Judge Victor Valdivia's superhero alias is also an animal and a color: the Gray Arizona Woodrat.
Our review of Marvel Knights Collection, published December 17th, 2011, is also available.
Who is the Black Panther?
He's a Marvel Comics superhero who has been unfortunately saddled with one of the worst animated series in superhero history.
Facts of the Case
T'Challa (Djimon Hounsou, The Island) is the king of the small African nation of Wakanda. He's also the Black Panther, the nation's premier costumed hero and defender. Along with his sister Shuri (Kerry Washington, The Last King of Scotland) and the Queen Mother (Alfre Woodard, Star Trek: First Contact), he rules Wakanda as a fiercely independent nation that neither needs nor asks for any allies. However, when a sinister cyborg assassin named Klaw (Stephen Stanton, Star Wars: The Clone Wars) launches a plan to assassinate him and take over his country, the Panther finds that many other countries, including the U.S., find Wakanda an interesting place to be involved in.
What do you get when you mix an appealing and talented cast, a beloved superhero, and a famous writer/director? Sorry to say, you should get something a whole lot better than Black Panther. This is a huge disappointment in almost every way, squandering huge potential and talent on a story that doesn't hold a candle to the original Black Panther comics of the '60s and '70s (see Accomplices section). Originally conceived as a six-part animated series for Black Entertainment Television, Black Panther is instead available on this DVD and as a web-only series. You might consider that a demotion, until you actually see how terrible it is.
The fault lies with the show's writer and executive producer Reginald Hudlin. Hudlin, known as a director (Boomerang), writer (House Party) and producer (The Boondocks), has been involved with some good projects in the past and is an avowed comic book fan. It makes sense that he was given the chance to write a Black Panther comic book story (with artist John Romita Jr.) in 2005, which serves as the basis for this series. Unfortunately, what Hudlin confirms is what too many Internet fanfic authors have proven time and time again: just because you're a big fan of a creative property doesn't mean you're actually any good at writing a story with it.
The story Hudlin wrote takes the basic origin story that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby came up with back in 1966 and adds some truly ridiculous convolutions. There's the notion of Wakanda as a country that's so technologically advanced that it used electronic equipment back in the 1800s. There's the jealous cousin who wishes he was the king and Black Panther. There's the jealous sister who also wishes she was the Black Panther. There's the team of supervillains assembled by Klaw, including the Juggernaut, who invade Wakanda. There's a group of U.S. government officials, including a black female NSA named Dondi Reese (geddit?), who want to use Wakanda for their own purposes. There's a cameo appearance by X-Men member Storm (Jill Scott, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) for no real reason. There's an army of resurrected dead U.S. military service people converted into Deathlok cyborgs that also invades Wakanda. There's also a brutal military dictator of a neighboring country who's looking to invade…well, you get the point. Most (if not all) of these ideas were inserted by Hudlin to supposedly add political relevance, but they just seem hamfisted and silly. If anything, they actually make Wakanda and T'Challa seem less sympathetic. All the incessant blather about how the poor oppressed country of Wakanda is facing all these external threats is not only tiresome but downright offensive, considering that Wakanda is depicted as containing many important solutions, such as the cure for cancer, that they refuse to share with anyone else. That's the sort of complication that not only doesn't add to the plot but actually detracts from it.
If all of these ridiculous ideas weren't bad enough, it's hard to overstate how badly this series botches their execution. Black Panther is quite possibly the worst-paced superhero show in TV history. The series runs for six episodes and it isn't until well after the halfway point that all these plot threads slowly begin to coalesce. If anything, it's not really until halfway through the fifth episode that the climactic battle that the series has been laboriously building up to finally picks up, and even then it's still a rather flaccid one. Juggernaut ends up not doing much, most of the team assembled by Klaw just stand around and glower, the Deathloks barely appear, and the Panther spends most of the battle flying around on his motorcycle. All the internecine squabbling between T'Challa's family? All the U.S. government subterfuge and plotting? It all pays off in nothing, or at least nothing exciting or satisfying. Basically, Black Panther takes way too long and meanders through some truly ridiculous diversions to get to an ending that resolves nothing and isn't satisfying in the least. If this was any other Marvel property, you might just dismiss this DVD as a forgettable misfire but for a character this interesting and promising, coupled with the level of talent involved, Black Panther is truly depressing.
It would have been nice to get some additional context on what exactly Hudlin was thinking with this series, but what extras are provided are meager. There's "Looking Back at Black Panther with Reginald Hudlin" (15:29), an interview with Hudlin that proves his boundless enthusiasm and equally proves that he doesn't really understand the character even though he's such a big fan. The disc also includes a trailer (2:09) and a music video (2:37) for the show's admittedly catchy theme song. In other words, fluff.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At least Black Panther is a technical marvel. The show's visual style is to take John Romita Jr.'s artwork and essentially animate it with zooms, close-ups, and moving lips for the dialogue. It looks spectacular, although it does make the action sequences somewhat less dynamic than they might have been. The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer does show off the animation flawlessly—it's so colorful and vivid that you might still enjoy the series, but only if you hit the mute button to ignore the dreadful writing. The stereo mix is also remarkably loud and well-balanced. It's not a surround mix, but it's so flashy that it's close enough. If nothing else, you can use Black Panther to show off how great comic book animation can look and sound. Goodness knows there's certainly no other reason you would want to watch this disc.
Even if you're a big fan of the Black Panther comic books, there's no reason to pick up this disc. Hudlin shouldn't have attempted to insert so much into the episodes (especially the clumsy attempts at political commentary) and should have stuck to a simple, straightforward story. Also, there's a surprising amount of graphic violence and sexual innuendo, so parents should not expect a kid-friendly experience. Essentially, it's too adult for kids and too silly for adults. So who could possibly enjoy it? Hudlin himself, maybe. Also, his accountants. Unless you fall in that group, however, don't bother.
Guilty of not doing justice to a potentially remarkable character.
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