Black Panther and the Crew #1
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Butch Guice, Scott Hanna, and Dan Brown
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Misty Knight and the streets of Harlem take center stage in the debut of Black Panther and the Crew. Translating his lyrical style to the mean streets, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates delivers a tried and true bit of urban noir that is a welcome showcase for Misty despite its slow opening pace. A community leader and former Harlem superhero is dead and Harlem is a powder keg primed to explode. All this heat, however, doesn’t keep Misty Knight from digging around on behalf of the family. Having tempered my expectations from Black Panther, a title I enjoy, but can’t exactly be called “explosive,” I expected a more meditative look at the streets of the Marvel universe and Coates delivered, for better or worse.
Adding a steady layer of realism to the debut is penciler Butch Guice, inker Scott Hanna, and colorist Dan Brown. Keeping pace with Coates’ noirish tone, Guice hits the pavement hard with thinly lined depictions of heated protests, emotive detective work from Misty, and an opening display of power from Harlem’s original Crew that would be right at home in a Heroes for Hire joint from the 70s. Guice’s pencils are given rail thin definition from inker Scott Hanna and made complete by the film grain like colors of Dan Brown, making this look like a true blue exercise in the Merry Marvel version of noir. Though it will never be accused of being thrilling Black Panther and the Crew #1 is still a solid enough return for some of Harlem’s Mightiest Heroes.
On a good day, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ comic book work is an acquired taste and regrettably Black Panther and the Crew isn’t going to do much to change that perception. Though it opens with a well executed action sequence flashback, the main meat of the issue is still presented in the poetic, narration heavy style that proved so divisive in the core T’Challa lead title.
This is both a blessing and a curse for the debut. On one hand, it is so great to have an unapologetically black title on comic shelves. Riding the momentum of the recent Luke Cage Netflix series and his own handling of Misty during her trip to Wakanda, Coates just plain gets Misty and her world and that understanding radiates from the script. So often we have to take stories like this and just deal with the certain ways the voice and tone feel off, but Black Panther and the Crew #1 just feels genuine and that’s a refreshing change of pace for POC-lead comics.
But you have to take the bad with the good and the bad is Coates’ pacing still seems off. Though he front-loads this debut with a punchy and cinematic opening sequence aided by Guice, Hanna, and Brown, everything after that still feels like strolling when it should be sprinting. In his defense, during these scenes Coates’ builds a tactile and lived in feeling Harlem as well as displaying some great character work in support of Misty and the Crew’s first recruit, Storm. That said, these scenes never feel as propulsive as they should, something that plagues Black Panther to this very day. Though armed with real voice and character, Black Panther and the Crew still doesn’t pop as much as I would like Coates’ Marvel work to. At least not yet.
On the art front, however, Black Panther and the Crew easily stands alongside the canon of sketchy, street-level Marvel noir thanks to Butch Guice, Scott Hanna, and Dan Brown. Though I would have preferred a heavier set of inks from Hanna to give the debut a more solid skeleton, Guice still impresses despite keeping it relatively small. Given a 70s film stock tone and texture by the colors of Dan Brown, Guice gets us in the gate early with a slow burn of an action sequence, again doing a lot with a little simply with the cuts he chooses and how he blocks the characters shifting focus in the frame. But, like Coates’ script, the back half is a downshift for the trio, delivering stoic street scenes and coldly beautiful profiles of Misty and Storm. Like I said, it isn’t exactly thrilling aside from the opening, but Guice, Hanna, and Brown understand what kind of book this is going to be and they draw it accordingly.
I like Black Panther and the Crew #1. I wish I loved it, but sometimes just liking something is enough. We know what kind of talent Ta-Nehisi Coates is, and while his books may take a while to get well and truly going, that talent is still on display, one way or another. Pair that point of view with an art team who gets this kind of superhero story visually and you have a book that people can like, and perhaps even love eventually. Fingers crossed that Black Panther and the Crew is one of those books.