Black Panther #1 (Marvel Comics)
STORY : Ta-Nehisi Coates
ART : Brian Stelfreeze (artist), Laura Martin (colours) & VC’s Joe Sabino (letters)
As the mighty Marvel engines roll on, both on-screen and on the page, so too does the effort to diversify – something that has been a recurring issue for years and has been gaining ground more recently. On a personal note, I feel it’s also been a great deal more successfully done and better managed at Marvel than by many of their peers.
One of the most prominent amongst the non-caucasian characters in the MU has been The Black Panther. King, Avenger, Defender and even member of the FF and the superhero Illuminati (of the MU), T’Challa has been a powerful force in this world over the years – but after an intense but rocky few years, we’re back with him once again and here’s hoping it’s a positive step.
Before I get to what will be a likely long review for the story of this comic, I want to start by commenting on the art for a change – mostly because it is just that damned good! I’ve seen Stelfreeze’s work before, but not read too many of his comics over the years, something that I would like to correct now. I would say that he is showing the skills and finesse that comes with age and experience here – from his designs for the new Panther-suit, the general quality of his figures and faces all the way to the lovely layouts that just bring every page to life.
In particular I want to focus on certain panels with the Dora Milaje, they are just a simple visual choice, but the impact as you read the comic itself, very specifically the moments chosen to use this little artistic-trick and the execution is surprisingly effective and leaves a mark in the mind.
The first thing to keep in mind while reading this comic is that while it’s a brand new #1, unlike many such comics, it is not trying to go for a “fresh start” per-se. Prior to the events of this comic T’Challa was king, married Storm, was with the Illuminati, was nearly killed, handed over his power and throne to his sister (now dead), fought off an invasion, travelled to find himself again, had his marriage broken and played a pivotal role in saving all of reality itself in the recent Secret Wars – and now he is once again King of Wakanda.
That’s a lot and the nice thing is that if you never knew any of that before, it matters little. Newcomer to comic-writing Ta-Nehisi Coates shows us that a good writer is a good writer no matter the medium – if you can build a solid narrative and are clear what story you want to tell, anything is possible. This is something that shows here as we get just enough of the backstory for T’Challa’s tragedy for now to establish connections to the past, but not so much that a new-reader need feel alienated. Quite the contrary, like a good novel, it touches on a larger picture and world in the midst of a powerful present-moment such that you want to know more.
The story itself in this new volume seems to be about T’Challa trying to remember himself and to find himself again after all the strife, a pain and confusion that seems to be pervading the very nation he calls his own and would die for – creating a powerful parallel between ruler and citizen as he fights both himself and the world around him to keep things from falling apart. Outside forces in the form of a metahuman woman who seems able to draw out emotions and influence people is the main protagonist so far and to make matters worse, the lawlessness and chaos in the previously pristine and civilised nation of Wakanda is sowing dissent at every level of society. Even amongst the Dora Milaje, the warrior women who are both brides (spiritually speaking, not in the carnal sense) and personal guard of the king. Things are not good and T’Challa is in for what looks like the fight of his life – and that’s saying something.
THE LAST WORD:
A very, VERY promising debut and one of the most exciting from Marvel in a long time. The fact that they seem to be focussing on a character and setting (a) NOT in New York, (b) outside the U.S, (c) covering politics and social matters and not just earth-shattering evil and (d) the ambiguity of the morality that resembles real life where there are times when it’s hard to discern who deserves what and who is truly good or bad because those clear lines start to blur… well it all makes this an incrediby readable first issue that is also very promising.
Additionally, I would probably read this at least a few more issues JUST for Brian Stelfreeze‘s art, so kick-ass did I find it. I hope he gets a chance to do more interesting comics in the year ahead, with or without Marvel.
(Psst! Brian! I really, REALLY would love you to try your hand at Valiant, especially Shadowman!)
STORY SCORE: 10 / 10
ART SCORE: 10 / 10
OVERALL SCORE: 10 / 10