BLACK PANTHER the movie just came out in theaters, but have you heard about BLACK PANTHER Animated Series? You know, the motion comic miniseries that first aired on Australian TV in 2010? 

Black Panther Animated Series
Image courtesy of ABC3

With a description like that, I suppose it’s not surprising that the series isn’t so well known. Still, the BLACK PANTHER Animated Series was the king of Wakanda’s first time as a headliner outside of the comics. Prior to that, T’Challa’s track record on screen entirely consisted of guest appearances on other superhero cartoon shows. So, if you’re a fan of the character, this should definitely pique your interest.

But, is the series any good?

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On the Topic of Motion Comics

As stated earlier, the BLACK PANTHER Animated Series is a motion comic, and it generally sticks to motion comic conventions. That means that it’s an adaptation of an already existing comic that looks like the original comic art with motion tweens and sound effects added in. If that description doesn’t quite make sense, here’s a clip of how this sort of thing usually works.

In case you were wondering, the above clip is based off Jeph Loeb’s 2007 run on Wolverine. The BLACK PANTHER series is based on the first six issues of Reginald Hudlin’s 2005 run on Black Panther (obviously). Now, as I’ll get into later, BLACK PANTHER is easier on the eyes than WOLVERINE VERSUS SABRETOOTH. Visuals aside though, the first arc of Hudlin’s Black Panther run probably wasn’t the best choice for a self-contained mini-series.

Reginald Hudlin’s run on Black Panther lasted from 2005 to 2008. So, the first six issues of that run are more of an introduction than a complete story. In those issues, T’Challa has just become the new Black Panther. His first priority as ruler is that he wants revenge against Ulysses Klaw for assassinating his father. Luckily for T’Challa, Klaw is organizing a group of supervillains to help him invade Wakanda. From there, the two inevitably clash.

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Plot Problems

The story is your typical comic book fare. T’Challa, the competent well-trained hero, has to stop Klaw from taking over the country. Outside of that though, we don’t get much. There’s some backstory about Wakanda being superior to other developed nations, which does lead to a cool looking fight scene where Captain America loses in a fight against one of T’Challa’s predecessors.

Black Panther Animated Series
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

But in the present events of the series, the politics of Wakanda don’t really go in depth, and the characters themselves are pretty one-note. T’Challa, the heir to the throne, has already trained to the point of peak competence. Thus, he easily takes up the mantle of the Black Panther without too much difficulty.

There are a couple of people here and there who are jealous of him, but they don’t pose a threat. The bad guys are a bunch of superpowered white dudes from Western countries who band together to take over Wakanda. None of this is particularly surprising, but what is offputting is the show’s focus on plot elements that don’t go anywhere. 

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Unfinished Business

In the series, Klaw hires a body stealing assassin named Cannibal. Meanwhile, the United States military manufactures an army of cyborg zombies to attack Wakanda. Both Cannibal and the zombie soldiers get plenty of screentime. Neither of them ends up being particularly relevant though. Cannibal never gets caught, and he manages to infiltrate Wakanda just as the series ends. The cyborg zombie soldiers basically leave Wakanda as soon as they show up.  

Black Panther Animated Series
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

It’s not just the bad guys that have this problem. T’Challa’s love interest, of all people, is Storm from the X-men. She only arrives in Wakanda near the end of the series and doesn’t do anything once she’s there.

I’m pretty sure that all these elements come into play later in the comics. But since the show doesn’t go beyond the first six issues, a lot of those elements just feel like overly elaborate window dressing. It’s possible that BLACK PANTHER was expecting to get a second season, but in general, it’s annoying to watch something that dedicates half its runtime to subplots that never pay off. 

A Comic Book Cartoon at Heart

However, the show is nice to look at. If you’re the sort of person who finds motion comic style animation off-putting, I’m not sure BLACK PANTHER Animated Series will change your mind. But it should be noted that most motion comic releases never get to air on TV, so BLACK PANTHER Animated Series is more visually polished compared to the usual fare. It also helps that the comics the series is based on had John Romita Jr. as the artist.

Romita’s blocky and somewhat cartoonish looking art style is… controversial (to put it mildly) among comic fans, but I think it works well when it comes to animation. As seen in the WOLVERINE VS. SABERTOOTH example I posted earlier, adding animation to still images of detailed “realistic” art styles tends to look unnatural; instead of looking like movement, it looks like comic panel art wiggling around.

But when it comes to minimalistic art styles, there’s a lot more leeway. Rigging up the art so that it moves around is a lot less jarring when the art isn’t as rigidly defined. There are also more opportunities to add in extra frame-by-frame animations that weren’t necessarily a part of the original comic since the overall style isn’t too difficult to emulate.

Like I said earlier, there are still moments in the show that look like bits and parts of comic panels bobbling around. But for the most part, while it may not be full on animation, the action in BLACK PANTHER is on par with what you would expect from a tv budget cartoon with fight scenes and explosions. The motion comic visuals may put off animation purists, but they do hold up.

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Should You Watch BLACK PANTHER Animated Series?

I haven’t seen the BLACK PANTHER movie yet, but based on the overwhelmingly positive critical response it’s gotten so far, I’m guessing that watching the animated series after you’ve seen the film might feel like a step down in quality.

That being said, if you want more of T’Challa onscreen outside of the MCU, this is your best choice. The plot’s not so great, but as a visually engaging showcase for over-the-top superhero action, the series works just fine. The group of villains Klaw hires to help him out includes heavy hitters like Juggernaut and the Russian version of Radioactive Man.

Admittedly, said heavy hitters get taken out pretty easily once they meet the Wakandans. But at least they have some pretty cool build up scenes. Juggernaut in particular single-handedly beats up Wolverine, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler in his first moments onscreen. 

Black Panther Animated Series
Image courtesy of Marvel entertainment

Stuff like that and the Captain America scene I mentioned earlier is a lot of fun to watch. My problem though is that it never comes together as a cohesive story. If you’re looking for something with style and explosions, the BLACK PANTHER series is worth checking out. But if you’re looking for something that goes more in-depth about T’Challa’s character and the world of Wakanda, you might want to look elsewhere.

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