Before I get going, I just want to make my stance clear on whether or not Black Panther is an animated series or a motion comic. Personally, I don’t feel right calling this a “motion comic.” It doesn’t feel like it. Sure, some of the limitations of the format are there, but this feels far more “animated” than some cartoons on today. And, well, since it’s from Marvel Animation and originally announced as an animated series when it was set to air on BET (before being annexed due to the network’s demographic target changes), I think I’ll hereto label it a such. There’s just no way it can be flatly called a motion comic. That really does a disservice to Black Panther.
Deep in the heart of Africa lies Wakanda, an advanced and unconquerable civilization. A family of warrior-kings possessing superior speed, strength and agility has governed this mysterious nation as long as time itself. The latest in this famed line is young King T’Challa, the great hero known worldwide as the Black Panther. Now outsiders once again threaten to invade and plunder Wakanda. Leading this brutal assault is Klaw, a deadly assassin with the blood of T’Challa’s murdered father on his hands, who brings with him an army of superpowered mercenaries. Even with Wakanda’s might and his own superhuman skills, can the Black Panther prevail against this deadly invading force? From respected filmmaker/producer Reginald Hudlin and legendary comic book artist John Romita Jr., comes the epic Black Panther story for which comic fans have waited 25 years. Starring Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator,Blood Diamond and Alfre Woodard (True Blood, Star Trek: First Contact).
Now, don’t get the wrong impression that this animated series is something on par with the likes of Batman: The Animated Series or The Spectacular Spider-Man. It’s not. Far from it, actually. But, regardless of the quality, I find that the treatment bestowed upon Black Panther wasn’t exactly fair. I just wish the actual final product could support that just a little bit. Being ditched by BET due a demographic focus change, then axed from the legal digital downloads after three episodes? This show was not treated kindly and deserved better. Not in just how it was treated but its actual execution, as well. I like the animation style used, how the comic book is brought to life. However, the story? Well…ah…the story isn’t all that it could be, to be honest.
And that’s a shame given the wealth of talent involved here. The cast is high-class and top-notch, the artwork is splendid and even the writer is renowned for doing some great work. But here, Reginald Hudland, who wrote both the original comic book source material and this animated adaptation, instead creates a repetitive and bland story that fails in its mission to bring the Black Panther into the modern age. All the potential seems just wasted here, and becomes increasingly disappointing when you look at the amazing talent that’s involved. Hudland is a self-confessed die-hard fan of the Black Panther, and there’s no fault there as T’Challa is an awesome Marvel character, but it’s surprising that his love of the character doesn’t carry over to his script.
The story is a basic exploration of the Black Panther and his homeland of Wakanda. However, Hudlin tosses in a fair share of new additions to the back story, expanding on the character’s original 1960’s origin. For the most part the changes aren’t really detrimental to the character. T’Challa has relatives who are jealous that he is the Black Panther, something we hear repeatedly through the six included episodes. And while the major technological advancements of Wakanda are common place in the comics, Hudlin has upped those advancements a bit, including cures for many diseases and electronic capabilities that far outweigh what we have today in the world. Hudlin has embellished all this from the original story and it’s not too much of a detraction from the character’s origin, but it does seem flat-out silly at times. Sure, it establishes why everyone basically wants to invade Wakanda (repeatedly, I might add), but it does add for some unnecessary complications. And what’s with characters from the 1800s using modern dialogue? Hunh?
There are other problems to be sure. The pacing seems mighty slow for the animated series, taking roughly three episodes before plot lines and stories start to come together and form a cohesive narrative. And even then, the pay-off is a bit of a letdown. The big climactic event that wraps up this six-episode series feels mighty underwhelming.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is some good stuff to be found here. Again, the voice cast here is pretty astounding, with nary a fault to be found. Everyone, even Stan Lee hilariously cast a bigot military officer, seems to be pitch-perfect for their respective roles. Ad hey, how can you not love that awesome theme music? Even the animation, which takes artwork from the actual comics and “animates” them, is pretty sharp. Sure, it’s no more than an upgrade from the old 1960s Marvel cartoons that did the exact same thing, but the animation here actually looks pretty sharp. Sure, it definitely feels like a “motion comic,” as this reelase is now billed, but it feels more loose and more “animated” than the current motion comics available. Hell, it’s more animated than most cartoons out there nowadays.
That being said, the overall quality is disappointing, especially when there is only really one weak link in the chain. However, that weak link plays a mighty huge role in the series and it just kind of…ruins everything else here. Black Panther houses so much potential, and its treatment has been pretty abhorrent, but I’m sure there’d be more outrage if the final product was actually…better. There’s so much good going for this animated title, the voice talent and the animation style, it’s a shame to see it tainted by the flawed work of Hudlin. Hudlin is a talented guy, don’t get me wrong, but he took a bit of a misstep here and the result is…not pretty. Black Panther is worth no more than a Rental as I can’t see anyone wanting to watch this release again and again. Maybe for the great visuals, I suppose…
Bonus content is light for this release. On the disc, inside a nicely package cardboard digipack resembling a graphic novel, bonus content includes an interview with Reginald Hudlin on his affinity for the Black Panther character and his work on the series. Mostly fluff, to be honest, but it does provide a snapshot on how this series started and evolved into its final product. Outside of that we get a trailer and a music video and…that’s it. No more than 20 minutes of bonus content when it’s all said and done.
The audio and video quality is pretty standard,though not without flaws. The audio is crystal clear for the most part, though sound effects during the more action-oriented sequences can sound pretty muted. Additionally, the video features a few compression issues with some occasional color bleed. Nothing major but noticeable from time to time. A fine transfer I suppose, though could be better.
And I guess that’s an overall theme for the entire release, including the main feature and the DVD itself – could be better (the packaging is top-notch, though). It’s a slight DVD release, with only a teeny bit of extra material that doesn’t really flesh out the final product. Based on everything that happened behind-the-scenes in getting this series released, there’s plenty of untapped potential for content. However, what we get here is a nice, positive, fluffy take on what the creation of the series and…that will have to do. The audio and video is standard and, overall, it’s a pretty basic release for Black Panther. Still, given the quality of the main feature and lightness of the bonus content, I can’t recommend this release for anything more than a simple Rental, even if you’re a huge Black Panther fan.
More images from the Black Panther release can be found at Marvel Animation Age.
Black Panther is now available on DVD from Shout! Factory.