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For almost a year, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has been building towards a big resolution on his Black Panther series. Black Panther #10 shows the sides being reshaped towards a big conflict. There are some surprises and new alliances. While it is another rather talky issue, the dramatic tension being raised is effective. The pacing feels a bit slow at times, but the themes and ideas being discussed by T’challa and others are engaging enough that it overcomes a lack of action.
Black Panther #9 was a major moment for the series because it marked the full return of Shuri, T’challa’s sister and former Queen of Wakanda. Her arrival comes just in time as T’challa had been facing revolution on numerous fronts in Wakanda. Shuri appears before Ayo and Aneka of the Midnight Angels, a group of royal guards who have revolted. Shuri chastises them and appeals to their sense of reason regarding their tenuous bond with Tetu, a power-hungry revolutionary who is willing to kill Wakandans to advance his cause. Despite Ayo and Aneka’s very deep misgivings about T’challa and his leadership, they agree to flip sides. While they mistrust T’challa, they are pretty certain that Tetu would have betrayed them when convenient. This sets up a major battle in the Golden City of Wakanda, as Tetu’s mind-controlled army marches to do battle with the Black Panther and his forces.
The major moment of Black Panther #10 is the choice of the Midnight Angels. They have always been portrayed as noble, leaving the service of Wakanda because they no longer believed in its ruler. However, they have also always had misgivings about Tetu, and those have only been heightened as his forces have committed atrocities in trying to break down Wakandan defenses. So Ayo and Aneka choosing to align (temporarily) with T’challa makes a certain kind of sense. However, I did find it surprising. Coates shows that they have mixed feelings about the switch, and that Shuri played a major role in getting them on board. Shuri has a formidable mix of guile, widsom and intimidation. She’s only been back in Wakanda a short time, but her presence is monumental.
Another significant section of Black Panther #10 is devoted to the conversation between T’challa and Changamire, Tetu’s former mentor. These characters have an interesting dynamic. Changamire is another party who lacks faith in T’challa’s leadership yet is also increasingly wary of Tetu’s methods. For Changamire, this is difficult because Tetu is somewhat putting into play Changamire’s own political theory – albeit more brutally. Changamire doesn’t like what he sees. He feels somewhat helpless, though. After all, he is essentially an intellectual in the middle of a brewing war. T’challa is honest with Changamire and shows him how he can help Wakanda and still be true to himself.
The T’challa and Changamire section of the comic drags a bit despite the loaded repercussions of the ideas being discussed. I think part of the problem is that the scene makes a point quickly but then keeps going and dilutes the dramatic impact. Another element is that it is difficult to ascertain what T’challa wants. Coates has painted him a noble but flawed hero. T’challa’s emotional arch has been strong. However, his strategic plans (i.e. what he is doing in the plot) are sometimes less clear. T’challa does not always seem to have a destination. I think if readers has a better sense of what he wanted from Changamire, the scene could have been tenser, as we learn how T’challa will try to get it. As it happens in Black Panther #10, though, T’challa’s goals are not clear until the end.
The art on Black Panther #10 (with layouts by Chris Sprouse and finished by Karl Story) is again quite strong. In particular, the confrontation between Shuri and Ayo & Aneka is very good. We see for the first time Shuri’s new powers in practice. She appears to be able to phase shift or disperse her form. Sprouse and Story present this as Shuri shifting into an enormous group of black birds (and back again). It’s a simple but rather beautiful visual of a power that could have been shown in a more mundane way. The rest of Black Panther #10 is a lot of sitting and talking, which Sprouse and Story handle well, though it doesn’t show off their true talents.
In a lot of ways, Black Panther #10 presents both the best sides of Coates’ run on the series and his occasional drawbacks. On the plus, the themes and concepts are really fascinating. The shifting sides and power dynamics are also well handled. At the same time, this is the second straight issue that has been mostly talking, which I think can get stagnate. Black Panther #10 is a good issue, but I think it could have more moved quicker and had some alterations in pace that made it a bit more exciting. At any rate, Coates has set up a conflict for the next issue that should be quite entertaining and surprising.