2016 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most iconic characters in comics, The Black Panther.
Springing to life in the pages of Fantastic Four #52, the Panther’s comic journey has been one fraught with fits and starts. Some people look at Christopher Priest’s run as the definitive arc. Other’s look at Reginald Hudlin’s take as the best representation of the character. One guy at Dr. Comics and Mr. Games comic shop in Oakland felt Jonathan Hickman’s version in Secret Wars was, “The best look for the Panther. No one else got it right.” I’m going to have to refute that and argue that Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, and Laura Martin’s Black Panther relaunch will be the definitive version of T’Challa, King of the Wakanda, for a long while to come. Instead of gold, the Panther received the gift of a fantastic creative team.
Coates and Stelfreeze are giants in their chosen fields. Coates has been touted as the best voice writing about race today — if not one of the best writers, overall. And Stelfreeze? Well, just look at this:
Stelfreeze’s comic credentials are unimpeachable. Coates’ comic-geek cred is solid, but his creator status was non-existent, until now.
This is a good book. I liked it better than any of the iterations listed above. It has everything I want in a book about the ruler of an African kingdom, that just so happens to be the most technologically advanced civilization on Earth. There was intrigue, intra-state discord, beautiful uses of technology (the Panther’s vibranium nano-mantle is incredible), some action (not enough for me, but some), a deft handling of major social issues, and Coates seems to have a real affection for the character. This all adds up to an intriguing read. I will be adding it to my pull list.
We are introduced to Wakanda in a post-traumatic state. They’ve endured Thanos’ attack, a deluge that killed thousands, and a Dr. Doom assisted coup. Wakanda and the Wakandan people are on the ropes. There is superpower-induced dissent, as well as legitimate discontent. If T’Challa cannot keep the people safe and secure, why is he the king? This is the central thesis of the book. If we are so far ahead of the curve in tech, wealth, social progress, and global standing, why does a royal class exist? The questioning of the king doesn’t only affect him. All of the things attendant to the position are in a state of flux.
I will not spoil it for you, but there is a strong B plot concern T’Challa’s hyper-competent, all-women bodyguard/wives-in-training unit, the Dora Milaje. What they mean to a crumbling monarchy and failed monarch, what happens when love and duty are at odds, and how one asserts agency from a deficit position are called into question in the most startling of ways. Without going on an on about it, there was some feminist badassery on full display. For me, this was far and away the most intriguing storyline in the book. I cannot wait to see how this is resolved.
What: Black Panther #1 (2016)
Personnel: Ta-Nehisi Coates (Writer) – Brian Stelfreeze (Pencils) – Laura Martin (Colors)
Summary: Good first issue. But when the villain and ancillary characters are more interesting than the main character… maybe that is the plan. Establish all the players (not to mention the lands of Wakanda as a character in itself) and tell Black Panther’s story through their eyes? The art is spectacular. The writing is superior to most of the books on the market. $4.99 is a steep cover price (The Comic Shop in San Leandro, CA was listing variant covers for $8-$10 bucks) but you paid how much to see Batman v Superman? Worth all four-hundred-ninety nine pennies, plus tax.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Is this the Panther we deserve, right now? The jury is still out. But this is the Panther we surely need.
Side note: We are living in the years of Black Panther. With his hotly anticipated appearance in Captain America: Civil War, the immense amount of BP merch, this new book — we won’t even get into the Ryan Coogler-helmed Black Panther solo film slated for 2018 (hopefully they read this) — the Panther will be front and center, finally getting the attention he’s deserved for 50 years.
Take that, every other film in 2018!