This week saw the debut of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin's new Black Panther series, a bold new addition to the Black Panther mythos that both embraces the history of the character while taking a unique approach to that history. Stelfreeze's design work is exemplary, as he strikes that balance that many Black Panther artists have to work between making Wakanda embraces its past but while still looking futuristic. In a lot of ways, Stelfreeze's design work is like Coates' writing - honoring the past while looking forward at the same time. Martin is one of the best colorists in the business, so you better believe that she added a striking lushness to Stelfreeze's art.
Read on for some more detailed thoughts on the issue...
T'Challa and Wakanda have been at the center of much of Marvel's most recent crossovers. During Avengers vs. X-Men, Wakanda was ravaged by an attack by a Phoenix-possessed Namor. T'Challa's sister, Shuri, who was the head of Wakanda at the time, declares war on Atlantis in retaliation. Namor, then, sells Wakanda out to Thanos' forces during the Infinity storyline. Ultimately, during Jonathan Hickman's Avengers run, while T'Challa works with his Illuminati buddies to save the world, Shuri ends up sacrificing herself against Thanos and his men. Things have not been good for T'Challa recently, and instead of ignoring those events, Coates instead embraces them and gives us a Black Panther who has perhaps never been weaker in his power than now. Obviously there have been plenty of attempts to overthrow T'Challa over the years, but the big difference now is that in the past, it was about T'Challa fending off an usurper while Wakanda itself was in good shape (and hence basically a prize to be won), now Wakanda is in bad shape, so T'Challa's problems are, in many ways, with his people themselves. A mysterious new villain has shown up and she is either compelling the people to get violent or she is simply festering the flames already in their souls at what their king has "let" happened to their country (I suspect the latter).
(How awesome does Stelfreeze draw the Panther?)
To me, the best thing about the comic was the role Coates gave to the ex- Dora Milaje. The Dora Milaje were the female bodyguards of T'Challa. They broke ranks with him over the Namor issue, siding with Shuri over T'Challa in the decision to go to war against Atlantis. Now, with Shuri dead, they are even angrier at what they see is the unraveling of the country they have served so proudly for so long. When Aneka, one of the Dora Milaje, is arrested for killing a lecherous chieftain. T'Challa's step-mother, who, along with T'Challa, is all that is left of the ruling family, sentences her to death. Her fellow Dora Milaje member, Ayo, is distraught over this...
The two have had enough, and they break free and start their own sort of vigilante resistance to Wakanda.
It is fascinating to see a writer come in and just outright challenge some of the traditions that have been part of the Black Panther comic book series for decades now. Having female bodyguards that consider the king their "beloved"? That's some iffy stuff there, and Coates does a fine job questioning it. That's what I mean by saying he does a great job of taking in all of the Panther's history but putting his own spin on it.
And then, of course, that freaky ending - that certainly opens up future stories well. I won't spoil that for you, but it certainly shows T'Challa's brilliance (that he thinks he can pull it off) as well as his arrogance (that he thinks he can pull it off).
This was an excellent first issue. Go out and pick up a copy!