Graphic Novel Review: Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet
PUBLISHED: 10:43 30 September 2016
MacArthur Genius and National Book Award-winner T-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) takes the helm, confronting T'Challa with a dramatic upheaval in Wakanda. When a superhuman terrorist group that calls itself The People sparks a violent uprising, the land famed for its incredible technology and proud warrior traditions will be thrown into turmoil. If Wakanda is to survive, it must adapt - but can its monarch survive the necessary change? Collecting: Black Panther 1-4 and Fantastic Four 52.
Rarely has the announcement of a new comics creator received such mainstream attention as the revelation that T-Nehisi Coates was set to pen a run of the costumed African monarch Black Panther, coming as it did alongisde the character’s silver screen debut in Captain America: Civil War.
This debut arc in what is expected to be an 12-issue run has already proved a massive sales success in single issues, building on the Panther’s mythology while also offering a commentary on the ethics of leadership.
The premise of the Black Panther was established during the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on the Fantastic Four, which also introduced us to the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, a technologically advanced state which remained isolated from the rest of the world for years, keeping its secret supply of the rare mineral vibranium out of outsiders’ hands. Like a cross between Tarzan and Flash Gordon, it fused Lee’s Westernised ideas of African tribal customs with Kirby’s fantastical sci-fi designs, with T’Challa the latest in a long line of kings to take on the title of Black Panther.
He inherited the mantle following the murder of his father, and has proved a reluctant leader over the years, frequently abandoning his responsibilities for an easier life stateside, either as one of the Avengers or working solo. This latest series finds him back as king, but alienated from his people once more, and again struggling to reconcile his dual responsibilities as ruler and superhero.
Facing revolution from within from activists intent on freeing their country from the perceived tyranny of an inherited monarchy, corruption permeating throughout the land, and terrorists targeting his capital city with suicide bombings, the Panther resolves to take extreme action to restore order to his fractured nation…
The question here, of course, is how far he should go, and whether he should compromise his morality in doing so.
A long-term fan of the superhero genre, Coates unfortunately misses what it is that makes for good storytelling in this medium, loading pages with exposition and weighty internal monologues, which unfortunately slow down the action and detract from the visual brilliance of artist Brian Stelfreeze, when they should actually be complementing each other.
That aside, the narrative itself is rich and multi-layered, and is full of potential. It’s a slow burn, but here’s hoping the various threads Coates is weaving will intersect with aplomb further down the line.