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Since the announcement of that the new Black Panther series was going to be written by critically-acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the series, even from media that does not normally cover comics. That is because Coates is a National Book Award winner and best-selling author. It’s not the first time an award-winning author has written comics (Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem are two examples), but Black Panther – due to his upcoming inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, complete with his own solo movie – is probably the highest profile character to be written by a novelist since Jodi Picoult wrote Wonder Woman. So how is Coates’ Black Panther #1? It is quite good, whether you are familiar with Black Panther’s backstory or not.
Recently, the African nation of Wakanda had been ruled by Shuri, the sister of T’challa, the Black Panther. Following her death, however, T’challa returns home in Black Panther #1. However, despite the technological advancements of Wakanda, there is strife in the nation, and people do not have faith in T’challa as a ruler. Meanwhile, Ayo, a member of the female royal guard Dora Milaje, breaks into a prison to rescue her love, Aneka. During the skirmish, Aneka is seriously injured, but Ayo is able to escape with Aneka and two suits of super Midnight Angel armor. The women, now traitors to Wakanda, are plotting to use the suits against their nation – though it’s not yet clear how.
I am not a longtime reader of Black Panther solo stories. Most of my exposure to the characters is through Avengers, Fantastic Four, or crossover titles. However, I did not have much difficulty following the story. I think with the buzz Coates’ comic book debut was getting, Marvel and Coates did well to pitch Black Panther #1 as a comic that most readers will understand, even if they are not steeped in the canon of the Marvel Universe. Coates admits that this is his first attempt at writing comics and that it will be a learning process, but you can see the elements that make him a talented writer transfer pretty well. For one, the dialog is intricate and interesting. It might seem strange for comic readers who are used to plainly-written comic dialog, but it adds a level of poetry to the story.
Coates’ plotting on Black Panther #1 is also impressive, considering this is his first professional comics writing. The main plot with T’challa investigating Shuri’s death and dealing with the protests and lack of confidence from his people moves smoothly with T’challa’s mother, a strong presence in the issue, giving him advice and perspective. However, it’s the subplot involving Ayo and Aneka that packs an emotional punch in Black Panther #1. Coates also injects a level of political realism that some writers tend to ignore when writing the character. Yet he is not heavy-handed with any messaging.
Of course, Coates is not the only creator working on Black Panther #1. Artist Brian Stelfreeze delivers an outstanding job on pencils of the issue. His Black Panther is dynamic and well-figured. Stelfreeze has made some changes to the iconic Black Panther costume, created by Jack Kirby, without messing with what has helped the design stand up for decades. He also excels during the scenes between Ayo and Aneka, which rely on a more intimate feel. Meanwhile, the coloring of Laura Martin is bright and clear, giving the issue some pop.
It’s often hard for comics with big hype to live up to the buzz, but Black Panther #1 gives readers a very good comic, especially for a first issue. First issues of new series can be pretty hard because there is so much ground-work to lay down. However, Coates and Stelfreeze cover a lot in this one issue. While there are no crazy shocking moments, Black Panther #1 gives us so many essentials for a new series. We are giving a strong sense of character on the main players. Some clear tension is established, which creates an intriguing mood for the comic. Additionally, a compelling plot is being created. This would be a great effort in a first issue for a veteran comic book writer. That Ta-Nehisi Coates, despite his overall writing acumen, is writing comic books for the first time makes Black Panther #1 a very impressive debut.