“This is exactly how Wakanda grew from being more than a story just about T’Challa, its fiercely powerful Dora Milaje or its lands untouched by colonization. The true pillars of this universe are now, more than ever, its people and their spirit.” This line, pulled from Frederick Joseph’s essay that opens Marvel’s Voices: Wakanda Forever #1, captures the aim and ambition of the issue. Unfortunately, the issue falls woefully short of that promise.
An anthology one-shot, Marvel’s Voices: Wakanda Forever #1 features five short stories set in Wakanda as well as excerpts of interviews from a number of creators. After Joseph’s essay, the first story is “The Old Ways” by Karama Horne, Alitha E. Martinez, and Rachelle Rosenberg. Horne, author of the brilliant Protectors of Wakanda: A History and Training Manual of the Dora Milaje, fails to recreate that tome’s magic here. “The Old Ways” is a bit of a non-story, in which T’Challa seeks counsel with his predecessors. Horne does a good job differentiating the voices and motivations of the nine Panthers who offer advice to T’Challa, but the story never establishes a conflict nor ties itself into the events of the current Black Panther run in a meaningful way. There’s a vague platitude about winning the battle inside oneself, but it’s too loose to mean anything.
The second story, “The Education of Changamire” by Adam Serwer, Todd Harris, and Jordie Bellaire, fares a bit better, focusing on the relationship between Changamire (one of T’Challa’s advisors in the present day) and Changamire’s teacher, Iyoba, set on the backdrop of Italy’s attempts to colonize Ethiopia during World War II. Serwer subverts some of the expectations readers may have a Changamire, creating the beginning of a character arc that pays off when considering the context of the character in a modern-day setting. That being said, “The Education of Changamire” suffers in that its most interesting character is Iyoba and the story may have held more weight had it been told from her perspective.
“Remember the Name” by Murewa Ayodele, Dotun Akande, and Dee Cunniffe creates a strong atmosphere from the opening page. Focused on Shuri as she faces off against a supernatural foe, Ayodele’s writing tells the story of names and their importance. Akande’s artwork is dynamic, with fun layouts and some wild imagery as the foe makes their way through Wakanda. Cunniffe’s colors do a lot of setting the tone for the story, with cool blues and heavy shadows that add weight to the proceedings. Unfortunately, the story ends in a way that undercuts the theme. If Shuri (or any character) is to be immortalized by their name, readers should be experiencing the feats and accomplishments that lead to it.
A similar issue affects “The Illusion of Fairness” by Dr. Sheena Howard and Marcus Williams. Readers are introduced to a young Dora Milaje Chante (it’s unclear whether this is meant to be Chanté Giovanni Brown aka Ce’Athauna Asira Davin aka Queen Divine Justice) as she goes through her physical exam to make it into the ranks of the Dora Milaje. After failing, Okoye tells the story of Anansi and the tug of war between Elephant and Whale. An actual African folktale, this story highlights the use of one’s brain instead of brute force, and Howard and Williams do a great job bringing the folktale to life. However, “The Illusion of Fairness” does little to invest readers in Chante’s story or why the reader should care for whether or not she succeeds.
The final story in the anthology, “The Last Black Panther” by Juni Ba and Chis O’Halloran, focuses on the titular character as they attempt to save some precious cargo. Ba and O’Halloran were responsible for my favorite part of Black Panther #200 and some of that magic continues here. “The Last Black Panther” is thin, but well-executed, relying less on lore and focusing on lean, humanist storytelling. It ends the issue in a good way that leaves a more positive impression than the rest of the issue frankly warrants.
The underlying problem to Marvel’s Voices: Wakanda Forever #1 is that Wakanda has largely existed as a backdrop for stories about Black Panther (and with a couple exceptions, that means stories about T’Challa). From Don McGregor onward, nearly every writer that has touched the mythos has discarded the supporting cast of the previous writer and introduced their own, meaning the only consistent characters are T’Challa and (since her debut in 2005) Shuri. This results not only in a lack of real development (Okoye is still largely “the loyal one”) but also in weird overlap between characters (Vibraxas, Ayo, Aneka, and Tosin are all presented as young upstarts unhappy with the direction of T’Challa’s rule and their personalities are largely interchangeable). If Marvel’s Voices: Wakanda Forever wanted to create a world of Wakanda beyond T’Challa and Shuri, it needed more compelling stories that fleshed out its characters in a way that felt impactful. As it exists, Wakanda Forever #1 is an anthology that lacks a cohesive vision or purpose.
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