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Black Panther #15
Marvel Comics

Comic Books

‘Black Panther’ #15 closes out with a confused whimper

‘Black Panther’ #15 lands with a thud, even as certain sequences stand strong.

Working with artist Germán Peralta, color artist Jesus Aburtov, and letterer/designer Joe Sabino, writer John Ridley sees T’Challa face down Jhai and the failures of his past while Wakanda charts a new path forward. The ending lands some story moments and fails others, resulting in a finale that creates little anticipation for the future of the franchise.

Black Panther #15 opens as T’Challa faces down Jhai. Germán Peralta creates a thrilling fight sequence as T’Challa and Jhai stand on opposite pages with the fight playing out between them. It’s a killer layout that highlights the fun of comics. 

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This conflict, which has played out across Ridley’s run, focuses on T’Challa coming to terms with the actions of his friend and former Wakandan sleeper agent, Jhai, who is looking to institute a global regime with T’Challa at its head. Frustratingly, the friendship has been underdeveloped. Readers have been told multiple times that Jhai is T’Challa’s best friend despite never appearing prior to this series and rarely sharing panels with T’Challa. This “telling” approach (no pun intended) hurts the series at its most critical moment. Ridley’s dialogue and Peralta’s character work are actually quite strong here, but it reads hollow due to the lack of development.

Worse still is the ending which, without spoilers, sees changes that feel thematically at odds. Ridley has not shied away from criticizing Wakanda’s new democratic government in prior issues, and while much of that has felt secondary to examining T’Challa’s hubris, it returns again at an inopportune time. During what is essentially to be a proud step out of “the long shadow” into Wakanda’s future, we see some of these characters making the same mistakes T’Challa did. This seems intentional by Ridley, but it makes the ending a bit confusing emotionally. Are readers supposed to be hopeful or heartbroken?

Black Panther #15
Marvel Comics

Additionally, Black Panther #15 solidifies a problematic aspect of the current arc. As seen in the previous issue, Wakanda has now turned to longtime foe Atlantis for protection, resulting in an alliance that appears more like an occupation. Combined with the way Peralta codes Namor as east-Asian, and it becomes all too easy to draw a line from China’s involvement in any number of African countries. 

This saddles upcoming writer Eve Ewing with a problem. Wakanda is meant to be a fantasy. This is an African nation untouched by the cruelties of European colonization and global imperialism. And yet, since 2010’s DoomWar, Wakanda has been conquered by a European nation, drowned by Namor, had its monarchy replaced by Western democracy, and is now being occupied by its enemy. If Wakanda is indeed ordinary, then it no longer serves a purpose other than to appropriate real-world African cultures into a trademarkable brand. Marvel might be trying to make Wakanda realistic in order to maintain the veneer of “the world outside your window,” but that misses the point. Wakanda was never outside anyone’s window. 

And while the ending is framed as a massive shake in the status quo might feel as an ending, this isn’t an unfamiliar place. Past creators Don McGregor, Christopher Priest, and Reginald Hudlin told stories about a king balancing altruism and national duty. The past decade, however, has seen the franchise oscillate between stories in which T’Challa learns to trust his people, giving up his political power and stories in which T’Challa, stripped of his power, learns to fight for the little people, accept loss, and then somehow gets his political power back. This is the roller coaster that Marvel has crafted. Many readers will no doubt enjoy the loops and barrel rolls. For this reviewer, it’s time to go find a new ride.

Black Panther #15
‘Black Panther’ #15 closes out with a confused whimper
'Black Panther' #15
Suffering from a lack of development in prior issues, 'Black Panther' #15 lands with a thud, even as certain sequences stand strong.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Germán Peralta and Jesus Aburtov create some emotionally grounded action.
Ridley's dialogue in the scenes between Jhai and T'Challa is well done.
The lack of development of Jhai and T'Challa's friendship bears spoiled fruit here.
The status quo here is less a groundbreaking change and more of a reinforcement of a troubling story pattern.
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