Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Brian Stelfreeze
Color Artist: Laura Martin
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Logo Design: Rian Hughes
Assistant Editor: Chris Robinson
Editor: Will Moss
Executive Editor: Tom Brevoort
Black Panther created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Rating: 7/10 Panthers
The waves from my time reading Aquaman were dying down. I needed more of that political heroism. A battle against something bigger than some villain with a gimmick. Something that would challenge our heroes’, and their people’s thinking. Friendly local comic shop employees heard my call to adventure into more of this topic. With their direction, I traveled from the depths of Atlantis to the vibranium rich nation of Wakanda. This nation is the most technologically advanced place on Earth. It houses one of the rarest and strongest substances, vibranium (it’s what Captain America’s shield is made of and probably what helps it defy physics). Above all, it’s protected by the Black Panther/The King of Wakanda.
Stalk the History
What is the Black Panther? Well, it’s a couple of things (besides a big cat). For Wakanda, it is the chief status symbol of the leader of all of the tribes in Wakanda. This title mainly keeps to one family, that of our main character T’Challa, but still must be earned through trials. Whoever attains this role gets to eat a special herb that basically turns them into captain America with the added bonus of super acute senses. This dude can track you wherever by the scent of your soul (no joke it says that in this book). Add these abilities to T’Challa’s arsenal of being one of the smartest people on the planet and his own vibranium tech suit and you got a dangerous kitty. T’Challa has been a king, a hero and an Avenger. He’s done a lot.
Stalk the Mood
This story takes place after the umpteenth disaster Wakanda has had to endure. Invasions. floodings. More invasions. Most importantly, their queen/ T’Challa’s sister was killed (sort of). T’Challa sits on the throne again after being away and he’s got some issues that need resolving. While checking in at the main vibranium mining source, a riot breaks out. The scene is one of anger and frustration. A mysterious woman named Zenzi uses some magic to encourage everyone to express their true feelings. This is where T’Challa begins to see dissatisfaction among the people in Wakanda’s current state.
One little angry protest surely can’t mean that things are that bad? Well, they are. Two of his private special forces of female warriors defect due to a lack of justice dealt. As a result, some followed shortly after. Some tribes are looking to gain more land and power and outside agents are looking to gain some profit by aiding in the rebellion. Real Game of Thrones set up happening in this story.
Stalk the Truth
The nation is crying out. Something must be done. But what? Boardroom meetings are the obvious answer. T’Challa and his council decide what to do about this magic woman who made everyone go all rage mode. While everyone offers some decent thoughts, T’Challa decides to flex his brain to convince his advisors that he should go in alone. He’s the only one that can handle mind control and obviously has the best suit (total flex).
After the Black Panther makes short work of a small militia on his own, he confronts the magic woman, Zenzi, who enraged his people. He quickly learns first hand that she isn’t using mind control but just bringing peoples’ true emotions to the surface. T’Challa figures this out a bit late, standing over a bunch of unconscious men he beat in a fit of rage and shame. This isn’t helping his image much more than it’s currently at.
Stalk the Enemy
Returning home, the king struggles. His enemies are all around and he is stressing to find a way to bring Wakanda under unity. Meanwhile, T’Challa’s sister is not dead. Well, she is and she isn’t. Either way, she is currently on another plane of existence reliving Wakanda’s history with a guide in the form of her mother. Cool. The nation’s technological advances have changed the way they live. While Wakanda still holds to tradition, many of it has still been lost and with it a sense of identity. Shuri’s journey is to remember this knowledge and return it to Wakanda.
On the other side of Wakanda, we have Aneka and Ayo. His former warriors who defected now have begun liberating villages from the unjust. Each day they grow in strength and gain more supporters. Them and the many others they have saved want change. They don’t believe that a king should have all the power. With a growing number of supporters, they look to new options in the form of elections. One person with all the power is a danger to the nation of Wakanda.
Aneke and Ayo aren’t the only ones that feel this way. Our rebels from the beginning that aid Zenzi also feel this way. A little more destructive but never the less. Many of them are victims of all the terrible things to have happened in Wakanda. They see this as T’Challa’s fault for leaving to go fight with the Avengers or to aid in another cause. The lack of attention to his people has cost them greatly. They see a selfish king who does not take into consideration how his choices affect Wakanda. Unlike the others though, their idea of dismantling the current monarchy is only envisioned through destruction.
Stalk the Truth
As what feels like an HBO special comes to an end, we find counsel in T’Challa’s step-mother. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. T’Challa vents about all that he has done to protect his people and to why that isn’t enough. Mamma Panther hears her cub’s cries and offers sage advice. He is a king shouldering responsibility. What he hasn’t done though is take joy in it. It’s pointed out that instead of being among his people inspiring them, he’s waved his deeds above them as reminders. The Black Panther heads down to the city and mingles with the crowd. With a new perspective in mind, change is on the way.
Reading this the first time I could have sworn that this was gonna wrap up the story. Thankfully, I just had to turn the page to watch all that blow up in my face (literally in T’Challa’s in this instance). After a bombing happens in the crowd, mamma panther gets hurt. The whole event just reset his frame of mind back to the beginning of the story. They are going to war.
Stalk the Eyes
Arriving at the end of this book, I found myself much more satisfied reading it the second time. One of the additional draws to this story outside of some themes it shares with Aquaman was the author. Ta-Nehisi Coates was a very fresh name in my mind after my time at college. Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, was an excellent source of reading material I handed out to all the incoming Freshman residents. I enjoyed his blend of biography/autobiography and was surprised to see him working a comic. This was my first realization that book authors could do comics and vice versa.
My first read through I felt like the book was very dense with dialogue, leaving no room for the artists. I was wrong it turns out. The heavy dialogue is the driving point of this book, however, there is plenty going on in the panels. Brian Stelfreeze creates each panel with such good attention to detail from the last that it feels more like you are watching a show than reading. For instance, you can see just off panel T’Challa’s tech mask coming down (just barely) and finishing the sequence in the following panel. It’s great attention to detail.
Stalk the Ending
At the end of this story, I found myself with a whole new appreciation for the Black Panther. The title of hero and ruler of a nation is not an easy balancing act. This story doesn’t hold back on pointing that out. Reading this series, it’s definitely a slow burn but I found the emotional payoff very satisfying. This book challenged me on whose side was right a lot of the time, in turn challenging perceptions of normal superhero stories. Each faction at war in this book all had good points yet different approaches. Some were good and some were pretty awful. Overall I think this book was a fresh take on standard superhero stories. Wakanda Forever!