"Retribution" by Priest, Sal Velluto, and Bob Almond
This particular installment happens to be anchored by one of my favorite fight sequences ever in a comic—between Black Panther and the hilariously named Erik Killmonger in an appropriately lush African jungle.
Now visually and choreography-wise, there are some better options, even though the first person POV works incredibly well with both combatants, but for me the actual mechanics of the fight are what make it truly stand out amongst all others. It's a tribal challenge you see, one that sees Panther and Killmonger kicking and punching the crap out of each other in a punishing display of martial arts mastery for limited bursts of time, before pausing to rest and rejuvenate themselves before for the next round. Imagine the superhero equivalent of a boxing or UFC match that could potentially go on for days and days until someone yields…or someone dies.
Which by itself is a pretty fresh take on the common "superhero fights supervillain" trope, but while they're resting up for the next round, they're also breaking each other down verbally, with the kind of astute observations that could only be had between the closest of enemies. Meanwhile, the Panther's mystery economic gamble is being felt all over the globe, and his truest allies are rushing to his side, because Killmonger is the one man that T'Challa has never actually beat. Which throughout the series thus far has been a running gag perpetuated by sidekick/regent Everett K. Ross, and he naturally assumes, along with the audience, that this fight will end the exact same way the rest of them have. But Ross is wrong, and plays a surprising role in the outcome of a story that elevates the tension and stakes with each passing page, but before we get to that, I have to mention another little bit that makes this issue an undeniable classic.
Have to recognize Queen Divine Justice's powerful emotional reaction to being in an African city, which is the pinnacle of human achievement and technological ingenuity, surrounded by nothing but black people. The moment lasts only a few panels, but there's a poignancy and a weight to her reaction that gives you yet another reason why a lot of people hold this particular run of comics in very high regard. Even through the constant strife and turmoil that Priest heaps upon it, Africa and Wakanda are always depicted as places of great beauty, wonder, and most importantly, dignity. Seems like a little thing, but actually it's a giant thing, that also provides additional context and relevance to the fight being waged over its future.
Now the aforementioned Ross' role in the final takedown of T'Challa (spoiler warning) is really the culmination of a jumble of plot threads that have weaved through the book since the very beginning, chiefly the recent revelation that Ross' current boss and girlfriend Nikki used to be with T'Challa during their respective college days. Which proves to be a big problem for all involved and leaves Ross is something of a fractured emotional state, unable to decide how it impacts his friendship with T'Challa. So naturally, he accidentally distracts his friend, who is exhausted and dazed from fighting the battle of his life for over thirteen hours straight, allowing Killmonger to strike the decisive blow, and oh yes, kill the Black Panther dead. Which he beats like any decent superhero, but still—
At the core of it, "Retribution" truly embodies all the great things about Priest and company's work once the book really got going. Matters of global politics and economies, great character moments that build for months and months before landing like a kick to the chest, and above all else, stories punctuated by equal parts humor and poignancy. Great, great work, which sets the stage for even greater developments down the road…once he comes back to life anyway…
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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.