This is easily my most anticipated comic of the year. When it was announced last year that Black Panther would relaunch as a solo title with Ta-Nehisi Coates as the writer, well, my interest was piqued to say the least.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ articles in The Atlantic have been must-reads for me for quite a long time (if you have not read his stuff, do so now). His writing on politics and race and culture, in general, is thoughtful, intelligent, and powerful. So putting him at the helm of the first black superhero seemed like a stroke of genius.
The thing is he’s never written a comic before (to my knowledge he’s never written fiction before) so how would his style translate to sequential storytelling? That in itself is intriguing, but the major question I had when picking up Black Panther #1 was whether would this be an overtly political book?
And the answer to that is – yes, of course, it is. Just not in the way you’d think.
Minor Spoilers Ahead (if you care about such things)
Black Panther #1 is in fact a political book. Given the author, it would be natural to think that the political angle would be race. Only you’d be wrong. Race plays very little in the story, at least so far.
It is really about Wakanda and the politics of how that country is run and the consequences of how it is run. Wakanda is after all an absolute monarchy and there are some inherent problems with that system of government in this day and age. Coates does not shy away from those problems.
This is a typical first issue in that it spends a great deal of time setting up the premise, the characters, and the general gist of what’s going on. And there is in fact there is a lot going on.
The story begins with Wakanda in turmoil. There is unrest among the people, partially due to some prodding of a border nation, but mostly due to some serious tension in the recent history of the nation.
The former queen (and Black Panther’s sister), Shuri, has been killed in the aftermath of Secret Wars and T’Challa has been reinstalled as king, but in name only. While he is off Black Panthering the real power it seems is T’Challa’s stepmother, Ramonda, who rules as queen and supreme judge. In her judge capacity, Ramonda orders the rebel warrior to be put to death, which leads to her lover breaking her out of prison and sets these two up as a series of antagonists going forward.
T’Challa does not do much at all actually and seems distracted throughout the majority of the issue. The reason for this is revealed at the end, but the action seems to take place around him rather than because of him.
In the past, T’Challa/Black Panther has been portrayed as always in control and always a step ahead of everyone else around him. Here he has doubts and is unsure of his actions. I find this a much more dynamic and interesting way to handle him as a lead. And this works to the story’s advantage.
Rather than this being a straight superhero story what we get is a story of Wakanda as a whole. The inner workings and political intrigue of the country are the main focus. This is a nation that has in the past been portrayed as a paradise, a utopia, with the people following their charismatic leader with unwavering loyalty. But this is not the case now. The inherent problems with the monarchy and absolute rule are beginning to show.
Yes, there are a lot of setups here, but it never seems rushed or bloated. It is obvious that Coates is building a long form here but we do not feel cheated, and we are given some nice character moments and dialogue.
And I have to acknowledge Brian Stelfreeze’s art…it is stunning. Just beautiful panels, one after another. He adds dynamism and emotion that just propels the story forward. His pacing and dramatic beats are perfect for Coates’ writing. Can’t say enough about it.
All in all, this is a great start. I didn’t know what to expect with this issue but it turned out to be exactly what I wanted. A beautiful, well-written political drama with just a hint of superheroing.
If I had one concern with this book it’s the price. At $4.99 this is a rather high price for a single issue. If I continue to follow this it would be a serious commitment in addition to the several other titles I am currently following. It’s not that I’m cheap – wait, yes it is – and Amazon is already teasing the hardcover collected edition for later in the year which will no doubt be quite nice.
Still, if the quality remains as good as it is in this first issue I’d love for this title to continue and do well. So I suppose I should just shut up and cough up the cash.
And you all should too. We need to encourage more comics like this.