REVIEW: Black Panther and the Crew #1 – “Streets of Harlem”

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Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Penciller: Butch Guice
Colorist: Dan Brown
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino

Release Date: 4/12/17
Price: $3.99

Something’s not right in Harlem, and Misty Knight gets an extra push from an old friend to investigate just what happened to a fallen local hero.  
Black Panther and The Crew #1

Plot: After local activist Ezra Keith mysteriously dies in jail, the people of Harlem begin rioting to demand the truth from the local police force. Misty Knight, a former cop, is torn between trusting the judicial system and her gut feeling that something more sinister might be behind the death. An attack on her own life pushes her further into her investigation.

Story: Before even getting to the present day, Ta-Nehisi Coates goes all in to set up the history of Harlem and what Ezra Keith has to do with it. As cliched as it sounds, this story automatically feels like one where the setting becomes another character. Harlem, it seems, will be another member of the Crew and impact the story just as much as any character. We see this later as Coates masterfully writes Misty’s inner monologues about her competing loyalties to the police and Harlem itself.

The entire issue is from Misty’s perspective, even the flashbacks. This strong POV not only allows readers to get deep inside of Misty’s psyche but also serves as handy plot device for Coates to give the readers additional context and background.

However, because the majority of the story comes from Misty’s narrations the book can feel slow at times. Even in heated moments, like the riots in Harlem or the attack of the Americops, the pages lack urgency since there’s an extra layer separating the reader from the action.

Anchoring the storyline in issues the parallel our present day, such as police brutality and the lack of trust in the judicial system, gives the story a richer feel than the usual Marvel team-up romp. The villain isn’t some zany costumed vigilante or a secret Nazi organization. Instead, this story feels much closer to nonfiction than the usual escapism comics might provide.

Art: As much as I loved the story of this book, the art didn’t often provide the same punch. The muted color palette worked to remind you this is a noir mystery, not some cosmic adventure, but also made the entire book feel like one indistinct run-on panel.

Butch Guice does an excellent job drawing Harlem and making it feel like a real lived-in place, but I also would have liked to see more expression from the characters, matching the emotional turmoil they’re clearly enduring in the story. You can sense Misty’s anger and confusion, but there are only a few panels that really show it.

The reveal of Storm completely pops against what for the most part is an issue of subtle art and muted colors. Giving the reveal a full page spread was a smart choice by Guice, and Dan Brown made the panel more powerful with saturated colors. I wonder if each character from the Crew will get a similar entrance.

Verdict: For what was almost a flawless story I have one question: Where is the Crew??? Of the members featured on the cover image, only two end up appearing in this issue. If this were a Misty Knight comic, this issue would have done an excellent job setting up a story that quickly engrosses readers and I would shout its praises from the rooftops (or the internet at least). Instead, I’m left feeling like I missed out on something.

Regardless, I can’t wait to see where this story goes next – Crew or no Crew. If you love a good mystery, I can’t recommend this book enough.

4.5/5 Stars

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