Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates / Artist: Brian Stelfreeze / Marvel Comics
I hate lines on so many levels. I don’t stand in line for anything if I can avoid it. But if you think I wasn’t the first human at the door of my local comic shop two months in a row, ready to get my hands on Ta-Nehesi Coates’ run of Black Panther…..you have severely misjudged reality. With the King of Wakanda’s positive reception from his theatrical debut in Captain America: Civil War and Ta-Nahesi Coates’ first issue of his solo series selling out in almost no time, it’s only a matter of time before we get Kendrick Lamar referencing the fictional African country in his mixtapes. It’s either that or Azealia Banks will be dissing an African king that doesn’t actually exist on Twitter.
Issue #2 picks up not too long after the events of the first. Wakanda is still in disarray, on the edge of complete upheaval from a few different angles. T’Challa locks on like a guided missile and takes his classic “hands on” approach to putting out fires and hunting down his new enemy, but is distracted from his duty due to familial bonds. Coates’ internal narrative for the Panther almost makes the book worth the four bucks by itself, but he also does a fantastic job of getting many balls rolling. Many seeds are being planted that will inevitably cause the hero/king 99 problems before too long. The great attraction of Marvel heroes is that, even in their nobility, they are commonly fundamentally flawed in some way or another that must be overcome before they can win the day. Coates delivers a nuanced take on T’Challa’s flaw: He takes a very headstrong superhero approach to diplomacy, putting the whole country on his shoulders in Superman fashion. And he feels every bit of the weight.
This is not the overconfident monarch we’ve seen previously. He struggles with his decisions internally and we get to see his stoic facade waver as any leader’s should from time to time. Even as strong as the Panther’s characterization is, the show stealers of this series so far are a). the Midnight Angels, lovers/excommunicated Dora Milaje soldiers (I am here for the love Coates is showing Wakanda’s LGBTQ community, by the way) waging war on Wakanda’s patriarchal villains, getting the country’s women in Formation and b). Wakanda itself. So far, this book comes with insanely compelling world building. This is one of the first times I’ve read a Black Panther comic where Wakanda felt like an actual country with landmarks and regions and depth and a wealth of culture. If the women and children there weren’t getting the Beasts of No Nation treatment, this might actually be a place I’d want to visit.
Visually, Brian Stelfreeze is doing the Lord’s Work, bringing this king and his country to life. I could go on about how T’Challa’s assault on Zenzi’s power-base is as graceful and poetic as my favorite Amiri Baraka poem or how the capabilities of the Black Panther suit look incredible and I’m looking forward to seeing what else it can do, but the way he portrays Wakanda is the stuff of travel brochures.
Bottom Line: As far as the things we want to see from the Black Panther mythology, Ta-Nehisi Coates gets it. This book puts down layers that could be the source of stories for years to come long after the Atlantic writer hangs his jersey up.
Reading Black Panther? Catch up on other reviews of the series here.