Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates / Artist: Brian Stelfreeze / Marvel Comics
If you had told me that T’Challa, the Black Panther himself, might be the second or third most consequential character in the new Black Panther comic book, I would’ve have been very skeptical about how much I would enjoy the book. And yet, in three short issues, Coates has widened our understanding of what it means to be Black Panther, but more astutely, what is the depth that is Wakanda. Wakanda and it’s history are the main character of this book and I don’t think that’s debatable at this point. In this third issue especially, that is crystallized when we are introduced to the narrative of Spirit of country. One that has grown tired of the mechanization and plundering of its soils that have paved the way for Wakanda to become a technological power.
I understand, of course, that this is fiction. But the staggering commitment to the idea of spirituality and connection to the Earth in its shadowing of African customs is truly mind-blowing to see in a mainstream comic book. It is unapologetic in its portrayal of tradition and shared history that is very different from the mostly White and American narrative we’ll see from either Marvel or DC.
As far as other aspects of the story, it is all developing beautifully, from the Midnight Angels quest to liberate their forgotten sisters and amass their own army, T’Challa’s hunt for Zenzi (and Tetu), and Shuri’s spirit in the Djalia. The very different stories all feel connected as they all serve the narrative efficiently. One wonders when T’Challa will become aware of the Midnight Angels and their actions, mostly because they are becoming really hard to root against as they take on the threats that T’Challa has blinded himself to.
All of this is kept on the rails in gorgeous fashion by Stelfreeze. This book reads, looks, and feels like a masterpiece. From the contemporary settings of T’Challa speaking with his mother, to the memory plane of Djalia, and even the action sequences involving the Midnight Angels, Stelfreeze captures moments that look specific and narrow, yet feel part of a bigger epic. The pronounced, yet restrained features of the Wakandans are possibly my favorite aspect of the art. I don’t know how many artists I would trust in a book so focused on the up close characteristics of an African people.
As amazing as the first two issues of been, this might have been my favorite. Each part of the story gets its own due and yet is building into a sweeping tale that finally befits our favorite fictional City on the Hill in Wakanda.
Reading Black Panther? Catch up on other reviews of the series here.