Black Panther #2 was released in comic shops across the nation on Wednesday, but it is beginning to feel as though Ta-Nehisi Coates would have been better off writing a novel called T’Challa instead. Marvel’s decision to experiment with a political commentator may be a noble one, but the company will need more than three variant covers to inflate sales in the future if Coates doesn’t make some editorial adjustments.
My review of BP #1 noted that there was a lot — perhaps too much — going on with “A Nation Under Our Feet.” T’Challa returned to Wakanda to reclaim his kingdom; Shuri, his sister, died (or, rather, is trapped in a place “between” life and death); two members of an “elite female royal guard” stole “midnight angel” suits and vowed revenge against men who abuse their power; and T’Challa tried to revive his sister.
BP#2 is just as dense:
- Readers learn more about the Nigandan plot to overthrow Wakanda.
- The Midnight Angels save captured women in the Bandit Compound in Northern Wakanda.
- Aneka and Ayo cuddle again and further plot their revenge.
- Black Panther confronts the “witch” who has been poisoning the minds of Wakandans, but learns that she is really a “revealer” who forces repressed feelings to the surface.
- A shaman and an academic, old friends (soon to be rivals?) discuss how “the weak” should “marshal justice against the powerful.”
- Shuri finds herself conscious on the “plane of Wakandan memory.”
In many ways, BP is set up to be a book that is almost totally devoid of fun: T’Challa — a man who must bear the weight of family history, his nation’s history, and the needs of those currently alive — even says, “heavy is the head… [that wears the crown].” Given that, it would be strange to criticize the author for being too mired in politics and philosophy when the book dictates a mastery of both fields of study. The problem, therefore, is likely something else.
The reason why BP continues to be an awkward title is not because readers are introduced to John Locke or allegories to real-world crises (e.g., Boko Haram kidnapping and raping women). The problem with BP is that Coates is juggling too many balls at one time.
Instead of spending time on Aneka and Ayo, perhaps Coates should have solely focused on the “mysterious woman.” That is six pages in BP #2 that could have been devoted to T’Challa, his new enemy (who does have a cool power), or his sister.
Instead of spending time in Hekima Shule (a school), why not plant the seeds for introducing a major Marvel villain? I want to see Black Panther face off against Sabertooth. I want to see Black Panther in hand-to-hand combat with Crossbones. I want to see Black Panther battle Blackheart.
What I do not want to do is read a BP comic book that focuses for 12 months on how much Aneka and Ayo love each other — even if the writing is technically sound.
Mr. Coates is an intelligent man, but at some point in time it will be a stupid decision not to use the rich Marvel rogues gallery at his disposal. If there is not a major Marvel villain in the book — or even the hint of one — by the sixth issue, then this reader will move on to another title.