Review: Black Panther#1
While reading Black Panther #1 I was constantly reminded of a term I learned from reading George Friedman, the term was “Borderland.” A borderland is territory defined by contested histories and culture, a liminal space typically between rival entities that is perpetually vulnerable to flashpoints of grievance, reprisal and identity conflict. In Black Panther #1 we see Wakanda in the throes of another emerging crisis, Wakanda as a border land. While the trope of the unconquered and always embattled Wakanda is firmly established in the Marvel Universe, Ta-Nehisi Coates seems to be asking a new question, what happens when Wakanda is at war with itself?
In the first issue we see T’Challa stumble upon a mysterious female figure who appears to be fomenting discontent and uncertainty among the citizens of Wakanda. This discontent appears rooted in the recent trials that has tested Wakanda’s mettle. Coates is to be commended for establishing his take on the story recognizing the retrospective of Wakanda’s recent turmoils, seeing the current civil state of Wakanda in the wake of Doom’s false flag invasion (Doomwar), Wakanda’s flooding (Avengers vs X-Men), and Thanos’ Invasion (Infinity) was a nice touch, and reassures the reader that past trials will not be forgotten. What’s clear is that Coates is definitely trying to establish a new status quo for Wakanda. But is this accomplished at the outset?
Though the attempt was made to highlight the organic nature of Wakanda’s discontent, T’Challa’s mysterious instigator appears on Wakanda’s Nigandan border where an amassing of Nigandan soldiers are present which raises some questions. In my opinion this may present a problem for Coates as this element seems poised to run in the vein of similar invasion tropes we have seen before. I’ve read elsewhere that Coates wants to present Wakanda as a metaphor for the rest of Africa, if this is true then perhaps there may be some Wakandan origin story on the horizon. I am a bit worried about the plot becoming a bit formulaic and retreading, into established patterns.
The presented crisis appears to have to have sparked a wave of autonomy, doubt and judgement among the Wakandans. Gone are the days of blind obedience to king and country, T’Challa’s most loyal adherents the Dora Milajae are asking hard questions that the ruling elite of Wakanda will have to answer. The traditional era of Wakandan is gone and we are seeing a modernist Wakanda emerge in its wake.
If I am to be honest, I was expecting a bit more from this story, despite the story being embedded within a keen awareness of past occurrences, Coates will have to show how and why this latest uprising is different from Desturi in Doomwar and other similar incursions into Wakanda. While there is a lot of geopolitical grist to chew on where Wakanda is concerned, Coates needs to punctuate why this new status quo is different from instances past in order to sustain reader investment. The presence of Nigandan forces is a bit troubling where this is concerned.
The art by Brian Stelfreeze was vibrant and an absolute pleasure to look at. What caught my eye in this issue was all of the mythological and totemic flourishes represented in the aircraft and battle armor and so on. The issue even had some back matter elaborating some of the artistic design. What I really was Coates take on Vibranium which is now seen to be able to harness the ambient vibrations that the substance absorbs. This efficient mode of energy use gives us an elegant and specific look into why Wakanda is the economic and technological powerhouse that it is. Citizens now wear vibranium beads that can apply various applications such as personal tracking, telecommunications, and holographic heads up displays (HUD). This tech is all tied into the ambient energy provided by Vibranium’s characteristics and can only work in Wakanda. This is an element that I felt was very symbolic of Wakanda’s centralized strength and unity which serves its economic, cultural and technological lynch-pin and clout. Sadly this was reserved to the footnote of the story, and would have benefited it if it was included more prominently in the plot.
Overall I was expecting more from this title launch, that said, I have no doubt Coates will in time turn out a vibrant and fresh take on the series, he is a seasoned writer, and aside from this open to feedback. In the letters section at the back there was a section asking for response from the readers. I can only interpret this as an active inspiration from this liberated engaged and involved new Wakanda emerging on the horizon.
Story: Ta-Nehisi Coates Art: Brian Stelfreeze
Story: 6.5 Art: 8 Overall: 7.3 Recommendation: Read