Ta-Nehisi Coates takes T’Challa into the far future with Black Panther Book 6: The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda Part One. Whereas his initial arcs, “A Nation Under Our Feet” and “Avengers of the New World” featured a heavy philosophical focus on the nature of monarchy, Coates pivots towards a more action heavy story.
It becomes clear from the opening pages that something has gone very awry for T’Challa. His memories are gone, to the point that he does not remember his own name, and he has found himself a slave for the titular Empire. Coates and artist Daniel Acuña waste no time in showing T’Challa breaking free of his confines.
While Black Panther has featured a number of talented artists like Brian Stelfreeze, Leonard Kirk, and Chris Sprouse, Daniel Acuña carves out his own space with gorgeous colors that give the book a sense of grandeur.
Acuña and Coates craft some stunning action sequences as T’Challa uses his acrobatics and instincts to outmaneuver his foes. Coates starts the volume with minimal dialogue, but as the book progresses, it becomes clear that “The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda” is anything but a shallow action tome.
At first, there are just hints at something beneath the surface – namesakes to characters in the Black Panther mythos both well known (M’Baku, Nakia), and obscure (Taku, Achebe). But Coates slowly layers in more and more detail – a ship named belonging to the rebellious Maroons is named after the real-world Haitian Maroon François Mackandal.
What emerges is an action story that examines the role of rebels in breaking people free of bondage, but also what it takes to lead. When Ta-Nehisi Coates began his run on Black Panther, it was immediately clear that T’Challa was burdened by his crown. “A Nation Under His Feet” antagonists, Tetu and Zenzi, directly questioned T’Challa’s role as monarch, and Wakanda’s citizenry broke with their king in the wake of Wakanda’s recent defeats.
While T’Challa was able to stabilize his country, he ceded part of his power to his people, before T’Challa had to further question his nation’s identity in “Avengers of the New World” in which it was not only revealed that ancient Wakanda was not above conquest, but that present day Wakanda had been abandoned by its gods.
These themes of identity, for both individual and nation, take on new life in “The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda.” T’Challa has been stripped of his name and memories, but not of the qualities that define him. A noble warrior and a brilliant tactician, T’Challa is pulled into a war against the Wakandan Empire. And while he claims he would rather be a soldier than lead, he repeatedly finds himself leading. By placing T’Challa as a rebel, Ta-Nehisi Coates has inverted the conflict. Before, T’Challa was a king of conscience, in conflict with his rule and the pain it caused others. Now, he is a man seeking himself, but being called upon to lead others.
With such heavy themes and character development, one might presume that The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda Part One would get bogged down, but Coates and Acuña pack these layers into a fast paced, exciting read. Space battles burst off the page, while hand-to-hand combat is given a psychadelic edge. Marvel fans are also going to love all the shoutouts that Coates gives to the wider universe. Emperor N’Jadaka has a suit that pays tribute to the Panther design worn by Killmonger in the film, but with a very fun twist – it’s a symbiote!
The last chapter in the volume represents a huge turning point in the story. This art in this chapter by Jen Bartel, with layouts by Paul Reinwald and colors by Tríona Farrell. Shifting the focus to N’Jadaka, this issue sees the return of Bast. The shift in artstyle from Acuña to Bartel does a great job in visually guiding the reader through what ends up as a pivotal chapter, not just in this volume, but in Coates’ entire run.
Is It Good?
Black Panther Book 6: The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda Part One is a beautiful volume that first wows with excitement before revealing stronger thematic layers and a poetry with the earlier parts of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run on Black Panther. While these issues may have felt a bit thin during their monthly release, taken as a whole this is an epic story unlike anything that has been done with the character before. Daniel Acuña’s storytelling ability is a great boost to the book, as well-defined and inventive action sequences appear throughout. This is a must have for Black Panther fans.