"The Client" by Christopher Priest, Mark Texeira, and Joe Quesada
I'll be honest with you—Black Panther didn't click with me immediately.
I initially read this first issue out of obligation to the Marvel Knights branding, but for whatever reason, I distinctly remember not picking up issues 2 & 3 when they later released. Something happened a month or so later (that I don't quite remember), but I want to say it was an interview with Priest, a feature on some site, or a glowing review somewhere which turned me around and got my mind right. Luckily, my shop had the missing back issues in stock, and I bought every single issue of Priest's storied run (including The Crew) from that point on. It now stands as one of my favorite runs of comics ever, and several years back, I had the single issues turned into a three-volume set of custom hardcovers.
So why wasn't it love at first sight? Probably because my overall taste in comics wasn't nearly as…refined as it is now. That's probably the kindest term. Plus I was still in my "character trumps creator" phase, and oh yeah, I didn't like painted artwork in my comics. One thing that I know was a big problem for me, which is ironically the reason I love it so much today, is the aggressively non-linear narrative style. Young Dumb Brandon thought there was simply too much happening, too many hard cuts, too many character perspectives, etc. But that kid was dumb, because that's exactly what makes this first issue an underappreciated gem of a comic.
First off, good luck finding a comic with a better first page than this one—a panicked man (missing his pants) sitting on top of a toilet (not the bowl) pointing a loaded gun at something off-panel, while someone relates the glorious secret origin of Wakanda in the background. The caption box on the page offers only this as an explanation—
THE STORY THUS FAR:
BUSTER, a rat so big you could put a SADDLE on him, continued to elude me.
The CLIENT and his personal entourage had, moments before, collectively leaped out an open window, leaving me, EVERETT K. ROSS, Emperor of Useless White Boys, to fend for himself among the indigenous tribes of The Leslie N. Hill Housing Project.
ZURI was into his THIRD re-telling of how the great god T'Chaka ran the evil white devils from their ancient homeland.
The bathroom had no door.
I still had no pants.
From there, Priest essentially says, "Hold on tight," as he powers through elements for almost a dozen different scenes, which offers an insanely compressed primer of who and what the Black Panther is, introduces a number of brand new characters, and demands a level of attention that your normal comic simply doesn't. That's probably what it was back in the day when I first experienced this book, the realization you can't read an issue of Priest's Black Panther on auto-pilot. Hell, it might take good two or even three readings before you can honestly say that you've absorbed and processed every single part of it. It's one of those books that makes you work for it, but once you do, it makes you appreciate the greater effort even more. And separates itself from everything else as it tackles the tropes of superhero comics, race, politics, identity, and family.
But that's a commentary on the series as a whole really—-in this very specific case, it's all about the questions. Every one of these scenes poses at least one interesting question that you just have to know the answer to. Who is Everett K. Ross and why is he in the projects? How did everyone get arrested? How did Ross lose his pants? Am I wrong for still being strangely attracted to the Dora Milaje after all these years? Did the Black Panther really just drag a man up to a rooftop by his hair!? And so on and so forth, until the devil himself shows up on the final page.
You desperately want to know the answers to all the questions Priest is posing, and like a true mastermind, over the next few issues everything all comes together and it becomes clear and simple how one thread connects impossibly with the others. Until all that's left is an expanding conspiracy and a big fight between Panther and Mephisto for the fate of all Wakanda. And when I say "all Wakanda," I mean a spiritual battle for the souls of everyone in Wakanda. And the way it all begins here in the first issue, how Mephisto actually comes into the story, is the cleverest funniest thing in a comic brimming with clever and funny things.
Everett K. Ross answers a knock at the door and finds Mephisto standing there, the flames shooting off his body and cape, singeing the doorframe. He calmly closes the door, turns back to us, and says, "It's for you."
Took me a couple months, but I quickly realized that it was indeed…
Previous Anatomy Lessons-
Brandon Thomas writes comics and writes about comics. He's written stories for Dynamite, Marvel, DC, and Arcade Comics, and co-created The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury, with artist Lee Ferguson, which is available right now from Archaia in OGN format. His personal blog is The Fiction House, and his Twitter handle is @mirandamercury.