Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Trade Weight: Doomsday Clock - The Complete Collection

 2021, DC Comics

--DC is a mess--

Everything DC Comics is kind of a mess these days.  The DC Extended Universe movie universe ("DCEU") is a failed experiment that Warner Brothers just keeps plugging money into trying to figure out something that will rival Marvel Studios' brilliant IP-building.  The DC-CWverse (formerly "Arrowverse") has felt a little aimless following the big Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover circa Dec 2019-Jan 2020, with many of its long running series coming to an end or starting to feel the weight of their many years, and new pilots like Painkiller and Green Arrow and the Canaries (or whatever it was to be called) stalling out the gate.  The one thing DC was always great at, animation (especially that for all-ages), has been kind of absent (DC Superhero Girls burned bright briefly... is Teen Titans Go still a thing?), and their direct-to-video animated movie department seems mostly focused on animating popular comic stories. In comics, DC fired Dan Didio two years ago and started scaling back operations, leaving it leaderless, and taking a new publishing approach of distancing their series from having to maintain over-complicated continuity.

It's not that there haven't been successes.  The disconnected films, like Shazam and Aquaman were great fun, pointing that maybe stand-alone realities are the way to go. Original TV shows for DC's streaming service (now absorbed into HBO Max) Doom Patrol and Harley Quinn have been really quite good or great. In comics, Tom King hasn't let me down yet, Milestone has returned, Tom Taylor's writing Nightwing and Wally West is The Flash again.

But I'm not as enthused as I once was. 
DC has see-sawed waaaaay too much over the past decade, and frankly, I put it at the feet of Geoff Johns.

--The road that Johns paved--

I like Johns, but not unequivocally. I think his need to play with his childhood toys in the late aughts, Barry Allen and Hal Jordan specifically, kind of ruined what DC's greatest strength and advantage over Marvel was: legacy.  I mean, Johns had a great run on JSA, and really seemed to get the history of the DC Universe, but he also couldn't let go of it.  With Green Lantern, bringing Hal back led to the Spectrum Corps, but it also led to Kyle Raynor (the comics Green Lantern) and John Stewart (the animated Green Lantern) being pushed aside.  Kyle in the comics struggled for a new identity.  They made a borderline unwatchable movie about Hal Jordan which Johns had a heavy hand in. 

Following the return of Hal Jordan, Johns penned Infinite Crisis.  With its direct ties back to Crisis on Infinite Earths, was Johns' first big foray into course correcting and explaining deviations in the DCU.  This is the series that introduced a very evil Superboy into DC continuity who has been one of John's mainstay go-to bad guys for a decade and a half.

Infinite Crisis led into the epic weekly series 52, where Johns, partnering with Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Grant Morrison, reinstated a new multiverse into the DCU.  Meanwhile, Johns (with Richard Donner) also made a stab at introducing a child into Superman's life, which didn't really take.

Then, in bringing Barry Allen back, he pushed Wally West aside.  Wally was the Flash of both comics and animation.  It pushed Bart Allen aside too, which in a way started the restricting of the next generation of heroes.  As Marvel was building up its next gen of Young Avengers and  X-Men, and solo stars like Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, Miles Morales Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen, DC started turning back to the past, and then in a blind fit of madness, wiping the slate clean.

Thanks to Johns, and Barry Allen, there was Flashpoint, which I deem to be the nadir of DC's 25-year obsession with event-driven publishing.  To be completely honest, I've still not read it in full, but the concept just reaffirmed my distaste for Barry Allen as the Flash.  If he's the better Flash, he should know better than to muck with time. Obviously the New 52 was the direct end result.  The New 52 was never going to be anything but a short-term ploy for DC, and while it may have benefited them financially in the short term, in the long run it was an abject failure.  The indirect end result is a large piece of the decade-long spiral into darker DC realities.  Flashpoint. The New 52. Injustice. Metal and the Dark Multiverse. Arrow. Man of Steel and the Snyderverse. "Fuck Batman" Titans. Animated Frank Miller adaptations.

Amid the new 52 Johns also penned the Forever Evil event, where the villains of the DCU took over the world and then had to combat an even greater foe, and then two years later DC Universe:Rebirth (trading off Green Lantern: Rebirth and Flash:Rebirth) which effectively retconned the New 52 and created a new hybrid  reality.

I'm not saying the quality of any of these are bad.  Johns is a good writer, and a lot of his output is great reading.  But I look at so much of what he did as a writer for DC and it was a lot of monkeying with the larger architecture of the DC Universe.  As Chief Creative Officer of DC for 8 years, he working with Dan Didio and Jim Lee to plot the path, he's the one who physically laid the bricks.

--Who mans the Watchmen?--

In 2011 (though Johns may have had nothing to do with the decision, but hard to tell given he was CCO) DC started laying the groundwork for more Watchmen product, with long advance notice of the 2012 debut of the Before Watchmen titles, and the fan griping to go along with it.

Watchmen was a sacrosanct text for the longest time, a portrait of pure artistic vision.  The foundation upon which modern superhero comics (and maybe the American comics industry as a whole) was built. To touch it in any way would potentially dilute its impact.  Any falter in how it, or the characters within were presented, and it could tarnish the whole conceit of superheroes as something modern, meaningful, relevant, artful.

Well, with a stab at making a film in 2009, Zack Snyder got the adapted visuals bang on, but missed all the nuance.  Even still, following the film, the collected edition of Watchmen became a massive and sustaining bestseller.  More Watchmen was inevitable.

Yet in the wake of the film,  people already were pointing a damning finger back to The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as the guidepost what happened to the American comics industry in the years following their near simultaneous publications. Grim'n'gritty'n'sexy'n'cool dominated the 90's, but that was catering not to an adult audience, but a hormonal teenage one.  DC dabbled in this, but they didn't go hardcore like Marvel, Image or the indies did.   The fallout of the "Death of Superman" wasn't a plunge into darkness, but the introduction of new legacy characters.  It didn't stop them from getting there eventually, with things like Identity Crisis in 2004 (where a villain rapes a heroes wife) and, yes, Flashpoint and the New 52.

Alan Moore has said that creators have ostensibly taken the wrong inspiration from Watchmen.  Per an interview with the AV Club in 2008: "I think that what a lot of people saw when they read Watchmen was a high degree of violence, a bleaker and more pessimistic political perspective, perhaps a bit more sex, more swearing. And to some degree there has been, in the 15 years since Watchmen, an awful lot of the comics field devoted to these grim, pessimistic, nasty, violent stories which kind of use Watchmen to validate what are, in effect, often just some very nasty stories that don't have a lot to recommend them.... The gritty, deconstructivist postmodern superhero comic, as exemplified by Watchmen, also became a genre. It was never meant to. It was meant to be one work on its own. I'd have liked to have seen more people trying to do something that was as technically complex as Watchmen, or as ambitious, but which wasn't strumming the same chords that Watchmen had strummed so repetitively. The apocalyptic bleakness of comics over the past 15 years sometimes seems odd to me, because it's like that was a bad mood that I was in 15 years ago. It was the 1980s, we'd got this insane right-wing voter fear running the country, and I was in a bad mood, politically and socially and in most other ways. But it was a genuine bad mood, and it was mine. I've seen a lot of things over the past 15 years that have been a bizarre echo of somebody else's bad mood. It's not even their bad mood, it's mine"

 Moore wasn't trying to "correct" anything, he was using the medium of superheroes as a means of exploring humanity, and to express his concerns over it's trajectory at the time it was created.  It was also an experimental storytelling playground.

For the better part of Geoff Johns' career (mostly at DC) he's either been trying to influence DCs future, or correct continuity.  With Doomsday Clock he's doing both, while at the same time adopting the edifice of what Moore and Gibbons did in 1985.  

Doomsday Clock looks like Watchmen, it's structured like Watchmen, it contains Watchmen characters and references...but its purpose is so, so much less.  The spirit of Watchmen is not contained within.

--A doomed review--

Let me just say, before I continue, that I enjoyed reading Doomsday Clock.  It's a very engrossing read.  It presents a compelling in-world scenario as well as a mystery that unfurls nicely.  The framework upon which the story hangs is a beefy one, build by masters of storytelling, and just in attempting to emulate that structure, Johns with frequent collaborator Gary Frank (with colorist Brad Anderson and letterer Rob Leigh) manage to deliver the impression of importance.  Like Snyder's adaptation, it adopts its cues and approximates the rhythms, and does so skillfully enough to entertain, but its missing soul.  It's a cover song, performed by an artist that likes the tune, but doesn't really connect with the lyrics.

This 400-page tome starts roughly 7 years after the events of Watchmen, the lie Adrian Veidt had created has been exposed and the world is collapsing.  Protests ring out as distrust runs rampant.  Rather than successfully bringing the world together he's torn it down practically to the ground.  It's on the verge of nuclear annihilation.  There's one hope at salvation, Dr. Manhattan, and he's nowhere to be found, at least not in this reality.  So Veidt, a new Rorschach and two criminals from their past escape in the Owlship to the modern day 2020 DC Universe in search of the missing blue god.

The opening chapters feel the weight of its apocalyptic scenario for Earth-Watchmen.  The new Rorschach is intentionally too on the nose of the old Rorschach so as to add the weight of the original when perhaps said weight isn't really there. This Rorschach seems to be as astute and as ruthless as the original.... 

Once on Earth-Rebirth, there's a situation at hand, a rumour that America's uneven proliferation of superheroes compared to the rest of the world is as a result of secret government experimental programs. Protests erupt, distrust abounds.  It's a much different reality, this Earth full of heroes, but the same problems persist.

Early on you get the sense that maybe Johns is working through a lot of the issues of the day, but then I remember that a lot of the Black Lives Matter protesting and capital building storming hadn't happened yet.  But still, disinformation and bull-headed belief in feelings-over-facts I thought would make for a potent undercurrent...but they never really get much past a patch on the surface.

By the end of the second act, the gritty groundedness of Watchmen gives way to the spandex-clad reality of the DCU.  It's a story that slowly turns from maybe having something to say to just being another superhero event comic.  There have been stories of distrust in heroes countless times...right out of Crisis On Infinite Earths event came the Legends event which found Glorious Godfrey, a then-equivalent to a modern-day right-wing mouthpiece, spouting off against the heroes and rallying the layperson against them.  That storyline feels even more relevant today, with certain supposed "news" media sowing discord among the public by proliferating lies and repeating propaganda.  Those machinations are at play in Doomsday Clock but they're buried under the importance of telling a story that's set up to reframe a superhero universe.

And it's too bad, it's really to bad.  There's a lot of craft and care put into this.  Gary Frank does what may be the best work of his career here, bringing something of his own to the 9-panel grid structure.  Franks figures, forms and faces have never been more expressive and emotive, it's really gorgeous to look at.  Similarly, Johns really was trying at matching the level of storytelling intricacy that Moore did, putting so much work into back-matter world building, and seeding throughout his own "Black Freighter" in the form of a Noir movie starring a dormant DC-owned detective.  His sifting through annals of DC's pantheon and pulls out so many deep cuts, there is clearly love and care here in what he's doing.  At a certain point it even seems that Johns might be making a case that superheroes as a storytelling construct have no place in modern society...but that train is abandoned rather quickly.

But the end result is not even close to Watchmen caliber.  

While Watchmen will still be completely readable and resonant two decades from now, Doomsday Clock is here to serve one purpose... yet again correct the continuity problems of the DC Universe (and answer questions like where are the JSA? Where is the Legion?).  In the wake of DC Universe: Rebirth there were still continuity flaws and gaps that couldn't be explained.  Just as there were gaps in the New 52.  And gaps after Final Crisis, and Infinite Crisis and Zero Hour and Crisis On Infinite Earths and every other attempt to sew some sort of logic into decades upon decades of storytelling with characters who barely age.

I like that Johns ties in all the timeline fudging directly around the need to keep revitalizing Superman, as the DC Universe indeed does revolve around him.  It a good acknowledgement.  But Johns doesn't just stop at trying to fix the currently broken DC Universe, or addressing why it keeps needing fixing, he also tries to project five different points of future DCU continuity up to 30 years in advance that infers so much the hubris of the writer and his sense that he's the architect of the DCU.  I would almost have preferred a Morrison-esque injection of himself into the proceedings as the grand architect, indicting thins grand decider or the reader as complicit beings of unknown origins for their part in continually messing up the reality.

If it serves another purpose - integrating the Watchmen into the DCU for future exploration - then that's kind of the worst possible scenario.

--Aftermath and aside--

The fallout of Doomsday Clock was rapid, and before it was even finished another event befell the DCU, Dark Knights: Metal, which changed everything even more (has to be the absolute fastest retcon in existence).  Today, there's Future State and other untethered realities that allow basically any story to be told and be a part of any canon.  It all exists at once.  It's all valid.  Just enjoy what you want to enjoy, don't worry about how it impacts anything else.  It's a reality I like, but also one that's hard to invest in.

I wish Doomsday Clock had been a part of this new, post-Metal reality, where it was its own stand-alone, self-contained product, with a beginning, middle and end that owes very little to any specific continuity.  It really needed to separate itself from the "now" of the DC Universe (at a certain point I thought it was taking place in 1992 DCU), but since it couldn't, it will be forever tied to 2020 which means it will age and creak, pretty rapidly.

The argument that Watchmen shouldn't be continued at all is, now, a moot point. In Multiversity: Pax Americana, Grant Morrison reverted the Watchmen characters back to their Charlton Comics analogs, providing a playground to mess with the Watchmen without actually messing with Watchmen.  But Watchmen is a brand now, and that will be taken advantage of whether anyone likes it or not.  We now have four separate projects that have been built around it, to their own varying levels of success (and failure).  If anything, Watchmen needs to be left alone, in that it shouldn't be operating outside its own reality.  It becomes abundantly clear in Doomsday Clock that being part of a sprawling superhero reality isn't a great fit for the property. It plays nice for a time, but eventually gets crushed under the weight of everything a shared universe represents.  With the exception of Dr. Manhattan (who is perhaps too outsized for the DCU), the characters get lost.  Who needs an Adrian Veidt when you have a Lex Luthor.  Who needs a Rorschach when you have a Batman or a Question.  Who needs Marionette or Mime when you have the Joker. 

An enjoyable enough read for people steeped in DC lore, but not a very accessible read for someone looking for a sequel to Watchmen.  For that, I would direct them to the brilliant 2020 HBO TV mini-series that takes the established world of Watchmen and tries something different, technically complex, that harnesses the bad mood of the 2010s and makes a work of art out of it.  It's expands upon the world of Watchmen without parroting Moore and Gibbons or leaning on the past like a crutch.  It has ambition and purpose, but also entertains wildly and surprisingly. While Doomsday Clock barely scratches at commenting on our modern existence, HBO's Watchmen transfers the temperature of the day to another far more effectively.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Trade Weight: Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection vol 1 & 2

5-ish years later...
Why now?
Why is Graig returning Second Printing soooo long after running it into the ground with his prattling on?
Because he has no mouth and he must scream.
About comics.]

 2015, Marvel

I was already late to the party.


I started reading Priest's run of Black Panther as collected in the initial Marvel Knights trade paperbacks released in 2001.  (oddly, while fact checking this blog post, I discovered my copy of volume 2, "Enemy of the State" was published in February 2001, and my copy of volume 1, "The Client" was published in June 2001)

The series had started in '98.  

I was late to the party.

I loved it but I only got two trades (12 issues) deep into the series, mainly because they didn't keep compiling the run in trade.  It made no sense why they didn't keep collecting the series.  For a long, long time it just felt like a huge gap in my comics collection.  It was a gap I had always intended on filling but never quite did.


A couple years back, around 2015, I found a bunch of Priest's run in the dollar bin at a local comic shoppe, so I snapped those up, but they were very random, scattershot issues.  A couple of teens, a few in the 20's, a handful of 30s, 40 and 49, most of the 50s.  It was a start.  But it wasn't something I was dedicated to.

My "to read" comics pile of trades and floppies had grown huge. With kids and pets and work and board games and tv and movies and all the other things, comics had slid down my list of priorities, nevermind filling in back-issues for a 15-year-old series.  

And now that I had started filling in the collection with dollar bin floppies, I'd be damned if I was paying $40 for the new Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection trades Marvel finally started publishing in 2015.  Especially since the first volume collected issues 1-17, and I already had trades with issues 1-12.  What kind of scam were they perpetrating here, anyway?  At the very least I needed to get issues 13-17 before picking up the Complete Collection volume 2, but then I would have two trades, 5 floppies and more trades.  That's just annoying to put on a bookshelf.


2018...well, we all know what happened in 2018.  Black Panther happened in 2018.

Wakanda, and the glorious afrofuturist fantasy it presented, the dreams and fandom it sparked, became the best thing of 2018.

What I had forgotten, in watching the movie, was where it came from (but really, it didn't matter where it came from, only that it exists, and it's something that was embraced like very few films before or since).

I loved the introduction of T'Challa in Civil War but I was like a child, in complete awe of the world of Wakanda in multiple theatrical viewings of Black Panther.  The reality was my knowledge of Black Panther was pretty weak.  I wasn't a Marvel kid, and my reading of Marvel books as a teen through twenties was sporadic. The fact that I had read any Black Panther didn't matter because the entire reality created by Ryan Coogler and his fantastic team of designers and stylists and performers and.and.and just everyone was now the definitive take on it all to me.

I mean, who cared if it was or wasn't authentic.  The majority of Black Panther stories were crafted by (hopefully well-intentioned, but probably misguided) white men.  Who needs to hold to that as "authentic"?  I knew that Priest came along after 30 years and he built a whole new reality (if not entirely new, certainly revised and revamped), but all I really retained of my limited Panther-by-Priest exposure was the goofy antics of in-over-his-head Agent Ross acting as King T'Challa's American liaison.  I recalled the concept of the Dora Milaje, T'Challa's elite, exclusively female security force, but the specifics were completely overwritten by their presentation in the film.  And while watching the movie, it felt like I had no frame of reference for Wakanda.  Priest's Wakanda never stuck out to me because, as noted, I hadn't gotten very deep into his run, and the first two arcs largely take place in America. 

After Feburary 16, 2018, to me, and to most people, Chadwick Boseman was king. I mean, Reginald Hudlin, Dwayne McDuffie in the pages of Fantastic Four), Jonathan Hickman (in New Avengers) and Ta Nehisi Coates had all put a stamp on him, but Boseman literally brought the character to life, and in a meaningful, impactful, inspirational way.


COVID-19 took its pounds of flesh, crippled economies, toppled governments, and sent people down some pretty fucked up paths.  It shattered psyches and wore down stomach linings.  It forced people apart - physically, ideologically.  

The news wasn't great, for so long, so we all had but one objective...escape into media, into content.  But for a time new content had slowed to a trickle, so older content was being explored...and it was time for me to FINALLY get back to Priest's Black Panther.

Except, because of the 2018 cultural phenomenon that was Coogler's Best Picture Oscar nominated (and award-winning) blockbuster, the price of individual issues of Priest's Black Panther had shot up in value.  They were no longer dollar bin fodder but, in some cases, upwards of twenty dollars per issue.  I mean, if I'm being completely honest, that Priest's Black Panther run was ever dollar bin fodder is absurd.


I've reached a point in my life where I'm making decent money, the bills are paid and, especially since COVID limits what we can actually spend money on, I have some excess disposable income.  Some goes to charity, some goes into retirement savings, and some goes into my hobbies, allowing myself a few luxuries, like buying the first volume of The Complete Collection, even though I already have trades that cover 2/3 of that volume.

I also bought volume 2, even though I had half of that volume from the scattershot dollar bin issues I had found.  I tried to find Volumes 3 and 4 but they just seem gone, at least in Canada, and people have started hiking up the price on the secondary market.  The last printings of these Complete Collection volumes seemed to be in conjunction with the release of the film in 2018.

And after all this history, I finally sit down and read.

[I need a young priest and an old priest]

I wish I was a better fan back in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Priest was always a writer I connected with.  His storytelling sensibilities were (and still are) so uniquely his own, his sense of humour is right in my wheelhouse, and his thirst for knowledge is evident in his stories.  He's easily one of the most intelligent and intellectual writers to ever work in superhero comics.  I read all of his DC books in the 1990's but because I wasn't a Marvel kid I didn't really follow his late 90's/early 2000's work over there.  It sucks that the industry never really saw fit to put him on the books he wanted to work on the most... a frustration that saw him quit comics for too long a period (2005-2014).

Priest had said many times he never wanted to be known as the Black writer of Black superheroes.  He was an editor at Marvel for a long time, his business savvy was about selling comics.  Back in the 70's and 80's when Priest was coming up, you became a name as a writer not by quality alone, but by exposure, by the characters you write.  You write Superman or Spider-Man, you maybe take some of that large audience with you to your next gig.  I've likewise seen female writers in the industry before the turn of the millennium say much the same thing, that they didn't want to write female superheroes because that would paint them in a corner they would never get out of.   As a writer, Priest wanted to write books and characters that sold, and, as he states in "The Story Thus Far...", his 2001 intro to "The Client" trade paperback:
"Panther was a black super hero, and the most basic economic lesson this business can teach you is minorities and female super heroes do not sell".

Now, that statement has been proven false over, and over again since, but his run on Black Panther was absolutely necessary in proving that false.  A large part of the problem was largely that BIPOC and female characters were written from an inauthentic point of view, as comic books (and TV and Film and pretty every entertainment industry in America) was dominated by white men.  "Minorities and female super heroes do not sell" because comics, and comic shops were not always the most inviting place for them.  And the industry didn't value them as an audience in any way for a very, very, very long time.  

Priest's approach to Black Panther, as he explains in "The Story Thus Far...":
"we withdrew [T'Challa] altogether, pushing him to the shadows and, to some complaint, making him almost a guest star in his own book.  Only, in any reasonable analysis of the series, Panther clearly drives the book.  Even if he has only a handful of lines per issue, he is the dominating force."

When you watch Coogler's Black Panther that's clearly a lesson he learned from Priest.  T'Challa is the dominating force of that film, even if, like in the movie, Killmonger's presence threatens that dominance.

Priest continues in "The Story Thus Far..." to discuss his approach, to make it accessible to the hetero white male audience that was the target demographic of mainstream comics at the time.  20 years later it's more than a little infuriating that he had to put that amount of thought into it, that he needed to think so explicitly about a white audience and be sensitive to them.  But for trailblazers like Priest, that's what you needed to do to work, to survive.

But what makes his Black Panther run so great is that he made T'Challa and Wakanda accessible not just to white male comic book readers, but to everyone.  He built up the character's mystique, his intelligence, his calm, cool, calculating nature, his leadership savvy, and eventually he reveals his heart.  T'Challa and Wakanda are treated as sort of unknowns to start, then are slowly revealed over the first few arcs.  With Wakanda Priest builds a culture, a prosperous, technologically advanced African nation, but one still beholden to tribal structures and customs requiring an entirely unique sense of diplomacy and leadership.  If you've seen the movie, a lot of the foundation of Wakanda comes from the groundwork Priest laid for it.

As a result of T'Challa and Wakanda being African, and yet fictional and unique, Priest is able to approach American politics, sociology and race from an outside perspective.  Using the Matthew Perry-inspired Agent Ross - a wisecracking dope who means well but has a hard time seeing past his own frame of reference (that's called "privilege") - as the tour guide to T'Challa's reality Priest has his cake and eats it too.  Via Ross, Priest was also able to make the pop culture jokes and make the book very American.  Ross is kind of an inept fool, yet T'Challa still sees value in him as a person and calls him a friend.  It's also kind of clear that Priest loves writing Ross, because he's the clown, the book's comic relief, and Priest loves writing comedy.  

In a modern sense, Ross seems like an unnecessary gateway, an appeasement to de-Black-ify Black Panther and make him more palatable.  Priest basically says as much ("How do we do a book about a black king of a black nation who comes to a black neighborhood and not have it be a 'black' book").  In the interviews and editorials published in the back of Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection volume 1 Priest downplays the book's Blackness. "Panther's ethnicity is certainly a component of the series, but it's not the central theme.  We neither ignore it, nor build our stories around it."  But that's all just the sell, the pitch to the white fanboys who are maybe thinking "this can't be for me, I can't identify with this".  

I have to think that Priest was thinking about Milestone Comics, the Black-owned imprint over at DC comics which was shut down during the comics downturn the late 90's.  Milestone's focus was a FUBU-like mentality to start and quickly expanded into even more diverse voices and characters.  It wasn't catering at all to that white fanboy market.  I should also note that it was also not excluding it.  That it shut down publishing I think was maybe seen as a failure, but it was just the comics economy at the time.  Priest's awareness of Milestone's perceived failure meant that Black Panther needed the most eyes on it.  If that meant downplaying race or creating a gateway character, so be it.

But Priest's words aren't the complete reality.  Where a white writer would probably write a bog-standard comic with the occasional treacly "a very special issue", Priest's Black Panther understands the world a Black man lives in, and in this case he gets to envision the viewpoint of a Black man raised to be a king and has powers and technology and intellect and training most people could only dream about.  Ethnicity, race, culture, they are all elements of the stories Priest tells throughout the series.  Not the driving element, as he said, but they pour out of Priest onto the page in the 35 issues I read, whether he wanted them to or not (and I think he did).  They exist in this reality, they exist in any reality, it's just a matter of whether you acknowledge their existence.  But Priest never makes "a very special issue" out of them, he treats them as they need to be treated, sometimes as a matter of fact, sometimes as something more.

As Priest notes in one column "Now every time I mention I'm black, everyone at the office starts having meetings." It's again endemic of who's running the show.  I'm reminded of stories about Black sitcom writers being getting jokes cut, being told their jokes aren't funny because the white showrunners didn't understand them.  With Black Panther, Priest and his editors fought to let his voice come through undisturbed, that impeding his voice lessens the material. 

I've read pretty much all of Priest's work since his return in 2014.  I thought his Deathstroke run was often brilliant, U.S. Agent was tremendous fun, and Vampirella frequent surprising (although buying Vampirella comics is like buying condoms as a teenager...there's nothing actually wrong with it, but it feels wrong somehow, or embarassing at least).  I've also spent time over the years catching up on and collecting earlier work, all of it, even his lesser work (like, say, DC's Triumph mini-series) is still a fairly good read.  He's incapable of bad work.  But I think his Black Panther run is going to be his greatest accomplishment.

[35 issues plus a Deadpool]

Coming back to Priest's Black Panther so long after its original run, and following the film, I found some surprises, good and bad.

The first thing that got me was the Dora Milaje.  Here Nakia and Okoye are beautiful, statuesque teenagers who are betrothed to the King. 


Ross drools in their presence on the reg.

Double Ew.

This whole betrothed-teen thing is exceptionally gross, and Ross' objectification of them doubles down on the grossness.  I really hate this element of Priest's run.

To his credit, T'Challa in Priest's hands things of these young women as daughters, not future wives or any kind of lover.  He has no interest in them beyond his usual compassion for their well being.  Their place in his life is more duty and tradition than anything of his own design.

Things get complicated when a possessed T'Challa kisses Nakia and the young girl goes crush-mad and becomes the vengeful Malice.  If she weren't so over-sexualized (and by 90's standards she's quite tame) nor 16-years-old, the Nakia/Malice arc would still be guilty of being a bit of an overplayed stereotype, and yet Priest still manages to subvert cliches and find a character in there as well as a bigger impact on both T'Challa and Wakanda.

The Dora Milaje in the MCU are incredible, and I like that they've been adapted into something a little different, and much more powerful (I've not finished Priest's run, and I've only read a little bit of Hudlin's run so I'm not sure if they were modified before hitting the screen).

Another thing that stood out was Priest's adeptness at political intrigue. The series in its second arc starts running with the politics of Wakanda, both within and without, and it continues to build, and build and build throughout the run (at least through to issue 35 at the end of The Complete Collection volume 2).  It's this intrigue that creates a bingeable comic book, something that you want to just keep devouring because it keeps finding new levels to delve into.  Comics have long had a serialized nature but Priest was looking more towards television rather than other comics as a guidepost for serialized storytelling.

Going back to Priest's Panther now though, is a little difficult because the film's Wakanda is so strikingly realized.  The costuming, building and vehicle designs are so outstanding that the Wakanda in Priest's book are underwhelming in comparison.  Sal Velluto and Bob Almond, who handled art chores the longest on the series, are a wonderful team, but their design sense can't compare to the dedicated team of designers and artists who worked on the film (and won Awards for it).  As much as Priest's run redefined Wakanda, the film has supplanted that presentation.  Coates took Wakanda on a different journey in the comics and I'm eagerly awaiting the omnibus for that (I did read the first year and a half of stories though).

Priest never forgot he was writing in the greater Marvel Universe.  He integrates Black Panther into the Universe so well, mainly as a means of showing how much T'Challa stands out, what makes him different from other heroes (mainly his responsibility as a leader of a nation, but comparing that to, say, Namor or Doctor Doom really puts a finer point on it).  Captain America pokes his head in here and there, sometimes with the Avengers, sometimes without, and there's a big international war that T'Challa nearly started which gathered a lot of attention.  And there's the time Mephisto gave Ross unlimited pants (twice), as well as the time Queen (an American-born Dora Milaje) took the Hulk dancing.

But more to Priest's ability to weave through the Marvel Universe is his depth of historical knowledge, of both the Universe and specifically Panther's history.  He draws upon it a lot, but reshapes and recontextualizes it.  He makes Killmonger a frighteningly sensible foe (there's a framework for what we see from Michael B. Jordan here), while M'Baku, the Man-Ape is given some relevance (though his realization in the 2018 movie is far and away the best interpretation).  Klaw has long been worked as T'Challa's nemesis, but Priest shies away from his importance in T'Challa's life (which resembles how downgraded he seemed in the film).  

As a former editor and continuity cop, Priest took what came before and rebirthed it into something new, better, and less problematic, and in the process solidified Black Panther's place as an A-lister in Marvel's pantheon.   Without Priest, we don't get the 2018 film (look up what John Singleton wanted to do with Black Panther sometime, and shiver at what could have been instead).

I'm so excited by diving into Priest's run that I desperately want to finish it.  I'll be hunting trades or floppies to complete it, and then seeking out Hudlin's collection hopefully finishing it all in time for that inevitable Coates omnibus.