Written by Alisha Weinberger
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Black Panther. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, T’Challa was not only Marvel’s first black character, but really the first black superhero to be popularized in mainstream comics. Along with his kingship over the fictional, African super nation of Wakanda, his name alone, and his creation in the ‘60s, Black Panther is not only a keystone Marvel hero, but a politically and socially charged icon of American comic book history and black culture. Captain America: Civil War will mark his debut onto the silver screen this May, and with his self-titled film due in 2018, it appears that the super King of Wakanda will be at the forefront of readers’ and fans’ conversations once more. It is not only appropriate that T’Challa receives his own comic book title again, but to be helmed by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer on politics and culture for The Atlantic.
Out of all the Avengers, T’Challa was always the most fascinating and complex. He is not the idealized national figurehead and perfect hero like Captain America, or the rich playboy, guns-ablazing super scientist like Tony Stark, instead he is a monarch and global political player. Although fictional, Black Panther’s nation of Wakanda exists in a continent that has always been associated with political strife in the real world. As it’s leader, he is under the relentless, watchful eye of the public and enemies of the state, and is always pitted against critical decisions. In just a single premier issue, Coates weaves three interlocking stories. The primary and main plot explores the private thoughts and troubles of Black Panther, as his competency as monarch is in question and revolution is stirring. And true to his career as writer on political and social phenomenon, the other two sub plots stem from the policies and decisions of T’Challa’s regime. Coates’ Black Panther is a sympathetic and human one, but is far from perfect. His role as monarch alone often sets him apart from the other Avengers (for better or worse), who are mostly representational of an American and Western ideal.
Despite its title, the true star of Black Panther #1 is the kingdom of Wakanda itself. In preceding Black Panther titles, very rarely did readers get an indepth look into the technologically advanced and culturally rich nation. Legendary illustrator, Brian Stelfreeze, provides readers with an exemplary 101 in world-building. Everything panel, beautifully colored by Laura Martin, takes every chance it gets to showcase an aspect of Wakandan history and culture. Stelfreeze designs the super advanced kingdom so meticulously and tastefully (down to clothing, technology, and architecture) that the bar is now set high for any live action adaptation of Wakanda.
Together, Coates and Stelfreeze are going to be a tour de force, and will hopefully usher in a wave of writing talent that is not usually conventional to the industry. Black Panther #1 is an excellent starting point for new fans of the character. Usually a $4.99 price tag is particularly annoying for a comic, especially for a premiere issue, but the dense yet thoughtfully orchestrated dialogue, character, and world building makes every cent worth it.