Black Panther is in a state of disaster. John Ridley and Stefano Landini continue the arc “The Long Shadow,” but the story has collapsed in on itself. Neither the characters nor the plot make much sense and the injection of new characters into the story doesn’t help.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Black Panther #7!
To start with the positive, the artwork by Stefano Landini and color artist Matt Milla is solid throughout. Though there are some confusing story turns, the artwork navigates readers through the story well enough. Landini appears to render T’Challa in the likeness of the late Chadwick Boseman, which isn’t my cup of tea, but your mileage may vary. There isn’t a lot of action in this book, but when it does occur, Landini uses some dynamic layouts to get the most out of it, with panels that cut diagonally across the page.
But the artwork is undercut by numerous story issues. The first is that none of these characters are likable, and their characterization changes from page to page. In the previous issue, Prime Minister Folasade granted the chief of the Secret Police emergency powers to take down T’Challa. In the opening page of this issue, she rescinds those powers because Akili orders his men to kill T’Challa. The inconsistency makes Folasade look like an incompetent idiot, which calls into question how the citizens of Wakanda would have elected her. On one level, this seems like it’s meant to be a critique of real-world populist movements — at one point Folasade remarks that “our version of exceptionalism shoved [Wakandan citizens] aside.” But given that the series showed neither Folasade’s rise to power nor the view of the average Wakandan on her governance, this falls completely flat. And the new character Tosin comes in like an arrogant jerk. The issue shows very little of Tosin beyond what readers already experienced in Black Panther #3, which waters down his appearance here.
The lead character fares no better. T’Challa spends the entire issue standing in the same grove of trees that he spent most of the last issue. His pensiveness is due to guilt and shame at his failure to his country, but it isn’t made clear how he’s failed his country. Because he had spies working on behalf of the country? It’s understandable that some Wakandans might have viewed that as a betrayal, but why T’Challa feels that way now is unclear.
Furthermore, T’Challa can’t seem to decide what his next course of action will be. When speaking to the Dora Milaje, he states “You serve Wakaknda. I am Wakanda.” Later, he says “Whatever the final outcome of this battle, I will never again claim to be your king. I do not deserve to be.” And yet later, when Storm confronts him about this, T’Challa backwalks, “‘Forever’ is an absolute. But should we stop Akili, I will not again seek authority over Wakanda.”
This inconsistency may be trying to show just how broken T’Challa is in this moment, but it comes across as bad writing. The storytelling in “The Long Shadow” and especially here in Black Panther #7 appears to be trying to separate T’Challa from the throne, but the path chosen seems overly complex. The prior run of Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates saw T’Challa turn Wakanda into a democracy to help heal wounds between he and his people, effectively removing governing power from T’Challa and turning his title of king into an empty one. “The Long Shadow” appears to be replicating this story decision, except there’s nothing to remove. T’Challa was not in charge of the government. Folasade was.
The Black Panther franchise has always supported explorations of philosophy regarding power — what a king’s duty is to his people, what a people’s duty is to their king, what a nation’s duty is to its neighbors. The damning problem with the current run of Black Panther is that it does not make any arguments for its answers to the questions it brings up. T’Challa feels bad about betraying the Wakandan people by having a secret sleeper agent program. Whether such a program should be viewed as bad in general or specifically within either Wakanda’s historical context or T’Challa’s personal history is not important in “The Long Shadow.” And since these philosophical questions are not addressed, the characters – all of them – come across as temperamental imbeciles.
The result is a story that fails to execute on nearly every level. “The Long Shadow” is both maddeningly confusing and uninteresting at the same time. Even Black Panther completionists should be wary of adding this to their collection.
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