Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

28 April 2009

Black Panther by Jack Kirby, v. 2

Collects: Black Panther #8-13 (1978-9)

Released: July 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 112 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785120698

What is this?: Black Panther (and his royal cousins) subdue a mutated Wakandan before he destroys the world and fight Kiber the Cruel.

The culprits: Jack Kirby, with a one-issue wrap up by Jim Shooter, Ed Hannigan, and Jerry Bingham

I have a confession to make: I don’t like Jack Kirby’s art. I’ve probably said it elsewhere, but it’s worth repeating for this review: I just don’t like his style. People are ugly, even the pretty ones. He has wacky perspectives I just don’t get, and often the way he draws eyes makes his characters look somewhere between manic and insane. In some of his action scenes, his figures look posed in the most uncomfortable positions. The “Kirby Krackle” and his intricate machines have never really done anything for me.

Now, I admit his art was innovative — or at least I’ve been told that so many times that I have to accept it. His art in 1961 is quite different than what you see from artists in the ‘50s, but so is Steve Ditko’s and others’; I just have to take on faith that the innovation flows from and through him. I do admire Kirby’s imagination, though, both in his art and his writing — especially his writing. Kirby, along with Steve Gerber, were underappreciated writers in the ‘70s, and their ideas are strange and wonderful even today.

Black Panther by Jack Kirby, v. 2 coverBut that imagination is not much in evidence in Black Panther by Jack Kirby, v. 2. The volume collects two Kirby storylines: one with a standard monster story, albeit one set in Wakanda and featuring Black Panther’s royal cousins, and a story with a villain who converts captives to energy for fuel. These don’t rival the flights of fancy from v. 1, where Kirby presented King Solomon’s Frogs, time travel, Abner Little, and a hidden city of samurai who guard the water of eternal life.

The most imaginative parts of Panther, v. 2, is the Wakandan royal family — a financier, a doctor, a race-car driver, and a “female grown too fat,” all successful in their fields — trying to capture the mutated Jakarra, who got too close to the outer-space metal vibranium. Such things will happen when you dabble in outer-space metal. I don’t buy the royal cousins’ heroics, but they are all well drawn individuals, and they are often fun to watch. It’s too bad Black Panther doesn’t really need relatives; in fact, they’re a hindrance to later and earlier stories told about royal intrigue, since they almost never pop up again. The only other interesting part of the book is the revelation of Kiber the Cruel’s true form, but that’s written in the final issue by Jim Shooter and Ed Hannigan, with art by Jerry Bingham, and there’s no telling how much input Kirby had on that issue. That Kiber can invade Wakanda’s self-imposed isolation is interesting, but not much is done with that; Black Panther’s newly gained psychic abilities in the final storyline are something different but wildly out of keeping with the character’s strengths. In any event, the new powers are gone fairly quickly after the story.

Really, Panther is standard ‘70s stuff, and standard ‘70s stuff at Marvel is usually a mediocre attempt to recreate the ‘60s at Marvel without all the interesting risks and weirdness.

Panther features art by Kirby. If you like it — and you know if you do or not — then here it is. It’s some of his later art, so it isn’t as exciting as his early work; frankly, Jerry Bingham, whom I had never heard of before, is a welcome relief on the last issue, and it’s one of his images (a villain warped and fused to the floor) and not Kirby’s that sticks with me. Despite his characters being occasionally overposed and stiff, Bingham is a solid artist, representing a generation influenced by (and overtaking) Kirby.

Panther sells for almost $20, which is a little expensive for six issues in paperback. I realize Kirby’s name has cachet for those who collect and read these old issues, but it’s just not worth the money for unspectacular Kirby. And it doesn’t even end v. 1 of Black Panther; two more non-Kirby issues remain uncollected.

Rating: Black Panther symbol Half a Panther symbol (1.5 of 5)

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