Monday, May 9, 2016

"And now we must reckon with what we have done to our own blood." Black Panther #1 review

Since I quit working for Marvel in 2012 I've mostly kept my distance from their comics (for a variety of reasons) but occasionally I do check in on some titles. Such a comic is the new Black Panther by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze. The series has, no doubt, come into being because the Black Panther is making his live-action debut this month in Captain America: Civil War, but it's also receiving a lot of attention because Coates is a noted journalist from the Atlantic; in the mere two years I've been reading the Atlantic I've certainly come to look forward to his essays. Coates has thus become the third black man to serve as the ongoing author of comicdom's first black super hero, the Black Panther - following in the footsteps of Christopher Priest (1998-2003) and Reginald Hudlin (2005-2009); further, artist Stelfreeze is likewise black, him being an artist whom Priest long wished he could have had as a collaborator on his own series. As I enjoyed Priest's Black Panther in part for its political side, from Coates' background I anticipated a similar interest in playing with politics.

I seem unable to keep from thinking of Priest's Black Panther - it was certainly one of my favourite comic series. Like Priest, Coates' first issue features T'Challa and his Dora Milaje bodyguards and a plot against T'Challa which originates from a neighbouring state and is fomented by a manipulator who tries to turn his people against him; even the Kimoyo technology is back. Whereas Priest's book was told through the eyes of the buffoonish Everett K. Ross (himself debuting in Captain America: Civil War but missing from Coates' pages), Coates' story is told primarily through T'Challa's perspective, something which goes against Priest's own belief that T'Challa should be somewhat inscrutable, kept remote from the audience.

Whereas Hudlin set out immediately to retcon much of T'Challa's world, Coates seems willing to play with the world he's been handed; Wakanda's enemy Niganda from the Hudlin run is brought back, T'Challa's mother Ramonda from Don MacGregor's work is given a proper reintroduction, T'Challa is dealing with the reprecussions of various recent events in other comics and the Dora Milaje - who were present only in the background of Hudlin's work - are again part of the series narrative. As teenage "prospective brides" for T'Challa, Priest had always intended them to be somewhat probelmatic characters, with one of his initial Dora Milaje - Nakia - developing a terrible obsession for T'Challa. Here, the Dora Milaje are called Aneka and Ayo; having recently killed a lecherous chieftain, Aneka is sentenced to death, but Ayo liberates her. It also appears that the duo are lovers.

Aneka and Ayo carry much of this comic because T'Challa is - despite providing a monologue of his thoughts - not much of a protagonist. In his day, Priest had to deal with fans' impatience at how T'Challa would seem to be running behind on the villain's actions, slow to react, when in actuality Priest always considered T'Challa as hyper-competant and several steps ahead of the villains, but it would often take 3-4 issues before T'Challa would spring his carefully-laid plans. Priest had in part based his interpretation as a reaction against the work of Don MacGregor, whose T'Challa seemed to be constantly losing fights and always lagging behind his enemies' plots. It's hard to know from one issue where Coates is bringing T'Challa, but as the hero's inner thoughts are maade available here I sense rather more MacGregor than Priest; throughout this issue T'Challa is shown mourning the death of his sister, brooding over recent battles, unable to confront the person menacing Wakanda, unable to intervene in the Dora Milaje matter and denounced by his own subjects. Although I trust T'Challa to claim some form of eventual triumph, if this is the character's opening position it's hard to imagine his life getting much better in the coming story. Overall, T'Challa is depressed; what a bummer.

While Priest withheld the identity of the person (Achebe) manipulating events against T'Challa until his third issue, Coates identifies the person responsible in this issue. And while the former villain used political theater to help sway opinion, this latter villain uses mind control powers, which is certainly in-keeping with the Marvel Universe setting, but a heck of a lot less interesting politically. Although Coates is new to the comic book form, he seems to understand many of the tricks used by today's popular super hero creators, such as the unwillingness to render a story with a beginning, middle and end; this comic is all middle and thus not satisfying as an individual unit of entertainment. No doubt the collected edition of this story will be the best way to judge his future in comics - I mean, assuming he wants a career in comics.

1 comment:

Colin Smith said...

Hey Mike - just in case you might miss it, I've left another message for you at Facebook today 11/5/2016. I think it's rather good news on the matter you raised with me, so please do get in touch.

And sorry for clogging up your blog with this, but I thought I ought to be sure to be in touch.