Saturday, 7 January 2017

Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 Review (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze)


I’ve read some Black Panther comics before this but I’m definitely not that familiar with the character and I’m guessing almost 100% of readers coming to this book are gonna be in the same boat. He’s a relatively obscure character who occasionally pops up in ensemble stories with bigger readerships than his own books and that’s mainly where I know him from.

Following his much-touted and well-received appearance in Captain America: Civil War last year, his forthcoming solo movie, and Marvel’s tradition of giving movie characters their own titles, here’s Black Panther’s new ongoing series - and it sucks donkey balls.

This is Volume 1 of a relaunched series that’s supposedly aiming to appeal to a new audience - so why the fuck have we been given a Black Panther comic that assumes everyone picking it up are super-mega-fans who know the character’s entire history?!

Black Panther is T’Challa, King of Wakanda, a super-advanced country in Africa - but his kingdom is in peril. For some reason his people are rebelling against him and he… is gonna do something about it.

Right from the get-go I was baffled. Black Panther’s guards are attacking vibranium miners whose eyes are glowing green - what was that about?! They don’t want T’Challa to be King anymore? But he’s done well historically hasn’t he - what’s changed? It feels like you’re dropped into the middle of a story rather than the beginning of one.

And then I realised how little I knew about the character when he started using shockwaves, electricity and shit - does he have a version of his own Iron Man armour, does he have superpowers like mutants or is he magic? These are all things you’d hope would be established in a first volume of a little known character.

Apparently Black Panther has a sister called Shuri who’s in stasis for some reason and is having a vision quest for no reason to achieve god knows what or why. There are a couple of Dora Milaje (“shield maidens” - woohoo, I picked up some of the complicated lingo, I’m not a total retard!) who’re fighting the Man in Midnight Angel armours, whatever they are!

A witch called Zenzi is up to some weird shit, a nearby country called Niganda wants to fight Wakanda for no reason, and someone called Killmonger is to blame for the unrest though why we couldn’t see him causing that unrest to start with instead of being told about it in passing towards the end, I don’t know. All of this was new to me and extremely badly set up.

It doesn’t help that the syntax used is largely unexplained. The fuck is Haramu-Fal? Taifa Ngao, anyone? You know how captions set the forthcoming scene by telling you where, and sometimes when, it’s based? There’s literally a caption that says “Hekima Shule, Birnin Azzaria” - I have no idea what either phrase means. Is that a place, a person, a time, what? How many new readers are you alienating by taking this insider baseball approach, Marvel?!

Ta-Nehisi Coates may be an award-winning writer of nonfiction but he’s a helluva crappy comics writer! He seems to have no idea what he’s doing - how to introduce characters, set up storylines, everything is a shoddy disaster. But he’s a black guy and artist Brian Stelfreeze is a black guy and they’re working on an all-black comic so yay diversity, right? And look, more diversity: the Dora Milaje outlaws are lesbians! Yeesh, sacrificing quality to pander to wretched SJWs? No wonder Marvel’s sales are in the toilet these days!

Brian Stelfreeze’s art was pretty good as were Laura Martin’s colours but I really loved Rian Hughes’ logo which is on the title page of every issue - superb work, Rian! Shame that Coates stinks up the book with his incompetent writing.

I would’ve preferred a ground-up introductory first volume, establishing who Black Panther is and his legacy, what Wakanda’s all about and their place within the Marvel Universe. Then, once your audience is familiar with everything, you launch into this country-in-strife storyline and it probably won’t be so confusing! Instead we got this load of rubbish which is nothing but incomprehensible garbage from start to merciful finish.

I really wanted to get excited about a new Black Panther ongoing, especially after his spectacular appearance in Captain America: Civil War, and I’m still looking forward to his solo movie, but I’m done with this terrible title.

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