Writer Bryan Hill and artist Juan Ferreyra finally bring readers an in-depth look at the origins of Black Panther’s archenemy: Erik Killmonger. In doing so, they tread dangerous creative waters: how many times have origin stories for villains fallen flat on their face? But Hill and Ferreyra navigate this pitfall magnificently, by making some firm creative decisions.
One of the first decisions that becomes clear in the opening pages is that Killmonger is not an all-encompassing story. Readers do not get shown every event in Killmonger’s early life, nor are things shown in chronological sequence. Hill’s script instead opens with what is likely Killmonger’s most famous moment: his victory over T’Challa at Warrior Falls. The moment is illustrated beautifully by Juan Ferreyra, who angles it in such a way, with the golden sun at Killmonger’s back, that it appears almost as a heroic moment. That is, until you register Killmonger’s look of rage, eyes lost in shadow, teeth grimacing.
From there, Hill brings the story back to Erik’s years at MIT, during a meeting with a guidance counselor. Erik presents himself as a calm man, seeking his own path away from the opportunities lined up for him, but Hill juxtaposes that calm with the death of Erik’s parents and the abuse by Klaue. Ferreyra presents these images in a roaring blaze of fire, highlighting the rage that rests just under the blasé front that Erik postures with.
This is the undercurrent that drives the story in Killmonger, as Erik’s rage boils, driving his decisions as he encounters supervillains like Bullseye and Kingpin, and gets on the radar of S.H.I.E.L.D. At the heart of the story is his work with the mercenaries, King, Knight, and Rook. Needless to say that trust isn’t easily found among mercenaries, and Hill does an excellent job at showing how that isolation leads Erik down his path of vengeance.
Juan Ferreyra makes all of these moments pop, from flirtations at a night club to a rooftop battle with Bullseye, every moment is brimming with energy. Ferreyra makes great use of shadows in his artwork, knowing how to build mystery and suspense through what the reader is able to see.
Is it good?
Bryan Hill and Juan Ferreyra have created a masterful origin for Erik Killmonger. By focusing in on a pivotal moment in his life rather than trying to tell his entire life story, Hill is able to focus on the characterization of his protagonist and capture the fear and anger that drive someone along Erik’s path. Ferreyra tells this story in gorgeous fashion, taking full advantage of the comic book medium to make sure that every page is a brutal joy to look at.