Year Two began with a phone call from my new editor Ruben Diaz. Ruben, a long-time friend and former DC Comics editor, was getting on my case for being late. "Late for what?" I asked him. Late with the next issue of PANTHER. Months before, I'd been admonished to stop work on PANTHER because of production delays with the art. I'd also assumed that issue #12 would be the end for the book. Despite great reviews and initially strong sales, the erratic ship and artist roster on the book had done its work, and sale were not great. Marvel Knights had not renewed their PANTHER contract, and I really didn't have a lot of friends at Marvel in those days. So, I assumed we were done, and I was off doing other things when Ruben called to tell me I was two months behind schedule.
Scramble, scramble, and Ruben tossed me Hydro-Man and he came up with this idea about filling a jetliner with water while in mid-flight. Ruben had been instructed to "mainstream" PANTHER and bring the book more into the mainstream of the Marvel Universe, so we decided to go with a more mainstream "feel" for the book, and toss in lots of guest stars. Panther goes immediately to Avengers mansion and buddies up with a rather clueless Justice for the Hydro-Man adventure (#13=14), which is more like a standard super-hero caper than anything in this series' run.
Ruben brought with him a stable art team, something this incarnation of PANTHER had never had. Ruben and I had worked with artist Sal Velluto before on DC Comics' Justice League Task Force, so I was well aware for Sal's strengths and his wonderful draftsmanship. Sal arrived with energy to spare, changing Panther's half-cape into a huge, Spawn-like wing, and modifying the accessories on Panther's costume to more tribal designs. Sal's Panther was truly his own, while not disavowing Texeira (or Rich Buckler before him). Sal just found it: found the feral menace of Panther and brought it into focus. He also handed the important flourishes that had been missing from Wakanda, changing Wakanda from a fairly sterile and generic place to a very specific and mysterious wonderland.
Most impressive, for me, was Sal's take on T'Challa, the man beneath the mask. Sal found a very urbane stoicism that worked quite well when we wanted to go for comedic effect. T'Challa's deadpan reply, "No, I am king of a small African nation," was borne of Velluto's new take on the king.
Ruben and I kind of got tangle up early on, first because we were behind the ball schedule wise, then because I got the brilliant idea to do an unofficial crossover with Quantum & Woody (Woody reads PANTHER #15, with Panther battling the Hulk, in QUANTUM & WOODY #18). The out-of-sequence storytelling, implemented at Jimmy and Joe's request, was now becoming very difficult to maintain, and it kind of failed altogether in the middle of the Hulk story because we'd jumped to the Hulk scene so the Hulk issue would ship the same month as QUANTUM & WOODY's "Dark Kitty" issue (sadly, Acclaim missed shipping so the crossover didn't come off).
Ruben, the man of ideas (who I actually wrote into the Dark Kitty arc of QUANTUM & WOODY, Ruben literally joining the Q&W cast for six issues), suggested we do a 1970's homage issue with old, bad villains and blaxploitation heroes like Black Goliath and Power Man and Iron Fist. So I scripted that right into the Hulk issues and was in the middle of that when Ruben suggested we do a Moon Knight story so Sal could draw the guy with the black cape teaming up with the guy with the white cape. The Moon Knight story was solicited for issue #21, so we kind of got locked into doing that story in that place, and I just got lost. So, in the middle of Hulk-blaxploitation, I had Queen Divine Justice wrest the narrating chores from Everett K. Ross, and straighten us all out by explaining everything going on and wrapping up the story.
Around this point, Ruben moved on and Tom Brevoort took over as PANTHER editor. Tom and I had discussions about the direction of the book, where I told him I had been instructed to mainstream the title. Tom suggested the book should exist in whatever comfort zone the book exists in, that we shouldn't move away from the Marvel Universe but we shouldn't wreck what's unique about PANTHER in some misguided attempt to fit in with Kurt's AVENGERS. During this conversation Tom suggested I give the non-linear storytelling a rest. I preferred to give it a burial, and we ended that approach in the book (tough the notion of non-linear narration plagues the book to this day, we stopped doing it 35 issues ago).
We began a Killmonger storyline that k\got stretched out because of scheduling problems with our art team: we didn't want to have a fill-in artist draw The Big Fight between Panther and Killmonger. So we delayed and delayed and delayed The Big Fight and taxed the patience of our audience while the Killmonger storyline went on and on. I think it was worth it though. PANTHER #20 features one of the best super-hero battles I've ever seen, with Sal flexing new visual muscles and showing us some extremely cinematic chops and great acting.
Tom and I had an enormous dilemma,
Panther lost and lost big: Killmonger killed him. And it took Moon Knight and Brother Voodoo and some hokey mysticism and journey to the Panther God Pavilion to bring him back. Wonderful art by Sal and Bob, going to garish gray washes in the Realm of The Dead, with the villainous Nightmare stalking our heroes.
About this time I was informed I was being replaced on DEADPOOL— far and away not my finest hour in comics. I'd been putting off a Panther-Deadpool crossover, but suddenly it was now or never, so Tom, Mike Marts and I cobbled together CAT TRAP, an odd, off-beat, over-stuffed pair of issues that had readers complaining that we gave them too much story (too much story?!?). A dense caper pairing the nutso Deadpool with the nutso Achebe to steal Killmonger's pet leopard (Killmonger had, by winning his battle with Panther, assumed the mantel of the Black Panther). When Triathlon steps into the transport beam as Deadpool beams the leopard out, it looks like Deadpool has kidnapped Triathlon, which leads to MORE Of That business With The Avengers.
BLACK PANTHER #23 is one of the hardest to find and most sought-after issues of the run. Gorgeously illustrated by Sal and Bob, the very dense and very complex issue features the Avenger sin Wakanda searching for their missing teammate as Achebe and Deadpool continue to stir up trouble, and Triathlon unwittingly helps T'Challa restore his self-confidence. I loved this issue, I loved the whole CAT TRAP arc. Together, they form a primer on both Deadpool and Black Panther an are, for me, an enormously satisfying read because of the density and complexity that some readers complained about. I've always thought it was important to give the reader his or her money's worth: to make the comics a good read, rather than 22 pages of fluff. Maybe we went a bridge too far with CAT TRAP, but I think its an outstanding moment for this series, and was certainly the point where Sal, Bob and I gelled into a real team. I loved the classic "Avengers-style" cover.
Year Two ended with an odd fill-in by Doc. A kind of winding, long joke that builds to a punchline where Killmonger, completing the rites of ascension for the Panther Clan chieftain, eats the mystic Heart-shaped herb that endows Panther with his heightened senses and peak human strength— and drops dead.
Christopher J. Priest
Story Thus Far: Year Two
In a transitional issue from Marvel Knights to Marvel Comics, The Black Panther has regained his throne in Wakanda, touching off a series of endings for himself, his kingdom, and those closest to him. Nakia, the Dora Milaje turned murderess, caught throwing Monica Lynne out of a Talon Fighter jet, is dismissed in disgrace. She flees the castle and ends up first in the clutches of ACHEBE and ultimately of KILLMONGER, who mysteriously returns from the grave this issue. Monica, meanwhile, turns up lost in the jungle but otherwise unharmed, and apparently guarded by a leopard. Also the Hydro Man strikes! And, an elder Wakandan tribesman travels to Chicago to recruit the newest Dora Milaje— Queen Divine Justice! Art by Sal Velluto and Bob Almond. Edited by Ruben Diaz
BLACK PANTHER #14
Panther teams with Justice, the telekinetic neophyte member of The Avengers, to prevent Hydro-Man from drowning everyone aboard a jumbo jet before it crashes into the White House. Some of the best and most exciting aerial scenes ever done in comics appear here, as Justice, piloting the Avengers Quinjet, pursues the crippled jumbo jet. Very, very nice work by Sal and Bob! Art by Sal Velluto and Bob Almond. Edited by Ruben Diaz
BLACK PANTHER #15-17
In the aftermath of Hydro-Man's failed murder attempt, Panther is debriefed by Nikki Adams, his former college girlfriend and Ross' current love. Meanwhile, Ross battles bull elephants in Wakanda and The Hulk in New Lots, Brooklyn! Panther meets Queen Divine Justice for the first time, as she befriends The HULK, averting great potential destruction, and teaching HULK the real meaning of, "Hulk bounce!" Also, KILLMONGER officially makes his return, saving Ross from certain death, and revealing the leopard guarding Monica Lynne was, in fact, Preyy, Killmonger's pet.
Before returning to Wakanda, Panther stops by Harlem to search for clues to the suspected return of KILLMONGER, his long-dead arch enemy, only to find himself the target of THE DEADLY NIGHTSHADE! Meanwhile, Ross and Monica Lynne are captured and taken back to Killmonger's fortified village. Guest-staring THE FALCON. Also, KILLMONGER takes Ross and company to N'Jadaka village, which has become a garish, commercialized mirror-world double of Wakanda.
Panther is joined by POWER MAN, IRON FIST, THE FALCON, BROTHER VOODOO and BLACK GOLIATH as he takes on The Deadly Nightshade, Stiletto, Cottonmouth, the Cockroach and Morgan on the Brooklyn Bridge, with the HULK waiting in the wings! Panther discovers the true threat behind the attacks on him, as his first mission with Queen Divine Justice, the newest Dora Milaje, ends riotously at a Brooklyn after-hours club. Art by Sal Velluto and Bob Almond. Edited by Ruben Diaz & Tom Brevoort
BLACK PANTHER #18-20
Economics replaces slugfests as Killmonger reveals his plan to crash the Wakandan economy, and pushes Panther to take extreme action. Cameo by Brother Voodoo, who returns to Wakanda with Panther, sensing a rift between the land of the living and that of the dead— a rift that leads him to Resurrection Altar. Monica Lynne plays basketball with Killmonger while trying to discern KM's evil plans. And, finally, Panther completely circumvents Killmonger's economic scheme— by nationalizing all foreign investments in Wakanda.
The world goes into a tailspin in reaction to Panther's nationalizing American interests in Wakanda. Meanwhile, Ross and Nikki are ambushed by Killmonger's men while Killmonger himself rallies his Death Regiment for a battle royale with the king at the Altar of Resurrection. Meanwhile, Tony (IRON MAN) Stark buys up all the outstanding shares of Wakandan Design Group, making him T'Challa's partner in the multi-billion dollar technology company that provides the AVENGERS Quinjets and other materials. Issue #19 Also includes a 10-page back-up story originally written for a Marvel Knights Annual the Panther is carjacked in Brooklyn, and he uses the opportunity to teach the young felons a lesson they'll never forget.
In issue #20, Panther faces down the one man he has never defeated- KILLMONGER! The two battle for more than 13 hours at the summit of Warrior Falls while Ross speeds back to Wakanda to rejoin the Panther, and Brother Voodoo recruits help from an unlikely source- MOON KNIGHT! This is one of the finest super-hero battles of 2000. A book-length and brutal slugfest that's destined to become a classic in comics! Art by Sal Velluto and Bob Almond. Edited by Tom Brevoort
BLACK PANTHER #21-22
In an effort to save Panther's life, Ross makes a terrible blunder, placing the future of the Wakandan kingdom in the hands of... KILLMONGER?! Meanwhile, MOON KNIGHT leads The Panther on a spiritual journey to seek healing from the fatal wounds inflicted by Killmonger.
Black Panther's spiritual journey is hijacked by Nightmare, who seizes the opportunity to replenish his power after his defeat by Captain America by grabbing Panther, MOON KNIGHT, and BROTHER VOODOO while the three are in their trance-like state. Meanwhile, Ross struggles with life and death choices as the fate of Wakanda has been placed in his trembling hands. He ultimately decides to release Hunter, the White Wolf, from prison to help him maintain order in a country whose king is apparently dead. A good deal of issue #22 is in gray wash tones, with only Nightmare's evil power brought out in green. Also, look for a fabulous Batman parody, with Ross as Robin and Achebe as The Joker! Art by Sal Velluto and Bob Almond. Edited by Tom Brevoort
While the critically wounded and increasingly withdrawn T'Challa lurks through the Techno Jungle, the AVENGERS form an unlikely alliance with Killmonger as they head off to Wakanda in search of the missing Triathlon- playing into Achebe's hands! Art by Sal Velluto and Bob Almond. Edited by Tom Brevoort
BLACK PANTHER #24
Killmonger takes the rite of ascension as T'Challa struggles to recover from his injuries, while Nikki confronts Ross and Malice stalks Monica Lynne, the White Wolf makes his move and both a new, mysterious villain and a new, mysterious hero make their debut! Art by M.D. Bright. Edited by Tom Brevoort
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