Best Shots Reviews: BLACK PANTHER #9, DELVER #1

Delver #1
Credit: comiXology
Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther #9
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Kev Walker and Stéphane Paitreau
Letters by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kev Walker continue T’Challa’s fight through the Wakandan Empire in Black Panther #9. T’Challa and Nakia journey to the marine world of Agwé, where they are tasked with seeking out a splinter group of rebels that have seemingly betrayed their mission. Coates uses this opportunity to examine the importance of culture to identity.

The plot for this issue is fairly simple. T’Challa and Nakia are introduced to a conflict and ultimately captured by their enemies. A twist reveals that T’Challa and Nakia were misled and their current captors are their actual allies. It’s a rather predictable twist, but Coates’ script isn’t trying to surprise its audience with it. The true revelation comes as their captor, Farouk, relays the history of his people. Due to their connection to a god-like alien, Farouk’s people were able to maintain their cultural memories, even in the wake of the Empire’s destruction. These cultural memories give Farouk a sense of identity, even as his own personal memories were stripped from him. In this way, Farouk’s story forms a contrast to T’Challa’s own. T’Challa has been forging ahead, seeking out his personal memories while denying the cultural ones that mark him as savior.

Kev Walker’s artwork continues to impress. Clever details, such the way the backs of the aquatic suits formed a silhouette of panther ears on the otherwise smooth helmets help maintain both the iconography of the comic and the practicality of the designs. Walker’s use of bubbles in the place of traditional motion lines helps to convey the ocean adventure.

Stéphane Paitreau’s colors do a lot to create the underwater atmosphere of the book. Uses of greens and blues create the distorted shafts of light that reach this deep sea world, and the use of pinks, purples, and magentas for the energy blasts of various weapons helps create a nice visual contrast on the page. As the comic progresses, Paitreau uses an increasing amount of oranges and reds, visualizing the rising tension for the reader. This works well with Walker’s use of smaller grid panels that give the latter half of the book a claustrophobic feel – fitting for characters stuck in a prison.

While Black Panther #9 works well as an individual issue, its place within the series feels very odd. In the previous issue, T’Challa had freed a slave child and had vowed to put “the knife where it belongs,” suggesting that he was going to directly attack Emperor N’Jadaka. But now, he’s on a completely different mission, on a completely different world with no real resolution to the setup of the previous chapter, other than a mention that T’Challa’s antics hurt the rebels.

Ultimately, this lack of follow-through makes Black Panther #9 a frustrating read. On its own, without context, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kev Walker, and Stéphane Paitreau have crafted an entertaining adventure with good worldbuilding and some fun, if predictable, twists that fit within the themes of the larger story. However, it seemed like the last issue was launching towards a more direct conflict with the Empire, and it’s hard not to feel disappointed. How is the audience supposed to be invested in this issue’s cliffhanger if the previous issue’s conflict never got a true resolution?

Credit: comiXology

Delver #1
Written by MK Reed, C. Spike Trotman
Art by Clive Hawken, Maarta Laiho
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by ComiXology Originals and Iron Circus Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

When a dungeon sets up shop under your hometown, what exactly does that do to the local economy? That’s what writers MK Reed and C. Spike Trotman set out to explore in Delver, a new title from ComiXology Originals and Trotman’s publishing house Iron Circus Comics. Dungeons & Dragons is more of a pop culture phenomenon than it’s been in decades, thanks in part to the likes of story-driven “actual play” podcasts and streams like Critical Role, The Adventure Zone, and Rivals of Waterdeep.

Most of these feature charismatic bands of adventurers on fantastical adventures, filled with shadowy intrigue and dramatic battles that sometimes set whole towns ablaze. Less frequently do we experience the long-term aftermath of the dungeons left behind, and the towns trying to eke out their existence around them — towns like Delver’s Oddgoat, a quiet agricultural town thrown off its axis when a door to a massive dungeon appears in a storehouse, drawing all nature of carpetbagging adventurers into their midst. Faced with increasingly disruptive travelers and pervasive dungeon magics slowly poisoning their land, a young woman named Temerity must make a decision: uproot with the town to escape the dungeon’s influences, or enter the dungeon herself?

In Delver, Reed and Trotman explore a fantasy realm though a modern lens, taking a slightly meta approach to building a world built on the age-old premise of “man versus dungeon.” From our perspective, maybe there’s a Matthew Mercer guiding the specifics of these supernatural venues. Delver asks: what’s that look like for the farmer who’s been living in this town her whole life? Does a dungeon appear out of nothing? Is a real-world dungeon master a magical force, willing dungeons into existence around the world?

This isn’t an unusual device, either — GameLit and LitRPG fiction often take a much more literal view to games and their mechanics — but Trotman and Reed do an excellent job toeing a fine line between tongue-in-cheek meta and full fantasy world building. Delver isn’t a comic about Dungeons & Dragons gameplay, but more broadly about the social and economic impact the essential functions of those games (namely, the dungeon) would have on everyone who isn’t in the PC party. In the wake of the dungeon doors appearing, Oddgoat is forced to reckon with an influx of travelers disrupting their economy and their harvests, wandering into town with little concern for their history and their needs. In the early days it seems easy enough to take advantage of the delvers’ need for food and shelter, but the more they turn up, the harder it is for Oddgoat to accommodate them, and the less interested the delvers seem in just being “accommodated.” A dungeon’s there and they deserve to enter it — regardless of what the dungeon is doing to Oddgoat.

Trotman and Reed deliver a clever, thoughtful script, and artist Clive Hawken and colorist Maarta Laiho do a stellar job bringing the world they’ve created to life. Laiho’s earthy colors and Hawken’s vibrant faces make the town of Oddgoat feel homey and familiar; there’s a sense of familiarity and warmth among the residents and a pastoral beauty to its landscape that makes the fantasy elements seem even more profoundly unsettling. The town’s namesake odd goat, a two-headed beast touched by the dungeon’s magic in its early days of development, seems charming and novel, and the shocking pops of bright blue and opulent, shimmering gold Laiho uses to introduce the dungeon make it seem mystical and intriguing at first glance. But as the dungeon grows, its consequences get increasingly more unsettling, introducing a creeping sense of dread as pervasive to the issue as the delvers are to Oddgoat itself.

If you’re a fan of actual play podcasts and streams, then you’ll likely enjoy Delver #1 as well. Reed and Trotman have built a rich fantasy setting that offers its own intrigue even as it explores what it would mean to have to live through the aftermath of Phandolin on its outskirts. There’s a sense of uncertainty to it: it’s unclear what Temerity will find in the dungeon and whether the dungeon can be stopped at all, but that’s part of the appeal; with a never-ending stream of interlopers seeming to only make things worse, it might turn out that facing the devil she doesn’t know will make it easier for Temerity to put a stop to the ones she does.

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