Monday, October 22, 2007

World Tour Part One: Holiday in Latveria
(Marvel comics)
Black Panther #19 When: October 2006
Why: Reginald Hudlin How: Scot Eaton

The story so far...
It was the wedding of an African king and goddess on Earth bringing together not only powers of political and mutant natures, but also the fractured superhero community of America, who partook in a brief cease-fire for the occasion, leaving their ideals at the door.

Wakanda's Black Panther, and the Kenyan mutant, Storm, would not only marry as lovers, but as two potential world powers the likes of which the world have never seen. Thus, the honeymoon is over quickly as the couple head to Latveria to respond to a message of concern from Victor Von Doom.

Responding to Doom's invitation to air greivances of international paranoia for the couple's power, and their relations between an America in the wake of the registration civil war; T'Challa and Ororo make the trek to Castle Doomstadt.
Slightly repulsed by Doom's dictatorial hold, the couple maintain diplomacy for the beginning of their world tour, prepared to fight if necessary.

Previous Form:
Black Panther (#231): Joined the Fantastic Four and Doom in battle against Super-Skrull.
Storm (#24): Team victories over Ahab & Atlantis, with a solo over Wonder Woman.
Dr. Doom (#56): Doom has orchestrated victories over Thing and Silver Surfer.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Dr. Doom 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Dr. Doom 6 (Genius)
Speed: Black Panther 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Dr. Doom 6 (Generator)
Agility: Black Panther 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Black Panther 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Storm 5 (Lasers)

- T'Challa is the monarch of the African nation of Wakanda, rich in vibranium. As ruler he has inherited not only the responsibilities of a country, but also the power and training of the Black Panther. This includes physical training to the peak of human conditioning, enhanced primal senses, advanced tracking skills, and impressive speed and agility.

Black Panther also possesses a wide arsenal of weaponry of his own design, stemming from a keen intellect with specific penache for mechanical engineering. Though typically reliant upon his natural fighting skills, the suit has commonly included claws, throwing weapons, and climbing equipment.

Black Panther is also a keen analyst and strategist.

- Ororo Munroe is a former leader of the X-Men, and mutant once worshiped in her native Kenya as a goddess for her powers to influence weather as Storm.

Where's VICTOR? Hint: The realy Von Doom has a cloak, while the others have only tunics.Her inherent mutant powers include the ability to ride controlled gusts of wind that facilitate flight, direct bolts of lightning at intended targets, summon arctic winds and snow, and control fog. Storm is also a well trained fighter in hand-to-hand combat, though not typically known for it.

- As monarch of Latveria, Victor Von Doom possesses much of the same power and responsibility as Black Panther. Doom's total control over his tiny European nation perhaps provides him with greater funds, allowing him to better exercise his defensive inventions to include an army of doombots, and many other cover weaponries.

Like T'Challa, Doom is a keen strategist, often employing an array of contingency plans, and Doombot decoys to manipulate situations to his favour.

Doom is also versed in the mystic arts, making for a dense defensive against all attacks. Doom's greatest weaknesses remain his total arrogance, and obsession with arch-nemesis, Reed Richards. Even so, these weaknesses are likewise prevelant in any analysis of his strengths, proving to be great motivators for Doom's preemptive strategies.

The Math: Dr. Doom The Pick: Dr. Doom

What went down...
Doom greets his guests with a conventional wedding gift, glasswork from Lalique, a token gesture and metaphor for Doom's opinion of the world -- beautiful but fragile. On this premise, Doom puts forward his political concerns in a climate created by the superhero civil war, regarding Tony Stark, SHIELD and a United States government at war.

Unwilling to indulge Doom in theatrics, Black Panther, having seen through the automaton that greeted he and his queen, demands the real Doom show himself. The lack of human musk the catalyst for the reveal, Doom acknowledges the fault of his perfections. It's a point that raises the race card, and a caged clash of machismo between the two world powers.

Doom rights the derailed meeting, proposing an unlikely alliance between Wakanda and Latveria as nations with superpowered interests. Despite a convincing argument of negative world views, T'Challa and Ororo respectfully decline Doom's proposals, a rejection that incurs the ire of Doom.

Like termites from the woodwork, an army of Doombots emerge from every crevice and cranny of Castle Doomstadt. Accepting the inevitable, Black Panther and Storm begin tearing through the automated visages of Dr. Doom.

Storm calls down a bolt of lightning to strike the true Doom, recalling a debt owed from a previous encounter. Alas, Doom's technologies ensure he is unharmed by even the unfiltered power or nature.

Directing Storm to turn her powers on the army of robots, Black Panther opts to meet Doom's arrogance on more personal grounds, revealing hidden armor from within his costume. Doom is unimpressed, prompting a further battle of wills.

Doom meets Panther head-on in a contest of hand-to-hand, and verbal combat.
The Panther proves the victor, pressing the advantage of his superior fighting skills, along with testosterone driven trivia regarding the origins of his armor.

Meanwhile, Storm continues to call upon lightning to cut through the endless hordes of Doombots that confront her. The Panther emplores Doom to keep the fight between the two of them with a stern warning that Doom finds uncompelling, under the illusion of total dominance from within his fortress.

In response, the Panther remotely activates his jet outside. Doombots respond with force, but the Panther's trump card proves to be an Electro-Magnetic Pulse that obliterates the function of the Doombots stationed, and reduces Latveria to a blackout.

Black Panther boasts the crippling effects of his EMP, but under estimates Doom's enginuity.
Assuming his armor would be likewise effected, it is a harsh correction when Doom leaps freely at his foe, unhindered and with the fury of an entire nation.

The left hand of Doom sends Black Panther flying through the air into shelving and trinkets. The Latverian continues the assault, pursuing right that again sends the light-armored Panther airborne.

With T'Challa by the throat, Von Doom parades his strengths and the marvels of his highly sophisticated armor. It is the intervention of Storm and a massive gale force wind that frees the Wakandan King, whose pride is wounded far greater than his body. He lashes out as his queen for interfering.

Slumped against the debris of his possessions, Doom mocks T'Challa's romantic tiff. He compares the marriage to his own travels in hell, remarking, "I escape from Hell. But you -- You have willingly entered it! Hahaha..."

With that, the King leaves with his Queen, and the two reconcile with a kiss and a little comedy gold; "Not everything can be resolved with a kiss, Ororo." "How do you know? Did you ever try and kiss Doom?"

The hammer...
And after a hard fought battle, Storm and Black Panther walk away with a well earned win. This makes Doom 1-3 in our month of Doom, a special extension of Marvel Ultimate Alliance Mondays.
If you're just joining us, or a regular, look forward to next month's Punch-Up where we'll be doing a recap of all the characters featured.

You can also look forward to a vaguely spooky theme as we spend the rest of the month featuring the darkside in the countdown to all hallow's eve. For the sake of my own justification, I like to think Doom is vaguely appopriate for Halloween, what with the spooky armor, European accent, and gnarly Kreuger-esque facial burns.

Speaking of horrors, we spent some time during the lead-up to the wedding speculating how it might effect the characters, but haven't really revisited the situation since. For those who don't know; Black Panther and Storm made international press headlines when Marvel announced their wedding in 2006, which eventually unfolded in the pages of Black Panther [#18].

With the Panther having endured mixed reactions for a new on-going series, it was Storm who seemed likely to benefit the most from the high profile marriage. The X-Man had fallen into relative obscurity as the X-franchise rolled on with the inclusion X-Treme to an already bloated franchise.

I think it's safe to say, to some degree, it turned out as expected.
The couple were thrust into a prominent spotlight with a replacement spot on the Fantastic Four, giving Reed Richards and Sue Storm an opportunity to reconcile in the aftermath of the Civil War. Unfortunately, to some, this tenure has been cut short in favour of returning Reed and Sue to fulltime membership for a run with high-profile creators, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch.

In the most recent episode of the iFanboy podcast, the subject of marriage in superhero fiction was [again] raised by a fan letter. The iFanboy gang have shared an opinion much the same as Doom, referring to marriage as a creative blanket, likely to smother the interest that brought A and B together.

For the most part it's hard to fault their examples.
Characters like Jean Grey and Cyclops benefitted little from their union, likewise it's debatable if the Superman/Lois Lane relationship ever lived up to the hype of the pre-game entertainment. Of course, these are references all foot-noted by certain handicaps not at all inherent to the marriages themselves.

The X-Men series, particularly through the nineties, has always had a tenuous relationship with "good writing", and as one of the most visible pop culture references in corporate America; Superman struggles with development in any sense, let alone some of the more interesting conclusions to be reached through a married character in his predicament.

I'm almost universally an advocate of the theory that anything can work given the right circumstances, and certainly marriage falls swiftly into that category.
I would probably cite Black Panther/Storm as one of the better marriages to come of recent years. Aside from the fact Storm didn't feel it necessary to stab T'Challa in the neck on their wedding night -- you have two characters who otherwise teeter around the B-list, benefitting from the sum of the two parts.

Top 25 Knot-tiers
#1 Spider-man (Mary-Jane)
#2 Batman (Catwoman)
#3 Wolverine (Madame Hydra)
#4 Superman (Lois Lane)
#5 Mr. Fantastic (Sue Storm)
#6 Black Adam (Unknown)
#7 Invisible Woman (Mr. Fantastic)
#8 Daredevil (Milla)
#9 Green Arrow (Black Canary)
#10 Luke Cage (Jessica Jones)
#11 Storm (Black Panther)
#12 Wasp (Yellow-Jacket)
#13 Flash (Linda Park)
#14 Flash (Iris West)
#15 Guile (Julie)
#16 Jean Grey (Cyclops)
#17 Yellowjacket (Wasp)
#18 Wonder Woman (Steve Trevor)
#19 Cyclops (Jean Grey)
#20 Ken Masters (Eliza)
#21 Atom (Jean Loring)
#22 Black Bolt (Medusa)
#23 Banshee (Maeve Rourke)
#24 Medusa (Black Bolt)
#25 Vision (Scarlet Witch)
Creatively things might have cooled down with the meshing of franchise [with FF], but the underlying potential of a political power o this nature remains.
This very storyline, World Tour, highlights the diversity of characters they can logically come into contact with, not only big hitters like the Sub-Mariner and Dr. Doom, but also peripheral extensions, particularly of the American hero contingent that Black Panther inevitably came into conflict with.

It's in titles like DC's Checkmate where the pseudo-political meets superhero in a fashion that is just the kind of thing I could see the Black Panther title carrying, if the characters are able to overcome their obligatory appearances elsewhere.
Of course, Storm was always going to have her obligations to the X-Men in the background, particularly given the freedom afforded to superstar creators like Millar [or Ed Brubaker], but with any luck a dedicated focus on the pair will eventuate [as opposed to just focus on Storm's pair... o' buttcheeks].

The "Spider-Marriage" is always a hot topic of debate, and I fall on the side of liking it. For my money, there's absolutely nothing you really need from a swinging bachelor Peter Parker, that can't still be translated into a contemporary Spider-man. Many of the people against the Spider-Marriage refer to what supposedly made the character great in his earliest incarnations, ignoring the conflicting fact that "nerd" Parker preceded the 'scarlet date pimp'.

In the most recent case of Civil War, where the greatest ramification of Peter Parker revealing his identity was the threat to his wife and aunt, I think the drama probably had a greater weight to it than if MJ was just a girlfriend.

Regardless of the specifics, however, I feel characters need to develop and move forward, and marriage is just a part of that. There is nothing inherent to a marital situation that should close off a superhero whose drama chiefly comes from the changing world they live in, and the many threats real and imagined within it. I think this is true for Black Panther and Storm, and I hope the characters can develop in a way that is more central and specific to them.

Of all the super-marriages, they may just be primed to be the ones that make the most sense, to the most people. With celebrity power-couples just barely a topical reference point, the political pairing of these two has a context everyone can relate to, which is perhaps the factor missing from something like the stagnant Superman-marriage.

NOTE: Another marriage that proved to be successful was the Phantom's marriage to sixty-year sweetheart, Diana Palmer. Of course, the Phantom's relevance to American comics readers unfortunately undermines that point.

NOTE #2: Had that trouble with scanning that makes us seem unfortunately human and makes the artwork look water-damaged and streaky. Apologies to anyone with a violent aversion to unsolicited vertical lines.

The Fight: 5.5 The Issue: 5.5

[It's worth noting that Eaton's artwork here is quite superb, with Andrew Hennessy's inks and Dean White's colours occasionally letting it down. Pages with confident blacks, and solid colours are vibrant and exciting, while others appear a little washed out, and sketchy. The black and yellow of Storm's costume is especially vibrant in flatter looking scenes!]

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