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From the start, Ta-Nehisi Coates has been writing Black Panther as more than a superhero story about T’challa. In many ways, the central character of the first nine issues has not been the Black Panther at all, but rather the nation of Wakanda itself. Black Panther #9 shows us numerous sides that all think they want and know what is best for the country. However, each side begins to realize that the truth is much trickier. One of the main ideas of this issue is that political ideals get corrupted, especially in war, so there are a great deal of interesting elements. Some spoilers to follow.
Black Panther #8 ended with T’challa rescuing his sister Shuri from a half-life/half-death limbo. He confesses in Black Panther #9 that he did this because he thinks she is a better ruler. Shuri is not the same person as before, though. She is wiser and now has powers. It is not clear if she is entirely loyal to T’challa, but she seems to be trying to help him. T’challa needs help, too. His country is being split by two groups of revolutionaries. The People, run by Tetu and Zenzi, are trying to dismantle the rule of the king. However, they are using bombings and other violent means. This troubles the Midnight Angels, a rebel group of royal guards who also want to see the end of T’challa’s rule. The Angels and The People are tentatively working together, but it’s clear that neither group trusts the other.
Coates covers a lot of ground in this issue, switching between all of the main groups in the war. He also highlights Changamire, a Wakandan political philosopher who sowed discord but is now saddened by the violent actions taken by his pupil Tutu. There is not a great deal of action or plot advancement in Black Panther #9, but I think there is still effective tension because Coates is showing us the different parties, their strengths and the compromises that they have had to accept. T’challa knows that he has done bad things for his nation – and has also failed it at times – but he seems to accept this knowledge. The Midnight Angels (and Changamire), however, are starting to see that their noble intentions of revolution are leading to bloodshed and immoral allies. Perhaps they were idealists, but the revelations are still startling for them.
Another highlight of Black Panther #9 is Shuri. She has been a presence in the series, learning within the limbo known as The Djalia. However, we have not really witnessed how shrewd, capable and insightful she is until this issue. While other members of T’challa’s cabinet want to imprison Changamire for indirectly causing violence through his rhetoric, she knows that he is already hurting. More importantly, she senses that Changamire could be an ally. Having Shuri on his side is huge for T’challa, as he was facing more and more of his people turning against him. While he has vast resources and abilities, the tide of the war was beginning to go against him. Shuri may be a game-changer. At the end of Black Panther #9, we see her appear before Aneka, a leader of the Midnight Angels.
Brian Stelfreeze returns to the art on this issue. He does a great job of make the panels jump in spite of the fact that the action is pretty static. It’s true that many of the scenes in Black Panther #9 is a group (of one kind or another) talking to each other. That’s not inherently bad, but this type of comic can be hard to draw in a way that isn’t flat or boring. Stelfreeze changes angles and perspectives in ways that makes a panel of people talking different from the other panels of people talking. He also is good at showing us different locations and making them feel like different locations, in entirely different parts of Wakanda.
If you are someone who has read and liked the first eight issues of Black Panther, I think issue #9 will be pleasing. It covers all of the main groups of characters in the series, giving each opportunities to show what they are after. While there are moments of characters espousing political theory at each, there are also moments that reveal character, such as T’challa bruskness and Shuri’s patience. Likewise, when Aneka runs off after having made a broadcast calling for people to turn against T’challa, it shows that she is still a bit conflicted by what she’s doing. So while it may not have as much action as previous installments of the series, there is still juicy material in Black Panther #9.