Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #4: Black Panther

Real Name: T'Challa
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #52 (July, 1966)
Group Affiliation: Wakanda, Fantastic Four (former)
Gaming Credentials: Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2006); Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009)
Infinite Wars Ranking: #121

Last week, BigMex posted an enlightning post regarding Marvel's "new" animated series, Black Panther.
Adapted from the opening arc of Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr's 2005 revamp of the comic; the cartoon was actually previewed quite some time ago [at the July 2008 San Diego Comicon], and I have to admit, I'd all but forgotten about it! So nice work, BigMex!

The six episode animated series finally debuted in Australia (of all places), on the free-to-air digital children's station, ABC3. A joint production between Marvel Animation and Black Entertainment Television (BET); the series is an almost literal translation of Hudlin and Romita Jr's work on the comics, animated in a style reminiscent of recently popularized motion comics, which add limited animation to existing comic book art.

For those of us unwilling to accept the transition of internet flash animations to broadcast television, the stilted movements of comic book cut-outs ican be a little jarring on screen. With an open mind and a little adjustment time, the end result is actually surprisingly satisfying!

With twice Academy Award nominated actor, Djimon Hounsou, lending his Benin accent to the title role of Black Panther aka; T'Challa, there are fanboy fantasies to be fulfilled, following a long line of rumors that the actor might replace previously touted Wesley Snipes, in a live-action version.
A fact that speaks somewhat to the attempts to enfuse the comic with a greater sense of ethnic authenticity than is typical of this type of project.

John Romita Jr's artwork gains a new context from the manner in which everything is animated, and the voices that come out of each blocky, liney face. The entire project shifts away from familiar superheroics ala; Spider-man or any of Romita's other popular projects, and exudes a more exotic quality. My limited references look toward an almost retro European tone and rhythm to the show, with maybe a little hop hop fusion in the background, and interesting shadowy emphasis on a Black Panther, who is as uncompromising as he is successful.

It's interesting to think of the series as a possible introduction to the character, for a good many.
Despite being a regularly associated ally of the Fantastic Four, briefly joining their number, and having served extensively with the Avengers; Black Panther remains one of the more obscure second tier heroes, minimalized partially, perhaps, because of his specific demographic. It's something that tends to happen a lot in American comics, which, as a silver lining, makes the animated series all the more intriguing and fresh.

These days the vogue for animated series seems to be more faithfully inspired by the comics themselves, boasting a lot of once unlikely guest stars. Black Panther can't quite compete with the likes of Batman: Brave and the Bold or even Super Hero Squad, but is noteworthy to the Marvel fan for the inclusion of characters like Ulysses Klaw, Black Knight, a Radioactive Man, and Batroc the Leaper, new models of Deathlok (who are suitably spooky), and Storm -- the African X-Woman who went on to marry Black Panther in later issues of the comic series.

As a six episode animated series, it's utterly fascinating. A remarkable trinket if it ever makes it to DVD, perhaps to be the only of it's kind as Marvel explores their new relationship with Disney. As a representation of the character, it's not surprising that it's a fanboy's delight -- it's literally the first six issues of the 2005 series! Well worth a look for anyone, particularly if you wondered who the character was during his appearance as a playable character in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance -- itself a curiosity, likely sponsored by Marvel's push for the Storm/Black Panther Wakandan union!

Best of all, it's got as many smarts as it does muscles.
Though still relatively uncomplicated, Black Panther jostles as much with his role as a national leader (in fictional Wakanda), as he does with his nemesis, Klaw. There's a relationship with the US, neighbouring nations, on the Panther's mind, as well as flying around on hi-tech bikes and kicking guys in the face!

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