Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Drawn by Brian Stelfreeze
Published by Marvel Comics
One of my most hotly anticipated books arrived (about 4 weeks ago…yeah, I’m late on this review), featuring the beginning of this latest launch of a Black Panther series, with social commentary and political writer Ta-Nehisi Coates at the helm. Not being one to shy away from controversy, or take the easy road, Coates take this, his very first comic-book writing assignment, to open with an ambitious 11-part story arc. Titled “A Nation Under Our Feet”, from the Pulitzer-prize winning book of the same name by Steven Hahn, which examined the lives of Black Americans in the immediate decades following Reconstruction. In this first issue, we are caught up on recent events in Wakanda, after several large disruptions (including a coup by Dr. Doom), T’Challa has resumed the mantle of Black Panther (after the death of his sister, Shuri, the former Regent) and is tried to lead the rebuilding efforts.
One of the two main plots in this issue are that there is a mysterious woman named Zenzi, who is perhaps from Niganda (the neighboring African nation who’s currupt king T’Challa overthrow in Who Is Black Panther?), leading a secret takeover attempt of Wakanda. Zenzi has some unspecified superhuman or magical powers, which she uses to takeover the minds of Wakanda. But it’s made clear that this isn’t standard mind-control, what she does is tap into the deeper feelings that the Wakandans already have. Due to all the of the recent troubles, many citizens have lost faith in their leader. They view him as weak and ineffective. And it’s these seeds of doubt that Zenzi taps into an brings out in them, causing them to violently rebel against him.
This lack of faith is also manifested in the 2nd main plot, which involves a woman named Aneka, the captain of the Dora Milaje (Wakanda’s tribe of warrior-women, dedicated to the protection of the King and security of the nation), who is on trial for the murder of a corrupt Wakandan Chieftain. Ramonda, T’Challa’s stepmother, is forced to find Aneka guilty and sentence her to death. So Ayo, a fellow Dora Milaje, breaks her out of prison, and now find themselves both enemies of the state. They are also lovers. Which is something I’ve never seen explored in a Black Panther series. It will be interesting to see what Wakanda’s attitude towards LGBT people is.But with threats from both outside and inside the nation, we see in a cliffhanger that T’Challa is also dealing with the death of his sister in his own unique way.
For a First Issue, Coates packed in just the right amount of action and story. New characters were introduced with enough information to follow along, while still leaving plenty of mystery to hook the reader to want to continue reading the series to learn more. I think both long-time and first-time readers of Black Panther should have no trouble keeping up with what’s going on. But I mostly loved the way Coates subtly shows how heavy the burden of the crown weighs on T’Challa’s head. When he’s forced to fight the rampaging mob in the opening scenes, this clearly hurts him as he so dearly loves his people.
And the art! Oh my goodness is that pretty! Brian Stelfreeze knocks it out of the park in this book, with his beautifully drawn scenes, from the characters to the various backgrounds. One commenter I saw online said this book was an “Afrofuturists dream”, referring to Stelfreeze’s depictions of Wakanda as a sci-fi Metropolis. It looks great.
Panther fans, don’t worry. With Coates and Stelfreeze in charge, it looks like our man T’Challa is in darn good hands.