Monday, February 19, 2018

The Vipers of Venomm!

In Part 1 of writer Don McGregor's story in Jungle Action which, collectively, came to be known as "Panther's Rage," we saw the Black Panther face the formidable threat of Killmonger, only to be hurled over the precipice of Warrior Falls after barely surviving the attack of his foe's leopard. But the Panther's imminent death aside, we'll find that another is girding himself to bring the Panther's rule of Wakanda to an abrupt end--and T'Challa along with it.

This second installment of McGregor's tale introduces the man known as Venomm, whose skill and abilities appear to be self-explanatory. Granted, it's difficult to become all that excited about another villain who can control snakes, when Princess Python arguably set the bar so low; and if the Panther perishes from his plummet, Venomm perhaps wouldn't be tapped by Killmonger until the time came to move against central Wakanda in force. Still, those readers who are familiar with "Panther's Rage" in its entirety know that Venomm will become integral to its plot, if not in the way that we might expect.

As for the Panther, it seems we probably shouldn't count him out, either, thanks to (a) the fact that he is the Black Panther, (b) a bit of luck, and (c) a strong current that takes him right to his girlfriend.

Elsewhere, the man who believes he's dealt with T'Challa permanently returns to the village named after him--that is, the man who existed before he became Erik Killmonger. And there, he and his men find one other who has chosen a different name for himself, one more suited to his vocation.

Venomm leads the so-called "Death Regiments," which have been responsible for the destruction and death that the Panther has seen first-hand in the outlying areas of Wakanda. Soon, the Regiments will come closer to central Wakanda than the Panther expects (assuming he's not lying in traction in a hospital by now); but while the Regiments are presumably occupied elsewhere, we have an opportunity to become better familiar with Venomm, whom Killmonger seems to respect in addition to appreciating his talents.

It's an almost cryptic introduction of the character by McGregor, hinting as it does of circumstances involving some sort of obligation Venomm feels toward Killmonger. Aside from the threat he represents to the Panther, Venomm will have a somewhat larger role to play in this story, if a bit subdued--all part of an interesting choice McGregor makes regarding how to explore his character.

One week later, inside the Panther's court, T'Challa makes a point of divulging what he knows of Killmonger's origin--which makes sense, even at this early stage, since Killmonger has already brought it to our attention during their meeting at Warrior Falls that he and T'Challa know each other.* In doing so, McGregor adds a twist to the Panther's own origin tale in Fantastic Four by dealing in the incursion of Klaw, the raider who had come to Wakanda to mine its Vibranium in order to power his sound converter weapon. Though it's really the aftermath of Klaw's defeat which begins to answer the mystery of Killmonger.

*It seems odd that T'Challa didn't express any shock of recognition at the time he confronted Killmonger. You'd think that at the very least he would be stunned that N'Jadaka was now his enemy.

It's an incomplete picture of N'Jadaka that we receive--thanks to Taku's convenient interruption, though we'll see McGregor provide more bits and pieces to the story at the appropriate time(s). What you might want to take note of, instead, is T'Challa's order to post additional guards around the "eternal peak," a/k/a the Vibranium mound. Why would he suddenly be concerned about the mound's security, out of nowhere? Because Vibranium was name-dropped while recounting N'Jadaka's story? Hold that thought for a moment.

Later, at Warrior Falls, Killmonger's Death Regiments (who receive billing alongside Venomm, as well as eye-catching mention in the story's title) are being tracked by the Panther, but end up being little more than window dressing for this story, perhaps due to its limited space (a "Tales Of the Jungle" tale shares the issue) and the fact that the Panther's confrontation with Venomm will take center stage. It's beginning to feel we'll only know the Regiments through reputation, since we were limited to seeing their handiwork in Part 1--while in this story, we simply watch them trek toward the Falls, with only McGregor's narrative to indicate what a terrifying threat they are. You're bound to have some readers from Missouri, Mr. McGregor. Yet it's the Panther's discoveries which soon grab our attention: One involves the shocking sight he receives while pursuing his prey--while the second comes when the word "prey" now appears to apply to him.

That's certainly quite a tunnel--you trek all the way to Warrior Falls to enter, and end up all the way back in central Wakanda where the Vibranium mound is lodged (if I'm understanding the geography correctly).  But how conveniently it appears to work out for Killmonger's plan.  There seemed to be no reason at all why T'Challa would issue orders to double the guard on the part of the mound that extends above ground, other than for McGregor to plant the seed for the shocking revelation that Killmonger is mining the ore from deep beneath it, and underscore the fact that Killmonger has outfoxed T'Challa's security. It's unfortunate if such sleight of hand is really McGregor's intent, since it really isn't warranted; the fact that Killmonger was savvy enough to come up with and execute this plan successfully is pretty impressive on its own, while the narrative frames the operation sufficiently enough for readers.

As for this meeting that we've been waiting eighteen pages to see, it may seem anticlimactic, given how adeptly the Panther's strength and skill are able to deal with Venomm--but, truly, there's no reason why the Panther shouldn't be able to take this guy. Venomm has no super-strength, no weapon(s), no invulnerability, no skills that we can see as far as anything that would make him a match for the Panther. He has two poisonous snakes that he's trained to attack, and the fact that Venomm relied on the cliff to do his dirty work for him ended up disposing of each of them. That makes him little more than a punching bag when facing the Panther's pummeling fists.

There's little doubt at this point that the Panther has had enough of the carnage gripping his kingdom and wants to put an end to it by taking the fight directly to Killmonger, though such affirmation on the Panther's part may be premature given how easily Venomm was dispatched. The Death Regiments might be another matter--but what exactly are they waiting for? We saw a glimpse of them while the Panther was getting an eyeful of the mining operation--why wouldn't they move in when Venomm went down?

Yet there are other deadly allies of Killmonger waiting in the wings, to say nothing of the man himself. But before the Panther has his reckoning with Killmonger, another of his foe's assassins infiltrates his palace on a mission--and if the Black Panther gets in her way, so much the better.

Steve Gerber makes his pitch for this series in the issue's letters page.

Jungle Action #7

Script: Don McGregor
Pencils: Rich Buckler
Inks: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski

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