Titan Books’ newest offering, Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda is a short story anthology that expands the world of the Marvel hero and the nation he rules. Editor Jesse J. Holland brings together eighteen stories from as many authors, ensuring there is something here for everyone.
The book itself makes a strong first impression. This is a hardcover with a striking dust jacket featuring artwork by Andrew Robinson of T’Challa perched like his namesake in a tree, ready to pounce, a red sky behind him. It’s a bold image that calls to mind some of the imagery Billy Graham did for T’Challa’s first solo comic book series, Jungle Action. The cover design by Natasha Mackenzie features a square pattern that runs throughout the dust jacket in black, and in a striking red pattern on the interior of the book cover. This is a hefty book, at just over 500 pages long, but that allows for the stories to be printed in a font size that makes it easy to read without feeling eye strain.
Editor Jesse J. Holland, who also contributes a story to the middle of the volume, opens with an introduction, describing the book’s conception. Holland notes the creative inspiration for doing a short story anthology as being The Further Adventures of Batman anthologies that came out in the wake of the Tim Burton films. For me, this offered a personal connection to the volume. I was not allowed to see the Burton films until I was a bit older, but I did have The Further Adventures of Batman, Vol. III: Featuring Catwoman, and that was my first experience reading about the character, well before I would get into comics and learn about the existence of my favorite superhero, T’Challa.
For long-time Black Panther fans, Tales of Wakanda starts with some comfort food, as Maurice Broaddus’ “Kindred Spirits” follows Queen Divine Justice as she investigates a natural disturbance that spirals into political intrigue involving T’Challa, a Chinese businessman named Jiang, and T’Challa’s adopted brother, Hunter aka the White Wolf. This story, which feels as though it could have been pulled straight from Priest’s acclaimed run in comic books, is just the beginning of the scope within Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda. While T’Challa is a key player in many of the stories, the volume isn’t afraid to expand beyond him and the comics to flesh out the mythology of Wakanda.
Indeed, so much of the fun of Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda is the feeling of discovery and exploration, both of the characters and of genre and writing style. Cadwell Turnbull’s “Killmonger Rising” offers an interior journey as T’Challa’s archnemesis navigates between the personas of Erik Stevens, N’Jadaka, and Killmonger. Milton J. Davis offers a sword and soul adventure in “The Monsters of Mena Ngai.” And Nikki Giovanni’s “Immaculate Conception” is an epic “What If?” story that follows an alternate history and explores themes of imagination and the nature of storytelling itself.
With so much variety, the stories are undoubtedly going to be received on an individual level. The craftsmanship is top notch, though, and even the stories that I didn’t particularly care for were well written. As an anthology, the stories can be read in any order, and the pages on the book’s right have the short story name printed along the side, allowing for easier navigation. That being said, Holland structures them in a way that flows nicely from one to another, and the final story, Temi Oh’s “Zoya the Deserter,” ends the book in a rewardingly cathartic way.
One issue that may arise for some readers is the lack of introduction to the characters. Due in part to the brevity required in a short story, the backgrounds of some of the characters are left to the reader to determine. This isn’t really a requirement for enjoying the stories, but as an example, readers who are unfamiliar with Bashenga may not fully grasp that “The Monsters of Mena Ngai” is taking place in the far past, while other fans will pick up on that as soon as they see the name.
Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda is a must have for fans of the character and this world, whether that fandom originates from the comics, the cartoons, or the films. The authors all provide well crafted short stories, and the number of voices means that readers have a chance to discover a writer that they really like that they can explore outside of this work. Jesse J. Holland succeeds in creating a collection that taps into and expands the mythology of Wakanda. Rather than limiting the book to a strict continuity, the book gives an experience of a fluid, ever-changing Wakanda that is sure to ignite the imaginations of readers young and old.
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