Saturday, July 26, 2014

From Comics to Toons: Black Panther (2010)

Here's a Marvel cartoon that may have slipped through the cracks, such that it was cancelled after its initial 6 episode order, and few actually noticed.

Filmmaker Reginald Hudlin ("House Party") had taken a turn writing comics for Marvel before becoming President of BET (Black Entertainment Television). His experience at Marvel enabled him to forge a deal with the comics giant to adapt the series he had been writing, Black Panther, to television in 2010. As I noted above, the show was quickly cancelled after six episodes, due likely to a glaring lack of promotion from the network outside of its airwaves. I'd read about the project, but never got the chance to watch the show, not knowing what night it'd be on or what time.

Hudlin relied on star power, casting Djimon Hounsou in the title role as T'Challa, the Black Panther that comics fans have known for nearly 50 years or so. Singer Jill Scott was chosen to voice the X-Men's Storm, who was also T'Challa's wife in the comics at the time. The cast also included Kerry Washington (currently on Scandal), Adrian Pasdar (as Captain America), and, inevitably, co-executive producer Stan Lee, who was given a meatier role as General Wallace. The series first aired in the UK in 2010 before being brought to the US in 2011, long after production had ceased.

What Hudlin sought to do was create the impression that the Panther had been passed down from one generation to another, and that the fictional African nation of Wakanda had been around since at least the 5th century, expanding on what Lee himself had created when the Panther debuted in the pages of Fantastic Four. The computer animation is similar to what had been used for MTV's ill-fated adaptation of Sam Kieth's Image series, The Maxx, 15 years earlier (previously reviewed). Given how MTV had fumbled with Spider-Man, and the fact that Lee's last series on a Viacom channel, Stripperella, had fared slightly better on Spike around the same time, all it tells me is that Viacom simply let Hudlin indulge himself with his pet project, but had no interest in promoting it in the press. Marvel, in fact, didn't do much in the promotion department, either, that I know of.

In the following clip, a flashback to World War II suggests the Panther first met Captain America back then, contradicting what had been established in the comics back in the 60's. Marvel similarly upgraded, if you want to call it that, and expanded Wolverine's history with the "First Avenger" in the books some years prior.

I think the series is on DVD, but I'm not sure. It does look like the character designs were modeled after the work of artist John Romita, Jr., who'd worked with Hudlin on his Black Panther book.

Rating: B+.

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