Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Volume 1
By Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze
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The current ongoing run of Black Panther focuses on nation building both in the fiction and as metatextual-ly with the previous presentations of this hero and his homeland. Black Panther (real name T’Challa) is the ruler of Wakanda, an African nation with technology that puts it beyond futuristic. In the last few years, Wakanda has taken a major beating mainly from an attack by Namor and the Atlanteans. The attack led to Black Panther losing the throne to his sister and making his life a single-minded pursuit of revenge against Namor. He eventually got his revenge, stranding Namor on a parallel Earth but was then swept up as one of the survivors of the collapse of reality in Secret Wars. Present day, reality has been restored and so has Panther’s place on the throne. His sister is kept in a life-death stasis after an encounter with the mad Titan Thanos.
This first volume collects issues 1 through 4 of writer Coates’ run. There are two parallel storylines in the book and by the end of this first volume, they have not yet come together, though it’s apparent the story arc is leading up to that. First T’Challa is dealing with resuming the mantle of the king and its responsibilities. Various uprisings are occurring across his nation among the working class. The disputes are legitimate but get exacerbated by a mysterious woman with the ability to amplify anxieties and anger and create raging mobs. An even more enigmatic shaman accompanies the woman and his ties to people amongst the Wakandan elite eventually come to light.
The other storyline follows two of the Midnight Angels, the female personal bodyguards of Black Panther. Aneka, a trainer in the Angels, is charged with the murder of a tribal chieftain. She claims it was necessary because he was abusing and exploiting his tribe’s women, but Queen Ramonda, the mother to Black Panther refuses to hear it. Aneka’s lover and fellow Angel, Ayo pleads the case but is not listened to. The first issue ends with Ayo finding a way to break Aneka out of prison and two begin a cleansing of Wakanda from men who would mistreat women.
The story sets up a lot of interesting pieces, and I am interested in following the series to find out what happens when Panther and the Midnight Angels finally clash. There is not a complete story here, though. Due to delays, the series has been very inconsistent in its release. That’s not an uncommon problem when a previously non-comics author takes on a monthly assignment. Jodi Picoult had issues keeping her Wonder Woman run coming out on time and director Richard Donner had a horrifically late Action Comics run in the mid-2000s. I think the monthly schedule is difficult for creators who are used to longer stretches of time to complete work (movies, novels).
The art is by comics veteran Brian Stelfreeze who I remember vividly from his Batman work in the mid-1990s. He is splendid at playing with light and shadow. While his pencil and ink work is spectacular, you should google his paintings for some beautiful art that exists between photo-realism and comic book stylization.
It’s funny that the least interesting part of this comic is Black Panther. Instead the supporting characters that build out Wakanda are the ones I want to follow. Ironically enough, Marvel has announced Black Panther: World of Wakanda, a new series co-written between Coates and author Roxane Gay which will focus on telling the stories of these side players.