Black Panther #3: Plodding, pretentious book thrills … author’s aunt, bores non-family

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.

Black Panther #2: Perhaps Ta-Nehisi Coates should have written a T’Challa novel instead

Black Panther 2

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.

Black Panther 2 preview
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.

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.

Black Panther #1: Ta-Nehisi Coates debut a mixed bag for Marvel fans

Black Panther 1

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.

Black Panther

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 Aneka

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.