REVIEW: Black Panther #169 – “Midnight Missions”

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BLACK PANTHER #169
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Penciller: Leonard Kirk
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Price: $3.99

Release Date: 1/24/18

While T’Challa and Shuri discovered the truth behind the sound hologram terrorizing Wakanda, Midnight Angels Aneka and Ayo were captured by Ulysses Klaw and his latests allies. Can Black Panther save his soldiers and his people?

Plot: Black Panther #169 opens with a peek into Azania, where Klaw is preparing to bring a replica of his sister to life while T’Challa is distracted. But it is Aneka who takes advantage of her enemies’ distraction to fight her way out of her chains and rescue Ayo from the experiments being performed on her. Both the resurrection mission and the rescue one seem to be coming together when Midnight Angels invade the Azania headquarters.

Story: The first thing that comes to mind when reading Black Panther #169 is the parallels between Klaw bring back a version of his sister and T’Challa bringing Shuri back earlier in the run. Connecting the King to his greatest enemy on an emotional level helps to counteract his absence from the issue, but it also highlights what Klaw is missing. T’Challa brought his actual sister back; Klaw is settling for a sound form duplicate.

That aside, Coates makes an interesting narrative choice in Black Panther #169 that may confuse a few readers but otherwise increases the tension of the story in a very satisfying way. Because Klaw can absorb sound energy, the events taking place in his base are all effectively muted while he works on restoring his sister. This means that oftentimes characters will react with nothing but silent speech bubbles, and it also paves the way for Aneka to get the jump on her enemies undetected. While the lack of dialogue makes the issue feel shorter than most, it also allows readers to fully take in their surroundings and focus on the specific outcomes of Aneka and Klaw’s objectives.

The splash page certainly heightens the interest in next month’s offering, but considering that the cover not only showcased T’Challa but also several other heroes, it was a little bit of a letdown not to see any of them in the story. Nevertheless, Black Panther #169 sets up a promising conclusion to this arc and makes the most of several silent moments to introduce nuanced character beats.

 

Art: Given how much silence Coates employs in Black Panther #169, Laura Martin and Leonard Kirk are tasked with a lot to say and very few words to help them say it. They rise to the occasion, providing detailed and colorful depictions of the base at Azania. Even without dialogue or narration as a guide, the art work succeeds in both telling the story and capturing the various emotions of the characters. A deft use of shadow and light also accentuates certain moments, such as the beautiful reunion between Ayo and Aneka that speaks louder than words could even in the darkness.

On the flip side, Kirk also breathes life into the process of creating sound forms, turning what might otherwise be an excruciating exercise into a real page turner. The vibrations bouncing off Klaw feel different every time, and together with Martin’s colors they manage tell their own gripping tale of a family reunion – or as close to one as possible with holograms. Overall, the action sequence have a kinetic flow, making it easy and entertaining to follow Aneka’s quest to reach her beloved.

Verdict: If not for the ill-suited cover, Black Panther #169 just might be the best issue of the run to not actually feature T’Challa himself. The villain is imbued with pathos but doesn’t take over the story, and supporting cast members who have helped carry the book since the first issue are given the spotlight to move the plot towards a hopefully chilling conclusion.

Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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