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1/16 – Curious Cat Asks…

Did you like Wakanda better before Reggie Hudlin began writing Black Panther or after? And please don’t just do a kneejerk “Rar! Me hate Hudlin! He am bad! Whatever response means saying Hudlin is bad is right!” response – think about specifically his his take on Wakanda, and compare it to previous takes on Wakanda – and if you DO think previous takes are better, whose take on Wakanda did you like best? Christopher Priest’s? Or before Priest?

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21 Comments

I think another commenter on this site put it best when he said he never saw a whole country be a Mary Sue until he read Hudlin’s Panther.

I liked the pre-Hudlin Wakanda, if only because it was more of a story-generating element that merely a crude symbol. Wakanda before Hudlin was a mad sci-fi kingdom in the heart of Africa, one where super-science and deliberate primitivism stood side-by-side, where tribal wars were fought with space-age sonic disruptors, a place where crystal forests with arctici temperatures and dinosaur valleys created by a cosmic accident sat side-by-side with the shining cities built by the men and women who’d harnessed that accident in fantastic and ever-advancing ways.

Wakanda after Hudlin is simply a sort of xenophobic utopia in which an antidemocratic tradition of rulership is justified by the people’s standard of living and apparent satisfaction with Being Beautifully African on behalf of some segment of “Black America” and its hazily nostalgic, identity-politicking idea of its own past. Hudlin’s Wakanda is really the very unAfrican fantasy of identification deployed by certain elements of African-American identity politics; it’s not a real place or even a real narrative element so much as a symbolic placeholder in a compensatory discourse of origin and ethnicity for a diasporically-defined American ethnic group.

Before Hudlin. Definitely before.

Hudlin’s Wakanda is dull, unimaginative, logically inconsistent, and a poor conduit for storytelling. After Priest (building on MacGregor) developed Wakanda into a complex, interesting, and realistic nation, Hudlin threw all of that out the window in favor of a over-simplified, Silver-Ageish version of a fictional country.

Whereas previous authors had established Wakanda as having significant amounts of internal strife, Hudlin opted to make it a utopia. And while utopias might be nice places to live, they’re inordinately dull places to read about. More importantly, when your main character is first and foremost a KING, one would imagine that you’d want to get some mileage out of his role in ruling his country. But when his country is a utopia, what is there for a king to do? What interesting stories are there to tell about a utopia?

Which is why after the initial arc, Hudlin promptly dragged his title character out of Wakanda, and has successfully kept him out of his country for over two years, returning him home only long enough to get married (and them *immediately* shipping him off again). In March he’s finally taking the action back there in #35, with a coup. Even Hudlin apparently doesn’t have anything interesting to say about his own utopian Wakanda.

What little we’ve seen of Wakandan culture under Hudlin suggests that he’s dropped most everything contributed by previous writers, and added pretty much nothing in its stead. Hudlin’s Wakanda doesn’t feel foreign; it feels like an American city with a few African trappings. In #2, the royal battle has American-sounding ringside announcers. Teenagers read People-esque magazines. For an isolationist utopia on another continent, it all feels strangely familiar.

One feature Hudlin DID retain was the Dora Milaje. Granted, he stripped them of any names, personalities or even distinguishing characteristics, but they’re still there. However, the reason they existed under Priest was because their role was to calm the tribal tensions in Wakanda, and Hudlin’s Wakanda has no such tensions. So he even stripped them of their cultural and political purpose. Under Hudlin, they’re just hot lady bodyguards.

Somewhat similarly, Hudlin at first seemed to retain a little bit of internal strife in Man-Ape. Under Priest, M’Baku was the rival leader of a banned cult, and a threat to T’Challa’s throne. In his last Priest appearance, he murdered T’Challa’s future self. Hudlin had originally said he was never going to use the character, but he ended up being invited to the wedding, and was treated like a drunken goof, rather than one of Wakanda’s greatest villains.

Under previous writers, Wakanda was always a great warrior culture, but was nothing technologically special. It was T’Challa’s own genius that started remaking Wakanda into something more. Under Hudlin, Wakanda has always been centuries ahead of the rest of the world, and T’Challa is just the latest holder of the throne. And Hudlin’s attempt at historical justification for this is irrational.

Going well past “irrational” into “silly” is Hudlin’s new rationale for how Wakanda gets its king. Instead of simply being a hereditary bloodline title, Hudlin took a cue from George Lucas. Whereas Lucas decided that Naboo would elect its queens, Hudlin decided that Wakanda would choose its king through a wrestling match. Every year. And that the incumbent king would have to fight as many successive challengers presented themselves in a single day. If he beat 50 consecutive men, and was then just too tired to beat the 51st, guess who was the new king? Apparently, physical fighting is the best way a utopia knows how to select its leaders.

(This ‘solution’ also left Hudlin with the problem that he also wanted to retain the fact that T’Challa’s father and grandfather had been kings, and not just for interim periods. So while there’s an annual ‘Fight-for-the-Throne’ brawl, apparently the same guys from the same family win every single year anyway. About as believable as Naboo repeatedly electing teenage girls as queen.)

It’s hard to tell how isolationist Hudlin’s Wakanda is. That was its defining feature in his first arc, and it’s long been a characteristic of Wakanda. But by the time of the wedding, T’Challa was inviting dozens of world leaders and hundreds of foreign guests to visit, and he even invited American basic cable channels to come to Wakanda to broadcast the ceremony. So who knows. Maybe it’ll be back to being heavily isolationist in #35.

And I’ll end on a nitpick: Priest’s Wakanda correctly had a consulate in New York that was featured several times in his series. Hudlin’s Wakanda incorrectly has a high-profile embassy in New York.

Hmm, good question. I detest Hudlin’s Wakanda because it doesn’t exist so much as an internally consistent nation as a launching point for whatever he wants to say about the U.S., but that’s not to say I was always wild about Priest’s version. A lot of what I love about the nation is actually holdovers from the Kirby era — the crazy technology and whatnot.

Based on these three comments alone, I’m pretty glad I stubbornly refused to read a non-Priest Black Panther book.

I realize that completely collecting a five-year run of a book that was never that commercially successful is sort of a longshot, but…man, I’d love to see that run in nice big trades. Maybe a “Black Panther: Visionaries” series?

When it comes to the extended universe of Black Panther, nobody has done, does, or will do it, better than Priest.

Hudlin’s not bad by any means, but I feel the book lost its voice, and has become a rather run-of-the-mill superhero book, while Priest’s BP was a one-of-a-kind narrative that is rarely matched in quality and originality today.

Stephane Savoie

January 16, 2008 at 1:08 pm

The Priest Panther was a bit TOO Makiavellan, but damn was it a great book. His Wakanda was brilliant.

never read black panther. i’m not sure i’ve even flicked through it, but i have an idea of wakanda from the books he’s appeared in and other comics which have ventured there (like the recent loeb wolverine issues). how much can you deviate from what seems to be a pretty constant interpretation? what are the ‘versions’ i guess is my question.

“Preistkanda” for the win. I never read Hudlin’s version, and Priest did good with a Wakanda where super-science and tribalism didn’t always mesh well. Bonus: Zuri, the best childhood friend a king could ask for. Also, he took a bite out of Mephisto’s heart without realizing it. Peter Park didn’t have to go through “One More Day”…he could’ve just called T’Challa to make Mephisto his bitch again.

Hudlin’s Wakanda is weak. While the root premise (Wakanda is the only African nation that was never conquered by a foreign empire) is a cool idea, he never extrapolates from that premise to see how that would have affected Wakanda’s development, or what exactly led to that turn of events in the first place. (The general feeling is that we should accept this as a given, because the Wakanda are so &%$*ing awesome.)

Curious Cat sure is getting verbose!

I’d just like to point out that Naboo’s system of electing teenage mimes to rule them is a good system, a strong system, and that the teenage mimes have done an excellent job, despite the very real demands of the job (finding body doubles, wearing elaborate outfits, styling one’s hair in giant non-Euclidean structures requiring three hundred gallons of mousse to fix in place.) Under the “teenage mime” system of government, Naboo has known nothing but peace and prosperity…except when they were conquered by the skinny robots with the goofy voices.

Captain Qwert Jr

January 16, 2008 at 4:48 pm

The first appearance of the BP during Lee/Kirby’s run of the FF is one of my favorite stories of all time, so put me in the Pre-Hudlin camp too.

Still, I don’t have the animosity towards Hudlin that others seem to have (probably because I have never read Priest’s work or some of the more controversial works of Hudlin’s run).

Hudlin does actually write adventures for BP to go on, so I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Rar! Me hate Hudlin! He am bad!

Vincent Paul Bartilucci

January 16, 2008 at 5:17 pm

The MacGregor Wakanda will always be my favorite – it seemed the most foreign and exotic.

Then again I was a white, suburban thirteen year old when I tracked down most of those Jungle Action back issues so, y’know, take that with a hefty grain of salt.

For my money, Priest!Wakanda for the win. McGregor!Wakanda gets special mention though. If it weren’t for his PantherPrey mini series, I might not have picked up Priest’s BP.

I’m going to keep this post short because after Loren’s anything I say will sound like “Me favorite color am clear.”

EM

John, it’s well known the hair styles of Naboo royality are done as a concession to the mousse industry which pumps a lot of money into the political arena, despite many attempts at campaign finance reform.

I’ll take a fat slab of hot buttered Priest Wakanda, with a dollop of McGregor Wakanda on the side.

Priest and McGregor never forgot an essential concept that Hudlin forgets almost every month: Any idiot can concept, but only writers can write. Or, to put it another way: Execution is all.

As a rule, Priest’s Black Panther is better in every regard. This is no exception.

Haven’t read Hudlin’s take on Wakanda.

I tried to read Black Panther when Priest was writing it. Then he brought in Mephisto. Mephisto? I HATE THAT CHARACTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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