“The Trade of Kings” by Priest, Sal Velluto, and Bob Almond
If there’s one prevailing theme weaved all throughout Priest’s acclaimed Black Panther run, it’s probably this—Black Panther is a big fucking deal…period.
In fact, I’d wager that your own feelings of love, hate, or general indifference regarding this run really boils down to your ability to accept and embrace that particular interpretation of the character. The way Priest portrays T’Challa, with a stance that offers no apologies or equivocations, is a definitive outlier from what came before, and honestly, from many of the creative takes that would come after. Inside the walls of this book, the Black Panther is no longer the second or third tier character we’ve been led to believe, but a powerful force for good who commands the respect and reverence from both his friends and his enemies throughout the entire Marvel Universe.
This issue includes a fantastic example of that as a “war council” is convened and attended by Panther, Magneto, Dr. Doom, and Namor. The nations of Wakanda and Lemuria are dangerously close to war, over the life of a mother and child of all things, and every man assembled has some skin in the game. What would turn into an entire scene of veiled threats and moustache twirling in your typical average comic becomes instead a riveting sequence of intellectual and physical equals connected by common interests, established treaties, and an abiding level of respect. Take a minute and really think about that—in a room with Magneto, Doom, and Namor, the Black Panther is not treated as some also-ran, or a non-entity, but as a powerful king that rules one of the planet’s most powerful nations. And whose actions can wreak terrible havoc if not carefully and calmly considered.
What makes it great is the casualness of it. These characters speak of shared histories and interests, and none of them is made to feel like they’re undeserving of the other men’s time and attention. Well, okay, maybe Doom does a little of that, but that’s to be expected. The important thing is that Priest plays it as an almost common, natural occurrence, and that level of subtlety and insight makes for one of the most important sequences of the entire run. There’s a little more to this issue than one great scene (see below), but even if it wasn’t, this would still rank as one of my all-time favorites. What it expresses to the audience is simply undeniable, and it does it without beating you over the head with it.
Now the whip cream and cherry on top is Panther’s brief (yet entirely memorable) tussle with Namor, right before the master manipulator learns there was one angle to this whole complicated thing he didn’t see. While interrupting a convienance store robbery, Panther is essentially minding his own damn business, when Namor crashes through the ceiling, shouting that famous phrase he’s always shouting, and clearly fighting mad. Which he quickly demonstrates by knocking T’Challa through a window and into the side of a squad car parked outside. Then this happens—
Easily one of the most badass moments of the entire series, and a piece of storytelling perfection from Priest and artist Sal Velluto, serving up just the right line with just the right image. Seldom did Black Panther look as cool and as righteous as he did here, and it’s one of those moments that looks like a tiny bit, but makes you smile inside and tells you exactly why you love comics.
Another great showing from all involved, and a reminder that around here is when this series went from “really, really good” to “consistently great”…
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Brandon Thomas writes comics and writes about comics. He’s written stories for Dynamite, Marvel, DC, and Arcade Comics, and co-created The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury, with artist Lee Ferguson, which is available right now from Archaia in OGN format. His personal blog is The Fiction House, and his Twitter handle is @mirandamercury.
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