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Black Panther

Marvel Legends
by yo go re

It should come as no surprise that Black Panther was originally introduced as a villain for the Fantastic Four to fight: after all, they were already feuding with the royal sovereign of Latveria and the royal sovereign of Atlantis, so why should the royal sovereign of Wakanda not get in on the action? Kings just can't stand the Richards family.

With the sleekness of the jungle cat whose name he bears, T'Challa - king of Wakanda - stalks both the concrete city and the undergrowth of the Veldt. So it has been for countless generations of warrior kings, so it is today, and so it shall be - for the law dictates that only the swift, the smart and the strong survive. The Black Panther's superhuman abilities - including enhanced senses, strength, speed and agility - stem from his ingestion of a mystical heart-shaped herb administered only to Wakandan kings during a sacred ascension ritual. An accomplished gymnast and acrobat, T'Challa is also an expert tracker. In addition, he has mastered various African martial arts. Noble champion. Vigilant protector. Black Panther!

While his first appearance may have been a rehash of what had gone before, Black Panther wasn't. T'Challa was one of the first ethnic characters in comics who wasn't a raging stereotype. Okay, yes, he was a black man who had "black" in his name and was an African king, but he wasn't drawn in blackface and he wasn't eating watermelon. At the time, that was a huge step forward.

For most of his career, Black Panther's costume has been simple: a black bodysuit with a full-face mask and stripey boots and gloves. He got a redesign a few years ago, and that's the version we got with this figure. The black suit has been accented with gold on the gloves, cape and belt. The change wasn't huge, but it really makes the character pop.

The level of detail is really high on this figure. There are all the sculpted wrinkles and the superheroic anatomy, but those we expect - the entire surface has a slight texture to it, much like Sandman had. Even the interiors of the balljoints have the same nubbly feel. There are subtle technological details on the boots and gloves, hinting that there's more to this guy than some cat pajamas, and the gold bits of his costume have tiny, intricate patterns on the surface.

Unlike some companies, ToyBiz knows that a top-notch sculpt doesn't mean the end of articulation. Panther moves at the head, shoulders - slides and balljoints - biceps, elbows, gloves, wrists, fingers, torso, waist, hips, knees, boots, ankles and toes. The figure features a removable cape that's just as detailed as the rest of him.

There have been some complaints about the fingers and toes, that they're too large. In the comics, Black Panther's claws really were that long, and his boots did have vibranium padding that added some bulk. Vibranium is one of those miraculous Marvel metals, like adamantium, whose unique properties are telegraphed in its name. In this case, the stuff can absorb and nullify any vibration, including sound and kinetic impact. By putting it on his boots, Panther not only became extra-stealthy, but could also scale buildings and survive leaps from great heights.

Anyway, the fingers move individually, but if you're brandishing claws, you'd probably want your fingers spread, a pose this figure can't manage. Since Black Panther could retract the blades, it probably would have made more sense to give him interchangeable hands, like SOTA does for its Street Fighters. As good as they are, ToyBiz still has some new tricks to learn.

Black Panther's face looks like Mark Texiera's artwork, which makes sense, since he was the artist behind the revamp. Rather than just looking like a face with no mouth, the head gives the distinct impression of being clad in a mask - you can see the features beneath distorting the cloth. Black Panther has golden eyes and the cutest little ears ever.

Though he's one of only two non-mutant characters in Marvel Legends 10, Black Panther still comes with a piece of the giant hunter/killer robot Sentinel - specifically, the right arm.

The technological detailing is great, with wire-and-tube tendons sculpted beneath metal plate muscles. You know how on Battle Bots, the machines all looked like crazy remote-controlled buzzsaws and crap? Remember how none of them looked like a big purple human? Yeah. Sentinels do. The arm moves at the elbow, wrist and all five fingers. There's a bright orange blaster on the palm, and a bendy tentacle - the same kind that came with Omega Red - plugs into the center.

Black Panther comes with a reprint of Avengers #87, which recounts his origin. It's a fine choice, but if you really want to read a good story featuring the character, buy one of the tpbs of the recent Marvel Knights series. The disjointed, Pulp Fiction-style storytelling is probably what kept it from inclusion with this figure, but it's definitely worth reading, and shows why companies so diligently keep their copyrights current: you never know when someone will take a former nobody and make him great again.

T'Challa is one grim cat; he's wound so tight that even Batman would think he needs to lighten up. But he's a world leader, and that requires a certain dedication of purpose. He's a plotter and a schemer willing to do whatever it takes to protect his country. If international politics is a chess match, most people are trying to think five moves ahead; Panther's already finished this game and the next three. He's a great character when he's written well, and this is an awesome figure of him.

-- 10/09/05

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