Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Look Into My Eyes And See... Death!

As we reach Part 5 of "Panther's Rage," where the Black Panther returns to Wakanda only to find it under siege, there is again the sense that writer Don McGregor is filling time with this series. The continued and conspicuous absence of this story's primary antagonist, Erik Killmonger, is felt even more deeply than previously, when his most recent "lieutenant," Baron Macabre, was confronted by T'Challa at a burial site but managed to drive off the Panther just the same. And as if sensing that they may have dropped the ball with Killmonger, the book now presents him in absentia in the form of an early rendering of the character by artists Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson, inserted at the end of the issue--though it's the spin on his disappearing act, as well as the peculiar assurances of Killmonger's eventual return, that tend to catch the eye more.

Yet McGregor remains adept at providing a sense of continuation in this saga, most notably in the palace intrigues that have suddenly risen to the fore in Killmonger's place--a murder mystery that has T'Challa's lover, Monica Lynne, as the prime suspect, as well as the dissension still occurring between T'Challa and members of his staff (his head of security, W'Kabi, communications specialist Taku, and, until recently, Zatama, a palace aide whose murder Monica stands accused of). But there are also T'Challa's curious encounters with attacking beasts (requiring no small amount of story space)--a charging rhinoceros in Part 4, bookended here in Part 5 by an attacking crocodile. Suddenly it's open season on the Black Panther, for some reason; but then, it's not like he has to spend his time dealing with an aggressive foe out to conquer his country, is it.

On a positive note, the internal dissension also extends to the kind of land Wakanda has become under T'Challa's rule, or, perhaps more importantly, during his stays in America. W'Kabi has been the strongest voice in that regard, with Zatama also chiming in, either with his own voice or through McGregor's narrative (along with Tanzika, a palace handmaiden close to Zatama who resents Monica's presence in Wakanda as much as W'Kabi); yet with Zatama's voice now silenced, the more reserved Taku proves that food for thought doesn't necessarily have to be delivered with words raised in anger or frustration.

With a villain waiting in the wings--the mysterious King Cadaver, in whose service Baron Macabre operates--the only base in the preliminaries left to cover is the ongoing murder investigation itself, the clues of which continue to be presented with subtlety, in teasing scenes which are revealed to be teasing only in hindsight.

(All of that advanced equipment in T'Challa's scientific jungle, and nothing to analyze a substance on a murder weapon. Sure, why not.)

T'Challa also has the unpleasant duty of conveying news of the death of the tribesman named M'Jumbak, slain at the hands of Baron Macabre, to his widow. In abandoning the battle with Macabre, T'Challa had left M'Jumbak's corpse at the site--and so in this issue he returns to bring it back with him, with narrative from McGregor that does T'Challa no favors: "...he knows he can avoid the task no longer!" Aside from brooding or enjoying a leisurely meal, was something else taking up this man's busy schedule?

It never becomes clear just why T'Challa left things as he did with Macabre, and it certainly isn't clear why he would leave the body of one of his subjects or fail to make an effort to retrieve it the next day. (Couldn't he have at least issued orders to a few warriors to do so?) "I am sorry I could not return for you sooner, M'Jumbak." The apology seems to fall flat.

As we can see, T'Challa's arrival has triggered Macabre's Death Regiments--but this time, it appears T'Challa is resolved to stick it out and triumph over not only Macabre and the Regiments, but King Cadaver, as well. To his credit, he's at least seen through the phony facade of the Regiments, who under the Panther's assault have finally found their voices and reluctantly point the way to Cadaver--underneath the burial site and down a long tunnel, where both Macabre and his master wait.

Regardless of this villain's name and the incongruity of the story's title ("King Cadaver Is Dead and Living In Wakanda!"), as well as the appearance of rotting flesh for a face, Cadaver, like Macabre and the Regiments, is very much among the living. It wouldn't have hurt for the story to up the ante a bit and actually have one of these people live up to their press as dead men walking--but Cadaver's status will at least serve to open the door to a more interesting operation of Killmonger's down the road.

With the Panther at least temporarily stymied by the mental abilities of Cadaver, he shifts his attention to Macabre, who is of course unfinished business for him. In the process, he smashes Cadaver's mirrors which amplified the effects of his power--while also smashing Macabre's hideous face mask, revealing the Baron's fright act to be just as false as that of the Regiments.

But Cadaver is another story.

Cadaver's words prove to be premature, however, as the Panther blinds him with pieces of the villain's costume and hurls him through one of the last mirrors left intact.

With Cadaver's defeat, the Panther makes a quick recon through the underground complex--and with its closing panel, the story finally begins to circle its way back to the operations of Killmonger, whose incursions into Wakanda have literally been deeper than T'Challa suspected.


Before the return of Killmonger, coming up in Part 7, the loose ends of the past few issues are tied up in Part 6 as Wakandan forces launch an invasion of his home village of N'Jadaka, where his lieutenants respond en masse--along with the deadly debut of another, Lord KarnajALSO: A murderer revealed!

Another insert to fill out the issue: Jack Kirby's original design for the Coal Tiger,
the character who would instead become the Black Panther.

Jungle Action #10

Script: Don McGregor
Pencils: Billy Graham
Inks: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Dave Hunt


dbutler16 said...

How timely. I'm reading through Panther's Rage myself, and just finished part 6 a couple of days ago. I'm looking forward to your write-up of that as well.

Comicsfan said...

Scheduled to come your way on Friday, dbutler!