Graphic Novel Review: Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Black Panther, Avengers of the New World Book One

Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Black Panther

Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Black Panther - Credit: Archant

The renaissance of the Black Panther continues...

Black Panther: Avengers of the New World Book One.

Black Panther: Avengers of the New World Book One. - Credit: Archant

(Panini Books)

T’Challa is the ruler of the African nation of Wakanda, a past member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, the former husband of the X-Man Storm, the latest in an illustrious line of Black Panthers dating back into prehistory, and is soon to be the star of his own Marvel movie.

In the years since his 1966 creation the Panther has ridden frequent waves of popularity followed by long periods of inactivity, but now at last his star may finally be in the ascendant. Starting off with his guest appearance in the Captain America: Civil War film, Marvel has been pushing T’Challa across all media, including hiring MacArthur Genius and National Book Award-winner T-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) to craft a new title starring the costumed African monarch.

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 state of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation which remained isolated from the rest of the world for years, keeping its secret supply of the rare mineral vibranium out of Western hands. Like a cross between Tarzan and Flash Gordon, it mixed Lee’s ideas of African tribal customs with Kirby’s fantastical sci-fi designs, and was ruled over by the latest in a long line of kings to take the title of Black Panther.

T’Challa 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.

Continuing what is unquestionably one of the best lines of character-driven reprints in comics, the Marvel Platinum: Definitive imprint takes a look through the life and times of the Black Panther, from his debut in FF #52 right up to recent issues from the current run.

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Highlights include selected stories from the acclaimed Panther’s Rage storyline, the madcap debut of the short-lived Kirby series, issues from Christopher Priest’s remarkable Marvel Knights run of the 1990s, plus more contemporary instalments featuring the likes of Storm and the Panther’s sister Shuri.

Moving on to the Avengers of the New World, the latest volume in the current series, we find T’Challa rebuilding his nation in the wake of a devastating civil war. Coates’ initial run built on the Panther’s mythology while also offering a commentary on the morality and ethics of leadership, but was unfortunately loaded down with exposition and weighty internal monologues. That aside, the narrative itself has been rich and multi-layered, and full of a potential which finally seems to be realised.

As opposed to endless scenes of people standing around talking, what we have here is a dramatic series of escalating threats which genuinely challenge the Panther and his allies. Wakandan’s ancient gods, the Orishas, remained silent when the country was ravaged by war, floods and alien invaders. Where have they gone? And how are they linked to the inter-dimensional gateways which have begun appearing across the nation, providing a door for the incursions of mysterious marauding monsters…

This feels like a soft relaunch for the series after the complexities of the One Nation Under Our Feet epic, and steps away from the suffocating political focus to give T’Challa and his supporting cast room to breathe. It’s no less intellectual and thought-provoking, but there are now action scenes to break up the themes of leadership and nation which run throughout the book. A refreshing change which bodes well for the future of the series.