"Expect the unexpected is the best I can say ..."
That's Marvel Comics editor Mike Marts talking about "Black Panther #50." It's the comic book with more lives than pretty much every cat that's ever been and this October the book will take a dramatic turn both story wise and artistically. Beginning with "Black Panther #50" the art chores on the book will be handed over to penciller Dan Fraga and inker Larry Stucker, with covers supplied by Andy Kubert. In addition to the changes in art team, writer Christopher Priest steers the series down a new path with "Black and White," which picks up the story following the events detailed in "Death of the Black Panther" in issues 48 and 49.
"'Black and White' is a departure from the norm, to say the least," Marts told CBR News. "Readers expecting to find the 'Black Panther' they've been used to for the past 49 issues should check their expectations at the door."Click to enlarge.
And without revealing too much of what happens in this issue Marts spoke about the themes explored within "Black and White."
"Life, death and rebirth ... innocence lost ... greed, corruption and betrayal ... with great power must come great responsibility ... this storyline has it all."
"Black Panther," while critically acclaimed, has never quite found the audience many think it should. At the same time readers have seen a number of dramatic changes in the character and the book. So, the question comes to mind how much of the changes made to the book, and specifically those in "Black and White," are genuinely what series writer Christopher Priest would do on his own and how much of it came via suggestions from the editorial level.
"The decision to do 'Black and White' at this stage in the game came from wanting to do something special and unexpected for 'Panther's' 50th issue. Priest had always intended to resolve the plotlines he'd developed over the last four years near issue 50, with the idea of doing something fresh for the milestone issue. But when he first starting talking about his idea for 'Black and White,' it took us by complete surprise. Did he really want to go down that road? It was a direction fraught with potential risk, but a direction that seemed too exciting to pass up. Of course there is always the obvious attempt at attracting new readers which can't be ignored, but what new issue or storyline isn't designed to attract new readers in today's current marketplace?
"What 'Black and White' accomplishes is telling a unique story that new readers will be satisfied and hopefully intrigued with, while at the same time not doing anything to disappoint or upset our longtime, faithful contingent of readers. We're not just rocking the applecart, we're taking it apart, rearranging it, and building a shiny brand new one."
As we mentioned above, the changes don't just end at the story level, but the entire book will be getting a makeover.
"There is a conscious effort to slightly alter the book's visual appearance to give it a more cinematic feel," said Marts. "You'll also see a new logo, a new cover artist in Andy Kubert, plus a redesign on our book's central protagonist."
By not canceling "Black Panther" as might normally happen for a book with low circulation, Marvel's shown a great deal of faith in the series. The reason why they've stuck by the book comes down to the zestful enthusiasm fans and critics have for the series.
"I think the main reason why 'Panther' has stuck around for so long while other titles have bit the proverbial dust is that this book has always managed to draw a great deal of critical acclaim," said Marts "I can't think of many other titles that have garnered such positive reviews so consistently, month after month. Plus, 'Panther's' core readership has always been extremely supportive of the book and of Priest, and I feel they are largely responsible for carrying along the momentum the book has experienced since the early Marvel Knights days. I liken 'Black Panther' to a cult classic movie - something which has never seemed to break through into the mainstream audience but whose fans are obsessively in love with."
And while Black Panther's role in the rest of the Marvel Universe hasn't been a major one, that's all set to change shortly, with Panther's profile raising quite dramatically. Said Marts, "Panther will be appearing in Geoff Johns' 'Avengers' each and every month!"
Look for "Black Panther #50" this October in your favorite comic book store.