Ta-Nehisi Coates’ six-year-long run on Black Panther came to an end in May, and now it’s collected for fans who trade wait. Running over 170 pages and collecting Black Panther #19-25, it’s worth reading Book 8 to catch up a little bit since Black Panther is so very different from what casual fans might know. Freshly back from space, a war is coming to Wakanda and it’s a battle they must fight in part because their ancestors are responsible for the conflict coming their way.
This is a book itching to be read in the collected format. That’s partly due to the pandemic stretching a six month-long series into a 17 month experience when read in the single-issue format. For a series that is juggling many characters, at times rather complicated motivations, and a story that spans lightyears, it’s a lot to hold in your mind all at once. In fact, even when read in one sitting, this book isn’t the most accessible.
The main plot revolves around Wakanda Prime and the liberated Maroons pitted against the symbiote King N’Jadaka and his galactic forces. Everything builds towards the extra-sized final chapter with Black Panther #25, which brings a whole lot of action to the table. It’s a fine way to end things since the climax is the culmination of T’Challa finding his place as leader of Wakanda, but also what his role truly means as a leader. Coates plays with themes around identity, monarchy, and grander purpose.
One of the strongest moments in the series occurs in Black Panther #23 when T’Challa gives a speech to his people. Standing among them are Black heroes from other nations too, as it’s not just a speech for his people, but what Wakanda means to Black heroes around the globe. Tightly written, it’s a high point for the book and the series as a whole. This is an important element in part because the second Wakanda turned out poorly after forgetting about the ideals of the people. It’s not about the place, but the people.
Another element that works well is Coates’ take on Storm. She’s an important figure in the narrative even though she isn’t married to Black Panther anymore. She’s also a key to guiding T’Challa, especially in the final moments. There are many wise characters in the book outside of Storm, and Coates is good at reminding us the leadership does not come from just one place in Wakanda.
The art by Ryan Bodenheim, Daniel Acuña, and Brian Stelfreeze is good, although totally different from each other. It’s a bit jarring at times when the art shifts mid-story, but it’s tough to beat the painterly qualities of Acuña. A large portion of the final chapter leans on Acuña’s art since much of it is fight-comics-focused action. Bodenheim’s style is incredibly clean, which suits the futuristic look, though Acuña’s space scenes take on another life of their own.
Coates ends his run in a way that feels right to the series. Due to delays and a mix of artists though, the final few chapters drag at times and can be hard to follow. Still, what Wakanda means to Black Panther and the world is more evident than ever after this collection, and in a grander scale, Coates’ entire run.
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