Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Brian Stelfreeze
Colour: Laura Martin
Release Date: 6th April 2016
What I know about Black Panther could be written on the back of a postage stamp. A really tiny postage stamp, for really tiny letters. A tiny postage stamp that would only have ‘Black Panther’ written on it because that, dear readers, is the entire sum of my prior knowledge. However, whilst scrolling through Twitter I happened upon the feed of Ta-Nehisi Coates and read about this new Black Panther story arc. I also know that Black Panther will be in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie, so – like a lot of people, I’m assuming – I was interested to find out more about the character. So, off I popped to the comic book store and picked up issue 1, and I’m kind of glad I did.
Black Panther is the ceremonial title of T’challa, the King of Wakanda. The African nation of Wakanda is one of the most technically advanced societies in the world. It sits upon a deposit of a rare alloy known as vibranium (the stuff that Captain America’s shield is made from. Thank you Google). This once unconquered nation has seen some hard times lately and after some time away, T’challa is once again King.
This issue opens on a restless nation. Wakanda is on the brink of civil unrest, the people have lost confidence in their King and even the Dora Milaje the elite female royal guard are questioning loyalties. One thing becomes very clear when you begin to read Black Panther; this is not a superhero comic. It concentrates more on the politics of Wakanda and the struggle that T’challa faces being both Black Panther and a King. Interestingly, T’challa is not the main focus of this first issue, although judging by the bombshell final page, that aspect of the book is yet to come. This issue focuses mainly on T’challa’s stepmother Ramonda and the Dora Milaje and revealing the valid reasons why they choose to rebel against their King.
This is Coates first comic and his writing style really makes you feel the heavy burden the characters carry. This is not a happy comic. Their country is in chaos, difficult political decisions have to be made, lifelong loyalties are being brought into question and there is a great feeling of loss for one of the characters. The dialogue is far from light and my only issue would be that an entire arc of this writing style would be a tough ride.
Stelfreeze’s art fits the narration perfectly. He has drawn Black Panther with simple bold black lines and the costume has no fancy additional pieces making it sleek and catlike. There is a particular moment in this issue between two characters of the Dora Milaje that is really lovely. The characters are nothing but black silhouettes against a campfire and the scene has such tenderness about it. A moment of peace in an otherwise grim story.
This is a strong first issue for Coates. It sets up the background of Black Panther and the history of Wakanda well so that those who have no knowledge of the character (like me) can easily pick this up and launch straight into it. Like I said previously, this is not a comic to read if you want cheering up, but it is written and drawn so well that you feel like you have really experienced something by the end of it and want to read on. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this story goes forward. As a side note, I’m also very curious as to how the character will be handled on the big screen.
Rating: Definitely one to watch – 4/5.
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The writer of this piece was: Cat McGlinn
Cat Tweets from @LibraryCat10.