By Arpad Okay. Ta-nehisi Coates has rewritten the rules. Black Panther is not just a man. The Panther is a king. A kingdom. A superhero comic about power. Not punch kick power, Game of Thrones power. And, like Westeros, the story begins as Wakanda falls. T’Challa is the Orphan-King. Black Panther by blood, perhaps a man with good intentions. But if he is to rule, he must end a rebellion of the people. Do his intentions excuse his actions?
Ramonda, his other mother, makes a much stronger argument on the side of honor and responsibility. To rule is to be uncompromisingly loyal to the kingdom. The throne. The people. The resistance. You think it’s one way and it turns out to be the other. Which rules do you follow- which side do you back- when you only have a piece of the whole picture? Coates examines timeless struggles and contemporary problems but without the burden and baggage of real world context. Despite its fantastic tendencies, this is unabashedly a science fiction tale. It is what science fiction is for, showing us how the problems of today become the dystopia of tomorrow.
Black Panther answers with Romance. T’Challa aspires to be a king who can make the right choice, no matter how hard it is. Sometimes there is no choice at all: power is a cage. For me, the most exciting aspect of the book isn’t T’Challa trying to embrace the Arthurian, it is the lovers outside royal restraint, Ayo and Aneka. They are the defenders of the values of the individual in the face of what is right for the kingdom. And they do it with the power of Midnight Angels.
The Midnight Angels, Black Panther’s suit and Wakanda tech, these are things that must be seen to be truly appreciated. The artwork of Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin is as ambitious as Coates’ layered storytelling and flowery dialog. I love the Panther suit. I love the sacred geometry that permeates everything. Most of all, I love Stelfreeze’s liberal use of silhouette instead of detail. Doing this with a Panther suit is one thing, but the use of shadow in the genesis of the Angels was a bold move that elevates the storytelling from excellent to avant garde. Every line, every drop of ink is used to give power to the story. Black Panther is, simply put, unparalleled.
Written by Ta-nehisi Coates.
Art by Brian Stelfreeze.
Colors by Laura Martin.
Letters by Joe Sabino.
9 out of 10