Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Secret Invasion: Black Panther

Secret Invasion: Black Panther

Jason Aaron (w), Jefte Palo (a)

I’m sure you all have opinions on Secret Invasion and its Dark Reign aftermath status quo, but I’ll always remember Secret Invasion for this little tie-in arc of Black Panther by Jason Aaron and Jefte Palo.

In this little look-in on Wakanda during the Secret Invasion event, we find a team of Skrulls taking on an entire army of Wakandans.  Due to some aggressive computer hacking from both ends, both the Skrulls and Wakandans find themselves without access to their advanced weapon systems, which means we get three issues of up-close-and-personal-style bludgeoning and stabbing as the only weapons left around are those that don’t run on any sort of advanced Wakandan or Skrull super-technology (You’d think someone would have thought to pack a pistol or whatever, but I’m not really complaining) as T’Challa takes on a small group of Super Skrulls on his own.  Don’t worry, though.  T’Challa has a plan.  I mean, of course he has a plan.  He’s like if Batman and Captain America got together and ran their own country funded by Bruce Wayne AND Tony Stark.

Jason Aaron gives us a face to the Skrull invaders in the form of K’vvvr, the Commander of this contingent of hapless Skrulls.  K’vvvr is one mission away from retirement, and guess what?  K’vvvr doesn’t even care about the Skrull Empire!  All he wants to do is finish up this mission, conquer this little country, and go home to retire on a quiet planet with his wife.  Bummer that this little country is Wakanda, the only country on earth that has never been conquered by anyone, a country inhabited by fierce warriors and brilliant minds armed with the most durable mineral resource in the world, a country that is protected by its King and Queen, who just so happen to be the Black Panther (the aforementioned super-rich cross between Captain America and Batman) and his bride Storm, of the X-Men, a team of people who’ve made it a habit of ducking and defeating anybody trying to hunt them.  As if claiming that this would be his last mission before retirement wasn’t enough, K’vvvr has to take on Wakanda.  It’s like this dude hasn’t even heard of “Retirony.”

Make no mistake, this a fight comic, pure and simple.  Where I think it differs from something like a War comic is that war comics usually concern themselves with making the audience connect with a group of soldiers by looking into their motivations or reasons they’re in this war so that we are provided with an emotional stake in their survival.  Secret Invasion: Black Panther does this with the previously mentioned K’vvvr, but it’s ultimately pointless.  This is because the book is not called Secret Invasion: K’vvvr.  The story is taking place in the Black Panther book.  Through the simple virtue of not being the Black Panther and not being a Wakandan, we automatically identify him as the enemy.  In a similar vein, Aaron gives the audience the benefit of the doubt and assumes that we, the discerning consumers who purchased a book called Black Panther, already know enough about the how superhero comics work to know that we are rooting for him.  Whatever internal monologue he gives T’Challa is only preaching to the choir.  If not, then we’ve got a bunch of murderous looking aliens who at one point threaten to beat his wife “until she is no longer recognizable as vertebrae” to really bring the point home.  As such, we don’t really get any insightful peeks into the psyches of these characters that will emotionally invest us in their continued survival (or in the Black Panther’s case, we were rooting for him anyway), so all we’re left with is some moments of the Black Panther and his Wakandan soldiers acting like hard dudes, a couple of twists (one of which is kind of horrifying when you think about it, but horrifying things just kind of happen when a full-scale invasive assault is on your doorstep), and a whole lot of fighting -- which, you know, is perfect for a fight comic.

So what we’ve got on our hands is a bona fide fight comic, but I wouldn’t sweat it –– it’s a really entertaining fight comic.  As they should be.  It’s long been a belief of mine that fight comics are to comics in general what candy is to a balanced, healthy diet: you know you shouldn’t, but fuck it, right?  You’ve earned yourself a little treat.  In the context of fight comics, “a little treat” means “moments of badassery and kinetic action/fight sequences.”  Here’s an example:

This arc, and any good fight comics worth its ink, is filled with these sorts of moments of tough confidence, which are usually followed by a pretty exciting set of fight panels.  Brainless?  Maybe sometimes, sure, but good fight comics do serve their purpose; in general to entertain, and within the context of the particular comic, to make a statement about a character, or in the case of the bloodier scenes in fight comics, to evoke an emotional, visceral response from the audience.

The only thing that bugs me about this particular comic is Storm.  She doesn’t use her powers in the battles as per T’Challa’s request to stick to his plans, and I guess I can get with that, but there’s a part where she and T’Challa escape their captors and move onto the Skrull ship where they stab K’vvvr through the chest with their swords.  I’m no expert on Storm, but straight up murdering someone, even during wartime, seems uncharacteristic, and I wonder why T’Challa didn’t just send her away to spare her from getting blood on her hands. It's as if Jason Aaron didn't even really need Storm so much as he did some other female Wakandan warrior.  But I mean, whatever, I can go with it for the sake of the fight comic and think about how I can get my No-Prize later.  It’s a fight comic, and as such, I’m too busy enjoying myself to get hung up on something as silly as how I think Storm would act during a Skrull invasion.  The answer’s right there on the page: she’ll stab a Skrull through the chest if she needs to.  Okay, fine.

So what does three issues worth of fights and stabbings and tough-guy talk have to tell us about the glorious nation of Wakanda?

Wakanda is like the Wu-Tang Clan -- ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.

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