Best Shots Reviews: BLACK PANTHER PRELUDE #1, BATMAN #33

Batman #33 preview
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Marvel’s Black Panther Prelude #1
Written by Will Corona Pilgrim
Art by Annapaola Martello and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

With another new film on the horizon, it's time for Marvel Comics to put out another of its preludes. The past few prelude comic book have been disappointing entries from the start, with the Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok comics merely recounting the titular characters' previous on-screen adventures. In that way, Marvel's Black Panther Prelude #1 sees a return to form as the issue recounts T'Challa's earliest days in the Black Panther suit.

The issue opens in the earliest days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as T'Challa begins his reign as Black Panther the same week that Tony Stark announces himself to the public as Iron Man. Writer Will Corona Pilgrim sets T'Challa's earliest missions against the background of the Second Congo War, or rather the real world continuation of the conflict after its formal end. This use of a real-world conflict helps establish the political nature of the hero and also shows that both the Black Panther and Wakanda at large were involved in world events in secret. It's this use of subtle detail that really elevates Marvel's Black Panther Prelude #1 above the rest of this subgroup in Marvel's publishing. Keen-eyed Marvel Comics fans will recognize the names of the mercenaries Black Panther is sent to hunt at the issue's end and Black Panther fans will appreciate a small cameo by a familiar face.

This use of subtlety extends to the artwork by Annapaola Martello. Her looser style may not be for every reader, but the detail in her artwork allows for both expressive characters and the intricacies of the Wakandan tech to be on full display. Here she draws both a younger T'Challa and T'Chaka, but the latter still appears sufficiently old enough to suggest that while T'Chaka was Black Panther at one point, someone else held the title of Black Panther in the interim. It will be interesting to see whether or not that gets touched on in the second issue.

Not everything about the artwork is fantastic, Martello's drawing of hands isn't that great, which means a small moment between father and son doesn't quite land with the proper impact. Color artist Jordan Boyd does a capable job, but the color palette seems more muted than what fans have seen from the trailers for the film, and it's a bit weird to have a comic book that's less vibrant than the film.

A minor quibble is in the implementation of the Wakandan language. In Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and T'Chaka (John Kani) both speak in the South African language, Xhosa, so the words they're using as "Wakandan" are real words that are incorrectly transliterated here ("unyana" ("son") as "nyan" and "enkosi" ("thank you") as "n'cos"). This is incredibly minor, and could easily be Corona Pilgrim solidifying Wakandan as its own language, but considering his use of real-world geopolitics and war in the issue's opening sequence, it's worth mentioning.

Fans of the MCU should definitely check Marvel's Black Panther Prelude #1. After a few disappointing entries, this is a solid comic that shows its own adventure with a hero that is seeing a massive surge in popularity and prominence. Will Corona Pilgrim and Annapaola Martello do a great job not only giving T'Challa a mission that brings two of Marvel's minor villains into the MCU lore, but also ties together real world events that makes this universe seem more like our own in a way that even some of the film entries failed to do.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #33
Written by Tom King
Art by Joëlle Jones and Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

While much of the focus on Tom King’s first year of Batman was related to the “I Am…” trilogy, there was far more going on under the surface pertaining to how he used that as the first set of building blocks for his larger story. This much is clear from the fact that King’s first year didn’t end with Batman’s defeat of Bane, but with Bruce’s proposal to Catwoman. Moving forward into the second year of King’s run, the first chunk of storytelling was spent on an extended flashback to "The War of Jokes and Riddles," and it wasn’t until Bruce concluded his story that Selina gave her answer.

Turns out, she said yes. Which is probably the expected choice considering the way their relationship gradually became the driving force of the run, but an immensely important decision for Batman nonetheless, one sure to take him and Catwoman in a bold new direction. Now back in the present, there’s no real indication where the second year (much less where King’s run overall) will end, but Batman #33 is about setting off on a journey. And the first stop on the journey? A place called Khadym, which is not so easy to get into. A country for war, not business - to the point where it’s been sealed off by the Justice League itself.

As the issue begins, Batman and Catwoman travel the seemingly endless desert, a sweltering sun hanging over them, presumably feeling even harsher than it normally would considering the spandex and Bruce’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice-vintage cowl-and-trenchcoat combination. By the end of the second page, things are already grim, as a horse has been shot dead. Working alongside Tom King and Jordie Bellaire is Joëlle Jones, who constructs the opening page as a series of tight close-ups only to pull way back come the horse’s death. In conjunction with Tom King’s script, the team pull you in with something familiar - Bruce and Selina’s relationship - while also managing to keep you at arm’s length with regards to the true nature of this journey. Regardless, you’re along for the ride.

Juxtaposed with Bruce and Selina’s journey is a scene set back at Wayne Manor. Alfred has convened Duke and the Robins to inform them of Bruce’s proposal and Selina’s acceptance. Recalling the scene at the restaurant in Batman #16, it’s a lighter affair - at least until they find out the news. What starts out as playful banter then becomes debate, as they go back and forth with their reactions to Bruce’s decision and this demonstrates how big of an event this is for Batman and the Bat-Family at large. Bruce is going to need to have a greater number of conversations about the impending nuptials than he thought.

King balances the stories well. The pages spent back at the Manor feel like a tighter sequence, an extended conversation that helps to break up Bruce and Selina’s journey into smaller segments. The ellipsis between them suggests a greater distance being traversed than if their scenes played out one after the other with nothing in between. Altogether, it does feel like a thinner affair than usual, perhaps in the way King holds off on revealing the journey’s purpose until the end and setting up the arc that will start with #36. Still, it gets Batman out of Gotham which is always refreshing and it’s a treat to see Bruce and Selina working in this way, tagging in and out dependent on who can best handle the obstacle at hand.

Another treat is seeing Jones and Bellaire work together. Their art serves as a counterpoint to the notion that the story is thinner because they imbue it with this rich and careful texture. With the desert setting comes a Lawrence of Arabia vibe, warm yellows and oranges filling the sky with a slight haze, like a sandstorm on the horizon, making the landscape in the distance hard to pin down. But the architecture up close looms over the characters, imposing shadows covering the ground.

Meanwhile, Wayne Manor feels lived in, from the way that Alfred, Duke and the Robins occupy the room - each sit or stand in a different way - to how the room is dressed when it comes to the furniture. Jones’ figurework is exceptional as well, her Catwoman especially. She seems to glide through the pages, both her and Bruce’s faces showing pointed determination in their drive to reach their destination. These scenes are a wonderful showcase of how well Jones get at the real people underneath the superhero costumes and that humanizing quality alone is enough to hope she becomes a larger part of the series’ art team moving forward. Her linework is nimble here, capturing these scenes with as much as ease as she blocks the scenes in the Manor’s enclosed space, the only real drawback being her Alfred whose seems to be made up of thicker linework that doesn’t seem as effortless compared to the rest of the issue.

With this journey to Khadym comes a sense of moving forward for the Bat mythos, perhaps the most sizable step since the introduction of Damian Wayne. The involvement of Tiger (and another who’ll remain nameless here) provides links to Grayson and even further back to Morrison’s Batman run. These aspects are proof of development, even if it’s not clear where it’s all going. It took a while to get a real sense of the first year’s shape and with that now being built on top of, it’ll take a while before the expanded picture - and where Bruce’s head is now at - becomes clear, however the idea that a run can feel that large more than 30 issues in is worth savoring, as is the opportunity to try and fit the pieces together.

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