Black Panther (2016) #2 Review

Here’s where things get messy. Christopher Priest’s Black Panther run’s big problem — aside from not having a movie to bring in big readership — was that it was very, very self-referential. It would’ve been a heavy read already, but with how focused it was on its own continuity and how necessary it was to read everything, as well as other works you probably never heard of, the longer it went, the more problematic this became. It seems Coates is going to have the same problem.This issue places so much emphasis on world-building that it probably completely scared off some readers. The plot gains many new layers, particularly regarding Shuri and the enemy forces, and yet doesn’t stop to explain anything not introduced in this run to new readers. Coates assumes you know how Shuri ended up trapped in glass (I kind of do… but really don’t) but also what that actually entails (I really don’t). And for a run that seems so focused on keeping old continuity (the term hatut zerasaz is used without explanation, as I predicted), it also does weird things like callously killing off Erik Killmonger, a longtime Black Panther villain, and I’m not even sure how it was done or if it was even onscreen. At the same time it introduces another subplot regarding the enemy faction’s founding, one that seems really, really out of place. The Midnight Angels’ plot gets further development, but I still can’t tell these two apart and their names never stay with me after I’ve read a page, and that seems like it’ll be a big problem going forward. The plot is getting more and more intricate in every area, and this might hurt the series.

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Wait, so was one of those guys Killmonger? This guy says he died in the next page, but doesn’t explain how, so was one of these guys Killmonger? Is one of the guys in the ditch? Wha-?

Part of the problem is the art. The art doesn’t distinguish the Midnight Angels very well and their armours look very similar, but different enough that you’re supposed to be able to tell them apart. Which doesn’t work because I don’t even know who one of them is. Aside from that problem, the art continues to work really well for the series in some parts, particularly in fight scenes. However, there is a problem of it not flowing well in scenes outside of fight scenes and static scenes that lack movement. It becomes hard to follow and it doesn’t help the dense narrative. This isn’t helped by the lack of transitions to some scenes.

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I will never be able to remember who’s who in-armour…

This review is starting to sound negative, so let me make it clear that not everything in this issue is bad. T’Challa’s story is very well done, as is his narration about an uncle and the power of kings. The idea that someone is bringing out latent emotions in people is explored well in how it affects T’Challa. There’s a great scene with T’Challa and the people he saves. The Midnight Angels and T’Challa are shown to be contrasts of each other in a manner that doesn’t feel forced or unsubtle. T’Challa’s characterisation is very well done: He’s very good at what he does, but is flawed and driven by guilt, a contrast to Priest’s work where he seemed to be in God Mode most of the time. There’s some interesting stuff regarding Shuri. The world-building is exceptional in places and makes Wakanda a truly interesting setting as opposed to being a stand-in for Africa like one of the two or three stand-ins DC has for Iraq, none of which really have their own character. The art is great in fight scenes, and Coates lets it do its work.

This story feels like it would be better if it had more focus on T’Challa, while focusing on one or two other plots each issue, instead of all of them. Instead, this Black Panther #2 has plot getting further complications on all fronts, and while this does make this story feel large in scope which suits a story about Wakanda as a country, it also makes Black Panther #2 a very thick read. This issue lacks focus. It assumes you’re familiar with T’Challa’s world when it really shouldn’t. The art works amazingly in some places and badly in others. But at the same time that scope shows you how big this story is, Wakanda feels like a truly real place. It’s a mixed bag. This series seems like it will read better in trade, and I hate saying that because I want Coates’ Black Panther to succeed. It does so many things right and truly feels unique, and like it finally knows what to do with T’Challa. But with how complex things are getting and with all the knowledge Coates assumes you have, it might be best to read this in trade after getting some notes from a Panther fan.

3.5/5

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