Black Panther #1: The Dora Milaje Come Center Stage

***Some spoilers for Black Panther #1, which you totally should have read by now because it’s really good***

So there I was yesterday, like most of the Black nerdosphere, reading the latest, greatest incarnation of Black Panther from the power team of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, and Laura Martin. Having just finished re-reading the Hudlin series, the comic felt like coming back to some place I’d been, and wanted to dig deeper into. The real wonder of the world set in after the title page, where the Queen Mother is disciplining a Dora Milaje who has gone too far in her duties.
BP_Blood Alloy
I love the metaphor of the Dora Milaje as the Blood Alloy of Wakanda. It says so much about how vibranium is embedded in their language. Also, it to sets us up for the Dora Milaje to play a more useful role in this series than in past ones. They are not solely bodyguards and warriors, they are a center of power in their own right. This gets me all kinds of happy, because I’ve always felt that the Dora Milaje were under-utilized in the Wakandan mythos, particularly in those instances when they are portrayed as little more than the Black Panther’s harem. So this is a start of something more, maybe building on the Midnight Angels. That’s promising. Fast forward a few pages and we see the condemned woman, Aneka again, this time with her friend Ayo breaking her out of prison.
BP_Beloved

Hold on. Did she call her Beloved? Now that’s usually what the Dora Milaje call the Black Panther…Beloved. Hm. Maybe that’s what they call each other too, like in a sisterly way.

BP_Kiss

NOPE, NOT SISTERLY AT ALL!

To recap: Did Coates just take over the reins of one of the seminal Black comic book characters — a character who sold the 300,000 copies before it ever hit the stands — and center in the plot, in the first issue, a Black lesbian couple? Yes, he did. Did he then have those two women discuss the nature of love AND the nature of democracy in 4 panels? Yes.He.Did. Did he then have them put on some amazingly cool armor and threaten to burn the mf’er down? Oh yeah, he most certainly did.

What a time to be alive.

Black America, like the rest of America, has always had a complicated, stereotyping relationship with our Gay, Lesbian, Trans, Asexual, and other Queer members. We all know the Gay Choir Director or the unmarried Butch Auntie. We have so often pushed these family members to the edges of Black society, allowing them to be erased by the very communities they call home. So for Coates and the rest of the creative team to make not only the Dora Milaje, but two Black lesbian Dora Milaje, one of the primary actors in his series is, dare I say, revolutionary? Or at least so rarely seen as to be damn near? Both in his dialog and in Stelfreeze’s art, the women are not sexualized or objectified. They are fully engaged actors, serving as the tool or token of no-one. Their relationship is carefully, tenderly portrayed and even in their black silhouettes they are made visible — strikingly, stirringly so.

This sets the tone for the entire series, establishing that a variety of women’s perspectives, straight and queer, will be significant in how this story unfolds. This isn’t a comic for the stereotyped “comic book bro” set. This is a comic that assumes we — Black people in all of our variety — are all here, all reading  and engaging with the myth-making project. Coates is on the record as saying he wants to raise Black Panther’s status in the world:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CfZGdazWsAIB0jG.jpg:large
From National Public Radio, All Things Considered interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Well, I’d say if this surprising, inclusive, beautiful, cliffhanger of a comic is his start, he’s well on his way.

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