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The Black Panther by Jack Kirby, Volume 1
Review by Steve Welch

Story
The Black Panther by Jack Kirby, Vol. 1

Story
Jack Kirby
 
Pencils
Jack Kirby
 
Inks
Mike Royer
 
Colors
Hunt, Petra Goldberg, Irene Vartanoff & Sam Kato

Publisher
Marvel Comics
 
Format
Softcover Collection
 
Publish Date
March 2005
 
Cover Price
$19.99
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Jack Kirby is the King, make no mistake about it. In the early 1960s, in collaboration with Stan Lee, Kirby helped to create many of the characters, stories, and mythos that provided the foundation for the Marvel Universe. Multiple factors led a disgruntled Jack to leave Marvel for DC, where he created his Fourth World Universe. The Fourth World was a mixed bag touted by some as pure genius and others as an inter-dimensional flop. Jack found his way back to Marvel in the mid-to-late 1970s where he resumed work on Captain America and did several new series for Marvel including 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Black Panther. My bias in doing this review is that I love Jack Kirby and greatly appreciate his art, his work, his creativity, and even his flaws and weaknesses.

But let me be blunt: in my opinion, this is not one of Jack Kirby’s best works (Jack wrote and edited this series along with penciling it). However, it is fairly typical of his work at the time in the late 1970s, which tended to have space and sci-fi or mutant themes. The story in The Black Panther by Jack Kirby, Vol. 1, which collects The Black Panther issues 1-7 (1977-78), revolves around a rare ancient artifact that is actually a miniature one-way time machine: King Solomon’s Frog. Our hero, the Black Panther, is in the middle of two collectors who are trying to kill each other to get their hands on this priceless artifact, both with questionable intentions. T’Challa seems to be on the side of Mr. Little rather than his rival, Princess Zanda.

The problem with our amphibious artifact is that every so often it pulls in a bizarre creature from the past or future, one of which could destroy the entire planet. This provides a mechanism for Jack to do what he did best at the time: draw bizarre, sci-fi creatures and characters with extraordinary outfits and strange powers – as well as all the action that results (and make no mistake, this book is chock-full of the all-out action that is a Kirby hallmark). But the plot is often rushed, and the dialogue is cliched, wooden, and difficult to slog through.

Other aspects of the story are inconsistent. For example, T’Challa is the son of an African King, and ruler of the country Wakanda. Starting with his origin in Fantastic Four 52, the Black Panther has always been a figure and character of nobility and royalty. In this book, he walks, talks, and acts like a street thug, not the noble African character we know from the Fantastic Four and Tales of Suspense 98-99, and the Panther’s stint in the Avengers. Occasionally he resumes his “royal” sounding vocabulary but most of the time talks like any other character in the story would talk, which I found distracting. To complicate things, the story moves at a break-neck pace without much chance to explain or explore the characters.

I’m assuming Marvel decided to reprint this as a tribute to Jack and to capitalize on his popularity; the collection's back cover mentions it is a “never-before-reprinted action epic”, which is true, but as you read this you’ll see why there’s been no rush to reprint it before now. I’m being brutally honest here: when Kirby was on, he was the best ever; when he was off, he could be downright terrible. In my opinion, this is an example of the a mixed bag – the story has some interesting components but overall it’s just not as riveting as it could be due to the pace and the dialogue. At times I found it very difficult to read.

This is a curious choice for a Marvel TPB. The Black Panther is not considered Kirby’s best work at Marvel, but at the same time, for Kirby purists, it is wholly Kirby because he wrote, drew, and edited it. And as such, his strengths and weaknesses are apparent. Kirby fans will buy this book and will probably like it. Readers who are not Kirby fans will likely find this a mixed bag. It’s not a classic Marvel tale, it doesn’t usher key characters into the universe, and yet it does offer a forum for one of Marvel’s greatest creators. Unfortunately, though it’s mostly enjoyable, it’s not one of the King’s best works, and thus probably not the best read you could buy for the money.

One final thought: there is (to me) a major production flaw with this book: prior to each issue in the TPB they reprint the original cover, but inexcusably cut off about half an inch from the left hand edge!! Who QC’d this book? Nobody, apparently.

Art
It’s Jack Kirby, although it’s the Jack Kirby of the late 1970s. This was not Jack at his peak, although there is plenty of all-out action, Kirby squiggle, and Kirby krackle to make fans happy. Jack’s art is powerful, rugged, and raw, and Mike Royer inks Kirby better than most inkers ever dreamed of. This results in some spectacular scenes interspersing the nearly nonstop action and mayhem. A large number of splashes and double-splashes are featured in this book, making up some eye-popping highlights. At this time period Jack did his best when he drew intergalactic sci-fi action epics, and there is plenty of that in this TPB. In addition, Jack knew how to draw sexy women; Princess Zanda is a perfect example. Is the art enough to warrant purchasing the book? For me it is. For casual fans, perhaps not.
Bonus Features
This TPB contains some nice extras, including the original unused cover to Fantastic Four 52, Jack’s original concept drawing for the Black Panther (you’ll agree the final decision was a better one – another testament to Stan’s abilities as an editor), and some nice pencil pages from the issues.
Final Words

Recommended with some reservations: I would not recommend this TPB to anyone who is not a fan of Jack Kirby because I think it will be a disappointment. And at $19.99 for a reprint of seven issues of a Bronze Age comic that is easily picked up cheaply in back issue bins, it is a bit expensive.

Recommended


Steve Welch is an avid collector of pre-hero and Silver Age Marvel comics as well as original art by Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and other notable creators. Some of his art can be seen in his personal gallery at Comic Art Fans.
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