Review: 'Black Panther' #172 Aims for the Stars, But Doesn't Quite Reach Them

Black Panther 172 Review - Cover
(Photo: Marvel Entertainment)

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther has been defined by its ambition. At its 25th issue, the series has only just completed its second story. These 12- and 13-issue stints have been marketed as seasons, but it’s clear that both “A Nation Under Our Feet” and “Avengers of the New World” are best collected and read as complete volumes. That allows for a lot of room to explore ideas, expand the cast, and follow up on small ideas; it also makes conclusions challenging. That ambition is ever-present in Black Panther #172, and it ultimately leaves the final moments of the story less impactful than the many chapters that built to them.

Alterations to the antagonist has left “Avengers of the New World” a much more scattered narrative than its predecessor. Whereas “A Nation Under Our Feet” featured many threats, they created a coherent, thematic enemy—a battle of ideas—at the heart of the story. Throughout the course of this narrative there have been multiple foes and mysteries all posed as the ultimate threat only to be removed or replaced. This issue is purely focused on The Adversary, an X-Men villain barely introduced just one month ago. After so much build, seeing this enemy confront T’Challa and his allies feels anticlimactic. Beyond his raw power, which is told as much as it is shown, The Adversary does not feel substantial in the world this series has crafted. He does not represent a greater idea or reflect key elements of the Black Panther mythos. The Adversary is simply a “big bad” functioning as the capstone for a large scale battle. Everything that results from his fight necessarily feels anticlimactic as a result.

Black Panther 172 Review - The Adversary
(Photo: Marvel Entertainment)

The fight depicted by Leonard Kirk and the rest of the artistic team delivers the action and thrills merited by this level of tension. Energy blasts and punches are abundant, but they convey the “and then” of the plot more than any sense of violence or danger. Kirk’s consistently clean linework gets the job done, but there is less detail in this issue than in prior installments. Whether this is due to a deadline or focus on simplicity, the result deflates the battle. In the midst of so many characters and plot threads, a lack of detail makes the various moments blur together. It’s rarely clear what the focus of the action ought to be overall, only where it rests at the current moment.

These shortcomings in plotting and depiction shouldn’t undercut what is still a well told issue of comics. It never confuses its point or loses the thread. However, it is made much more disappointing because of the abundant promise raised in the story’s denouement. When the action settles and the central characters are able to interact without explaining who the villain is and why that matters, the heart of the story returns. Threads of identity and romance are pulled forward, commenting both on the prior 12 issues as well as the extensive Black Panther runs of writers like Christopher Priest and Reginald Hudlin. Kirk’s clean lines emphasize the emotions in this moment and provide an almost purifying bath of ink for the duo in this scene. It’s a well-crafted final few pages that help to clarify the intent of the overall story. As enlightening as this final moment may be, it also leaves a lingering sense of frustration because this story’s climax does not support the ideas as well as this explanatory epilogue.

Black Panther 172 Review - Final Battle
(Photo: Marvel Entertainment)

Black Panther remains one of the standout series at Marvel Comics, but Black Panther #172 is far from the series’ best outing. Striking the balance between thoughtful consideration and big superhero adventure has delivered some outstanding moments in the past, but this installment steers far too deep into the latter half of the equation. There is no deep connection between the literal and metaphorical battles; the actual fighting contains little meaning and the meaning is summarized. All of the essential elements of a superhero comic are in place and executed well enough, but this has proven to be a superhero comic capable of far more than monthly updates.

Published by Marvel Comics

On April 18, 2018

Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Art by Leonard Kirk, Marc Deering, and Walden Wong

Colors by Laura Martin and Matt Milla