily remembered from the graphic novel. It reaffirmed my love for the character of Black Panther. I think it would make someone become a new fan of this hero and the people of his country. Characters are given three dimensional substance and a big tale is presented with personal touches and interactions. History is important to the Wakandans and the Black Panther but so is the future. This novel by Jesse J. Holland shows that clearly and if you like the following panel trust me it's even better in the book.

That Panther is a BAD CAT.

Sean Fields is an aspiring writer and has been in the education field for more than a decade. He works mostly with teenagers nowadays which both keeps him well informed on pop culture and makes his hair turn grayer daily. He has a few blogs but is currently focused on this one and this other one. You can also find him on TumblrTwitter and Instagram, if you want to be entertained or infuriated.
Who Is The Black Panther? Who Is The Black Panther? Reviewed by Sean Fields on Wednesday, November 01, 2017 Rating: 5
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