There are elements in the latest Black Panther trade paperback by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Daniel Acuña that I’m sure will appear in future films. A space Black Panther is exciting enough, but the ideas in this book about war, dehumanizing others, and the race for power and prosperity are unmistakable. It’s a big reason why this trade and Coates’ new direction for the character is incredibly exciting.
On the opening page, Coates summarizes how we got here and one caption stands out. It reads, “This is the story of a hero who was reduced to a slave, a slave who advanced into a legend. The story of a king who had lost his country…and now must find it again.” The hero’s journey is at work here and it is huge in scale thanks to Coates and Acuña thrusting Black Panther into space. Like a ship at sea, he wants to find his people but can’t. When the comic cuts to Black Panther he is relentlessly searching for Wakanda Prime, sucking the remaining energy from the ship to do so. It’s a risk, but he must find it. By the end of the issue, it’s clear the start of a journey home has begun, but clearly, there are folks who will stand in his way.
The opening issue does a good job setting up supporting characters and antagonists too. We check in with Storm more than once, for instance, and it’s clear folks close to Black Panther are growing tired of him and his obsession with Wakanda Prime. All of these characters play major parts throughout the narrative and end up helping in some way progress the plot.
Acuña is putting in some incredible work here thanks to the color and the lighting he utilizes. The spaceship scenes are dark and only lit by the control panels which glow red, blue, and orange. It casts an eerie look and allows the bright and colorful cosmos to shine through the windows. The star charts Black Panther is studying are incredibly detailed and fun to linger on. By contrast, the scenes on Wakanda Prime are bright and almost heavenly in how they are lit. It’s a stark contrast that sets both worlds apart nicely.
My biggest gripe with this series is how space battles can seem to go on for page filling needs. It looks cool, but to what end? It’s not until the final scenes with Storm and Black Panther did I realize the greater purpose of this narrative which seems a bit lost when space battles are the main focus for much of the narrative.
By the end of the book it’s quite clear the opening text I quoted above means a lot to what Black Panther realizes about Wakanda and what his people have done. Wakanda isn’t so much a place, but an idea and a set of values. In a closing issue–drawn by Chris Sprouse–T’Challa explains to Storm everything he learned. Put simply, entire worlds were built on enslaving alien races. It’s horrible stuff and it’s something he has to live with and ultimately fight against even if it means fighting his own people. It’s also an interesting concept since it means he must tear down great achievements since they were built on the backs of slavery.
There are big ideas at work in this series that I think many should read. The concepts in play involve slavery, the greater purpose of a society of riches, and what it means to be a hero who is so smart yet carries it all on their shoulders. It’s an empowering bit of superhero writing.
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