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Review: Black Panther #1

In Black Panther #1, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and new series artist Daniel Acuña leave the political intrigue and labyrinthine plotting of Wakanda for the the space operatic world of the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda. The basic backstory is that a small space colony of Wakanda grew into a powerful empire complete with a caste system, mindwiped slaves called Nameless, and a resistance movement called the Maroons featuring freed Nameless, who take the names of Wakandan heroes from the past, like Nakia, M’Baku, and even T’challa. However, Coates doesn’t bog down this first issue in exposition and turns in one of his least talk-y issues of Black Panther and leans on Acuna’s skill with gestures, body language, and choreography to do the work. The final result is a book that feels like a “Fresh Start” and is primal and pulpy like Star Wars or Conan the Barbarian.

Daniel Acuña is truly a gifted artist, who has a refined, almost Euro Comic approach to architecture, setting, and color palette and also crafts acrobatic set pieces that pop off the page using classic cartooning techniques. Acuña’s art is beautiful, but not stiff. When T’challa is in battle, he uses a blend of horizontal and diagonal panels to show his quick reflexes and finds the most interesting part of each blow he lands thanks to a fantastic use of motion lines. The first eight pages are all action and set the pace for the rest of Black Panther #1, which is an archetypical story of a man with no name and a faint memory of the woman he loves trying to get home at all costs possible. The increasingly blurry flashbacks to Storm connects the narrative to the previous volume of Black Panther and add an extra layer of emotion and mystery that doesn’t seem to be resolved any time soon.

There is a little bit of realpolitik and some worldbuilding in Black Panther #1, but Ta-Nehisi Coates’ plotting is more Star Wars original trilogy than the prequels in tone with fights, escapes, connection to past legacies, and a crack group of resistance fighters battling an autocratic, overextended, and definitely evil empire. Although he is a badass and almost leads a one man slave revolt (Almost being the key word.), Coates and Acuña probe T’challa’s vulnerabilities throughout the book, and sometimes, it seems that anger is all that he has left as he fights one of his fellow prisoners while Acuña turns on the reds. These skills, rage, and faint memories of home are able to be channeled and weaponized by the Maroons, who through their costumes and ideology of freedom, act more like real Wakanda than the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda. Even though there aren’t many of them, the Maroons enter in a blaze of glory and raise the mood of Black Panther #1 as T’challa finally has some backup. (And his name back.)

Whereas his first two years of writing Black Panther focused on T’challa as monarch, Ta-Nehisi Coates uses the new space operatic setting of Black Panther #1 to narrow in on T’challa as hero and legend. Daniel Acuña’s art and colors are virtuosic from the gorgeous spacescapes to T’challa getting beaten within an inch of his life. He has mastery over both cinematic and intimate moments, and the book is worth picking up for his visuals alone.

Story: Ta-Nehisi Coates Art: Daniel Acuña Letters: Joe Sabino
Story: 7.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review