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.