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STUDIO: Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes
- Looking Back at Black Panther with Reginald Hudlin
- Music video
The first black superhero in mainstream comics gets a reboot in a very short motion-comic tv series
Djimon Hounsou, Alfre Woodard, Kerry Washington, Carl Lumbly, Jill Scott, Stephen Stanton
Wakanda, a fictional African nation, is home to a society that appears primitive but is actually extremely advanced, and in this society there is an annual battle to decide who will be the warrior king and protector of Wakanda, The Black Panther. T’Challa was next in line to become The Black Panther, especially since his father, a previous Black Panther, had been murdered before his eyes when he was young. He successfully proved he was worthy of the title when he competed in this annual battle (which is held to give everyone a chance even though the Black Panther is a heriditary title) and was chosen as next Black Panther, but an old enemy would then show his face and prove to be very important to T’Challa’s past.
In an odd partnership, Marvel Knights joined forces with BET Entertainment to forge this series, based on Reginald Hudlin’s run on Black Panther. It doesn’t encompass his entire run but it contains a good portion. But the weird thing is that the show was run on Australian television but we in the U.S. were relegated to downloading it online 6 months after it premiered in Oz. Kinda strange, since it’s full of North American talent. Maybe they didn’t think it was strong enough for our audiences? Whatever the case, it’s rare that you see a project with such talent behind it relegated to Aussie television.
The whole thing is done as a motion-comic and while the art by John Romita Jr. is very good and rough in most spots, other times it just looks plain ugly. It’s the kind of stuff that works better on the page and that’s where it should stay. One of the standout parts of this set is the voice acting of some of the main characters, especially by Djimon Hounsou as T’Challa and Jill Scott as Storm, T’Challa’s love interest from a young age (who he later marries in the comics). Other smaller characters, however are only somewhat decent. If you’re familiar with the story at all, there are numerous appearances by other characters in the Marvel universe, as not only Storm appears but also most of the X-Men (Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler) and even Juggernaut shows up. Cyclops and Nightcrawler are both voiced by Nolan North (in his quest to be the voice of every character ever created), who most of you might (read: SHOULD) know as Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series. He does a decent enough job, I suppose. But in a flashback sequence from 1941, when he is first starting out, we see Captain America, and he’s voiced by Adrian (Heroes) Pasdar. Really odd choice, as his voice sounds way too gravelly to be playing a young Captain America, and i’m not the biggest expert on Cap but I don’t think he was ever supposed to sound like Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. In my opinion, it’s almost like they didn’t think the storyline of the Black Panther was strong enough to NOT have cameos by these major characters.
But again, getting back to the animation. It isn’t bad by any means, it just isn’t what I was expecting. I’m not a big fan of motion comics, as i’d rather just read the actual comic and let my own imagination do the work if need be. It can get pretty violent at times, which is good, but it isn’t as mature as it wants to be or thinks it is. There are scenes of blood and gore and some lost limbs but it isn’t too bad and very tame compared to other animated endeavors. The colors really standout at times and make the often poor animation bearable.
One thing that’s pretty blatant but also not too big of a deal considering the story is how it ‘s borderline racist at times. It can’t be ignored and it has to be mentioned. White people (and really anyone other than the Wakandans) are portrayed as being pretty stupid, and you get somewhat of a hateful vibe from the Wakandans towards them. Which is completely warranted and understood, of course, since one of the facets of this storyline is people wanting to invade and exploit Wakanda for their technology, which has never been conquered by any nation in history. You can understand being on the defensive and not trusting anyone. But it’s weird because I had mentioned Captain America appearing and he’s made to look stupid. He’s sent to Wakanda on the trail of a bunch of Nazis (what the hell are they doing there?) but it turns out the Wakandans had been on to this already and easily took care of the Nazis. So he meets the Black Panther and he gets his ass handed to him and while I understand he was just starting out, it just doesn’t seem like they’d send him to Wakanda to get his ass kicked. And after reading a number of things, this seems to have been completely manufactured by Hudlin himself, as it never appeared in any other story but his that he did for Black Panther. Why not make him someone that helps Black Panther as opposed to someone who Black Panther has “heard of” but clearly doesn’t respect? This is perhaps where the “America is evil” vibe comes off strongest. Not only that, but the U.S. government is made out to look evil, sending mercenaries (which are the reanimated corpses of dead U.S. soldiers) to invade Wakanda. This leads me to believe Hudlin thinks the U.S. government has little feeling for soldiers fallen in battle. Or maybe i’m just crazy.
But the point is, a good superhero needs to fight for everyone…not just his people. And if we’re to take anything from this, it’s that the Black Panther cares absolutely nothing for the rest of the world. I might be looking too far into this, but it kinda sours the whole experience for me knowing that there are such complex politics behind a character’s desire to do good. He needs a reason to do good where it will benefit his people. Don’t get me wrong–he isn’t a heartless character. As the story of the Black Panther is well-contained in Wakanda, it should never be a problem but I can’t see this as being a character that garners a resurgence like some of Marvel’s other properties. It’s just too one-sided. If you watch it you’ll come away from it thinking it had some decent parts but that they were too few and far between to be anything enjoyable. The thing is just too weighed down in its own excess baggage to be good.
The featurette included is Reginald Hudlin discussing his take on the character and how it came about but that’s it. No interviews with members of the cast or anything. The picture quality isn’t too bad but is still pretty grainy now and then.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars