Monday, March 12, 2018

Malice By Crimson Moonlight!

Continuing our look at the Black Panther's story arc from 1973-75, Panther's Rage, we last saw the Panther confront and defeat an agent of his mortal enemy, Erik Killmonger--the man called Venomm, who oversaw a mining operation designed to secretly abscond with Wakanda's rich deposits of Vibranium but who hadn't counted on the Panther following the snake artist's own Death Regiments back through the tunnels that led to the Vibranium mound.

Then and there, the Panther resolved to end the threat to his kingdom; but in this next installment, it seems at first glance that the Panther faces threats from all sides, including yet another warrior in the service of Killlmonger, the powerful and confident Malice. And as we'll see, as far as the mission that brings her to T'Challa's very doorstep, her name is self-explanatory.

Yet for the moment, the "threat" to the Panther lies only in the onrushing warriors who attack him during the physical testing he undergoes as part of the ritual which renews his sacred panther powers. In other stories we've only been witness to such scenes in flashbacks which showed T'Challa accepting the mantle of the Black Panther and his status as Chieftain in a ceremony which forced him to battle such odds to claim them (though with all due respect to artist Rich Buckler, I've never seen that demonstrated as well as in Jack Kirby's rendition of the scene). But in a twist to Roy Thomas's story for the character which had T'Challa gain his power by seeking out and ingesting a heart-shaped herb hidden deep in the jungle, apparently the process requires periodic renewal, in a ritual conducted and overseen by the Wakandan herbalist known as Mendinao--with the herb boiled, its extracts poured over T'Challa's prone form.

Unfortunately, if you picked up this copy of Jungle Action expecting to find what its bold cover caption promised: were really just getting the "never-before-revealed secrets!" part of the deal, with apparently the revised ritual proceedings also serving as the "all-new, all-great origin" of the character. Boooo. Even Mr. Fantastic couldn't stretch the truth to such lengths.

At any rate, the ritual provides adequate cover for Malice to infiltrate the palace and divulge her mission to the first man she encounters--Zatama, an aide to T'Challa and, if he knows what's good for him, a font of information.

Outside, T'Challa moves on to the most important part of his ritual; yet a delay is necessary with Monica Lynne, T'Challa's American guest and lover, comes across the scene and misinterprets it, a reaction she's regrettably making into a habit. T'Challa's decision to see to her infuriates both Mendinao and W'Kabi, his security chief--the latter more so, since, as a hard-line Wakandan who values the sacred traditions as well as his country's efforts to isolate itself from "outworlders," he and Monica have been at odds ever since her arrival.

The scene also serves to underscore for the reader that, with Killmonger on the loose, it's obviously paramount to undergo the renewal ritual without delay, though T'Challa clearly thinks otherwise. It doesn't really make sense that, even with two people as close as T'Challa and Monica appear to be, Monica still seems to be a stranger in a strange land as far as what she is and isn't accustomed to in Wakanda. Wouldn't T'Challa have explained this kind of ceremony to her, and when it was scheduled to take place? And why hasn't Monica availed herself of those within the place who could educate her on what she might expect to encounter in T'Challa's court on a day-to-day basis? Up to now, her time seems spent by simply going off by herself, wandering around the immediate area. Just what does writer Don McGregor have planned for her, if anything? Is she merely to be a source of friction?

But friction is definitely the name of the game once Malice makes her move and frees Venomm from his cell--and going on to demonstrate to the Panther why she's a force to be reckoned with.

Fortunately, Monica's outcry this time produces a more welcome result--and while W'Kabi and his men move in, Malice seems to decide that the situation has become untenable and bolts to escape. But thanks to the Panther's skill, Venomm may be about to have company in his cell block.

What would seem to be Malice's capture, however, is not the case, with a later recap making it clear that she was able to escape. That being the case, this dramatic effort by the Panther, heavily bolstered by McGregor's narrative, amounts to practically nothing, despite how amazed we're all urged to be at the Panther's feat which appeared to pull off a win at the last instant.

This issue of Jungle Action would be Buckler's last work on the "Panther's Rage" story arc, with Gil Kane stepping in to pencil the next issue before Billy Graham makes his impressive debut in the book for the remainder of the Panther's conflict with Killmonger.  As for Malice, we'll be seeing her malicious self reappear when T'Challa brings the fight to Killmonger's home turf--but before then, there are more of his foe's servants yet to face.

Call him...

Detailed layouts of both Wakanda and the infrastructure of T'Challa's central compound.

Jungle Action #8

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


George Chambers said...

Given how often T'Challa gets wounded in this run, it's good planning that there's a path connecting the palace and the hospital, don't you think?

Comicsfan said...

Yes, George, T'Chaka Path must get quite a lot of wear! :D