Here we have a "Black Panther" comic with absolutely no action featuring the Black Panther. Sure, we get some paranormal communing with the former Black Panther, T'Challa, but there is no costumed Avenger bearing the mantle of the panther god. We also get some action, but it involves Man-Ape fighting Morlun in reminiscence and a separate skirmish between T'Challa and some spectral visions.
In previous reviews of this title, I've cited a heavy-handed approach to decompressed storytelling occurring in this title. This issue is a slight improvement, but Hudlin has this story split into so many aspects that none of the subplots is given significant time to develop. The opening segment with Man-Ape is the strongest, most interesting few pages this title has experienced since the flashback of Victor von Doom ambushing the Black Panther in issue #2. I would have liked to see Hudlin give Man-Ape a little more time on panel, both to build up the character a little more and also to add testament to the power of Morlun.
Hudlin does turn the corner on the story of Shuri -- T'Challa's sister -- in her quest to assume the mantle of the Black Panther. Her confrontation with the panther god is revelatory and offers a new, unexpected wrinkle in the story of the female Black Panther, who still does not appear on panel in this issue. Hudlin's spread of subplots and their developments feel like a peek into a folder of half-developed story beats.
Lashley's art is a little more scratchy in this issue, making the conflict between Man-Ape and Morlun dingy and slightly challenging to discern. The bouncing between story beats doesn't help much with Lashley's style, which tends to be a little more kinetic and vibrant. In this issue, however, the art feels more scratched out and unfinished, with notable exceptions where the story requires more dramatic exposition.
I had, and still have, high hopes for this series. I like that Hudlin is trying to bring in parts of the Panther's history while paving new connections to other pieces of the Marvel Universe. Morlun makes sense as a foe, but treads the line between being a mysterious foe and a weak plot device. Hopefully that gets rectified soon. A third of the year in, and more than six months after we first saw teases of a female Black Panther, we have yet to meet the young lady in costume, and it almost seems as though it is not going to happen at all. I've stuck in there and given this book a chance to grow into its potential. $12 later, however, my patience is wearing a little thin. I'm planning to give this book a fair shake, but I seriously doubt the various and sundry plotlines will be wrapped up within the next twenty-two pages coming a month from now.
This issue, while slow-paced, is not necessarily new reader friendly. If you're itching for some Black Panther reading, with this story especially, you'll want to wait for a trade. Another option, of course, would be to check in with CBR's review of issue #5 to see if any progress has been made.