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Published on April 8th, 2016 | by Noel Thorne

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Black Panther #1 Review

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I’ve read a couple of his solo books and seen him crop up in events and team titles but I don’t know much about Black Panther – though I was honestly hoping to be blown away with this comic – and I think a number of people coming to this are in the same boat. That’s why I don’t think Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s much anticipated Black Panther #1 is a very good start: it really doesn’t give you a good idea of who Black Panther is and that must have been one of the primary goals of this relaunch, especially with the character’s big screen debut next month in Captain America: Civil War.  

The reader’s thrown right into it from page one: Black Panther, aka T’Challa, is King of a fractured country, Wakanda. For some reason, a woman called Zenzi (who?) from the Nigandan Border Region (Wakanda’s neighbour?) is stirring up insurrection in Wakanda through… psychic powers?… by making people’s eyes glow green and fight Black Panther’s guards. T’Challa has a sister called Shuri who’s missing (though we find out where she is on the final page), and a shield maiden, or Dora Milaje, called Ayo fights for her girlfriend Aneka’s life after T’Challa’s stepmom sentences her to jail (which will probably be important in a later issue).

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Oh-kay. So this is Coates’ first comic and it shows! This issue is either trying to cram in too much new story or it’s referencing old stories way too much to be inaccessible to new readers – whichever way you look at it, this issue is not a good intro to the character and hella messy from a story perspective.

First and foremost “Who is Black Panther?” (also the title of one of the two BP books I’ve read!) should’ve been answered in this issue – particularly as he hasn’t had a solo title in a while and Marvel’s done a lot in recent years to cultivate a new readership – and it’s not. He’s got weird psychic/electrical powers or something – what are those, part of his powers (in which case is he a mutant?) or the suit-thing he’s wearing? Is his outfit like an Iron Man armour? And what about the title, “Black Panther” – where does that come from and why is it so important? I got no more sense of who T’Challa is than I would from reading an issue of Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers.

Then there’s Wakanda: why is the kingdom fractured? Why don’t some of the people accept Black Panther as their King – what are their grievances? Why does the most technologically advanced society on Earth even have a monarchy? Is this a new storyline or a holdover from something started elsewhere? And what about the supposed villains in this story: where is the Nigandan Border Region and what’s their beef with Wakanda? Is Zenzi the sole reason for the fracture or is it deeper than that? No clue to any of it.

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There’s a wholly uninteresting subplot about Ayo, the “Dora Milaje” or shield maiden (I think – there’s no explanation of these casually tossed around terms), defending her girlfriend Aneka. It’s not just an uninteresting storyline – a dreary political scene with T’Challa’s stepmom takes up most of this subplot – but it also feels irrelevant considering this is the first issue of a Black Panther story. Shouldn’t the bulk of the issue be devoted to establishing him? And what exactly are “Midnight Angel prototypes” and who made them? No. Explanation. For Anything. Not that the main storyline is fascinating either – “uniting the kingdom” is too abstract to care about.

Brian Stelfreeze’s art is fine but it’s nothing standout compared to the rest of the Marvel lineup. He’s no Mike Allred, Mike Del Mundo or Skottie Young, he’s just competent – not the most exciting visual approach. Black Panther #1 looks perfectly ok.

With Black Panther #1 I was hoping for a comic that would swiftly establish who Black Panther is, give us a sense of what Wakanda is like, and set up a compelling, accessible storyline or at least show something unique, fresh or unusual to hook readers for the rest of the arc. Instead we got a vague, clumsy and boring issue that actually shouldn’t have surprised anyone given that it’s from an inexperienced comics writer, regardless of his acclaimed nonfiction work. Maybe fans much more familiar with the character will get something out of this one but for me, in one issue, the excitement I had for this series is completely gone.

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Publisher: Marvel

Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Artist: Brian Stelfreeze

Colourist: Laura Martin

Noel Thorne

Probably reading comics as you're reading this.

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