Marvel gives a long-running character a high profile re-launch with Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet.
Building on the series of calamities that have befallen the Panther’s African homeland, Wakanda, in recent years, T’Challa has resumed the throne of a badly shaken nation. Once among the world’s most prosperous nations, Wakanda is facing a number of social and economic challenges. Into that mix come super-powered terrorists who foment simmering discontent and eventually inspire an horrific bombing in the capital city. Meanwhile, two renegade members of the Panther’s royal guard go rogue, steal experimental battle suits and dub themselves the Midnight Angels. The Angels swoop into a neglected province and liberate those suffering under the domination of a local power broker while demonstrating against the monarchy. With his sister in a state of living death and events of recent years weighing on him, T’Challa struggles to rise to the challenges and be the leader his country needs.
Marvel recruited award winning novelist Ta-Nehisi Coates to chart this latest chapter for Black Panther and the first time comic book writer gets off to a strong start. Coates immediately nails T’Challa’s voice and personality, effectively portraying the character’s weariness, frustrations and anger. A key supporting character is T’Challa’s revered step-mother, who’s his closest adviser and conscience. Their exchanges do a lot to illuminate the contrasting facets of T’Challa’s personality as she firmly nudges her step-son toward being the ruler their people need.
Coates sets up some interesting dynamics in A Nation Under Our Feet. He explores the tensions between democracy and monarchy and raises the provocative question of where the dividing line between “terrorist” and “revolutionary” lies. T’Challa’s own spiritual crisis is effectively mirrored in the turbulence besetting his country. While the action has a distinctly political flavor, Coates crafts some dynamic action sequences, with adversaries that give the Panther both physical and existential challenges. It’s a compelling start to Coates’ grander saga, one that makes a reader eager to see where the story goes next.
Marvel coaxed high-profile artist Brian Stelfreeze to take on his first ongoing series in some time for this first Black Panther arc. Stelfreeze’s work is highly stylized, but very impactful. He nails the Panther’s distinctive physicality, that tricky mix of nobility and brutality. He injects lots of dynamism into the book, whether in well-choreographed action scenes or intense discussions. His design work is first rate, perfectly assaying the concept’s balance of futurism and untamed nature. It’s dramatic, expressive work that’s greatly enhanced by Laura Martin’s bold colors. Martin works some very important dark/light contrasts in some sequences, and uses subtle shades of blue, green, yellow and violet to emphasize the impact of other scenes. It’s an ideal pairing of a high profile art team to support a daring, spotlight story.
Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet is a strong start to this new chapter for the character, one that makes good use of the character’s increased multimedia profile and recent history to chart a daring new direction.