Black Panther 3

Marvel took a leap of faith by giving a man with zero experience writing comic books the reins to Black Panther. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is primarily known for his academic work and political commentary, but the brass behind the scenes thought he could quickly make the transition. That has not happened.

The third issue of Black Panther is a meandering mess. It is pretentious and plodding to such an extent that it is hard to imagine sustained sales for twelve issues without incredible hype and a hefty amount of variant covers.

Here is what you need to know about this issue:

  • T’Challa continues to doubt his ability to lead Wakanda. His mother corrects him: “You say you are clouded. No. The problem is not your blindness. It is your clarity.”
  • The Midnight Angels, lovers Aneka and Ayo, subdue the White Gorilla Army.
  • T’Challa “stalks the soul” of Zenzi, the women who is helping to fuel a Wakandan insurgency in the Nigandan Borderlands.
  • A spiritual ally of Zenzi takes down Black Panther and his “war dogs. He says, “You dare accuse us of treachery…you, who plotted with those who drowned our people? You, who schemed while men murdered your uncle and ransomed your mother? Who fled while Wakanda burned? Who left our queen, your own sister, to die alone? Some of us remember the old ways, Haramu-Fal. … The worms of the earth shall devour all wolves, lions and leopards.”
  • T’Challa’s sister tries to find her soul on another plane of existence. She talks to a being who encompasses “all” of her “mothers” throughout time and is then armed with “the drum, for it carries the greatest power of all…the power of memory.”

If you had a hard time grinding out that summary, then imagine what it would be like to read three issues. As I said in my reviews for Black Panther #1 and Black Panther #2, Mr. Coates is clearly an intelligent man — but that doesn’t necessarily translate into an ability to write exciting comic books.

Complicating matters further is the fact that readers do not sympathize with the hero-king because the “villains” in many ways are portrayed as misguided or semi-righteous victims.

Instead of writing a story that would resonate with the majority of Black Panther fans, Mr. Coates appears to have used the character to work out his own personal hangups. It was a mistake, and someone at Marvel might want to talk to him about it as soon as possible.

Perhaps the easiest way to sum up Black Panther’s core audience is to give potential customers a look at the letters to the editor section.

  • “I just wanted to write in to congratulate you on writing something that I think the 9-year-old you would, and the 25-year-old me does, find amazing.” — Katie.

Katie’s analysis is delusional. Unless Mr. Coates was a weird kid, he would not eagerly await the story his adult self is telling. This is a book that excites people who watch the PBS News Hour — not kids — which brings us to our second reader.

  • “I haven’t read any new comics (except for some ‘event-related collections’) in nearly 20 years but I really enjoyed Mr. Coates’ appearances on the PBS News Hour and like most Marvel fans, I have long been a fan of Black Panther.” — Tom.

Tom is such a big fan of Black Panther that he hasn’t regularly purchased comics in 20 years. He will continue to buy the book due to a sense of ideological loyalty — a fellow PBS man is writing comics. Tut-tut! (What wine pairs best with Black Panther consumption? I need to find out and then pick it up on my next artisan cheese run.)

  • “Ta-Nehisi Coates…I played with doll babies, read Archie and Peanut comics, but never had an interest in super heroes. I am 67 years old and read Black Panther #1 cover to cover. … In some way, it reminds me of what we as a people have done or are doing to our brothers and sisters now.” — Aunt Jo Ann (Yes, Mr. Coates’ aunt).

Mr. Coates’ aunt is now telling readers what a great book he writes. ‘Nuff said.

I wanted to give this title at least six issues, but I cannot. I’m tapping out. Perhaps one day Mr. Coates’ will figure out how to write an intelligent, exciting and focused comic book, but as of now he has a long way to go. One out of three does not cut it. I wish him the best.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

12 comments

  1. “This is a book that excites people who watch the PBS News Hour.”

    That is one of the most hilariously damning descriptions I’ve ever seen.

    And now I’m imagining an entire comic that is nothing but Black Panther on Charlie Rose discussing poverty and African geopolitics…

    1. “And now I’m imagining an entire comic that is nothing but Black Panther on Charlie Rose discussing poverty and African geopolitics…”

      T’Challa will wear a suit and his Black Panther mask for the interview. 😉

  2. God, this book sounds awful, not to mention boring and preachy. I wonder if he paid his aunt to write that letter in. If I were a comic writer, I would NEVER ask my parents (or any of my relatives, for that matter) to shill for me in the editors’ letter page. Talk about nepotism.

    I’ve never liked PBS Newshour. My grandma used to watch that and it always put me to sleep. Maybe that’s why she watched it, I don’t know… I can see how it would appeal to people who watch that show and have the exact same political/racial/social views as Coates does, but like you said, that doesn’t make for a good comic. It makes for a boring, preachy and pretentious comic.

    The main problem I have with putting politics into fiction is that it dates the story after a while. Gail Simone’s Occupy Wall Street lovefest “The Movement” is pretty much forgotten about now, and the Dennis O’Neill-era Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories kind of come across as preachy now, even the infamous anti-drug storyline “Snowbirds Don’t Fly.” Captain Planet, a show I hated even when I was a little kid, is much the same.

  3. Apparently hiring Coates was another blunder for Marvel. Ta-Neshi Coates may have the intellectual ability to write stories, but he doesn’t necessarily have the creative talent to make them well.
    Doug, if you’re curious, there is a black writer named Christopher Priest (formerly known as Jim Owlsley), who apparently did a really good run on Black Panther a while back. Maybe you should read that instead of this.

    1. I’ve heard that his run on Black Panther was pretty good. He was also the one who introduced Martin Freeman’s character from “Captain America: Civil War,” Everett Ross.

    2. “Doug, if you’re curious, there is a black writer named Christopher Priest (formerly known as Jim Owlsley), who apparently did a really good run on Black Panther a while back. Maybe you should read that instead of this.”

      He worked on ASM #287. Sold.

  4. Anyone talking about blunders or flops hasn’t checked out this series’ sales. The first issue of Black Panther is the highest-selling comic of the year so far, more than DC Rebirth. BP #2, even though it fell off a lot, was still one of the top 10 issues of the month for May. Whatever you think of the comic, Marvel is loving their decision so far.

    1. “Anyone talking about blunders or flops hasn’t checked out this series’ sales. The first issue of Black Panther is the highest-selling comic of the year so far, more than DC Rebirth. BP #2, even though it fell off a lot, was still one of the top 10 issues of the month for May. Whatever you think of the comic, Marvel is loving their decision so far.”

      I did check out the book’s sales. I even mentioned sales in my review of Black Panther #2.

      Does any sane person think Black Panther #1 would not have done gangbusters for the first issue — particularly coming out the same time he was set to appear on screen for the first time in Captain America: Civil War? Of course not. The second issue had three variant covers.

      I hate to quote myself, but I’m going to because I stand by my prediction: “Marvel is going to need more than three variant covers in the next year to sell copies of Black Panther if Mr. Coates doesn’t pick up the pace.”

      Black Panther’s attrition rate will continue to increase unless changes are made — ASAP. The book is pretentious and boring. The only thing that is going to keep this book from continuing to sink are variant covers and tie-ins to “events” at this point.

      I have seen the good reviews for this book, and most of them are unfortunate (but predictable) exercises in willful ignorance. The writers want so desperately for this book to succeed for political and cultural reasons that acknowledging its obvious flaws is not possible.

      Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate it.

  5. Being dead serious here…

    The only person I know who is buying this book is a young lady who said she was doing so because “Ta-Nahesi Coates is hot.”

    That’s kinda the state of affairs right now for comics. Sorry to see you tap out. The truth of the matter is I WANT to like Black Panther, as a concept, as a literary character, as a political statement for African affairs and as an idea. But Coates I have problems with and I feel this volume is best served as a Maxi series (12 issues). Being serious I read the overhyped #1 issue and instantly knew there would be problems. I STILL may just buy the collected edition of this series as a comic enthusiast but I maintain my thought that BP hasn’t has a good writer since Christopher Priest.

    1. “The truth of the matter is I WANT to like Black Panther, as a concept, as a literary character, as a political statement for African affairs and as an idea. But Coates I have problems with and I feel this volume is best served as a Maxi series (12 issues).”

      The owner of my local comic shop was kind of surprised today when I said to drop it from my pull-list. I told him that I totally understood what Coates was trying to do with the book — I just disagree with how he’s going about it. I want to see Black Panther fight Sabertooth. I want to see him go on some Wakandan outback mission with Wolverine. I don’t want 12 issues of T’Challa beating himself up for literally saving the world with the Avengers.

      This may sound strange, but I think Coates is writing himself too much when he writes T’Challa. He sees himself as a philosopher-king, and all the burdens T’Challa must bear are duplicated with a black academic who feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. “If only they would listen to me! If only I can break through!” I can imagine him thinking. Given his politics (i.e., the world is a better place when a small group of elites “manage” giant economies, culture, etc.), I don’t think I’m too off the mark.

      “Being serious I read the overhyped #1 issue and instantly knew there would be problems. I STILL may just buy the collected edition of this series as a comic enthusiast but I maintain my thought that BP hasn’t has a good writer since Christopher Priest.”

      I think Black Panther is a gorgeous book. There is a part of me that wants to collect it just for the art. I agree with you that Black Panther #1 was overhyped. I hate when that happens in general, but it really annoys me when a book is overhyped and then I’m framed in certain circles as a bad guy when I point that out.

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