Right off the bat you should know that if you are a fan of epic battles, more simplistic plots, and easily defined characters then this is not the comic you’re looking for. However, if you are in the market for a more multi-faceted book that offers an intense look into the socio-political and cultural underpinnings of a nation in revolt then you are in for something of a treat.
As you may have guessed, this is not your typical Marvel comic book. It does not revel in the traditional themes that other, less in-depth, titles do. Instead it splices the fantastical world of Superheroes with the all too real horrors faced by many a war torn nation of today. This is thanks to the first time comic writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Coates is something of an enigma in the modern comic landscape in that he comes from a very different background to most others. Yes, his career has been focused on writing but rather than being known for short stories and the like he has shown himself to be remarkably talented in the field of journalism, having won a number of awards for his outstanding work which often focuses on the struggles of African-Americans in this day and age. These influences can be seen throughout Black Panther as he feeds the world around him into the story of the fall of Wakanda. It is through this that Coates has crafted a comic with a very real message to it, a message that needs to be heard. That is very rare as most Marvel books are more superficial in nature, making this one stand out in an immediately recognisable manner.
With issue one of this new series you will be introduced to the nation of Wakanda as it descends into Civil War. An insidious force has worked its way into the minds of the people and has amplified the resentment they feel towards their once glorious leader. In this sense you can draw parallels to the somewhat recent conflict in Libya as the rebels rose up in order to depose the tyrant leader, Colonel Gaddafi. Obviously Black Panther is not akin to Gaddafi in any real sense but there are clear similarities as his people grow weary of his rule and seek to affect a change in their country. What’s really clever about the writing of this plot is that you are not told implicitly to side with T’Challa but are rather shown both sides of the brewing war and left to make up your own mind. As in real conflicts of this nature it is not presented in a black and white manner but rather the many shades of grey are brought to the fore and you find yourself in a complicated world where everything hangs in the balance for both sides.
Aside from the exceedingly well handled primary narrative, there is a notable side story that sadly doesn’t offer as much in the way of entertainment. Aneka, a captain of the Dora Milaje, stands trial for the murder of a Chieftain who was systematically abusing the women over whom he ruled. There is a smidge of intrigue in this yarn in that further builds the picture of a nation in upheaval as their own soldiers are brought to justice for stepping outside of the rules of their society. Other than that though it is nothing more than a distraction at this point as it offers very little in terms of excitement. In future issues it will undoubtedly build into a worthy addition to the book and you should expect Coates to develop it into something of great importance over the course of his eleven issue run on Black Panther.
With this being Coates’ debut in the comic world the most sensible thing to do would have been to pair him with an experienced artist who could bring his work to life in an impactful way. That is exactly what readers got with the addition of Brian Stelfreeze. His characters are bold and well defined, each one has their own personality about them and looks just as one would imagine they should. Adding to this is the superb colouring provided by Laura Martin. She captures the futuristic nature of Wakanda whilst sublimely balancing it with the traditional feel of their mining colonies and tribal nature. It all comes together to make for a book that is hard to beat when it comes to tone, the story and art go together perfectly.
Overall, this is a slightly slower book than most would be accustomed to but it does not suffer for that fact. Coates and Co. have clearly worked extremely hard to bring their vision for Black Panther to the page and it has paid off in a big way. It is hard not to be excited for the future of this book with the huge scope shown in this series opener.