DVD Review: Black Panther
by R.J. Carter
Published: December 29, 2010
Reginald Hudlin’s "Black Panther" is perhaps one of the most dynamic pieces of comic storytelling converted to animation.
I’ll be the first to admit that I never got into the character of the Black Panther. While the character had a lot of interesting aspects to him — king of the African nation of Wakanda, a lineage of Black Panther predecessors, and a pretty cool looking costume — as a kid I just couldn’t relate. He just stayed in Wakanda until some crisis brought him to America (or brought the Fantastic Four to Wakanda), and then the action would begin. I was more of a Spider-Man kind of guy.
Hudlin’s work, however, backed up by the always fantastic artwork of John Romita Jr., puts a spin on the Panther mythos that I hadn’t seen before — and probably couldn’t appreciate until I was older anyway. Mixing international intrigue with political satire, Hudlin’s story gives us a glimpse into the history of Wakanda, and how it has managed to stand alone against any invaders, retaining its independence and forging ahead toward technological superiority. And we see how T’Challa (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) comes into his own to assume the legacy role of Black Panther, just as we learn how his father was assassinated by the mercenary Klaw (Stephen Stanton).
Now that T’Challa has assumed the throne and the mantle, Klaw is prepared to finish what he started — the eradication of the Black Panther lineage. To do this, he pulls together a variety of villains from Marvel’s dark pantheon: Juggernaut (Peter Lurie), Batroc (J.B. Blanc), the Black Knight, and Radioactive Man (Rick Wasserman).
The United States sees the invasion as an opportunity to aid Wakanda on a permanent basis, gaining them access to the nation’s vibranium deposits. To that end, they send in an infantry division of Deathlok zombies, adding to the mounting turmoil that is ultimately handled violently by one man: the Black Panther.
There’s plenty of action as we see a former Black Panther put down none other than Captain America, and the current one go head-to-head with the Black Knight and Klaw, while his just-as-capable sister, Shuri (Kerry Washington) holds her own against the deadly Radioactive Man. But there’s humor as well, as Black Panther’s mother pushes him to perform the most important duty of a monarch — to sire heirs — with an old flame, Storm of the X-Men (Jill Scott). Alfre Woodard provides the voice for the Queen Mother, as well as for U.S. Secretary of State Dondi Reese, and Stan Lee himself does a cameo voice for a bigoted four-star general. The parody aspects may go a tad over the top during the wrapup when the US administration changes hands and Hudlin himself provides the voice for an homage to Barack Obama.
The theme song and background music by Stephen James Taylor keep things grounded in a traditional African feel while also communicating tension and adventure to the viewers, all while using an invented Wakandan language. The full length version of the theme song is available as one of the bonus features on this disc.
The other bonus feature is an interview segment with Reginald Hudlin, writer of the series and now president of Black Entertainment Television (BET). Hudlin tells of how he became involved with the Black Panther, and how the whole animated feature started to serendipitously form around him. Hudlin’s an engaging speaker, and this interview keeps the viewer entertained even as it informs.
Kudos to Marvel and Shout! Factory for creating a new fan of the Black Panther in this reviewer.