Black Panther #2

The personal is always political, but especially so for T'Challa in "Black Panther" #2. After taking a wider look at the factions and conflicts in Wakanda in the first issue, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze use this issue to dive a little deeper into their title character's head. They build smoothly on the developments of issue #1, and both the scope of the Wakandan crisis and the depth of T'Challa's character grow as they need to. Still, I'm most impressed with the world building here; this creative team is putting together a rich, complicated conflict for their characters, and Wakanda is once again one of the coolest corners of the Marvel Universe. In its sophomore outing, "Black Panther" is still a surefire hit.

Although we get to see more of T'Challa here, Wakanda remains the real star of the series. Coates engineers a political landscape with no easy answers or easy villains. In this issue, we see T'Challa's assumptions about who "provides" for the people exposed, Tetu and Zenzi's motivations are revealed, and Ayo and Aneka put their rage on full display. Everyone is wrong; everyone is right; everyone fights for a future Wakanda they can believe in. Coates also demonstrates the scope of the conflict in other ways. The scenes in issue #2 range from the Midnight Angels' blast-and-burn raids to university debates about Locke and the nature of power. The reader thereby sees how thoroughly this conflict has infiltrated every aspect of Wakandan life. Just as Ramonda tells T'Challa, "it is not enough to be the sword, you must be the intelligence behind it," "Black Panther" #2 shows us the "intelligence" -- the philosophy, the motivations -- behind every faction in the war.

Visually, Stelfreeze and colorist Laura Martin give Wakanda a strong sense of place. Stelfreeze never lets the reader forget that this is a land of rich resources, with all the beauty (rolling plains) and brutality (ever-running mines) that entails. He also gives Wakandan technology a unique stamp that immediately differentiates it. For example, the Midnight Angels' armor is full of unexpected touches, with round edges meeting sharp blades and a blurring of utility and decoration.

Martin's colors speak similarly to Wakanda's distinctive, dual nature. Her rich blacks and ombre greens marry the sleekness of the forest at night to the gloss of modern technology; her soft purple steel buildings share their palette with the sky at dusk. As a result, these two elements blend seamlessly, and I get a real sense of Wakanda as a place whose natural resources inform its advanced technology. It would be easy for Wakanda to look incongruous or offensive, but both Martin and Stelfreeze make it look seamless -- and, in less critically salient terms, super cool.

While Wakanda remains the primary draw for me, the creative team does give T'Challa some interesting edges and worries in this issue. He narrates for quite a few pages, walking through theories of kingship and his own ascension to the throne. One scene in particular plays beautifully between the text and visuals, with T'Challa thinking "Every act of might diminished the king...Might made the king human. Breakable." over panels in which he baldly displays his might; Stelfreeze's lean, streamlined costume also emphasizes this even further, making every motion look muscular and focused. This sequence highlights the conflict between T'Challa's two identities: warrior and king.

All told, "Black Panther" #2 lives up to the expectations of the first issue and sets an exciting stage for issue #3. I can't wait to see more of Wakanda.

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