Black Panther #1-5 ‘A Nation Under Our Feet’
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artists: Brian Stelfreeze (issues 1-4), Chris Sprouse (issue 5)
Colourists: Laura Martin
Inker: Karl Story (issue 5)
Letterer: JC’s Joe Sabino
Editor: Wil Moss
A review by Robert Coffil
Black Panther was hoisted on to the main stage in Johnathan Hickman’s New Avengers. While an Avenger, Wakanda went to war with Atlantis, won, but took heavy casualties. Immediately following this, he had to fight off an invasion from Thanos and lost. Then, in the culminating crossover Secret Wars, the buildings of Wakanda were returned to normal but the people weren’t. Following his involvement in those Galactic/Inter-dimensional events, we have a solo series written by McArthur Genius Grant winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates and the first 4 issues drawn by Brain Stelfreeze with the next arc in the story drawn by Chris Sprouse. All the issues thus far have been colored by Laura Martin. With Marvel’s comic book line in the midst of Civil War II, Black Panther knows exactly what it is: a book about upheaval and revolution.
As much as Black Panther is about its eponymously named hero, T’Challa, it is also about the nation of Wakanda. Wakanda is known in the Marvel Universe as the most technologically advanced nation in the world. The people of Wakanda are a proud people. They boast, until recently, of having never been successfully invaded. It is a point of national pride. Under T’Challa’s reign, the people of Wakanda have suffered more defeat and humiliation than one generation ever has. Black Panther and the nation of Wakanda begin this arc with a smear across its face and it doesn’t end there.
Coates and company tell the story of political and social upheaval in a manner very similar to Game of Thrones, narratively speaking. Black Panther, his allies, and stepmother Ramonda serve as one ‘faction’. The Midnight Angels, Ayo and Ankea serve as another faction. With the last faction comprised of Tetu and Zenzi.
Coates weaves his tale by switching from each group and following them while they go about trying to solve their particular problem. Given the political intrigue of the book, this helps paint a more holistic portrayal of the events going on in Wakanda without detracting from the story. Also, just like Game of Thrones, it leaves you wanting more. Whichever faction you think is ‘right’, you always want more pages of their particular story. It’s a nice way to get the reader to come back each month.
The first 4 issues of this book were written by Coates and drawn by Stelfreeze and are visually sumptuous and deftly told. Stelfreeze goes through painstaking attention to detail to make every character distinct. The people of Wakanda in the background range in size and shape. The panel breakdowns always line up well with the story beats and the deftness of control that Stelfreeze illustrates when it comes to slowing down the pace of the story with a densely panelled page and speeding up the pace with fewer panels is masterful. You would think that a book with as much political intrigue as Black Panther would be dour and dark, in cabinet room meetings on top of impossibly high Skyscrapers. It isn’t. Coates and Stelfreeze take us everywhere from lush open plains to densely packed cosmopolitan areas. What Laura Martin does with colors makes every image pop and the range of hue for the Wakandans is nice to see.
With the 5th issue Chris Sprouse joins the team and he maintains the consistency that Stelfreeze established. One thing that Sprouse excels at is character acting in his books. There are a few pages where Black Panther is receiving advice from a group of nefarious people and the acting that Sprouse is able to pull off with subtle lip shape and eyebrow positioning was especially well done. Again, the color work by Martin is impeccable. There is a particular color scheme using yellow for a couple of pages in issue 5 that really pull your eye across the page.
Buy it! If you’re a fan of books that deal with political intrigue, superheroes, and revolution this is the book for you. The luxury that most superheroes are afforded, by being able to claim the moral high ground, isn’t a comfort that King T’Challa has. What T’Challa does to guarantee the safety of Wakanda won’t be easy. So hop on if you want to enjoy the ride. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown”