Evan Narcisse, Germán Peralta and Jesus Aburtov steer the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda in a more positive direction in The Last Annihilation: Wakanda #1. Focused on M’Baku, the issue examines how legacies can be remade into something more positive.
The issue opens with M’Baku examining his new place in an empire that has come under new leadership. Writer Evan Narcisse uses M’Baku’s sojourn through the nation of Wakanda to help recap the status quo change that came about at the end of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run earlier this year. It is these opening pages that also create the biggest problem for the book.
The decision to have M’Baku don armor bearing the likeness of a gorilla is one that gave me pause. I understand that the deceased M’Baku was leader of the White Gorilla tribe and various writers throughout the franchise’s history have found means to navigate the racist imagery of a Black man in a gorilla suit, but this is not that M’Baku. This M’Baku is a rebel from a distant world in Wakanda’s empire of five galaxies. He is a relative newcomer to Earth, which begs the question: has he ever even seen a gorilla? And if M’Baku is concerned about the legacy of his namesake, why does he accept armor that evokes that man’s heritage?
These are questions that largely go unanswered here, and so the decision to bring this character closer to the original M’Baku feels less rooted in story and more rooted in maintaining the larger imagery of what the Black Panther franchise is. Perhaps that is unfair, perhaps this character decision is explored more fully in the upcoming Black Panther series by John Ridley and Juann Cabal, which was originally slated for an August debut before being delayed to November. But given both the design and the themes presented in the story, it would have been nice for The Last Annihilation: Wakanda to answer those questions firmly.
Once the book pushes past those questions, however, it excels. Narcisse is able to nail down a strong characterization for M’Baku, who has not let a lifetime of war harden his heart. Germán Peralta’s illustrations go a long way towards achieving this effect. The first two panels of the issue see M’Baku staring up at a statue of his comrade Nakia, surrounded by an elegant cityscape. Peralta then shows us M’Baku’s face, the wariness and sadness apparent. This is a man wary of both T’Challa and of Wakanda, but he is willing to work to make the empire that once enslaved him into a force for good.
When Narcisse introduces the team of heroes accompanying M’Baku, he is able to use the youth of the supporting cast to complement the M’Baku’s more reserved demeanor. When the team meets up with the Shi’ar they are meant to assist, Narcisse also peppers in some history between the two empires, which is used to both increase the drama and to inject some humorous barbs between the two factions.
The fight between the heroes and the Mindless Ones of Dormammu is the centerpiece of the issue, and it is excellent. Germán Peralta and color artist Jesus Aburtov were the art team on the King in Black: Black Panther tie-in earlier this year, and here solidify themselves as some of the best large-scale action scene creators in comics. Peralta’s use of different panel shapes and sizes helps convey the chaos of the battle, while also providing dynamic action beats intercut with some nice character moments. Letterer Cory Petit also works well with the blocking Peralta provides. In particular, there’s a panel in which Deathbird confronts M’Baku. Peralta’s layout of the image draws the reader’s eye left-to-right across the panel, while Petit works the word balloons intentionally from right-to-left and then back again. This visual dissonance helps convey the tension in the narrative, when things look like they might go sideways when they can least afford to.
Jesus Aburtov’s colors are simply dazzling. The bursts of bright violet light from the Wakandans, the ominous reds of the horde of Mindless Ones, the electric greens that emanate off the page in the issue’s finale — this is a beautiful book to look at.
While The Last Annihilation: Wakanda doesn’t explore the journey of its lead character with the depth that is perhaps needed for the ending to land, it does excel at delivering an action-filled adventure that forges a new path for both its lead and the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda to be explored in the future.
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