Black Panther has seen a slow rise to fame over the past several years. Beginning in the pages of Jonathan Hickman’s grandiose Avengers saga, the Wakandan King has become a focal character for Marvel. With his cinematic debut coming up in Captain America: Civil War and spinning off into his own movie in 2018, it’s no surprise that Marvel is releasing a brand new ongoing series based around the hero.
The new book, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates with art by Brian Stelfreeze, digs into the world of Wakanda and looks at the crumbling empire that T’Challa – the Black Panther – sits on. The series posits the intriguing question, if Wankanda is such a highly advanced civilization, why do they accept an outdated form of government like a monarchy? The fallout of this will be explored in the first story arc, projected to encompass the first eleven issues of the book.
Right away, the mentality of Black Panther is established by Coates, the award-winning author of such books as Between the World and Me and The Beautiful Struggle. With a terse opening page that sums up the trials and tribulations the character has endured the past few years, new readers are immediately caught up on who the Panther is. After that, the inner voice of T’Challa takes over as the reader is dropped in media res into a battle between Black Panther and his people. It’s stark and brutal, with T’Challa having to grapple with the realization that his kingdom is in jeopardy.
While T’Challa’s voice is well done, his overall presence in the first issue is markedly limited. A good majority of the issue takes a look at the Dora Milaje, the Panther’s “wives in waiting.” While these figures were conceived to simply add to the “majesty” that is the Wakandan throne, Coates builds them into sympathetic figures by the end of the issue. Equal parts tragic and honorable, the two Dora Milaje the book looks at show the inherent flaws with the Wakandan monarchy and the Black Panther himself.
Coates also shows readers the other side of the conflict, taking a scene to introduce the readers to the two main figures of the rebellion against Black Panther. Currently they feel a little too much like stereotypical freedom fighters, only wanting a “better and brighter future” for their people. Yet Coates only spends two pages on these characters. If and when he begins to delve deeper into them, I have confidence the series will give readers a stellar antagonist.
Finally, Coates takes the time to give readers a sense that truly not all is well within the walls of Wakanda. The issue, for the most part, tries to build the idea that T’Challa is in the right and that he needs to defend the government that is in place. Yet mentions of abuse of power and attacks against women – the issue that turns the two Dora Milaje against T’Challa by issue’s end – are hinted at in dialogue. Without coming out and saying it, Coates intimates to the reader that things perhaps do need to change.
But while Coates manages a lot of characterization within the span of twenty-odd pages, it’s Stelfreeze that helps to elevate this book even further. Gone are the Panther’s gawdy pendants and cloaks, returning to a slim and sleek design that is a reminder of the symbol Black Panther stands for. The same goes for the city of Wakanda itself, looking futuristic without being too over-the-top about it.
Stelfreeze even helps build upon what came before by giving Black Panther several new powers within his suit. From cool glowing visuals when his mask forms over his face – no longer simply cloth as many creators before have done – to Panther being able to track people by the “scent” of their soul, Stelfreeze gives the book a grand design that will help make it a staple in comic shops for months, perhaps years, to come.
With both Coates and Stelfreeze helping to redefine the mythology of Black Panther for the future, the character is in good hands. When readers are clamoring for comics about Black Panther after his cinematic debut, this series will be at the top of recommendation lists everywhere. Get in on the ground floor now.