Categorize it however you want: Black Panther Volume 4 (or Volume 5 if you consider the Gillis/Cowan mini a volume in and of itself) #1, Black Panther #37, Black Panther #114 (stringing all the regular series together, that's where this would fall) Black Panther 2 #1 or whatever other label you'd like to throw at it, there's no denying a new "Black Panther" title starts up this week.
I'm not quite sure why Marvel decided to launch this book with a new #1, other than the obvious sales gain. This book is written by Reginald Hudlin, as was the previous series. This series picks up with action shortly after the conclusion of the previous series. Heck, the female Panther trotted around in Marvel's house ads and spoofed on the internet doesn't even appear in this issue. T'Challa still bears the mantle. One further item of evidence: the logo on the cover hasn't even evolved.
Hype being what it is, this series has taken the "Dark Reign" storyline as a diving platform and is attempting to safely plunge into a Dixie cup. Hudlin brings the big ideas to the table in this issue, with royalty (in the form of Namor) seeking out an audience with T'Challa. Hudlin then throws a mystery into the book in the form of fractured storytelling, bouncing between past and present. Finally, a thuggish Doctor Doom makes an appearance and offers some clues to the mystery. I call Hudlin's Doom thuggish, for I really don't think it is within Doom's character to wish a man's wife were present when her husband is about to be defeated by a foe, as Doom does here. Beyond that, Hudlin does a good job bringing the big ideas, but he could seriously use some help with the scripting. The dialog is clunky and labored, even for the stilted regality of Marvel's sovereigns.
Lashley, however, brings a dedication to make this book a tribute to Black Panther artists before him as well as placing his own paw print on the king of Wakanda. Look to the Queen Mother's confrontation with Dr. B'Gali for a glimpse of Sal Velluto, or Namor's appearance for a nod to Jerry Bingham. Lashley makes the art his own by using these examples as evidence of his own artistic prowess. As has become Marvel's house style, Paul Mounts steps up his game and doesn't just render shades and shadows, but adds detail and depth to the art, becoming as integral to the final visuals as Lashley himself.
This overpriced issue is standard story length, but as an added component in this book, Marvel has included "Black Panther Saga" a 10-page synopsis of the legend of the Black Panther to this point. Rounding out the issue in an attempt to justify the extra dollar, is a five-page preview of the next issue.
This book has a tremendous amount of potential, but due to the re-genderfication (yeah, I made that up) of the character, I fear it will be construed as gimmicky. At this point, there is a strong scent of gimmick to this relaunch, especially since Marvel has been pushing this book for months now, and the character behind the promotion only graces the cover of this issue. While I expected this book to be a bit of a gimmicky letdown, especially following Jason Aaron's "Secret Invasion" tie-in issues, the fact that this title has Dr. Doom, Namor, Storm, and (for now) T'Challa makes it a read worth looking into. It is not the most impressive treatment that I've ever encountered for T'Challa, but it isn't the worst either. This book is treading middle ground right now and will make a decision soon as to whether it ascends into greatness or slips into becoming a boring, neglected title.