Over on my old blogspot… blog, I did some quick comic overviews. For a while now, I’ve wanted to start reviewing comics again, but the timing never quite worked out. I didn’t want to start with a random issue; I wanted to start by reviewing a first issue, at the very least. I wanted to do Black Widow, but I missed the timing on that due to uni stuff, but that may have been for the best, since now I can do Black Panther. Anyway, here goes…
Even before its release, Black Panther was going to be a big deal. It’s releasing before the character gets a bigger profile from Captain America: Civil War. It boasts an award-winning novelist as writer. I’ve never heard of the creators, but Coates apparently won an award at some point, so hey, can’t be a Scott Lobdell kind of guy.
The very first page dispelled a big concern of mine: that Coates was gonna be a novelist coming onto a lowly comic book and would want to “define” T’Challa entirely, and ignore everything that came before. But instead, Coates chooses to acknowledge what came before in a natural and fitting manner. It’s refreshing to have a new writer, a novelist at that, who doesn’t wipe away everything that came before.
Straight away, Coates throws us into a fully realised Wakanda: one with its own history and culture. His dialogue has a very “tribal” feel to it, and makes the comic feel very distinct from usual superhero fair. And it works, giving Black Panther a very distinct voice. While it took me by surprise, it doesn’t take long to settle into the style. The one bit where it may be confusing is its use of Wakandan terms. While it explains terms like haramu-fal (the Orphan King) and damisa-sarki (the Panther), it doesn’t explain older ones that Coates didn’t create, like dora milaje (Adored Ones). I understood the connection when a character refers to one of the dora milaje as one of the “adored ones”, but if the reader hasn’t read the Christopher Priest Black Panther run, there could be some confusion, especially if one takes it as just part of the dialogue style.
The story is that, after the events of New Avengers and Infinity, T’Challa is King of Wakanda once again. But there is dissent in his kingdom, and he must combat it while dealing with a kingdom that may not want to be ruled by him anymore. The story of Black Panther is about the burgeoning change rising in Wakanda, and whether or not this change comes from an entirely good place, it’s coming, and is at odds with the traditional royal Wakandan family. There’s an outside force that T’Challa must combat, and right off the bat, we’re shown that he might not be able to win. T’Challa’s not just fighting another supervillain, he’s fighting an enemy that rallies his own people against him. Some wild cards are thrown in, who have their own stake in the conflict, and I appreciated it. They fit into the epic plot Coates is weaving about a troubled king and dissenters and usurpers, being two lovers who will inevitably be caught in the greater conflict. This alone would be great set-up, but Coates throws in one more wild card, that I won’t spoil, one that has a very emotional tie to T’Challa.
Stelfreeze does great work realising all of this, giving Black Panther a very distinct look, even by Marvel’s current standards. Everything feels a little bit more boxy, when I expected a more blockbuster or dark aesthetic. It works however, and the more jagged lines help create a more tribal atmosphere, and gives the impression that Wakanda is very separate from Marvel’s other titles. The way Stelfreeze illustrates Wakanda’s technology alone gives it a distinct feel from Marvel’s other series, with an almost magical appearance in how T’Challa’s suit forms around him. It feels like a mix between magic and techology, which really suits the character. While I didn’t like it at first, it’s growing on me. The complex circuitry we see visible in Wakandan technology is a very nice touch to giving Wakandan technology a unique visual motif. The one downside to this Stelfreeze’s style is that the story doesn’t feel as big, because it’s not bombastic and cinematic like, say, Jim Lee or Ivan Reis could make it.
Laura Martin’s colouring is very controlled, with lots of contrast and a more cell-shaded look in normal scenes. When it calls for it, however, the colours leap off the page, with bright colours showing how different the royal family’s buildings are compared tot he rest of Wakanda. There’s also a great panel where T’Challa tracks a character’s soul, and Martin colours it in a way that makes it feel otherworldly, and I don’t think this would’ve worked if the rest of the comic were more colourful.
Coates, Stelfreeze and Martin’s Black Panther #1 is a great comic for old and new readers alike. It acknowledges T’Challa’s past, while also setting up a great story. It has a distinct style that I think works better for Black Panther than any other he’s had in the past. If you’ve always wanted to read up on T’Challa, or just like great royal superhero stories, then now is the time. Just make sure you got some of the older Wakandan terms learned beforehand, since I don’t think this is the last time that particular problem will arise.
Note: I’m using a 5-star system instead of 10 for comics since there’s just less to critique overall.