John Ridley and Juann Cabal continue to develop the mystery in Black Panther #4. The last issue saw T’Challa rendezvous with one of his secret agents and warn them of the danger, but is the threat T’Challa now faces even closer to home than suspected?
Black Panther #4 continues “The Long Shadow,” a story that has built its mystery around the identity of a group of assassins targeting Wakandan secret agents. The newest issue sees a real development in that plot, and given the nature of a whodunnit mystery, talking about the story here risks spoilers. So while I’ll try to be vague, if you’re just looking for whether or not this issue is worth your money: it’s of about the same quality as the previous issue. If you liked that, you’ll like this.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD for Black Panther #4!
Black Panther #4 opens as T’Challa departs Mars. In a nice bit of creator continuity, Ibrahim Moustafa provides the artwork for these pages, creating a sense of cohesion between issues. The opening also adds another layer of tension as Storm prods Gentle as to what his secret meeting with T’Challa was about. The story has teased that T’Challa’s secrets may come out, and that continues here. However, this does highlight a stakes issue to the overarching story. Thus far, T’Challa’s secret is that he has secret agents planted across the globe. The tease of tension between Storm and Gentle is supposed to create tension — will Storm discover that T’Challa is spying on her new nation, and what will the consequences be? But Storm was T’Challa’s wife and Queen of Wakanda — the nation’s use of espionage should not be a surprise to her, and thus this tease falls flat.
This isn’t an issue isolated to Storm, either — the story John Ridley and Juann Cabal have told thus far asks readers to believe that T’Challa is at risk of being outed as someone who spies on other nations. But secrets have always been part of the character’s history, whether it’s keeping the Wakandan equivalent of a helicarrier in the Hudson River, reforming the Illuminati, or just the fact that Wakanda itself kept secret until T’Challa’s reign as king. As of yet, the stakes aren’t well realized. Part of the problem is that the skill level of T’Challa’s sleeper agents hasn’t truly been established. T’Challa has ten of them, but thus far we’ve only seen the agents in battle against assassins who also aren’t well known.
Fortunately, Black Panther #4 changes some of that for the better. Previous issues have seen artist Juann Cabal emphasize the martial arts utilized by both assassin and T’Challa’s sleeper agents. Here, the reason for that comes to light, literally, as Cabal and color artist Matt Milla give a beautiful sequence as Shuri analyzes the fighting styles of the combatants as if they were constellations in the night sky. Shuri’s analysis not only highlights the skill of the assassins, but gives T’Challa the first real lead the mystery has had.
While I’m not personally convinced that their current lead is the correct one (would it be a good mystery if it was?), it’s nice to see the story pick up the pace and give some real development to the plot. There are some tense moments as T’Challa takes action against the suspect, and while I haven’t always liked John Ridley’s voice for T’Challa, there are some nice lines of dialogue that I won’t spoil here. If ‘The Long Shadow’ is asking readers to commit for the long haul, future issues will have to match or surpass Black Panther #4. Though the issue is hampered by some of the ambiguity in the storytelling, the developments here are an encouraging sign.
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