July 13, 2024

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Comic Review: Black Panther Volume 1

Acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates tries his hand at comics with Marvel's Black Panther.

I had the opportunity to see writer Ta-Nehisi Coates speak recently.  He’s a bright man, and a good speaker to boot.  He managed two standing ovations during a Q&A on the subject of race in America.

What does that have to do with a comic review?  Well, Marvel probably surprised a whole lot of people when they hired Coates to write Black Panther considering the man had never worked in comics before, or possibly even in the realm of fiction.  The first trade was subtitled A Nation Under Our Feet Book One.

As it is, Coates has set up a rather intriguing, multi-level storyline here.  T’Challa is back as King of Wakanda, but it’s questionable if anyone really wants him there or not.  His recent history shows Wakanda being conquered by Dr. Doom, flooded by a Phoenix-powered Namor, and then conquered again by Thanos and the Cabal (that included Namor) while T’Challa was working with the Illuminati to try to stop the Incursions.  During that last period, T’Challa’s half-sister Shuri was Queen of Wakanda and a new Black Panther.  She was killed by Thanos’ agents.

The point is, T’Challa’s recent track record hasn’t been so good, and he’s been doing a lot of work outside of Wakanda, so how much do the people of Wakanda want him back?

That’s the excellent question Coates establishes.  T”Challa has rebellion brewing on two different fronts.  On one, a shaman that broke away from longtime Panther foe Killmonger is building power with a young woman T’Challa calls a “revealer” that gets people to act on their truest feelings.  It turns out that resentment towards the Panther can lead to rebellion.  On another front, a pair of rebellious Dora Milaje have stolen some experimental body armor and are bringing lethal vigilante justice to those who may honestly deserve it under the name the Midnight Angels.  They’re carving a small nation out for themselves, one that is, of all things, a democracy.  How will T’Challa deal with that, especially considering he’s spending much of his spare time trying to resurrect a not-quite-alive-and-not-quite-dead Shuri?

Sadly, the reader won’t get much of an answer from this volume.  It only contains four issues.  Whether it was Coates, new to comics that he is, not being able to meet a monthly deadline or artist Brian Stelfreeze having his own issues doing so I do not know.  I do know I liked what I saw here.  Plus, to make up for the brevity, Marvel reprinted the Panther’s first appearance in a Stan Lee and Jack Kirby issue of Fantastic Four.  Still, for brevity alone that cut the volume just as the story was getting good, eight out of ten afterlife conversations.