Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1 (Black Panther (2016)
Written By: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art By: Brian Stelfreeze
Colors By: Laura Martin
Publisher: Marvel Comics
For So many years I’ve followed King T’challa also known as the Black Panther, But I never actually read a book with him as the star until the beginning of this run. Now with a lot of my Marvel pull list thinning out due to recent cancellations, I feel this is a golden opportunity to begin reviewing this amazing series that takes a more in depth look at the inner workings of Black Panther not only as a character, but where he comes from. The amazing kingdom of Wakanda and the struggle it has gone through over the past few years due to the wretched state of the Marvel universe. From AvX to Infinity, Wakanda has endured some terrible hardships as of late. To the point that some feel that the time for a king who fails to protect them is over. Can a writer who’s never broken into the comic book market previously make an impact on the life of King T’Challa? Well Ta-Nehisi Coates is going to try as he forms a story of politics, loss, pain, and love for both family and love that is forbidden that will span 3 trade paperbacks of 12 single issues and hopefully into the seeable future. Can Wakanda have “no one man” rule them any longer? Has the most advanced civilization in history fallen? Do I have to read World of Wakanda to understand the background since Infinity?! Well yes…yes you do. But that’s beyond the point. The most important question is, is Black Panther Vol. 1 containing issues 1-4 a good read?
WARNING: Similar to past trade reviews this will contain more spoilers than normal single issue reviews. Also this is going to be somewhat more discussion based seeing as this trade paperback only contains four issues rather than say 6-10. So hopefully you’ll find the opinions about this series enjoyable.
Jumping right into this series, you’re thrown right into the middle of the fray with minimal context. To get context for what’s occurring, you need to read your choosing of a couple of things. Either just read the current side series, Black Panther: World of Wakanda, or for a more catastrophic view of the situation, read what occurs to Wakanda in both the AvX and Infinity events. But for review purposes, Wakanda have been devastated by invading threats one too many times. With the death and destruction, the death of Queen Shuri (T’Challa’s sister), and the lack of leadership from T’Challa from him gathering to go galavanting off with either the Avengers or the Illuminati or most recently the Ultimates, a revolution has come knocking. Led by a mysterious woman named Zenzi, who can warp the souls of others at her will, or as she calls it “liberating”, and a man named Tetu an old student of a Wakanda scholar who has seemed to have unlocked some sort of mystical power from the earth. They feel it is time to begin anew in Wakanda and start a future without a Monarch.
But then totally out of left field comes the Dora Milaje. What? Yes two members of the royal female guard of Wakanda, Ayo and Aneka, revolt in the wake of the decline of Wakanda. They steel prototype wakandan armor and begin their plans to overthrow the monarchy.
So by the end of the first issue, a normal person would be heavily confused. Yet with the way this story is told, you can’t help but want to keep going and unravel what is happening. T’Challa honestly is a mess. If you read the New Avengers comic that preceded this book, which was basically the Illuminati trying to prevent both the Infinity and Secret Wars events, you see that T’Challa is at odds with himself. He’s struggling not only as a king but as a human being. His country was continuously under attack, he had to align himself with one of the attackers during the New Avengers comic, and now he’s fighting a two front revolution. Let’s hope he’s able to come out victorious. It’s For the sake of Wakanda.
This honestly is an amazing first issue. I’m a sucker for revolutions and interpolitics and interpersonal struggle so this was a great read for me.Granted not everyone will like it because you’re thrown in with little to no context, but it’s an amazing read if the little context makes you want to learn more. So if you’re like me, keep going.
The next issue begins with T’Challa being told the backstory Zenzi. Long story short when she was younger, her and her parents aligned themselves with Killmonger, an old Black Panther villain, and when he fell from power, everyone was ordered to be killed and when Zenzi sees her parents killed, a failed experiment from Killmonger makes her able to use the powers she displayed in the first issue. King T’Challa has taken this knowledge from his officials and has begun to track her and attack alone. His advisors including his general and his step mother say it’s too dangerous and if he’s captured the revolution will win, but he says the fate of Wakanda is his to endure and it will be him who suffers and no one else.
We then move on to the Midnight Angels, the ex-Dora Milaje girls who have chosen to revolt from their duties to the king, aren’t just revolting but also doing what T’Challa isn’t, defending the weak woman from sexual attackers and uncontrollable soldiers similar to how it currently is in modern day Africa.They honestly begin to be a shining light for women in Africa, protecting them from things that are out of their reach out of the knowledge of the king. After this both Ayo and Aneka begin to show their love more for the readers. WHAT? Yes good people of the internet there are lesbians in this comic. Just two but there is actually a good story based reason. It isn’t just “We’re lesbians. Deal with it.” Dora Milaje are women that are tasked to be the servants of Wakanda and to the royal family. Whether that would be in protection as warriors or if there would come a day where the king would choose one of them to be married. Meaning they are never allowed to mary. So they are basically warrior priests. Because of this, Ayo and Aneka found love in one another, which is something I can personally get behind. It’s a psychological base from women that are forced to live in chastity until one day the king says you’re mine. So warrior women are still women. They crave love. So I’m down with this one. That’s not to say I’m not okay with just plain gay characters. It’s just the current state of the world, you need compelling LBTQ characters and Ayo and Ankeo are very compelling.
The comic concludes with both an inner monologue from T’challa as he attacks the rebels camp, which is amazing combat wise, and then we see follow up on a cliffhanger from issue 1. Shuri is technically still alive. But she is in some weird African limbo. This begins a sort of backup series for Shuri as she begins to fully realize her role in the Wakanda dynasty and what that means for Wakanda. This issue is very plot heavy and action oriented, but very well executed.
Issue 3 begins with another back story. This one is done for Tetu the revolutionary sham who was once a student of a well-known Wakandan scholar who spoke of feeling trapped by the repeats in history that was Wakanda. Tetu speaks how no one man can rule anymore. That they indeed need change otherwise history will continue to repeat itself.
We then move to T’challa who is speaking with his step mother about how he underestimated Zenzi. He power being too much and he barely escaped with his life. He’s struggling. Not knowing if he can be the one man to lead when he has so much pain and sin to atone for. She assures him that Zenzi has toyed with his soul. Yes he’s made mistakes, but it’s his job to protect the country. He’s faced foes that his forefathers couldn’t of imagined.
The Midnight angels also continue their work. They see the destruction caused from Infinity and also a woman whose daughter has been taken by guerrilla soldiers. This makes them angered and more motivated that what they’re doing is important. But it kinda isn’t from their current life position. Second subplot is shuri learning about Wakandan heritage and trying to be more of herself than before.
The comic ends with The Black Panther learning from his mistakes and using help to bring the fight to the rebels. He summons his War Dogs. The elite ninja type guard of Wakanda. They seemed to be succeeding in combating the rebellion when Tetu comes in and with his shaman magic.
This series keeps being so well executed and well-paced that I keep wanting to read. T’Challa’s doing what he’s really never done. Yes he’s faced rebellions before but never from places so internal and from people who blame him for catastrophic events. Issue 3 feels somewhat short, but it’s so well done from a story perspective that I can’t help but love.
This is the issue I like to call “So much plot you’ll get bored if you’re not into the story” part of the arc. So this summary will be a little more brief.While T’Challa is breifed on why these radical revolutionaries seek to destroy his monarchy, his step mother goes and speaks to Tetu’s teacher, Changamire, the scholar with the radical views that inspired this “no one man” movement. The Queen mother and Changamire are old friends. They speak of the old times, the old traditions that havent evolved, and the problems Wakanda currently faces. Changamire says he has no role in Tetu’s schemes other than being the unwilling tool that inspired him.
The story then cuts to two scenes. The first involving Tetu and Zenzi attempting to convince the Midnight Angels to join their revolution rather than start their own. The next one is the reveal that Zenzi and Tetu have a benefactor. Ezekial Stane. The bane of Tony Starks existence and the son of Obadiah Stane from the first Iron Man movie. Stane reveals that they dont need to hammer T’Challa to make his empire fall. They just need to make the empire willingly crumble by taking out a few blocks. The comic ends in devastation and T’Challa is faced with an incident that will change his perspective on what he’s doing.
Issue 4 like I said is very plot heavy little to know action. If you’re into that kind of thing, like me, you’ll love it, but if you’re only here for action I can’t say you’ll enjoy this book.
Issue 1: 9/10
Issue 2: 8.5/10
Issue 3: 8.5/10
Issue 4: 9/10
Nothing in these first 4 issues is perfect. It’s slow to start and can be confusing for newer readers. That’s not to say I don’t recommend it, I really do, but this book contains a very plot heavy story that extends 12 issues as of last month and its so well told that it almost makes up for the minimal to no action in some issues.
So many writers focus on just Black Panther and how he deals with society outside of Wakanda. This is the first story in recent memory to push the boundary of what Wakanda is. What it means to be in the most advanced city in the world but suffer from so much torment and destruction it’s gone through over the past through years.
In recent years, I have heard that not a whole lot of African American characters are present in comics. Which is true, but the one’s we do have weren’t celebrated even when they have been put in the forefront of comics. The Black Panther has been around for so long and now i feel he’s finally growing in a way that not even Christopher Preist’s famous run from 1998 could rival. He’s facing problems in his world now. He’s not an Avenger, he’s not an Ultimate. He’s a king, and should have to face problems in his own backyard. We finally get more of that here and I highly recomend this book not just if you want more black representation, but if you just love good stories. Hands down, one of my favorite series of last year and my favorite Marvel books of 2016 as a whole.