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.