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Featured TV on DVD Review: Black Panther

January 16th, 2011

Black Panther - Buy from Amazon

A TV series based on the Black Panther comic book was first made for BET in 2009; however, it was never aired, at least not on American TV. It ran in Australia this time last year, while it was released over the internet on several services over the summer. Now it is being released on DVD, but was it worth the extended wait?

The Movie

This six-part series is an origins story of the Black Panther, well, at least the origins of the current Black Panther. The Black Panther is the warrior king of the small African nation of Wakanda, which due to its rich deposit of vibranium, a mineral that absorbs vibrations, has become very wealthy and technologically advanced. While the title of Black Panther is passed down family lines, every year there is a tournament and anyone willing to challenge the Black Panther in one-on-one combat is given the chance to become king. It is here where T'Challa defeats his Uncle S'Yan and is crowned the new king. However, any celebration is short-lived, as there are numerous threats against the tiny nation of Wakanda.

For instance... We see in the beginning that the U.S. government is wary of Wakanda, since they have no ties to America. They are looking for a reason to change that, but diplomatic means have proven unsuccessful, while a direct attack would be disastrous, politically. On the other hand, others forces feel the risk is worth it, especially if they use less conventional means. And so an assassin, Ulysses Klaw, assembles a group of mercenaries from around the world to kill T'Challa, just as ten years ago he killed T'Challa's father, who was at the time the Black Panther.

On a side note, Ulysses Klaw is Belgian, and you don't see a lot of Belgian villains in movies.

The six-episode arc can essentially be broken down into three parts. Firstly, there's the ascension of T'Challa as the Black Panther, which also includes some history of Wakanda, family disputes, etc. Then there's Klaw assembling his team and enacting his plan. And finally there's the climactic invasion of Wakanda. Along the way, we learn the connection Ulysses Klaw has with Wakanda in general, and T'Challa in particular.

Overall the story is well done and it has great source material, but there are some problems with the execution of the show that temper my enthusiasm somewhat. First of all, it was made to be shown weekly, so there are "Previously on..." and "On the next..." bumpers at the beginning and the end of the episodes, which results in a lot of repetition. This combined with the 20-minute episodes hampered the show's flow. Also, the animation is limited, like a Motion Comic, which does take some getting used to. In fact, I think this might be the reason the release was delayed. If the show came out in 2009, before the recent spate of Motion Comic releases, I think it might have been too far ahead of its time. Finally, I'm not a fan of Ulysses Klaw's signature cybernetic hand. The way it is designed looks unrealistic. Perhaps in the comic it looked fine, but when it was animated it tended to look silly.

That said, I was drawn into the story and I like the animation style, so even with the pacing / repetition problem, it's worth a recommendation.

The Extras

The main extra is a 15-minute featurette with Reginald Hudlin, who wrote the Black Panther comics that where the basis of this TV series, and was also the president of entertainment at BET when the show was given the green light. He's incredibly enthusiastic about the project, which makes the featurette more enjoyable. There is also a music video for the theme song. It's a great song and it's cool to have the full version and not just the opening credits.

The Verdict

Despite a couple flaws, Black Panther worked as a TV series and it is worth checking out. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD, but it is a solid rental for fans of Marvel comics in general, and worth picking up for fans of the Black Panther.

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