Black Panther Vol. 1
By Jack Kirby
Published by Marvel Comics; $19.99 USD

I really enjoyed this book. This softcover, color collection of issues #1-7 of Jack Kirbyís Black Panther comic book from the 1970s was obviously designed to highlight the launch of Marvelís newest take on the character, but its real value is offering fans a glimpse of a period in Kirbyís career which is often overlooked.

Even describing the plot of the book is a lot of fun: We begin right in the middle of the action, as the Black Panther has apparently been persuaded by a little person named, um, Mr. Little, to join him on his quest for...wait for it...King Solomonís Frog. Yep, it seems this rare artifact has the power to pull individuals forwards or backwards from various points in time, and was apparently responsible for the legends of Ali Baba and the Loch Ness Monster.* Mr. Little belongs to a group of colorful characters known as the Collectors, and when fellow Collector Princess Zanda shows up to claim the frog as her own, a battle ensues which results in the appearance of the Six-Million Year Man, a super-evolved human from mankindís distant future, brought to our time by the power of the frog. So thatís all in the first issue, then. In subsequent issues, the Panther teams up with Zanda and Mr. Little (whose name I couldnít stop reading as ďLittle MisterĒ) to find the ďtwinĒ frog statue in King Solomonís tomb, which can send the dangerous Six-Million Year Man back to his own time. The following story arc has the Panther and Mr. Little on a quest for a fountain of youth hidden in a lost realm of ancient Samurai, and the Panther fights a Yeti at some point, as well.

I think itís interesting that Kirby begins the book with the Black Panther as almost a guest star in the world of the Collectors, as we donít really get much information on the Panther himself until a subplot involving the Kingdom of Wakanda begins to creep in to the last couple of issues. Although the melodrama is broad and the dialogue somewhat awkward, even camp (Kirby always communicated better with pictures than with words), the Black Panther still comes across as a dignified, fully drawn character, one who clearly places high value on personal honor and the sanctity of life. The Collectors and the enemies they encounter are not quite as innovative or endearing as many of the characters Kirby created earlier in his career, but they are a lot of fun, and prove to be good foils for the Panther. Mike Royer, one of Kirby best collaborators, does the inking here, and I would place the draftsmanship on a par with the highly lauded "Fourth World" material. The reproduction is of a high quality, and the coloring looks very good to my eye.

I havenít read Marvelís latest Black Panther effort, but I might have to check it out to see how it holdís up against this version. I guess Marvelís shrewd marketing scheme suckered me in, after all. I might even be upset with them had this book not provided me with so much enjoyment. Grade: 4.5/5

* But not the legend of Blackbeard the Pirate, as he was in fact the Thing in disguise, having been sent into the past by Doctor Doomís time machine. See Fantastic Four #5, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They really donít make comics like this anymore, do they?

-- Pat Markfort

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