Marvel Comics announced months ago that it would hand the reins of Black Panther to Ta-Nehisi Coates — a guy who believes the U.S. should consider paying reparations to modern black Americans for injustices inflicted upon their ancestors. At the time I said I doubted I would read the book, but ultimately I could not resist seeing how the activist would perform. Black Panther #1 is certainly a fascinating read, but not all of the reasons will make Marvel’s editors happy.
Comic book fans will soon get to see T’Challa, warrior king of Wakanda, on the big screen in Captain America: Civil War. That excitement has propelled Black Panther #1 to impressive sales (300K), but the question at hand is whether or not the book will have staying power. My prediction is that if Coates keeps T’Challa in Wakanda for an extended period of time — while boxing out other top-tier Marvel characters in the process — it will sink under its own weight.
Here is where things stand as of BP #1:
- T’Challa has returned to reclaim his kingdom after an extended absence.
- The king’s sister, Shuri, assumed the throne while he was gone but died during an invasion by Thanos.
- Wakanda has an “elite female royal guard” called Dora Milaje that assists T’Challa in protecting the kingdom. One of them, Aneka, is sentenced to death for murdering a village chief known for abusing women.
- A mysterious adversary planted seeds of deception across the nation, which pits citizens against one another.
- Ayo, one of the Dora Milaje, breaks Aneka — her lover — out of prison. The two don stolen “midnight angel” suits and vow some form of revenge because “no one man should have that much power.”
- T’Challa tries, unsuccessfully, to resurrect his sister from the dead using Wakanda’s advanced technology.
Readers who say, “It seems like there is a lot going on here,” would be correct. Coates is asking his audience to stick with him as he maps out Wakanda’s history and a whole host of characters. The author’s intelligence and organizational skills are evident throughout the book, but it remains to be seen whether the journey will actually be fun. Black Panther has gravity, but too much gravity can be highly unpleasant.
T’Challa’s mother tells him at one point in the book, “It is not enough to be the sword, you must be the intelligence behind it.” That is a great message, but my fear at this point is that Coates’ desire to write a cerebral superhero may cause him to needlessly sacrifice the kind of action and adventure that translates into return customers.
Take, for example, Wakanda’s “midnight angel” lesbian lovers. There is no doubt that Coates will give them more respect than deceased dictator Moammar Gadhafi granted his “Amazon Guards,” but guys like me have no desire to drop $5.00 per issue reading about the heartache of Aneka and Ayo over T’Challa’s rule.
Likewise, liberation movements along “the Nigandan borer region” may work for an issue or two, but at some point in time Wakanda’s internal politics become just as boring as anything George Lucas dished out during Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones.
Black Panther #1 is a worthy experiment on Marvel’s part to see if political commentators can make the transition from academia to the Marvel universe, but the jury is still out on whether it should be added to your pull-list at the local comic shop.
I suggest checking out this blog (shocker) over the next few months before making a financial investment in the book. If Coates produces a winner, then you will certainly read about it here.