I’m glad there are companies like Shout Factory out there that still manage to release classic and hard-to-find or otherwise obscure titles, especially for fans like myself that enjoy stories and fables that fall just a few inches outside the mainstream of series. And few animated series have a more troubled and puzzling background than Marvel Knights: Black Panther series, which was created in conjunction with BET and only ever broadcast in Australia last year, then streamed online through the various digital-distribution networks like iTunes, Xbox Live, PSN, and others. Animated in a unique “motion comic” style (to save on production costs), you won’t find the same fluid animation in most animated releases, but there’s definitely more than enough here to help introduce Marvel’s lesser-known Black Panther character to a new generation, even if the results are somewhat disappointing.
This six-episode motion comic series is based off the first six issues of “Who is the Black Panther” by Reginald Hudlin, who also acts as producer for the show. The story follows T’Challa (Djimon Hounsou), who ascends to the top of the small, independent African country called Wakanda. As ruler, he must also accept the responsibility of being the Black Panther, defender of their lands and people alongside his sister Shuri (Kerry Washington) and Mother (Alfre Woodard). Thanks to Wakanda having immense technology and resources, making it an enticing place for countries around the world including the United States, it becomes the focus of a multi-front attack when a cyborg assassin named Klaw (Stephen Stanton) plans to kill T’Challa just like he did T’Challa’s father.
The cast does a pretty good job at bringing the characters to life, especially Djimon Hounsou as T’Challa, and even cameo appearances in the series such as Storm voiced by musician Jill Scott. I thought it was kind of silly how they threw in Stan Lee as the semi-racist and ignorant General of the military, but I guess you can’t have a Marvel production these days without Lee in there somewhere.
The series often loses track of things as there are multiple storylines that never quite come together like they should. The political aspects of the story do get a bit prominent and, along with the countless cameos, this seems to distract from what should have been the main focus of the Black Panther story. It would’ve been nice to see more about the responsibilities of T’Challa and what it means to be both a spiritual and political leader for a nation. In this series, it makes the Black Panther come off as a very xenophobic hero that wants to seal away his home and shun the outside world. This can make it pretty difficult for folks to connect with that type of hero.
John Romita Jr. does a fantastic job creating the unique art style and world of Wakanda. The action sequences, while not as fluid as I would’ve liked, are pretty good for a motion comic format. The video is presented in a anamorphic widescreen transfer, with Shout Factory doing a good job making sure the colors and animation leap off the screen. They also did a good job with the audio, as the stereo mix is crisp and balanced throughout. Sadly, there’s not much in terms of special features, limited to a “Looking Back at Black Panther with Reginald Hudlin” feature, which shows a 15-minute interview that discusses the character and his adventures that brings out Reginald’s inner fanboy. Besides that, there’s only a 2-minute Music Video for the theme song and the trailer.
Marvel Knights: Black Panther is a good, but flawed introduction to one of Marvel’s lesser known comic heroes, which collects all six episodes of the short-lived motion comic animated series. I can only hope it finds a wider audience on DVD than it did when it was originally broadcast on Australian TV and streamed through the online outlets. If nothing else, this would give the character – one of the most important in the history of black superhero history – his proper due and inspire better productions to take advantage of the storytelling possibilities. There’s not much actual content here, apart from the 6 episodes themselves, but as a budget-priced collection its more than acceptable. In the meantime, at least fans also have his current incarnation on the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes series.
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