Read a novel retelling of an excellent Black Panther graphic novel and break your brain a little.
When presented with the option to read and write a review about a Marvel Comics novel, I thought, why the hell not? Black Panther is an excellent character and I love to read; what could go wrong?
Turns out? This was weird for me.
Based on the graphic novel by Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr., Jesse Holland has taken up the reigns of a medium that conveys a great deal of emotion and context through its artwork and converted it into prose. It’s that prose conversion that had me scratching my head.
Let me get it out of the way early on, so there’s no confusion – I liked this quite a bit. I was engrossed, and devoured this novel in about a day. Some of that is due to the title character – a superhero I’ve always thought of as the coolest Avenger. The rest is that Hudlin created a compelling story with JRJ that Holland was able to translate incredibly well to the written page.
It was weird because my brain did not understand why a character it had so long associated with bright drawings and splashes of colors, was now being portrayed to me, sans those pictures. I actually didn’t like the novel at all for the first 20 pages or so. Several memories of some of the terrible X-Men novels released when I was in high school came leaping up unbidden. I didn’t even get past the first chapter in most of those, and I thought this was destined for the same pile, when it just clicked.
I googled the graphic novel.
When I saw what was on the cover, suddenly I just had it, and rattled through the rest at a breakneck, “ooh what happens next” pace. I think my brain needed that little boost of “this is what the character you’re trying to build in your head looks like, remember? This is how JRJ draws him.”
Enough about me, how’s the story?
With the upcoming Panther movie, and a sudden interest in all things T’Challa, this is a good jumping in point. We learn about the Panther’s life, his father’s death, and his extended family and subjects. His rogues gallery is both introduced and hinted at, and the wonders of Wakanda are displayed.
The Wakanda angle is one of the pieces I enjoyed the most. Seeing the trailer for the Black Panther movie made me very interested in how they were going to portray this secret nation, and how the most high tech place to ever exist would keep a connection to the tribal roots the comic portrays.
The only thing I’d say that’s missing is more info about what actually makes the Panther both a god and a man. There’s no discussion of the heart-shaped herb other than a passing reference, and while the graphic medium of the comic can show his speed and acrobatics, this focuses instead more on the cerebral nature of the King.
The villain side of the equation is Klaw – someone who I don’t have a ton of exposure to from the comics, but boy is he a bag of s--t here. His past assassination contracts and his hatred for Africa and Wakanda go up to 11, but he’s another example of someone I had to google to get my mental image straight.
Overall, I really did enjoy this. The writing is not Shakespeare by any means, but I got the sense that the author had to stick pretty close to script, so there was a restrained feeling at times. A, “have to hit the bit arc points,” sense. It was well plotted though, with just enough of a slow burn to make you want to read it in a sitting. If like me, you’re a Panther fan and you want to try something different – this very well might break your brain a little, but stick with it. It was fun.