Just before his debut in “Captain America: Civil War,” Black Panther arrives at Marvel Comics with a new series that roots the title character in Wakanda amidst a crisis. Reestablished as the ruler of the most technologically advanced nation in the world, T’Challa must deal with an uprising that threatens the balance of power in his country in “Black Panther” #1. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates makes his comics debut with a slow-paced story, but the character work itself is excellent and strengthened by the legendary Brian Stelfreeze, who draws powerful, expressive pages for big action as well as quiet, poignant scenes of reflection.
What I liked the most about this issue is its emphasis on the national and cultural issues of Wakanda. Coates — who covers similar grounds with thoughtful insight in his nonfiction work — gives us a nation in upheaval; Wakanda’s people are growing restless, and they’re being exploited by an outside force as they call for the removal of “Haramu-Fal,” the Orphan-King. It’s a country with a foot in the past as well as the future, a deeply traditional society that is also the cutting edge of the Earth’s technology. These sides are at odds with one another as the king tries to reconcile these issues while conducting his own private mission.
I was surprised by the scope of the issue, as Coates bounces from scene to scene, giving page time to many members of the cast before circling back on Panther. His T’Challa is strong and thoughtful, unafraid to take action but concerned for the safety of his people. I’ve grown to enjoy Black Panther thanks to Jonathan Hickman’s use of the character from “Fantastic Four” through “Secret Wars,” with Al Ewing also adding to his legend in “The Ultimates.” If you’ve enjoyed those versions of T’Challa or his pre-Avengers membership days, then you’ll enjoy Coates’s take here.
There are some growing pains in this issue, but the veteran Stelfreeze helps keep the book moving. You can follow Coates as he gets a handle on comic scriptwriting from page to page, and having someone with this artist’s talent and experience was a smart move. The artist feels like a perfect fit for this series; his version of the character looks instantly iconic. The design sense in the issue utilizes simplicity, from Panther himself to the technology that fuels the nation. Additionally, there are only a couple major action pieces here. In the first, Stelfreeze uses the moment to show readers how T’Challa’s powers work, a smart move for a book that will certainly have new reader eyes on it. In the second, Coates pulls back and allows the artist to drive the narrative forward. All of it is clean and easy to follow, even in the darkest pages.
The plot moves slower than we’re used to today, but there is confidence in Coates’ work. His dialogue, characters and ideas are all bright and adeptly inject real-world issues into the story. He takes his time, but the characters are all interesting enough that I didn’t mind.
The writer has mentioned in his column for The Atlantic that his “Black Panther” stint is scheduled for 11 issues, so I expect a long ride with this story. There are already enough plot threads developed here to keep me around for a while. This is a good debut for the writer, highlighted by great page and design work from Stelfreeze.